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Its Tuesday, December 19, 2017 the day I go to Customs to have my shipping container inspected. My shipping container arrived in the Port of Guayaquil Thursday, December 7th on time as expected.
So why am I only now going for the customs inspection?
Good question. The last two weeks went something like this….
On December 1st it was confirmed that the ship with container aboard was on time, and unless something freakish happened it would for sure be in port as scheduled on the 7th.
Great, fabulous. I am going to have my stuff and be well on my way to unpacked – before Christmas! I might even get some decorating done. Woohoo!
My Visa had not yet been approved, but was expected pretty much any day. The local Importer from the moving abroad shipping company I have been working with and the Visa specialist were in contact with one another – no issues.
It was decided we would wait until mid week to decide if I needed to get a Bond to clear Customs or if the Visa might just squeek through first. Its only supposed to take 24 hours to get a Bond issued.
Plenty of time. No worries.
Monday the 4th we decided we should go ahead with the Bond just in case and appointments were made with the bank for the next day. Tuesday the 5th we went to the bank and paperwork was started. I was to go back the next day for final signatures.
The next day I went to the bank. Twice.
The paperwork was not correct. Thankfully the Importer caught the problem and we didn’t submit the paperwork to Customs incorrectly which would have caused even more of a delay.
The paperwork did not get corrected by the bank and ready for signatures until Thursday the 14th. And then I had to go again on Friday the 15th to pick up the docs, have them Notarized, and then forwarded to Customs.
So by the time that all got done, it was the end of the day, and there was no confirmation from Customs = no date for Inspection.
On Monday the 18th we were notified that an Inspection could be done the next day. Great – we’ll take it.
So at 3:30 am, I met the Importer at the van service office in Cuenca where we boarded a van and were driven to Guayaquil. The shipping container had been at port for twelve days already. And fast approaching Christmas – and a port shut down.
Keep in mind that when the container gets to port it has a set amount of time that it can be in port before additional storage fees start accruing. I had 14 days. And we are on day 12.
We arrived in Guayaquil at 7:30ish. We grab a quick bite to eat and a cup of coffee at a little cafe stand next to the van service office.
Once you are admitted to the Port you stay and aren’t able to leave. So no food once you get there. Better eat before you go.
After a quick breakfast we are into a taxi and off to the Port.
When you get to the Port, you have to register and wait for an entry pass. And at this point I am told that I have to be in work boots. As I have on sneakers that means I have to rent a pair of boots for $2.
Hmmm, would have been good to know this too as I have on little, thin no show socks with my sneakers and I am given a pair of hard leather, steel toed boots that are too big.
Since the majority of my shoes were in the container and I didn’t have ‘work’ boots with me using these rented boots was needed anyway. I did have a pair of work boots and a couple pairs of hiking boots in the container which was of absolutely no help for this day. But I could have at least had thicker socks that were suitable to wear with these boots.
It’s really a luck of the draw thing. Some clerks would allow sneakers and some won’t. Now I know. Although I doubt I will ever go through this again if I do next time I will have thicker socks!
But, ok we are here what is there to do but put the boots on?
Off we go to the area where the containers are. It’s going to be a challenge, my feet are already hurting and the leather is rubbing around my ankles and over the tops of my toes. I am feeling the blisters swell as I walk.
It’s a sight to behold. There are alot of containers lined up side by side by side down two columns with a large open space in between.
Each shipping container is identified by two sets of numbers and each has a corresponding inventory/manifest.
Each container is assigned a group of people: A Customs Inspector, a Supervisor type, a handful of workers, and another guy who I really don’t know what he did, he works somewhere between the Importer, the Inspector and separate from the workers.
Maybe he was just there to run interference? The one assigned to my container was helpful and seemed to be an ally for my Importer so all was good.
There is a mix of commercial import and household containers, like mine. Once the numbers on the containers are verified, the seals are cut open, and the stuff starts coming out.
It seems to go everywhere, there are forklifts and people just all over the place. As the containers are all side by side its mind boggling that they keep it all straight – but they do.
It is about 8:30 now and we are waiting. The Inspector assigned to my container is not yet on site. At 9:30 my Importer hears from him and he says he has been in a meeting and will be there shortly.
Its now 10:45 and its getting hot. Its humid, and we’ve been standing here waiting for a little more than 2 hours. Ah, here he comes!
Finally. Introductions are made, hands are shook, and the eyeing up of potential profit begins. The numbers are verified, seals broken, container opened and the stuff starts coming out.
The looks on the worker’s and the Inspector’s face when the doors opened were comical, and maybe a little alarming. One of the worker’s said he had never seen a container packed so full.
They were fast and fairly efficient. But not careful or gentle with the stuff.
Boxes were upside down, sideways and a few got tossed from one worker to another. I pointed it out to the Supervisor and asked him to have them be a little more careful then held my breath as he shrugged and ambled over to talk with the workers.
The Inspector watched several items being removed then took his copy of the Inventory and he and my Importer started opening random boxes and pulling them apart.
Note – as boxes are cut open, and things are taken out, it is random, it is not orderly, and the stuff stays in whatever disheveled state it is in when the Inspector is done going through the box.
You are not allowed to touch it, put the stuff back or repack or seal the boxes til the very end of the day. I wouldn’t say it was bad, but I did hold my breath when they started just pulling on fabric that had been carefully wrapped around things, versus actually lifting the whole item out and unwrapping it.
After about 20 boxes had been removed from the container the guy who appeared to be the ringleader of the workers – not the Supervisor – sidled up to me and asked in Spanish if I was planning on giving them any “soda money.”
I was prepared for this because my Importer had told me that “soda money” was usually given to the workers at the end of the day.
I tried in my broken Spanish to explain to him that at the end of the day the Importer would be giving them soda money IF all went well and the things were handled carefully etc.
This seemed to piss the guy off and thankfully my Importer stepped in and settled them down. The boxes and furniture did start to get handled a little more gently.
The Inspector started complaining and pointing out certain items and saying I had too much of specific things (things there is no published amount that are restricted) and saying that I had expensive things.
Posturing. He was setting the stage for the negotiations.
At about this point the Inspector made his way into the container to look at the appliances to see if he could inspect them without them having to be removed from the container. And the negotiations for the bribe began.
He asked for $1500, my Importer laughed and said $300. They each looked at the other in disgust and turned away from each other.
They agreed to continue the conversation and just get on with the Inspection.
At about 1pm all of a sudden there was no one there and my stuff was in piles all around me. The absence of people was sudden and happened in a snap of fingers.
Where’d they go? It must have been lunch time. I was instructed to sit tight and keep a watch over my stuff.
About 20 minutes later, people started re appearing with packages of food. They then ate and worked in turns simultaneously.
Apparently the lunch time is only enough to go and get the food, not enough time to actually eat. They also were not allowed to bring in a lunch box, everyone brought lunch in a styrofoam container from a vendor that is allowed on site.
Water was supplied in 5 gallon containers and each group had a metal cup that they shared.
They were nice and offered to share with me. I politely refused and thanked the Universe that although I had to check my purse at the guard shack, they did allow me to bring in my water bottle.
I didn’t have food, but I at least had the water. And did I mention it was hot? The day I was at Custom’s the temp hit 98 and humid. My clothes were sticking to me, especially with the bright orange polyester safety vest and plastic hard hat I was required to wear.
Oyvey, I was not prepared for this. At the same time I am so happy this day has come and this is happening I couldn’t give a care how hot it was or what I looked like sweating and with my hair stuck to me head.
So, the guys continued to unload, and eventually the Inspector ambled back over and resumed pawing through my stuff. He grumbled while he and my Importer had their heads together over my boxes.
While this was going on the gal who had the container next to mine was starting to show distress. It didn’t look like her inspection was going well.
She was an Ecuadorian who had lived in the States and was returning to live in Ecuador. She didn’t have an Importer – she did it all herself.
It’s now 3:45 in the afternoon. I have a large chunk of my stuff spread out all over the place and there is still quite a lot in the container. It’s time for the negotiations to come to a head.
The Inspector is saying a container with as much stuff as I brought would normally be a three day inspection if done thoroughly and he doesn’t think the dollar values I have listed on my Inventory are correct, he thinks many items should be considerably higher in value.
A longer inspection would require me and the Importer to stay in Guayaquil for the duration of days, and higher amounts would mean paying a higher tax or import fee.
Note – you get a one time free of fee import if you bring your stuff in within a specific amount of time. BUT that’s only true until you hit Customs and THEY randomly decide what you are bringing in that you have to pay for above and beyond. What is posted on the government web sites, published etc as laws are really only arbitrary guidelines.
The Customs Inspectors, and then the paperwork pushers that complete the paperwork can arbitrarily charge you as they see fit. They can also determine if specific items that you are importing are allowable or not – regardless if they are posted/published as allowable.
Know this – you have to be nice, be grateful, be appreciative, and it helps immensely to have a local Importer who works with these people on a regular basis to navigate this for you.
This is not a place where you can demand things go your way, or where you expect them to abide by posted/published guidelines or where you are right because you are the customer. Oh no Grasshopper – it does not work that way.
Just know that. Accept it and do your best to work IN the system as it is.
While my Importer and the Custom’s Inspector are going back and forth about the issues with my inventory etc the gal next to me is crying.
Turns out she did not use an Importer, she did all the paperwork and the Inventory herself and the Inspector has determined her Inventory is not done correctly.
So, she gets to pack it all back into the container, and she has to re do the entire Inventory. That means opening every box, and re-writing and submitting the whole thing again.
She will be required to use Port staff to load and unload her container each day while they open every single box and re do her inventory. She gets to pay for their time, and she then has to re submit the paperwork, wait for the pre inspection to be done again, get a new Inspection scheduled, and then go through the whole thing again.
And probably pay a substantial storage fee to the Port for the additional time her container will be there, the time of the workers etc
This is what she did wrong: She had clothes for both men and women in her container. She labelled all as 4 shirts, 2 pants etc. THIS IS NOT CORRECT.
She should have differentiated between Men’s and Women’s, Children’s etc. 2 Women’s Shirts, 2 Men’s shirts, etc. She did not segregate, she lumped. She also did not keep all of her clothing items separate from her other items. She used some clothes to wrap around her stuff as padding. As a result she is required to re do the ENTIRE inventory, not just her clothing boxes.
Lesson: USE AN IMPORTER – THEY WILL REVIEW YOUR INVENTORY BEFORE IT IS SHIPPED. DO WHAT YOUR IMPORTER TELLS YOU. DO NOT IGNORE THE RULES. There is no being cutesy, wink-wink and make it go away or let things slide.
So when my Importer comes to me and says the Inspector says for $800 he will end the inspection now, he will accept all dollar values and he will not require a full inspection I say YES! Who do I give the cash to?
All is agreed upon and now we scramble to get all the items put back in boxes, re taped and sealed and get it all reloaded into the container.
Each of the workers, the Supervisor and the other guy get $20 cash “soda money” and at 6:30 we are done and on our way back to the guard shack where I very gratefully get my own shoes back.
My toes are bleeding and I have blisters all the way around both of my ankles. It hurts to have my pants even touch the area, so these get rolled up.
We have an arranged car coming to pick us up and bring us back to the van service. The day ran longer than anticipated and now we have an hour and a half to get across town during rush hour and hopefully find something to eat before we get on the van for the 4 hour ride home.
So much for the nice restaurant and leisurely dinner we had planned on. But I am not complaining – it’s done!
There’s a gas station with a Kentucky Fried Chicken inside the store about a block from the van office. Great, we’ll take it.
It’s actually pretty good – of course at this point I think cardboard would have been pretty tasty! The chicken did seem different than KFC at home. Its lighter, not greasy, and comes with steamed rice, lentils, a slice of tomato and a fried plantain. When in Rome….
We arrived back in Cuenca at just short of midnight. The van driver was kind to drop me at my house so I wouldn’t have to try and get a cab. For a $3 tip it was worth the little extra.
The next day I call the importer and ask when will I get the container delivered to my house? He says he had just spoken with the Inspector who promised to do the paperwork that day, and all should be done and cleared by Thursday. So probably Friday but possibly Saturday depending on what time the paperwork clears on Thursday.
Ok, great. Still before Christmas, and who knows, I may get into the deco boxes just because.
Thursday afternoon rolls around, and there is nothing from Customs.
The Customs office is called and the Supervisor is questioned. Apparently the paperwork pusher just didn’t get around to it yet. So no possibility of a Friday delivery. We’ll shoot for Saturday.
Friday afternoon I get a call from the Importer’s office saying there is a wee little problem….
The paperwork pusher has decided she has an issue with my Inventory.
The same Inventory that the Inspector has approved, signed, sealed and delivered.
This gal who got called on the carpet for not doing her job has decided to stick it to me and is now requiring that certain items in my Inventory get called out for commercial use (vs regular residential/personal use).
She is requiring a legal document get written, Notarized and re submitted where I say that I intend to use these items which she arbitrarily determines are for commercial purposes. This also means I have to pay a commercial Import fee for.
Calls are made to the Office and there is no way to avoid this, pay a bribe or anything else. The gal did it without her Supervisor’s knowledge, and because it was submitted through designated channels, there is now a record of the requirement and no way to back it out.
So I have the choice of fighting it which will cost me more money in storage fees at port, the possibility of even more being asked of me or the container being refused and returned, or I can accept it and just try to get through this.
I chose to get through it. The docs are created, I go in and sign, we get them Notarized and they are sent back to Customs. It’s now almost 4pm on Friday December 22.
The Customs offices are closed and will reopen on Tuesday December 26th.
This struggle with the gal went on the entire following week as well until finally the Inspector and the Supervisor did whatever they did to get things done on their end and the container was released. However it was again a Friday, and another Holiday weekend.
There was no way to get the container off Port until the following Tuesday, January 2nd which meant I would get the delivery Wednesday January 3rd. The containers are allowed to leave at the end of the day, not at the beginning.
So, 27 days after arriving, I finally got my stuff. Between the bank screwing up, and then the fiasco with the paperwork pusher it cost me 13 days of storage fees.
You can read about how I decided what to pack and the unpacking of the shipping container here:
This month was stressful, but really not terrible. Even with the added fees, I was still money ahead of what it would cost me to replace what I brought here.
I have talked with people who had everything go like clockwork and had no issues whatsoever and I have talked with people who had it MUCH worse than I did.
Its a luck of the draw thing.
I would say this to anyone who is going to import a shipping container:
- Choose your shipping times so that the expected to Port delivery is at least a month BEFORE any Ecuadorian Holiday.
- Use a (moving abroad shipping company) Importer – a LOCAL Importer
- Do what you are told – don’t ignore instructions
- Plan on it taking longer and be prepared for the delay
- Have money set aside for the bribes, soda money, and or extra storage fees, Import taxes etc – I was lucky and only had to pay an additional $300 ish for the ‘commercial’ imports (costume jewelry and my dog’s beds) they ignored my commercial refrigerator, freezer, 3 sets of pots and pans and other things they could have really dinged me for – go figure
- The best thing you can do for yourself is be nice and don’t stomp your feet to get your way
- Have boots and or thick socks for the day at Customs
- If you are a women, don’t bring a purse, just put a coin purse in your pocket because you will have to check it
- Be prepared to go the entire day with no food, load some nuts or a protein bar in your pocket and take a clear bottle of water with an intact seal with you
- If there is ANY chance you wont have your Visa approved before your shipping container arrives make sure you have enough cash money in Ecuador to have a Bond issued, and that you can afford to have this money sit (in a secured CD) for a few months. There is also a fee charged at the Bank to issue the Bond
Between the Bond fee, the commercial Import fee, soda money, bribe/tip to Inspector and the little things that came up it cost me about $3500 more than the shipping quote for Import (and I had been advised to have money set aside for these things it was not a surprise expense just not something that could be ‘estimated’). The amount of cash I had to put into the Bond, I got back when the Bond was released after all was complete at Customs.
Once all was complete at Customs it took about 3 days to get the Bond released and then another couple days for the bank to release the CD. Plan on 1-2 weeks after all is done for you to get your funds back. At least while your money is tied up with the bond, it sits in an interest bearing CD. Not much interest, but a little is better than nothing.
Would I do it again? Yes. In a similar situation I would do it again.
Yes, it was a pain at times. Those times were short and not overly painful. The key is to take a step back during those times and see the bigger picture.
The entire process was not bad, there was one individual who was a pain in the ass and yes she cost me some money. 13 days of storage and Import of Commercial property fees.
At that, if she had chosen to up the values on the bigger items it could have been a lot worse.
And like I said – at the end of the day it all was still much less for me than replacing in Ecuador what I brought with me. Now I have all of my stuff, and it’s done. The few hours of discomfort she caused are over, done with and already feel like a Lifetime ago.
You have to take it all in context of the big picture, and remember Life is what you make of it.
Every time I open the door on my fridge and freezer I am grateful I didn’t pay for them here, or pay extra taxes to get them here. Yes I paid money I shouldn’t have had to on some plastic jewelry and on the bed’s my dogs sleep on – so what?
Even the amount I had to pay for ‘commercial’ import was less than it would have cost me to buy my dog’s beds here. Although I could have had a couple custom made for less, but that’s another story for another day.
In the end it was easy and pretty painless. And thankgawd I used an Importer. When I think of what the gal who was next to me at Customs was going through I am very grateful I didn’t try to do it on my own!
What surprises have you had to work through during a move? Please share below – there’s always a good story in the experience after the fact, right?