Something Swedish

My Swedish Mail


The story of our Wild Goose Chase

Wild = Swedish mail system

Goose = My package from the U.S

Chase(rs) = Us.

*To clarify, I have nothing against the Swedish mail system, it seems to have high functionality, I’ve just been meaning to write about it and this is my first “blog worthy” experience with the postal service. I am only looking to highlight how the post office works in Sweden as compared to New York.*

The postal cart that delivers our mail Mon-Fri (No mail on Sat and Sunday). Oddly enough, unlike my mailman back home this one does not arrive at (almost the exact) same time every day. Sometime between 12 and 3 is what I’ve narrowed it down to.

Is there a slogan for the posten here? “In rain or sleet or snow or hail the safety postman shall prevail” It’s unofficial, but it’s what everyone thinks of.

When I moved to Sweden I ordered a few things online and had them shipped to my best friend in New York, since the website doesn’t ship to Sweden. The plan was simple enough, repackage the two shipments into one compact box and mail it. She said it cost 27 dollars to ship which is fine, I already knew that mailing to Sweden is a bit expensive, but what happened next is not something I expected. Maybe 10 days go by since she sent it, which didn’t seem too abnormal, I confirmed with her that it sometimes takes awhile. A couple of days later I receive a letter telling me that the package has arrived and to go pick it up. YAY!

But…that’s not all. The paper has a yellow outline and looks different than any other mail slips I’ve received. Oh. Great. That’s because it was flagged for customs and I got hit with the 25% tax PLUS an additional postal service charge. So, we had to pay 308kr (45 bucks) just to pick the package up.

What I was surprised about was how they determined the tax, I half expected them to have opened up the package and seen the receipt but the box was not tampered with when I received it. The form to send international mail asks how much the value of the contents, “$100” was entered and they simply went with it. According to this website Tullverket, which “simplifies what is legal and prevents what is illegal,” the rule of thumb is that items mailed from non EU countries will be taxed if the amount is over 500kr. So, lesson learned: Always write 60 bucks on value tag if you aren’t concerned about the content too much.

Now, I am not sure how random the process is, having sent my wedding decorations from the U.S where the shipping alone was 70 dollars, and the value I wrote in was probably around $150, this large box was not charged for taxation. I understand a Country wanting to collect tax on incoming merchandise as it messes with the economy, I just wish I understood the procedure better.

Swedish Mailboxes

Wait, we haven’t gotten to the Wild Goose Chase part yet.

USPS. United States Postal Service logo. I never realized the postal symbol is actually an eagle head until looking for this photo.

To understand this story let me describe how the mail system works in Sweden as compared to the U.S. In Queens there are local post offices in each neighborhood, anywhere from two to four miles (1.6km) away from the next one over. There are often long lines to mail or pick up packages, buy stamps, or get a passport photo/paperwork.

In Sweden when we have to pick up a package we don’t go to our near by post office, we go to our near by supermarket or convenience store to one of 17 “Postal Service Points” in Halmstad. To give you an idea, Halmstad is 35 Square KM, where as Queens has 45 post offices covering a much larger area of 462 square KM. So, finding a postal area is very convenient here. Where ever you see this symbol of a horn and a crown with a blue background

you are able to send packages and buy stamps, envelops, boxes, etc from that location. However, your incoming mail is assigned to a specific store. These stores have all the capabilities and a certain area designated to being a mini-post office, the regular store staff manages the postal service point which entails scanning in each parcel into their system every morning upon delivery. There is a central post office which is luckily located down the block from where we pick up our packages. This central office seems to be a distribution headquarters, having access to all the databases and able to track down each package.

Our Store is about a 15 minute walk from us, I’m not sure why since there is one closer, but it’s no big deal. When we went to pick up my package that I was so anxiously waiting for the workers said it had not arrived yet. It was only one day after the letter and we were not used to paying custom tax, we thought perhaps it was normal for there to be a slight delay. A few days later, no package. The week after that, no package. They insisted that it was still at the distribution center and that it never arrived even though the date on the notice says February 24th.

Our Postal Point in a supermarket called “Willys.” You can see that the postal area is right next to all the regular cash registers for the store.

And so to the central office we went. The lady there was kind enough to look into it straight away, figure out the problem, call the store and told them to take inventory or we would register an official complaint. She gave us the paperwork and the number to call if they still claim to not have the package because she can see that they failed to scan in one package a couple of weeks ago. The problem was dealt with very quickly and efficiently. We were able to track the package from home and the next day we saw that it was in their system.

This morning we went there for the fourth time to finally retrieve my shipment and hand over our payment. I had to show I.D and sign for the parcel, thankfully they didn’t notice or care that the last names didn’t match up since I am still using my maiden name in Sweden for the time being. And so finally, after weeks of waiting, my package has arrived!


20 thoughts on “My Swedish Mail

  1. The trick is to mark the little box on the green paper in the US and then you (or your friend) writes The stuff you forgot or similar, that should get you out of paying the tolls. Had to learn that the hard way….

    I really like your blog by the way!

    • I was surprised that even though it was marked as a “Gift” it was still taxed! Will take some time to learn all the tricks- one by one hehe. Thanks Christina! I enjoy yours as well 🙂

  2. Willy’s at flygstaden? I was just curious if there is a Willy’s near centrum. I have to bike up to Frösakul whenever I need to pick up a package which is 15 minutes away. I haven’t had your problems, though. Not yet, anyway. Thanks for all the tips.

    • No, that one is pretty far. I only write about it because it felt strange to have such an issue, it seems to be rather organized. 🙂 Thankful that it is close enough to walk

  3. I hear you! Life as an ex-pat is never dull!

  4. New arrivals to Sweden must bookmark your site for survival — I can verify: real life details! There are so many every day adventures living abroad that add that “something extra” to ones, day!

  5. If it is marked ‘gift’, most countries will still tax above a certain amount. For my business, I always underestimated the value of customers’ merchandise and marked it as gift for that very reason. I would always mark the value as what it would cost me to replace it, less the shipping, and not what they had paid for it. And if it is marked as anything other than ‘gift’, most countries will tax it regardless of the amount. Some countries except certain items. I shipped a lot of books to my customers and many countries do not tax books or other “educational” items. (So if Sweden has that exception, maybe you can ship some of your books over tax-free!)

    My mom used to sell Mary Kay and I bought a lot of my make-up from her. On a trip to England, I was so tired after the flight, that I left my make-up bag sitting on the bathroom counter in the airport and never saw it again. So my mom kindly sent me some as a replacement, but being that it was cosmetics and she stupidly marked it as ‘merchandise’ (because you know, that’s normally what she would sell it as), I ended up paying over $65 worth to claim it. The value of the make-up was less than $30. I was SO mad!

    • Yikes! My package was also make up and she wrote “cosmetics (which are terribly expensive here) so you got me thinking that it very well might be because of that. Good to know about the books- they are so heavy though. Sorry that you can relate to this haha

  6. I hope you assimilate well towards your new Swedish overlords. Resistance is futile. All SHALL S-U-B-M-I-T!!!

    I mean… eh… Hi! And welcome to Sweden! There. That’s better.

    Read your blogg, and shall certainly keep doing so. Your perspective on the country is interesting! You seem to be very open-minded and positive, which regardless of situation is always refreshing to see. I’m sure you will do great 🙂 Just remember: It is quite alright to be American as well. No one moving here should be required to turn 100% Swedish (Whatever that actually is. Should you ever find out, you might put alot of sociologists out of work. Please don’t do that!). In fact, I love it when immigrants can add some variety to our culture – which partly is a culture of immigrants. Keep bringing it, eh? 🙂 It is also alright to get homesick, get frustrated, get angry and damn us all to Nifelheim for our mysterious ways. It happens!

    Bah, I doubt you’ll need my tips, but one last! And long! Yay! You might even know it all already! Double the excitement! i shall generalize shamelessly! Triple the excitement!

    One big cultural clash with people moving here seems to be the Swedish reserved way of behaving in social situations. It can even be percieved as cold hearted and blatant rudeness. It is, of course, quite the opposite. My bet is that a vast majority of people, regardless of where they are from, will indeed act in a way that they consider polite according to their culture. And here… well, talking to strangers might very well mean intruding upon the strangers privacy. It’s a strong live-and-let-live thingy we got going. All those stone-faced swedes prancing around, not talking to you, not looking at you or, heaven forbid, not even holding the door? Yeah, they are showing you respect. Backwards, I know. Ask for help and you shall recieve it, but many wont offer it since it would be rude to presume that you needed any. Writing this? A part of me feels arrogant and presumptious. Madness, yes..All cultures seem to have recieved it’s share of it. This is ours (I might have exaggerated a taaad bit). It has also led us to… well, we kinda suck on small talk. Horribly. Many don’t even like it all (me). Redeeming qualities? We can be very honest, generous and warm beneath that seemingly cold exterior. Problem is sometimes to get there. Buut since you are actually together with a swede, you seem to have succeeded. Grats! ;D

    There are also biggots out there who may seem to hold you responsible for anything American politicians, and their dogs, have done the past sixty years. Sorry about that. You have my permission to passionately and brutally mur… Uhm, tell them to get fuc… I mean, kindly enlighten them as to their faulty ways and neatly ask them to, please, go away.

    Bookmarking now. Lycka till!

    • Haha I must say, longest and funniest comment yet 🙂 Tack sa mycket, Tobias! I’m sure my Americaness shines through my ignorance everyday- don’t you worry! I certainly am not trying to be myself, but there is a line between rudely being too much of yourself and fitting in just enough. Trying to find that balance. I haven’t started damning anyone anywhere…yet, but it’s always good to hear that I can! (oh the power!)

      The funny thing is that I have heard this stereotype before, about Swedes being so reserved or cold. While I get where it’s coming from I haven’t seen it as much as people complain about it on forums/blogs. I always assume that coming from NYC I am used to people being OVERLY loud, nosy, talkative, in-your-face-friendly. And so it seems okay that it is toned down (although, maybe too toned down as I do see the things you are saying as well) I have had a quite a few “Hejs” on the staircase of my building and outside, which surprised me because I was told Swedes never talk to neighbors lol It is good to hear about the phenomenon from a Swede instead of a pissed of expat who is frustrated with no one making small talk. Since I have a small group of friends here that I was introduced to I guess I focus on the people I know instead of the strangers around me. Since my main source of interaction is cashiers, I am always pleasantly surprised at how friendly and helpful they are (But then again, I am used to NYC where no one cares about customer service anymore it seems :P) Sure, it would be nice if people where a little more approachable, but I am shy so I guess it works out.

      Thankfully no one has attacked me for being an American yet or ranted to me or about me being part of such a Country. I’m also smart enough to never get into political discussions, big no no.

      Remember there is a “follow” button so you get email updates- don’t lose me in a bookmark pile!

      Vi ses snart!

      • Tack själv 😀

        I think that it heavily comes down to personal perspective. If a certain trait of Sweden, or any culture, bugs you and you start to focus on it you will indeed start to see it everywhere. And, being a stereotype, it is of course indeed exaggerated. You are correct 🙂 And it is also changing. I’m 29, but the swedes around 20 certainly seems a bit more open and outgoing to me then my peers do.

        As for neighbours… I’ve had fika with some of mine. I’ve helped them out with some minor things. They’ve done the same for me. Used to, when I still smoked, blow some fags with one of them (British English can be hilarious, yes).I was gifted a painting by one of them; likely my most valuable possesion. We stop to talk with eachother. There have even been some grilling going on! I agree though that this is rather unusual of an apartment house in Sweden. In a more normal state, we usually do say at least “Hej” to eachother 🙂

        And you *are* allowed to aproach people, should you wish it. Some would love for you to do it! It is likely more difficult then in most other cultures though. My usual tip for people wanting to hook up with the locals is to join an activity group of some sort that does whatever hobby you might fancy. Swedes partly goes to them to socialize (we *can* do it!). Worth checking out once your Swedish skills gets rolling 🙂

        And don’t be affraid to enter political discussions if you actually want to! Many can discuss it in a calm, informed and interesting manner without wanting to chop the others head off for voting on Filthy Curr instead of Bloody Bastard. 😉 Hell, might even be a good way of getting us talking.

        And don’t worry, I keep my bookmarks tidy! 😀

  7. Boy, I take for granted living in the US and getting my packages quickly and on my door step!

  8. Sounds like the tax system in Sweden is similar to that in Brazil! One year we (I) sent X-mas gifts to the family in Brazil, while we were still in NYC, and they had to go pick it up and pay US$90! Nice gift, aye?

  9. Ha, I think much of the difficulty stems from the time, many years ago, that the Swedish post office declared they didn’t want to work with mail anymore and wanted to focus on banking services instead. While many of us went -BAD IDEA! they closed down all of their official post offices and moved their services into privately run stores. Sadly, it didn’t work out too well for them, quell surprise!

    Anyways, if you are getting an expensive package, you can always have it addressed to your whole family – so goes the expat rumor mill goes – AKA gift for The Smith Family – since the customs limit is 500 SEK per person, customs has a hard time figuring out how many people are in the Smith family…..

    • Yea, i knew there was a big change dealing with privatization but didn’t know any of the details. Good tip about labeling it to the family- I read something to that extent but didn’t understand how to utilize it yet, thanks!

  10. Ay, ya-yi! What a mess!!! Glad to see it got there intact! What a rat-race. Did you get the cookies too? Please find out what I can do differently for next time! xoxoxo

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