Shop for and Ship Consumables
What are consumables?
For the purpose of shipments for Foreign Affairs agencies, consumables (both edible and non-edible) are described below (See It's Your Move). Consumables are sometimes referred to as "expendable property." Consumables or "expendable property" are used up. They do not wear out. The Post Report or your travel orders will indicate if you are entitled to a consumables allowance. You may also check with the Transportation Office to find out if your post qualifies: 202.472.8480 / 8481 or Toll Free Number at 800.424.2947.
Edible consumables: They are foodstuffs, edible either as they are (such as packaged cookies, canned tuna) or edible as part of prepared items (such as flour or oil used to make cake). Pet food may also be shipped as part of edible consumables.
Wine, beer and liquor: If there are no country restrictions on importing wine, beer or liquor and if the consumables are being sent by surface for the entire trip, wine, beer and liquor may be included in a consumables shipment. However, two conditions may preclude sending these beverages in a consumables shipment. The receiving country may prohibit it. Or, if any part of the delivery route is by air, wine, beer and liquor may NOT be included because they are considered to be hazardous material (HAZMAT) in an air shipment. See It's Your Move, for additional guidance on importing alcohol to the United States.
Non-edible consumables: Non-edible consumables are used for personal "maintenance" (e.g. toiletries, paper products), or for household maintenance (e.g. cleaning products or paper products). This does not include items to maintain an automobile or other machinery. Nor does it include charcoal which is considered to be HAZMAT. However, it does include "kitty" litter.
Where can I find official information about consumbles shipments?
The regulations on consumables shipments are now found in 14 FAM 613.7. (This link is a hefty PDF file).
Which posts qualify for consumables shipments?
The list of consumable posts is found on the Office of Allowances Internet site. List of consumables post.
What is the weight allowance for consumables?
Although you may include consumable products (food items, paper products, toiletries, etc.) in any shipment of household effects, your assignment might entitle you to a special "consumables allowance shipment." The weight allowance for shipment of consumables has been established at 2,500 net pounds for a two-year assignment and 3,750 net pounds for a three-year assignment.
An additional allowance shall be provided when an employee extends his or her tour of duty for a year. For a one-year extension, the employee may be authorized an additional shipment of 1,250 net pounds. The initial authorization is good for a year from the date of arrival at post.
For more details, check the FAM or It's Your Move, a publication of the Office of Logistics Management.
When Do I Send My Shipment?
You may choose to send a portion of your consumables when you depart for post and after arriving at post request the remainder of your shipment as long as it is within a year of your date of arrival. If you are moving from one overseas post to another, be sure that your orders authorize you to ship consumables from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area (no other U.S. area will be authorized) as well as from your present overseas assignment.
What should I buy? How much do I need?
Since it is difficult to determine how much or what type of consumables you will need for a two-year tour, we recommend that you check the briefing box at OBC or use OBC's Post Info To Go (Intranet), where some embassies have provided consumables lists. You may also want to write directly to your post for suggestions of items to include.
Availability of your favorite foods or other products will vary widely from country to country. Contact post to find out what can be purchased locally and what you should ship. To find out how much you need, keep track of what your household uses for at least a week (ideally longer) and then multiply by the number of weeks you will be at post. Other people's guidelines may not help, since only you know how much mango salsa, peanut butter, or hand lotion you go through. If you wonder how long things will last, check this handy online list of expiration dates.
Do I need to insure my consumables?
The Military Personnel and Civilian Employees Claims Act of 1964 (The Claims Act) will accept requests for reimbursement for loss or damage of consumables. As always, the Department strongly recommends obtaining private insurance where the reimbursement for lost or damaged goods is usually more generous than through the Claims Act. The main advantage of the Claims Act is that it remains valid during periods of conflict or other conditions where regular commercial policies often become invalid.
Working with Your Consumables Provider
Most consumables vendors do not provide a delivery service. For vendors such as Shoppers' Food Warehouse and the Fairfax location of BJ's we suggest you arrange with the packer to pick up the items from the store. Make sure you give the packer a written list of the items that should be picked up from the vendor for packing. Be sure that the Office of Transportation knows that you have items to be picked up from the vendor. If you are using companies such as Costco or other locations of BJ'sWholesale Club, we recommend that you bring your purchased items home and have them packed with the rest of your household effects. For more details on shipment of consumables, consult It's your Move, a publication by the Office of Transportation of the Department of State.
If the consumables provider is not willing to store your items until they can be picked up by Transportation, this does not preclude you from using them. However, this will require you to transport the items back to your house or another location where they can be stored until Transportation can pick them up there instead. Before doing this, make sure to plan for whether or not you have enough room to hold that amount of food or grocery items in your house until they can be picked up.
European Logistical Support Office (ELSO)
The European Logistical Support Office (ELSO) has implemented a program of bringing consumables shipments closer to the customer, with the intent of providing eligible personnel with quality American goods quickly and at a reduced cost both to the customer and to the USG. There is one source available for food and household items and another for beer, wine, liquor, soft drinks, and tobacco products for individual orders. Eligible employees at a consumables post can order through ELSO, which will arrange for the shipping. A consumables shipment from ELSO is most suitable for ordering from post -- either for an initial shipment or for a supplementary order placed after the first consumables shipment has arrived.
If Post has a commissary, Do I Need to Do a Consumables Shipment?
Many posts today have a "commissary," which is a duty-free import facility affiliated with the embassy. The size of the commissary and selection of items varies by post. Because of the high costs of transportation, commissary prices, at times, can be much higher than in the United States. Therefore, take full advantage of your consumables allowance.
Places to Buy Food Consumables
Contact the Overseas Briefing Center for the latest and most up-to-date listing of consumables providers. Email FSIOBCInfoCenter@state.gov.
The Office of Allowances has a Frequently Asked Questions for consumable shipments.