Mailing guide in Italy
Historically, Italy does not have a reliable postal service or large industries involving around mail commerce. Until the de-regulation post 1990s, Poste Italiane (Italian Post) was the monopoly, and just like its telecom counterpart, Telecom Italia, was known for its inefficient management and poor service.
To send something by mail often involves standing in line for ten to twenty minutes or more. To receive something mail often means not getting it in the time frame indicated by the postal service, or not getting it at all. Even until recently, postal theft was a big problem, and anything of value should not be mailed without tracking and insurance. Sometimes even things of little monetary value do not arrive in time or at all.
I built a mail-order service business when I was in the U. S., relying exclusively on USPS or private courier companies to receive and deliver products from and to my customers. Over the thousands of orders that I had, I rarely used insurance option unless the customer specifically requested. In fact, I only had lost two packages, one of them stolen from my office door step. That’s a very reliable postal system. Coming from this background, Italy’s postal system’s quality is a stark contrast to what I experienced in the U. S.
An old sign of Poste Italiane in Caserta vecchia
One member of this web site described her surreal experience of receiving a box of chocolate from her mom in the U. S., only to find one piece missing. I took had my shares of negative experience of receiving packages. I once sent a box containing a power adapter and a silver commemorative coin from the U. S. to Italy, and the box arrived with just the power adapter, and no coin.
In 2004, I sent a box containing a Nokia 7250 cell phone in Italy, and this phone was worth 300 euros at the time. I sent it with PaccoCelere 3, a slower delivery option with tracking offered by Italian Post. The phone was missing upon arrival while other things remained in the box. Unfortunately, the buyer opted not to pay for extra insurance when he purchased it and could not claim damage from the post office.
For expatriates who want to receive something from outside the European Union, getting the package could be even more problematic than losing it. The reason is that the Italian postal service and custom can complicate receiving any packages from outside the E. U. by adding import duty, fees, and bureaucratic procedures.
Receiving packages from outside the E. U. can be a very inconsistent experience depending on how the custom handles each package. Around 2004 or 2005, I ordered a router/modem from the U. S., which did not cost much by itself; however, it got stuck in the custom office in Rome. That meant we had to spend the money for a roundtrip train ticket to Rome (around 40 euros) and spend half of the time locating that office near the airport. We did all this just for a router/modem that cost less than $80 which was not available in Italy at the time.
Even recently, I received a gift of two DVDs from Japan. Those two DVDs costs about $60, and yet I was hit with nearly $25 custom duty and postal processing fee. An acquaintance had even worse experience when getting a gift from Japan that ended up costing him 50 euros.
Another recently incident was when I received a notification letter from the custom office for a package that was sent from China, containing children’s books. I was not asked to pay yet, but I had to file a form and send it back to them wait for a response or action. The most absurd example is this - a free photo book that I ordered and I ended up paying a custom duty and processing fee based on the shipping charge that I paid to the company.
Generally I try to avoid making mail purchase from outside the European Union as much as possible. However, there are times that I just cannot find what I need within the E. U. and will have to pay in money and time dealing with the postal system.
To give credit where it is due, in the last decade, some improvements were made as Italy discovered the convenience and benefit of e-commerce. Big companies like Amazon.com made their presence felt in Italy and now the reliability of domestic delivery has improved significantly. There are also many options to choose from, especially for domestic and E. U. delivery. These alternatives are often competitive in price and performance. Here are some of them:
BRT Correiere Espresso – A private express logistics company that is used often by businesses in Italy
TNT - Another popular express courier
Poste Italiane – The old, established Italian Post. They actually have one of the best rates for international delivery, especially priority mail.
ioInvio – an on-line package shipping service operated by SDA, substantially cheaper than PaccoCelere 3 rate from the post office. They only pick up the package from your home. This is probably the most economical option when mailing domestically.
UPS – limited network, rarely seen in Italy, but often they are used for mailing from and to other countries
FedEx – relies on SDA
SDA – Express arm of the Italian post
GLS Italy – an express delivery company