Holy moly, it took me a while to figure all of this out, but I am so excited to share and hopefully help other makers who are serving tours in Japan help their businesses thrive.
Below I will share the shipping process for the off base Japanese Post Office, because it is really the only way we as business owners stationed in Japan, are able to ship things back to the states or internationally. The use of the APO system for business purposes is not allowed, but thankfully there is another option!
I will preface all of this by saying that I am using the ETSY platform for my selling and shipping online. Etsy collects the correct necessary taxes based on the buyer’s location (including overseas VAT taxes) and remits them to the correct jurisdictions on your behalf. I visited the legal office at Misawa to ensure that my using of the off base post office would be legal if I were to open an Etsy shop for my hair bows and other creations, and that SOFA would not be violated somehow. I was given the go-ahead by legal. I believe that Shopify functions similarly, and other platforms may as well. Be aware that when selling to an international address, often VAT taxes need to be charged and sent to the correct jurisdictions. Because of this, I would recommend against selling independently, and would lean towards using a platform like Etsy.
If you’d like to open an Etsy for the first time, clicking on my referral link here will give you your first 40 listings for free!
ALL OF THIS TO SAY, I CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE AND THIS BLOG POST IS NOT MEANT TO BE SUCH. If you are concerned about your own business and the legalities behind it, PLEASE visit your legal office or consult a tax professional.
**Do be aware that the options as of writing this in February 2021 are limited due to Covid-19. When options change again, I will update this post.**
***Prices are due to change April 1, 2021 for most packages sent to the USA through this system***
The cheapest and easiest route I have found so far, at least for smaller and easily packed items?
International Mail My Page Service.
Basically, Japan Post has several options for sending smaller, lighter packages internationally for a discounted rate, and they have an online system in place for printing out your customs labels. I was actually fairly surprised at how big of packages they allowed to be shipped this way, and the speeds at which they can reach the US if you are willing to pay a little more.
In order to use their online shipping options, you will need a few basic things:
- A postage scale that weighs in GRAMS/KG.
This is the one that I have been using since 2017 for any sort of package mailing even in the states, and it has always been accurate for me. I will be purchasing this slightly bigger option (for wider packages) this week though.
- Regular packaging/mailing supplies for securely sending your products.
- A printer or access to somewhere that you are able to print your customs forms.
- The “pouches” that Japan Post requires that you use for this kind of shipment.
- Yen for the post office for when you send your item. (Still unsure if Japan Post in Misawa takes card, every time I have sent a package it has been a small enough fee for me to just use yen. Next time when I have a bigger group of packages to be sent all at once, I will confirm if they will accept American credit cards or not.)
Here is the process for the Japan Post online shipping account, in a nutshell.
You will create an online profile on the JP website that will be your “shipping profile.” You can save addresses here and enter recipients’ addresses. For your own address, you will use your “Japanese” address instead of your APO box. Thus, anything you have sent to this address will come straight to your door, NOT the base post office.
Your online account simply serves as a way to pre-estimate your shipping costs and create the customs forms for your package.
Once you create your account, you will order the “pouches” that Japan Post requires for this type of shipping. These are free, and are delivered right to your door as well. The pouches simply serve as a waterproof barrier on the outside of your package in which you will place your customs forms.
Once you have created your account and have ordered and received these adhesive pouches, you are ready to begin shipping!
Now I will go into the super duper detailed version of the process, along with the tips I have found useful in the few times I have shipped. My apologies for the length of this post, there’s just SO much information in regards to how this process works if you have never dealt with any of it before!
First, you will need to create an account through Japan Post online.
Japan Post has an option for translating everything into English. Find that, and select it.
(Scroll to the bottom of the home page. Click “About using this site.”
Then, click the far right option on the top of the next page that says “English.”)
There you go, everything is now in English.
The page you will land on after clicking the English option is the main index page for sending domestic (in Japan) as well as international options.
I’ll link it here in case it doesn’t automatically pull up for you.
This page will give you links to ALL of the available services (and most of the pricing) through Japan Post.
To create an online account, next click on Express Mail Service under the “Sending Overseas” column.
Here you will find the main page for EMS shipping. The main page looks like this, you will see in the upper right hand corner an option to “log in here.” Click this, you will come to a page where you can create your own account.
The next page will give you the option to create an account as an individual or a corporation. I chose to create a corporate customer account. (The difference between individual accounts and corporate accounts is simply how many addresses you can store! I chose the corporate account, because I have repeat customers I ship to, and it is nice to not have to re-enter their addresses every time.)
Next, you will fill out the form that appears.
Misawa Air Base has a Japanese postal code of 033-0012
Your prefecture is Aomori, which is the SECOND option on the drop-down list (match the kanji to the image below to be sure.)
Your city/town/village will be Misawa-Shi
Your street number is the actual street on base that you live on (i.e. Yellowstone, Thunderjet, etc.) AND Misawa Air Base
(Sometimes on the website there is an “address line 2” available, if so, place Misawa Air Base in this line. You MUST include Misawa Air Base in your address somewhere, as this part of your address somewhat functions as your “chome” or the district of the city in which you live.)
The floor of condo/etc. is your building number and house letter (i.e. tower 117, 9B or 321A)
If you ever need to know Aomori in kanji, it looks like this:
I entered our old address on base to show you the tricky parts of the address entry:
On the lines below these, I only entered my email address. (I did not fill out the “email address of a cellular phone” lines.)
Next, it will ask you to create a password and fill in your secret questions.
Then, you will fill out a brief survey regarding what you intend to use Japan Post for. Do your best to answer the questions to the best of your knowledge. These are my answers, which may or may not be different from yours.
When you have finished, click “accept.” You will then be emailed a “pre-registration link.” You will not be able to use your account until you confirm your account through email. Go to your email, click the link.
Bam, you are now the proud owner of a Japan Post shipping account.
Your home page will look like this once you have logged in.
Your next step will be to click “order pouch.”
These are the little customs document holders that are adhesive and have to be stuck to the outside of your packages.
The next page that comes up will be your request for pouches. To start off with, I requested 20. Use your “Japanese address” as listed in your account from what we entered above.
Press confirm, then confirm one more time, and your pouches will be shipped directly to your door on base. It took around two business days for mine to arrive each time. I happened to be home both times that mine were delivered, but I am assuming they will leave them in a bag on your doorknob if you are not home as well.
Once you receive your pouches, you are ready to ship!
To ship a package, on the main menu, click “create labels.”
The process of creating a label is much like USPS in the states, and is fairly self-explanatory. I will go step by step with you.
You will select your sender information, which should be saved in your account as your Japanese address.
If your sender address does not automatically pull up, enter it manually. You will enter the various pieces of your “Japanese address” as follows, if the sender entry does not pull up automatically:
Then, you will enter the address of your recipient.
I won’t include a screenshot for this one, because USA addresses will be entered exactly as you would for any USPS package in the states. Easy peasy!
If you are not shipping to a company and only an individual customer, on the required “company” slot, just click on the line and hit the spacebar to leave it blank.
Address 1 will be the house number, address 2 will be the street name, and address 3 will be the city that you are shipping to. Click register once you have filled out the full address.
The next page will be your actual contents page for customs. Here is where you will choose the speed/type of delivery you’d like, as well as enter the contents of the package and the weight. Package contents and the weight/value of each item is the same concept as a USPS customs form. Each slot will tell you if it wants the value in USD or JPY.
Now, for a brief explanation of the shipping types as shown above.
***CURRENTLY BECAUSE OF COVID-19, OVER HALF OF THE REGULAR OPTIONS ARE UNAVAILABLE. You will only have the options of International ePacket, Postal Parcel, Small Packet, and Printer Matter. For sending packages, your only options currently will be International ePacket and Small Packet.***
Click on the little question mark for a detailed explanation of each, along with the minimum and max sizes/weights allowed for each shipping type.
Thank you to my friend Saaya for helping understand the differences between shipping types!
Postal parcels are regular mail like letters, bills, or cards. This will not be an option you select if you are shipping an actual package. Even if you choose to use this option for small letters/postcards, tracking will not be available.
EMS (Goods) will usually be your fastest option for sending items to the states, and is typically used to send larger items. This option is the most like “priority express” in the states. EMS mail will come with tracking as well as insurance. This will also be very pricey, but has the ability to deliver items overseas in a matter of days instead of weeks. At a bare minimum for the smallest package, expect to spend around $20 for this option, with prices increasing as packages get larger.
International EPacket and International EPacket light are one of the best options for small packages. EPacket will be sent by “air” and will come with up to 6000yen insurance. EPacket light is by SAL (slow air mail) with NO insurance, but does include tracking.
Small Packet shipping will be one of the most cost effective options, but it will also be one of the slowest, and will not include tracking (to my understanding. I will update if this is untrue, but the “tracking number” I received has not updated at all.) You may also customize this shipping type by choosing to add tracking or insurance for an additional fee. These will be chosen AT the post office, not online though, so you will have to be able to communicate that you would like to add these.
So far, I have used chosen to only use Small Packet shipping for my packages of hair bows. I click the regular “small packet” option, then click “air.”
Small packet shipping is available in 3 speeds- AIR, SAL, and SURFACE. They are pretty much exactly how they sound- air mail, slow air mail, and surface (boat) mail, respectively. The difference on price is honestly quite tiny, so I have always gone with air mail.
(Currently it sounds like air mail is the only option due to Covid-19, for both ePacket and Small Packet shipping.)
You can use this tool to estimate your shipping costs for the various types of mailing.
When using the tool, if you are in Misawa you will be shipping from “Aomori.”
Calculate your package weight (after completely packed, remember that packaging materials will always add weight) in GRAMS, then select which country and state you will be shipping to. You will then see an estimate for all of the available shipping types. If you click on the question marks beside shipping types, you can also see the limits for package sizes. Note that there are both maximum AND minimum sizes for shipping.
Next, you will enter your content descriptions. I took a package to the post office last week with a simple description in English of “hair bows” but it caused a bit of headache for the postal worker, as she was unable to read the English had to translate it and key it in manually. If sending to the USA, you MUST have your contents listed in English, though!
If you write your contents only in English with no code added, I would recommend bringing in a translated sticky note of what your contents are.
There is a line for the harmonized system (HS) code- filling this in may make the process easier too.
Here is the HS code list for customs forms if you would like to look up your own code. You can also search for the code on Google.
For example, my hair bows have a HS code of 9615900.
Be sure to accurately describe the quantity, estimated value, and description of all of your items in the customs form.
When you have finished adding items, hit register and certify that you are not sending hazardous materials.
Enter your shipping date. Be sure to pick the day you will actually be shipping the items out from the Post Office, not just the day you print your customs form.
Next, enter your gross weight. This will be the total weight of the package after all packaging materials have been added. I don’t typically weigh the package until it is sealed and the adhesive pouch is added to the outside. I typically add about 8 grams to this total for what the customs forms themself will weigh.
Once you add your gross weight, you will see the shipping cost. This row will also tell you if your package has insurance automatically via the shipping method you selected. If no insurance is listed, and the option is not available to add online, you can ask for insurance at the post office counter if you would like to add it.
Next, you will select if you want an invoice printed or not.
Then you will declare whether your products have commercial value or not. I am still somewhat unclear on the process of tarriffs in regards to us being USA citizens sending to the US. If you have questions about this one, I won’t give you a recommendation either way- contact a tax professional so I don’t mess up your business haha.
After this, you will select how often you want to be notified of the progress of your package, and how often your customer wants to be notified.
When you are finished with all of this, hit submit.
Hit “register shipment” and BAM. You have created your first shipping label.
IMPORTANT: YOU MAY ONLY PRINT YOUR CUSTOMS FORMS FOR SHIPPING ONCE. Make sure your printer is turned on and ready to print before you actually hit print. If your ink messes up or the page refreshes before printing, you will have to cancel your shipment and redo it. The “reprint” option is only for your own records, it does not work for shipping at the post office once your initial forms have been printed. Be sure that a bar code has printed on your document. If there is no bar code present, you likely have printed a copy, and not the original.
Print all your required documents, and you are ready to head to the post office!
Do NOT put the forms in the pouch yet, and DO NOT seal the pouch. You will present your forms and your package to the postal worker, and they will put them inside the pouch for you. You will likely have to fill out one more certification form at the post office stating that you are not sending hazardous materials, and will have to sign and date 1-2 forms at the time of sending.
Once you present your package and documents, they will scan the package into the system, and you may pay for your package.
Viola! You have shipped internationally through Japan Post.
Tracking can be found on your main menu under “shipping history.” Select the shipment you are looking for, and click “track and trace.” You will then be able to see any updated tracking information for your package, if the package comes with tracking!
I hope this has helped you better understand how to begin shipping through the off base post office. It is a process to figure out via trail and error, so you will likely have to do a little of your own research to figure out which shipping method works best for what you are looking for!
If you have any questions, feel free to DM me on Instagram @joyfulcrew! I am a little slow to respond to messages sometimes (three kid problems, right?) but I will always help however I can!