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I'm in France for a month, and I need to receive packages for stuff I buy online. Unfortunately, I'm staying in an apartment building that has a locked gate, and the mailboxes are inside that gate.

If I just have a package mailed to my street address, I can't imagine it would work. I would think that the service would either leave it on the street (in which case it could easily be stolen) or refuse to deliver in that circumstance at all.

I know that Amazon has lockers and also the option of delivering to the post office, but what about other online sites? Is the right to pick up at the post office something that Amazon has negotiated specifically, or can any online store do this?

Also, I placed an order with Amazon for delivery to my local post office, but there was one item from the US that they said was not eligible for pickup at the post office, so again I am stuck. Why would this be and, again, what could I do to get this delivered?

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    Have you tried asking the rental owner / agency how receiving post works in the building? There must be other occupants with the same problem, you could also try asking a neighbour? – Traveller Jul 25 at 9:07
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    I did, and he said: The delivery and postmen have pass key to access mailbox, so that should not be an issue. However from time to time (especially during summer) some delivery men might still packer delivered by another colleague, so it is better to be there or pick it up rapidly to avoid such issue. This did not inspire me with confidence that my package will ever arrive, especially if I'm not home at the time to "pick it up rapidly". – Joshua Frank Jul 25 at 9:09
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    I just want to add that in my experience it is crucial in France/Paris to have your name on the post box. All my letters where not delivered before I did this, because I was told from the post office that this is an requirement – Noldig Jul 25 at 19:51
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    In france, when you use Amazon (/etc) for delivery, there's actually a special field where you enter the entry code for the gate. It's just one of those things about France. (Amazing nobody else has mentioned this.) – Fattie Jul 25 at 21:51
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    Perhaps the fact that all the other people in the building and many more across the city receive all their packages like that and have done for years will inspire more confidence in you? Multiple people have told you how things typically work. One said this is "standard practice". I would suggest you take that at face value. – Turkeyphant Jul 26 at 2:21
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The situation is complex and quite variable.

If the delivery is done by La Poste (the incumbent postal service), they usually have access to those mailboxes (they have the RFID equivalent of a master key, as well as master keys to open the mailboxes to deliver parcels in them, if they are standard mailboxes). The exception is if there’s a concierge, in which case they will receive mail and deliver it into the mailboxes (this is becoming quite rare in France). The standard parcel delivery service of La Poste is called Collisimo.

If they can’t get access or the parcel is too big for the mailbox, they should normally ring using the “interphone” if there is one.

If this fails or they’re in lazy mode, they will leave a missed delivery note, and you will either be able to pick up at the nearest post office, or the option to chose another delivery attempt (not sure if this is generalised).

Note that special instructions are usually not available, it’s the address and nothing else.

Most of this usually also applies to parcels delivered by Chronopost, though this may vary locally.

Most other private delivery companies will not have access to the mailboxes inside. They will either:

  • call you when they are about to deliver (some use this to coax you into stepping down to the street to get your parcel instead of coming up to your flat like they’re supposed to)

  • call you if they can’t make the delivery

  • leave a note with options

  • leave a note letting you know they delivered the parcel at a nearby store

  • pretend you weren’t home even if you were and deliver it directly to a nearby shop and let you know by email or SMS

Some will attempt a second delivery.

In most cases, you can provide additional instructions, including the “digicode” (code used to enter the building), the number or name for the “interphone” (an audio or audio-video system between the building entrance and each flat), and possibly instructions on what to do if you are absent (leave in location X, leave with neighbour Y, etc.).

Note that “nearby shop” can be quite a distance. There are several different networks of shops providing this service, so depending on which network the delivery company works with, and which network local stores are affiliated to, it may end up in different locations, some quite further than others.

Most sites (including Amazon) will actually let you pick directly a store to have the parcel delivered to. Some will even provide this service cheaper than home delivery. The generic name for the service is “relais colis”, and the site may be affiliated with one or more of the networks. You’ll usually have a map to pick the most convenient location, with opening hours etc.

Don’t hesitate to call the shop before going there to reconfirm their opening hours, the data is not always up to date.

Other options include Poste Restante (only for parcels delivered by La Poste), mailboxes in post offices (though I believe this is becoming quite rare, and is probably expensive for mailboxes suitable for parcels), lockers (either those of Amazon or those of La Poste), and more, but they are often restrictive.

  • Thanks for this detailed information. I guess I'm still not quite sure if my host would want the gate code shared with some online company that they didn't authorize specifically. It doesn't seem like a huge security risk, but it's something. And why does he seem to think that even with the code, the delivery man might still not have or use it and then would just leave the package on the street. Is that likely?! – Joshua Frank Jul 25 at 13:42
  • And, finally, I'm not sure why Amazon is saying that one item is not eligible for pickup at all, even at one of their designated locations! Why would that be and how am I supposed to receive it then? – Joshua Frank Jul 25 at 13:44
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    @JoshuaFrank if the code is needed for the delivery, it's standard practice to provide it when you order. I've never seen a delivery guy leave a package on the street for a residence/building, unless instructed to do so of course. Either they deliver it directly to you, or in the mailbox, or it will end up at the post office or a local store. – jcaron Jul 25 at 23:02
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    @JoshuaFrank Amazon uses dozens of different delivery companies, based on where the parcel comes from (they have dozens of warehouses all over Europe), where it is to be delivered (both the area and the type of delivery: at home or at a local "relais"), the size and weight of the parcel, the delivery option/speed you pick, etc. Not all combinations are possible. – jcaron Jul 25 at 23:04
  • +1 for "relais colis". If the seller can deliver using this method, and there's a shop nearby, then this is usually a more convenient option than delivery by post -- and it doesn't involve your current address in any way. – a3nm Jul 27 at 9:54
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Amazon has an option to deliver your packages to "relays" or "points de retrait" - usually gas stations and small shops can act like one, but there are dedicated places too. You get your package there free of charge, at the store's opening hours. You will need a valid ID to pick it up.

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If the item you want is not eligible for such delivery, you can usually buy it from another seller which supports this option.

If you provide your home address as delivery address, and the courier is unable to deliver the package, your item will typically end up in the post office or in such a relay (and you'll get a mail or a paper note in your mailbox with instructions). You may not be able to pick a convenient location though: I once had to go across town to pick up a package.

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    Excellent answer (+1). The "point relay" (and "point retrait" and others) are by far the best option for people who happen to be in France for a short time (and for residents too, when they have issues with the mailbox/tenders/*gardiens*, ...). They also happen to be in plenty of places which are open longer than usual / on Sat-Sun – WoJ Jul 26 at 14:00
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In my residence, I have exactly the same case. Mail boxes are too small (aperture is designed for letters only) and are accessible from within the building for which the external door is always kept close for security reasons (accessed through physical key or RFID wireless key by residents).

I will tell you what happens with Amazon delivery based on my experience:

  • Typically, the postman comes during working hours, so normally, the receptionist should be in his office and will let him in to deposit the parcels in his office so that he would dispatch it himself. If not (Too big parcel), it will be kept in his safe until you pick it up yourself.

  • If not, in case the admission/reception office is exceptionally closed during working-hours, or delivery is taking place on Saturday (Amazon Prime), I used to receive a phone call on my mobile from the deliverer, provided that I included that my number in my Amazon account of course.

I just agree with the deliverer on a specific timing. Alternatively, I would ask some colleague inside the building to receive the parcel on my behalf and sign for it.

Don't worry, everything is well-tracked in France and you should receive your goods. Good Luck,

  • Thanks for the information. Unfortunately, this is a residential building, and there isn't any receptionist here, and I don't know anyone who could receive it if I am not here when it arrives. – Joshua Frank Jul 25 at 13:36
  • Offices with receptionists don't generally have package delivery issues – user61942 Jul 25 at 19:13
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Note that even though Chronoposte looks like it's a service from the post office, it's actually entirely run by contractors (down to sub-sub-sub contractors..) and behaves quite differently from the post office. Especially in terms of delivery, and especially to residential addresses. If you want the full benefit of post office service, be sure to use Colissimo and not Chronoposte. The latter's claims of being 'express' is absolutely not reflected in reality in my experience, in fact to a residential address you strongly risk never getting your package at all, much less getting it faster.

  • Do I have a choice who sends the package? In the US, Amazon and other online companies generally pick the delivery company and the buyer doesn't have much choice, unless you choose to pay a lot of money for express delivery, which I don't actually need. – Joshua Frank Jul 26 at 8:42
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    In the case of Amazon, no, you don’t have an explicit choice, and you will know only once the parcel is shipped. In some locations, most items are delivered via Amazon’s own service (which is an Uber-like scheme of private contractors), with varied results. In other places it’s a majority of La Poste and/or Chronopost. With the odd mix of other providers depending on a variety of factors. But if you choose delivery in a « point relais » you don’t care much about that. – jcaron Jul 26 at 10:55
  • The sub-contracting of Chronopost is actually quite variable. Some items are delivered by the regular mailman (smaller items are even included in the bike routes, others will be in the van routes). I had two packages delivered last week from Amazon while on holiday, one via La Poste, the other via Chronopost, both were delivered at the same time and directly in the mailbox (and too big to go through the slot), so they were clearly delivered by the mailman. – jcaron Jul 26 at 11:00
  • Not picking the most express route is how you avoid Chronoposte – user61942 Jul 26 at 17:32
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A solution that might help you is called Poste restante, meaning Staying at the post office.

The trick is to give as your address, your name followed by the mention "Poste restante" and the address of a specific post office near you. The letter or package will be delivered to this office and you will be able to get it by presenting an ID. As an example, you might provide this address:

Joshua Frank Poste restante
21 avenue des Champs-Élysées
75008 Paris

  • Thanks for this. Does the post office charge for this service? If not, why would they be willing to subsidize companies by receiving packages for them? – Joshua Frank Jul 26 at 8:41
  • I think it is free. As explained, it is not well known, and was developed for people in need. Maybe it is only available if the delivery was made via their system in the first place? For Amazon, you could look into "Relais colis", which is basically a shop that will receive packages for you, taking a cut of the delivery price, and you can go there to pick it up when the shop is open. Maybe I should have led with that… – SdaliM Jul 26 at 9:15
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    This method exists on every postal service. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poste_restante – roetnig Jul 26 at 9:28
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    Note that this applies only for parcels and letters delivered via La Poste, not via private delivery companies. It’s not always obvious what delivery service a site will use. – jcaron Jul 26 at 10:49
  • This was not developed recently for any specific population. It's been in use since the beginning of the post office, circa the Revolution. – user61942 Jul 26 at 17:35
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In France, the parcel will never, ever be left on the street. By the way, do not worry about the gate code, I think every pizza store has every gate code in the country already.

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    Er, it might not be left on the street, but it is often left in places freely accessible from the street. Depending on the kind of gate, they might also throw the package over it. – Marc Glisse Jul 25 at 21:57

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