Top Ten Items to Include in an Overseas Care Package

Let’s face it: no matter how good you are at tetris, eventually all of us are constrained by weight limits on our luggage. So what can we do? Gather a team of people who love us enough to send packages.

During my time overseas I was fortunate enough to have some people who occasionally mailed me items. It was no small commitment for them to put together a box, get to the post office, and pay for postage, and I deeply appreciated all of the effort that went into each box. But what I sometimes forgot is that they had the added challenge of figuring out what items to include. They didn’t always know what I craved or what I could easily get. With that in mind, I’ve written out a list.

I realize I’m writing this for ex-pats, and we don’t need a reminder of what we miss. But far too often, when someone would ask, “What would you like me to send you?” I would have a brain freeze. “Oh, you know…” I would reply.

No, they don’t know.

If you’re like that, do yourself a favor: email this list to your friends, family members, and communities. And remember it when you’re back in your home country and it’s your turn to send a package to a nation you’ve never visited.

Top Ten Things to Include in an Overseas Care Package

Honorable mention: Maple Syrup

The sugar maple tree is indigenous to the U.S. and Canada. Every other place it will be hard to get.

Alternative: those cookies shaped like maple leaves, or maple fudge, give us a little taste of it too.

10. Cold cereal 

A lot of countries have some sort of cold cereal. But I can almost guarantee they won’t have the same selection as we have in the U.S.

9. Tampons with applicators

For some reason tampons with applicators are really difficult to find overseas. It’s just a little embarrassing to let the folks back home know that it is one of our pressing needs. And we might not remember it 75% of the time…

8. Chocolate, and it’s friends

Chocolate is fairly common, and in many places we can get it. But there may be a specific brand we miss. Twix, M&M varieties, peanut butter cups, and Hershey Kisses are all items my teammates clamored for.

What does seem to be more common? Snickers and Kit-Kat are two of the candy bars that are most ubiquitous in other countries.

7. Chocolate chips

Before my first trip overseas I assumed that every first world country would carry chocolate chips. Sadly, this is not something that goes hand in hand with economic prosperity. Friends tell me that parts of Europe now carry this item. But a lot of countries don’t.

Bonus: ask if they need some brown sugar or a bottle of vanilla extract, as those also have limited availability.

6. Peanut butter

More and more countries are selling peanut butter. But sometimes it’s really expensive.

5. Newspapers and magazines in English

Sometimes we just want to hold an item that has English printed on it. So if you were just going to recycle that newspaper and throw away that magazine, ship it on over to us. Even if it is a few weeks, or months, old.

What is especially precious? The funny pages (especially if the family has kids) and local news (we want to hear that the hardware store closed and is now a dollar store).

4. Sauce packets 

You know that drawer in your kitchen of extra sauce packets from fast food restaurants? You probably think it would be tacky to empty it into a care package. That, my friend, is where you are wrong. Provided those packets are less than 6 months old, that is exactly what we want you to do.

Does that still feel tacky? Some restaurants bottle the sauce and have it available for sale.

3. Seasonal candy

Candy hearts. Jelly beans. Marshmallow Chicks. Candy corn. Candy canes…You know what holiday they’re attached to. Ex-pats overseas celebrate those holidays too, but a lot of time we can’t find those items in every store. Or any store.

2. Thanksgiving ingredients

Until I moved to Asia, I never realized how thoroughly American traditional Thanksgiving food is. You can’t exactly mail a turkey, but pecans, french fried onion rings, and canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and candied yams can all be difficult – or impossible – to find. For a lighter alternative, throw in a box of cranberry gelatin, or some dried cranberries.

1. The Individual’s Most Recent Craving

Almost everyone I know has one or two things they really miss in that moment. Even if the desire has more or less passed by the time the box arrives, they’ll still appreciate the sentiment.

This list isn’t relevant to every country (pumpkin is grown in Mexico, and chocolate chips can be found in France), but these are some of the trends.

Now it’s your turn: do you agree with this list? What do you long to see in your care packages?


  1. Annalisa June 10, 2015

    Not really my list. Also note that some things are more or less available in other countries/cultures (which you kind of did).
    9. I prefer pads.  Those are available here.
    7&8. I have a drug reaction to caffeine.  I can’t eat chocolate.  If you send me either one, I’m assuming you are telling me you wish I’d die. 😉
    6.  I’m not a big peanut butter eater, but every team that I translate for seems to need someone to offload it on at the end of their trip.  (Did you think we had no food in Guatemala?)  So, I end up with a jar or two.  I think I’ll open a peanut butter store…
    5.  At first I thought you were being silly.  If I want English in my hands, send me a book!  But, I am from Small Town, USA; so, you’re right.  I do want to know that the hardware store closed and they put in a dollar store…but you can send me a book too, right?
    4.  Guatemala is obsessed with ketchup.  I don’t want your ketchup packets.  I’ve got at least 50 unopened ones in my kitchen that I don’t plan on using.  Can I send them to you?
    2.  I celebrated Thanksgiving my first full year in Guatemala.  I used a chicken instead of a turkey. (But now I know where to buy turkey if the desire should hit me.  However, I didn’t have a fridge back then; so a chicken had fewer leftovers.)  I made stuffing from scratch.  I found some rice mix in the grocery store which turned out pretty delicious, and if I remember correctly, there were mashed potatoes.  I haven’t celebrated it since, but I might once we have kids.  I just didn’t feel like anything was missing.

    What would I put on the list in place of those items I’m scratching off?
    1. Photos:  Family photos.  Events at church.  Events in the community. Photos of people I might know’s kids and grandkids. People are growing up while I’m gone.  Life is moving forward.  I get it that the universe doesn’t revolve around me, but at some point I’ll probably show up back in town and I don’t want you all to feel like the only thing you can talk about is the weather and things that have happened in the last week and things that were big enough that they were in the newspaper of the country I’ve been in.  (“Bruce Jenner now wants to be called Caitlyn!”  “Yep, I read about that…in Spanish, and had to explain ‘Americans’ to all of my neighbors when they asked me as their local ‘expert’ about such people.”)  I mean, the local newspaper helps with this, but the point of the newspaper was to have English text in my hands.  I want something I can cherish and share.

    2. Cards and letters and hand-drawn pictures.  I’m an aunt.  One niece is 6 hours away by plane (and 12 counting layovers and car rides) and the other two are 6 hours away by car.  (I also have a couple “heart nieces”–daughters of particularly good friends–and they are those plane trips away as well.)  I see one of them about twice per year and the other two about once per month (currently; although that may be changing in the next week to be once per 3 months…or so).  I want to see their artwork.  I want to hear about what they are doing, how they are growing.  Did they start potty training yet?  What are they learning?  What was their most recent shenanigan? Heck, if the old lady from church wants to write to me about what her grandkids are doing, go for it!  Then when I see her, I can talk to her about it.  My biological family, my heart family, my married family, and my church family are all important to me.  I want to hear about your ups and downs, and I want to be able to pray for you.

    3. Cookie decorations.  I don’t know if this happens in any of the rest of your countries, but the first time I wanted to make cookies, I had to go to the capitol city, search in 2 stores, and buy pretty much one of everything they had just to have some variety.  (FYI, I learned how to make my own colored sugar; I never found any…and still haven’t found any.)  I did find a baking specialty shop much closer to home which allows for more variety but, erg, the cost.  Of course, besides my neighbors and acquaintances (and now my in-law’s neighbors), Guatemala isn’t a big cookie-eating country.

    I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.  I think I still have one or two spots to fill…

    1. Jilida June 10, 2015

      Thanks for your reply! I did try to keep my list general, and I consulted with my VA small groups in the process, but naturally I didn’t hear from every country.

      When I said packets from restaurants, I meant of the non-ketchup variety: Arby’s sauce, Chick-Fil-A sauce, Taco Bell sauce, etc. I’ve met a lot of people who miss those, so I wanted to include them.

      I was in turn surprised by some of the things you listed! I’ve never been someone who enjoys crafts from kids, so I didn’t even think to put that on the list. And I love books, so I agree with you there! But we had Amazon where I lived, so anything I was desperate for I could order myself.

      Ultimately, I’m glad you know what you want and have ideas ready in case anyone ever asks!

      1. Deanna May 18, 2016

        I just wanted to thank you for this.  My 26 year old niece just left for Moscow/ Europe for a summer internship, and my 10 year old is just heart broken.  We were looking for a way for her to not feel so left- behind.  This will help her take charge and take care of her beloved cousin.  Thank you, so much.

    2. Jennifer Ott June 11, 2015

      If someone sends me crafts/pictures, etc from their kids, I will seriously reconsider their friendship (then again, I have 4 kids of my own, will work at an orphanage, and lead children’s ministries).  Photos in digital form are great though!

  2. K. Ketchum June 10, 2015

    Send everything in the best quality zip lock bags! Instead of maple syrup, send maple flavoring. Syrup is just sugar, water, and flavor.

    1. Jilida June 10, 2015

      That’s a good point about the zip lock bags! I’ve definitely had a couple of leaks even in domestic packages. Thanks!

      1. Phyllis June 11, 2015

        Plus, ziplocks are hard to find here! We usually ask for everything to be sent in ziplocks (which we reuse), and then just throw in the rest of them, too! 🙂

      2. Brittaney August 3, 2015

        and ziplock bags are precious! My family sent me a care package for my birthday and some of the items were enclosed in Ziplocks. I was almost more excited about the bag than what the bag held! haha. 🙂 Great list.

  3. Kim June 10, 2015

    Had fun reading your list, Jill, and also Annalisa’s. Sadly we live in a country where packages tend to either go MIA or end up stuck in customs where they charge outrageous amounts to get them out. I once paid the equivalent of $50 U.S. for a package worth much less than that. I wouldn’t have bothered except it included a book I’d ordered for my husband’s birthday. For the last five years we’ve told friends and family to please NOT send packages. I’ve learned you now have to register for a special customs “number” in order to get any package at all, and even that’s not a guarantee you’ll be able to retrieve your package. We have friends who made three trips to the provincial capital before they were finally able to get the small gift their daughter sent. Each trip required three hours travel time plus several more hours more waiting in line.

    But we DO ask anyone visiting us to bring special things 🙂 And a number of those were on your list (coffee, cranberry sauce, magazines). Another item I especially appreciate is zip lock bags. We can get them here but they’re quite expensive. And as someone who likes to sew and quilt, I’m always thrilled to get 100% cotton fabrics.

    Photos and news from home is so important, too. Until the first Christmas overseas went by and we received exactly two Christmas letters with family photos, I didn’t realize how much I depended on those annual letters to keep up with far flung friends and family. I really appreciate receiving those via either snail mail or email. Too often we go back to the states on home ministry and are clueless about what’s happened in the lives of others while we’ve been gone. Every time we send out a prayer update, we ask folks to let us know what’s happening with them too, but few do. I know it’s not because they don’t care, they just don’t think about it.

    1. Jilida June 10, 2015

      I’m so sorry to hear customs is so difficult in your country. But I’m glad to hear there are visitors! Some of my teammates got them more than others, so how frequently we could ask for items varied a lot.

      I very much agree that I wish people back home would tell me more about what is going on. When I returned to the U.S. for my sister’s wedding after 15 months away, I found out many of my closest friends had had especially hard years in my absence…and most of them hadn’t told me! When I asked why, the refrain was, “We thought you were busy…” Sometimes the perception from back home is that we’re the ones who need pr.y.r, and our friends and family forget that we haven’t stopped caring and for them. It’s a lesson I wish I could explain better to my U.S. friends.

    2. Annalisa June 12, 2015

      Customs is rough here too.  In reality, if it’s bigger than a shoe box, it won’t get through.  Most of my packages are my mother asking around “Is anyone going to Guatemala?”  Or me “Hey, you’re going to the States for a bit.  Will you have space on your way back down?”  I don’t even give people my “address” to mail me letters or post cards.  If the water meter reader who has to be at my house to read the meter can’t seem to find the house, I don’t have much faith in the mail man.

  4. Kathleen June 10, 2015

    I would add marshmallows, Tootsie Rolls, and a non-food item: Shout Out stain removing stick/bar or somehting similar, which is fantastic for when you are in situations where you can’t immediately wash your clothes (or your kid’s for that matter) if something stains them!

    1. Jilida June 10, 2015

      Those are great additions! And cleaning supplies can definitely be appreciated. When I visited a friend in London four years ago, I asked what I could bring her and Oxi-clean topped her list. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Wendy June 10, 2015

    Agreed with other commenters, that the list varies for what country you work in, but also where you come from. I’m Australian so Maple Syrup and Thanksgiving aren’t what I’d have on my list. I’ve actually published a list in our news/prayer letter each November so that if people want to send us stuff, they can (and not just Vegemite, which seems to be the default item on every Australian’s list, but we’re not huge fans).

    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      Thanks for chiming in! I absolutely agree this will vary depending on the home country. What sort of things are on your list?

  6. Christy June 10, 2015

    I’m in an area where much of this is accessible thanks to a large expat population in the city area. Everything from almond M&Ms to the canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce can be purchased albeit at a premium price. As I approach the one year anniversary of moving to the other side of the world, I appreciate this list more and more and am incredibly thankful for all the packages I’ve received in the past year. Women from home have done an incredible job of covering much of the things on your list- especially the chocolate, seasonal pieces, and photos/letters/hand-colored drawing from my small army of nieces and nephews. Some of my favorite items that I hadn’t thought of?

    -Yankee votive candles of outdoor scents like pine, spices, beaches, etc.- the scents that are associated with home. At first I thought they wouldn’t be a big deal to have around, but I’ve had one or two burning every night since they arrived. I find they really help me with homesickness.

    -Window decals of snow flakes and a small, fake plastic pine tree with snow covered tips. The tree is now a round-the-year piece in my house and helps me remember that once upon a time I lived in a snowy climate.

    – BOOKS! A package from my church contained a few books that I had been wanting to read. I devoured them as soon I got over the joy and surprise of seeing them in the box. My entire suitcase weight could go towards bringing back books. While pumpkin and cranberries are easy to come by, the book selection is much more sparse. Why? I have no idea.

    To the list, especially the “packet” category, I would add things like packets of peanut butter (Justin’s Maple Almond Butter!!) or drink mixes. I actually don’t use many mixes like Crystal Light, but when they appeared in one of my boxes I found myself enjoying them.

    I often hit the “oh you know…” thought when asked which is nothing unique to the field (it takes me months to make a birthday or Christmas list) so I’ve started a running “wish list” on Amazon. Amazon won’t sell the things that can’t be mailed and it makes it easy to add-on or email out the list.

    Thank you for your list, Jil! Oh, and would someone please pass the cereal?

    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      I definitely agree about the candles! Another ex-pat left behind one that smelled like a Christmas tree, and I burned it every evening in December. It also doubled as an object lesson, for Japanese children had only ever seen artificial Christmas trees, so I would bring in the candle and explain that it was a smell we associate with Christmas.

      I love books too, but I kept them off the list because they’re not consumable. Food I could eat, clothes and shoes I could wear out, but when it came time to pack that suitcase and go home, I had a hard time leaving books behind. Do you ship your books? Or are you planning on leaving them for the next person? Or is yours a long term situation where a library is quite practical?

  7. Laura H June 11, 2015

    When I saw the sauce packets on that list I thought “yes!” In my previous country I would have thought you were crazy to send me that, but now I live in a rural village with very poor electricity. My fridge is never cold, so buying a big jar of ketchup or mayonnaise is just asking for it to spoil before fully consumed. Once someone sent me some of those sauce packets, it expanded my food choices greatly! And it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask for taco sauce, so when that appeared it was an extra special treat.

    At the same time, I agree with some of the other comments that actually sending me a package isn’t practical with the mail system, so I’m thankful when people come to visit and bring that care package in their suitcase! But overall, nearly every item on your list has been delivered to me at one point or another.

    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      I’m so glad to hear you have such a great support system! And, yes, the location of a person drastically affects what they will want. In Japan one of the often requested items was salsa, but of course no one in Latin America is going to ask for that in a care package!

      Thanks for commenting!

  8. Sarah W June 11, 2015

    This is so true!  I love how you mentioned the tampons.  When we lived in the Philippines it was like finding gold when I did find them…applicator or not!  Now we are in Botswana and I can find both, but sometimes they are NOT like what I would buy at home. 🙂

    I’ll add that my kids love anything from those dollar bins at Target.  They are thrilled with any new little crafty type items or a fresh box of Crayola Colors that actually color nice!  My troop also love drink packs….not Kool-aid but like the crystal light lemonaid packs…..those are always a winner.

    I love spice packs of any time!  They are flat and light and easy to mail too!  Totally agree on the seasonal things and cookie supplies!!!

    Great post!!!


    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      Those are great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Phyllis June 11, 2015

    Do other countries have alternate shipping options? That would be something that would be good to make note of, if so. In Ukraine, we always suggest Meest to anyone who wants to send us a package. (They also send to other former USSR countries.) It’s cheaper than sending by regular mail, and their packages don’t get stuck in customs.


    For a random, most-people-would-like-it, option to add to the list above, I would say nice scented candles.

    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      Phyllis, that would be a great thing for VA to find out about and post somewhere. Obviously that would be a long list if it existed, but it would be helpful. Maybe after the suitcase spreadsheet is put together a care package one could be put together! The tricky thing is, I know things change quickly, so it might be harder to keep up to date.

      1. Phyllis June 11, 2015

        Oh, I didn’t think it would be a terribly long list. Meest is the only one that I’ve ever heard of in this part of the world, and it hasn’t changed for years. I wouldn’t mention options like DHL and FedEx, even though they’re everywhere; they’re MORE trouble and expense, not less.


        Oh, are we talking about different lists here? I was thinking a list of alternative shipping companies!

        1. Jilida June 11, 2015

          Oh, I was thinking of shipping companies! Maybe it wouldn’t be a terribly long list. I thought Japan had one of their own, but it wasn’t always cheaper. I only saw it as an option on one website and never thought to suggest that any of my friends attempt to research it. But, hey, maybe it was a valid shipping method and I never knew about it!

  10. Leigha June 11, 2015

    Though there’s bound to be some differences, it’s funny how universal some of these things are! Great list. From Indonesia… Yes on maple flavoring and vanilla, definitely the seasonal candies/foods/decorations too (scented candles are a great idea!), keep us on your mailing list for the end-of-year photo and update letter (facebook is nice for that but a physical picture for my fridge and to hear from the ones not on social media is nice! However, I read enough news and magazines online and wouldn’t want old newspapers, ha.), children’s books for sure (but I prefer my reading on Kindle – SUCH a blessing living a global life), I like seasoning packets over sauces (for meats, veggies), and ohmygosh tampons! Haha. I just had a pastor bring over 200 of them on a recent visit. :-0 Anyone ever try a diva cup?? I only just heard about those. Chocolate – while I miss it – always seems to melt. And once my mom sent salt water taffy for Easter that melted EVERYWHERE! But I cleaned off the plastic eggs and that’s one thing I’m happy to have with small children. Like someone else mentioned I keep an Amazon “wish-list” and sometimes am surprised to see those exact items show up at my house. 🙂 People want to know!

    1. Ashley Felder June 11, 2015

      I’m still nursing, but I used the Diva Cup before I got preggo this time! There’s definitely a learning curve, but I like having it over begging for tampons. (I can’t stand pads!)

      1. Jilida June 11, 2015

        A lot of my female ex-pat coworkers used it. I never looked into it myself, but I can see that it would be helpful since space and weight are at a premium in our suitcases.

    2. Jilida June 11, 2015

      Those are great ideas! We had plastic Easter eggs too that we reused from year to year. It’s amazing how something so cheap in the U.S. (especially in the post-Easter sales) becomes so precious in another country.

    3. Jennifer Ott June 11, 2015

      I love my Diva Cup (and am bringing extras with me, well, 2)!  I has literally revolutionized my life. (And let me add that while my husband is a nurse, I can’t stand the sight of blood or ANY bodily fluid.). It is especially useful,when traveling remotely and not having trash disposal (unless giving to your hosts so they can burn it counts) or bathroom facilities!  It did take me a few cycles to get used to, but it’s totally worth it!

    4. Sara April 2, 2016

      Diva Cup is definitely worth trying. It’s my go-to if I’m visiting a farther out village and have no idea how long I’ll be there. It’s not my favorite if I’m just home. Just not as comfortable since child #3 was born 🙂

  11. Lisa June 11, 2015

    It is great to take some time to think of what you would really like sent to you if someone asks.  In our 7 years living in the Philippines, we have been blessed by getting a few packages.  Some had things that were such blessings as they were things we couldn’t get such as chocolate chips, cereal, crackers, and MSG free seasoning mixes to name a few.  However, we were also sent rice, guess they didn’t realize that they grow rice in the Philippines:)  Another thing is frequently boxes contained devotionals especially for our daughters.  I guess people think that since they are MKs they only like those sorts of books!  What we really wanted was wholesome funny movies for family movie night.  I also agree with the caution about customs.  We were sent Legos which were a big hit except we have to pay over $50 in customs charges.  It is always great to feel loved by someone taking the time and expense to send a package, even better if the package contains things that you really want.

    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      Definitely! Life in our new homes becomes so common place that we forget our friends back in the U.S. don’t wander the aisles of the grocery stores like we do and know exactly what we can and can’t get. The best package I ever got was from a friend who had taught in the next town over and had moved back. She knew exactly what I couldn’t get and packed accordingly.

  12. Ashley Felder June 11, 2015

    This is a great list, Jil! Now, if I can only have enough guts to email it out or post it on social media for the masses to see. Sure, we mention desiring mail in our newsletters, but rarely do we get anything from someone other than my family. Anyone else have a hard time asking? We already ask for so much. I’m such a gifts person though, that I can very clearly remember when someone other than my family surprised us with a package. So awesome! Also, for Christmas cards, I put a plea out on social media that (for our country), it only costs an extra 50 cents to send a card. We usually get 20-30! And they stay plastered on my fridge all year long. 🙂

    1. Ashley Felder June 11, 2015

      I wanted to add that again, for me, as a “gifts” person, I don’t even mind so much if the contents of the pkg are things I could semi-easily get my hands on. It truly is the thought that counts for me. Sure, I’d love things that I can’t get, but the fact that the person or group of people took the time to buy the items, stand in line at the PO, and pay the exorbitant shipping costs speaks volumes of love and care to me!

      1. Jilida June 11, 2015

        I completely agree: sometimes the sentiment itself is worth its weight in gold! For Christmas one year (I had flown back to be with my family) my brother gave me a gift that said he would mail 6 packages that following year so I would know I wasn’t forgotten. Strange as it sounds, I did often feel overlooked, forgotten, and ignored, and somehow packages scream, “I think about you and remember you” in a much louder boom than even a (still appreciated) email.

    2. Ruth June 11, 2015

      I have at least one person who would rather send packages than send support the regular way!  I’ve given her enough description to know what I would like, generally.  I also have a pinterest board as a list of things people could send me.  Before Christmas a friend told me I didn’t have enough things on it (and my mom concurred).

      1. Jilida June 11, 2015

        That’s a good idea! Depending on specific circumstances (occupation, kids, time of year) there are certain items we might only want once or twice, not on a regular basis. I don’t care for licorice, but after a local friend said she wanted to try it, I made sure my sister brought some when she came to visit. And after the verse about figgy pudding came up while teaching “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” I made sure some fig newtons appeared so that I could explain how Americans eat figs.

  13. Rachel June 11, 2015

    #3 and 7 – Absolutely!! #3 to include Creme Eggs. With all the Cadbury in this country, I thought we’d have them for sure, but no. I want chocolate chips so bad. Usually, I buy a chocolate bar to break into pieces for chips to make into cookies. Then I eat the chocolate bar instead because I can’t be bothered to go to all that work for chocolate chips. LOL.

    Though, like another commenter, I’m in a country where most packages don’t arrive. We have a 50% success rate so far, but no one has mailed us anything for a very long time because it’s just so disappointing when it never turns up. So, for care packages, we use people who happen to be traveling this way. 🙂

    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      That is quite frustrating! How often do people come visit? I only had one visitor in three years (though I flew home 4 times and brought stuff myself) and life would have been a lot more frustrating if that visitor was the only source of items. And in general, I’d say that was normal. Most of my coworkers only had family come once in 2 or 3 years overseas. How frequently do people visit other regions?

      1. Emily June 11, 2015

        I’m sure it’s different for other people, but our teams get visitors from the US at least once a year, if not twice (or sometimes even 3-4!). But that’s mainly because we send students to the cities they live in for short term trips, and whenever we do that we make sure to ply them with what they ask for.

      2. Rachel June 11, 2015

        My parents have visited twice in the 3 years we’ve been here (they can’t stay away from the grandchildren). We had a friend on an overseas trip in our country (Kenya) but not with us. We traveled cross-country to see her, and she brought us all some of our favorite snacks. But we also have had Kenyans take trips to the US and bring things back to us in their suitcase.

  14. Monica F June 11, 2015

    This would have been my list when we lived in Africa for sure, but sour patch candies instead of chocolate:)

    For those who have a healthy bent (we are vegetarian and low-sugar people), I would definitely recommend:

    1) Health bars- like Luna Bars and KIND bars- which are great for village living/treks

    2) Vitamins

    3) Emergen-C

    4) Quinoa, Almond flour or Coconut Oil packed in LOTS of ziploc bags- cause those ziploc bags are re-usable!

    5) Essential Oils or Homeopathic remedies

    6) popcorn kernals

    7) various spices

    There’s more I could list, but I found after years of village living- a really good granola bar, or energy boosting snack always made me feel better than a snickers:)

  15. Jilida June 11, 2015

    While I didn’t include them, I definitely see your point! I often loaded up on multi-vitamins, Emergen-C and Air-Bourne during trips to the U.S. and I special ordered coconut oil through I-Herb, which has reasonable shipping.

    I know sometimes what my teammates and I wanted was just medicine we were used to, that we could read, and we knew how our bodies reacted to it! Even when my boss kindly took me to the doctor and bought my medication, I ended up perusing the internet with a 102 degree temperature trying to figure out if I could safely take the medication on an empty stomach because I couldn’t keep anything down! Another time with a cold I took the local medication, then went to work and asked a coworker who spoke English if I had taken the right dosage. I figured if I collapsed during class, at least someone would know if my stomach needed to be pumped (for the record, I had taken the correct dosage: language win!).

    The big question, which would set up a whole new discussion, would be if medications (over the counter and/or homeopathic) are legally allowed to be sent. For example, we weren’t legally allowed to ship whole wheat flour to Japan. I never tried quinoa, but since it’s a grain, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was against regulations.

    1. Monica F June 12, 2015

      I think it depends on the country.  We’ve had no problems with quinoa that has remained sealed in it’s original package, and then with large ziploc bags around it.  Amaranth flour, almond flour, coconut flour- all in their original packages have arrived with no problems to our rural home in East Asia.  Homeopathic remedies are considered ‘medication’ and as long as they are in original packaging there shouldn’t be issues.

      1. Jilida June 12, 2015

        Oh, it TOTALLY depends on the country. What I meant was that when my coworkers and I tried to order whole wheat flour from a commercial company, although they sold that product, they refused to ship it to Japan, citing legal regulations. There were other products the company said Japan didn’t allow either – cocoa butter I think might have been one of them – so while someone could ship it in a package, it would have been with questionable legality.

  16. Alina June 11, 2015

    This is an awesome list (with some super helpful comments as well) – I will be sharing this with my fellow expat mama friends (and their families…)

    To add to my own list:

    1. Dried spices that are expensive or non-existent where I live: dried celery, italian basil, dill, etc.

    2. Yummy smelling candles

    3. Beauty products like Burt’s Bees or some killer nail polish.


    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      Ooh, those are good ideas too!

  17. H June 11, 2015

    I’m hoping to be headed out within a year and I’m bookmarking this to know what to ask others in the country about so I know what to stock up on and fill my suitcase with

    1. Jilida June 11, 2015

      Great! I’m so glad this will help you ask specific questions. Choose…wisely.

  18. Megan Doddridge June 11, 2015

    I always asked for something pretty. Usually whatever they could find at target. Frivolous, yes, but like candy for the soul. And stationary! Mix CDs with whatever new music is in the world. I give an AMEN to your list!

    1. Jilida June 12, 2015

      And sometimes we NEED that candy for the soul! Thanks for your comment.

  19. Dawn Bishop June 13, 2015

    In the last three years I’ve been on a really strict diet, I would add anything from the health food store that doesn’t exist here.

  20. Amy June 14, 2015

    As we call it “tangible love from home” is always a special treat!  For us in rural Kenya, chocolate chips, spice pkts like taco seasoning and ranch dressing!, relish, & Mac n cheese packets (some days this Momma just desires an EASY to prepare meal!!!!) are a couple of our “top asks”.  We are blessed with family & friends from the U.S. that either send regardless of cost (& sometimes send us extra cash -via our org or family member to direct deposit – to cover the customs charge too!) or send with people visiting the country.

    1. Jilida June 14, 2015

      I love Macaroni and Cheese too, and while the foreign food store near me sometimes had it, it was more like “3 months on, 3 months off” in terms of availability. I wonder how easy it is to get in other places.

  21. Kandis June 15, 2015

    I think everything’s been covered 🙂 it really does depend on the person but keeping a running list is a great idea. I’m Canadian so dill pickle chips are on my list. I’ve never found them anywhere else in the world! Also the maple syrup is top on my list right now. I am allergic to sugar but am allowed maple syrup 😉 I love the scented candles especially at Christmas and fall too. My mom just sent me a package and I always look for the personal note of encouragement. I might be old fashioned but reading someone’s handwriting makes me feel closer to them. My niece and nephews personal drawings are definitely a favorite. I also asked for seeds of herbs and vegetables I can’t get here.  Nothing seems to be illegal to send to my Asian country 🙂

  22. Edith January 6, 2016

    Art supplies that are hard to get in Asia- Prismacolor pencil crayons, nice thick coloured paper, stickers, bulletin boarders, scrap booking/quilting/craft supplies, shrinky dink paper…

  23. Aubri April 11, 2016

    For me, there is nothing anymore that is worth the money it cost to ship it plus the customs fees to pick it up. NOTHING. I miss the convenience of chocolate chips and such but the little 20 lb box from USPS goes for upwards of $75 in shipping to where we live. Yipes! And if the contents are worth more than $50, we could pay more to pick it up than someone spent to buy and ship it! I homeschool our kids and there is nothing I would value more than gift cards to Amazon and iTunes. This enables me to get the kids books through Kindle or iBooks and music and educational apps for the iPad and computer. Seventy-five bucks goes a long way, especially without shipping! The rest I would use to send actual books and school supplies to my peeps back home who will eventually come over and have room to bring things. It means I have to think ahead, but what a blessing to have deliveries from America from actual faces that come stay in our home! That’s a CARE package! Oh and Usborne! I can’t forget about gift cards or books from Usborne! Love them! As far as food items from America go, my stomach can’t take them anymore whether I like or not. And as much work as it is to cook/bake from scratch, the flavor of fresh keeps me coming back. Plus we live in a culture that constantly indulges children with sweets, so PLEASE do not send a box of them! We get our fill, believe you me. (Except of course Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups which are ALWAYS exempt. Send those to your heart’s delight :).) My husband’s mom does send an envelope of seasonal stickers, activities or small paperback Scholastic type books that the kids LOVE receiving about once every month or so. Those don’t cost much to send, they come straight to our door and have no customs fees attached. I love them too because it keeps my kids connected to their grandparents in a tangible way and always buys me at least one quiet hour after they open them :). If you are looking to bless your worker on the field, it’s always a safe bet to ask what would bless them most and let them guide you. We are all so different in what we value and the fields we live on are so varied in what they offer. And the workers will be the ones who will know the details of how customs work and whether they will use the contents you so painstakingly chose for them or the odds of even receiving the package!

    1. Jilida April 11, 2016

      That is an excellent point! Customs costs make such a difference. And ultimately, things do vary from country to country. For example, I could find adorable stickers in dollar stores in Japan, so in general I would have said I didn’t need stickers. But obviously they weren’t as easy to get for you. And even for me, the one great exception was if there was English on the stickers. As a teacher, those were an excellent commodity.

      It’s funny to hear the “peanut butter” theme, even if it is a “peanut butter and chocolate” thing. I never thought about it much until a New Zealand friend pointed out that in her country that flavor combination is not popular. But it really is in the U.S.! If I even think about the types of cookies I make on a regular basis, or the granola bars I’m drawn to, peanut butter and chocolate inevitably makes the list. Maybe it should be on a list of, “You know you’re an American if…”

      Thanks for commenting!

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