Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Some information on international shipping

Here is some useful information on how to select an international shipping company and what to pay attention to:

- First of all, do your homework! There are some shipping companies out there that are merely a scam and will keep your money or your belongings. The lowest-cost provider may not necessarily be the best one: one of our potential vendors turned out to be registered with the Florida Secretary of State's web site as a physical therapist. As we asked more and more probing questions regarding their public documents on the FL Secretary of State's website the shipping company representative became more and more defensive. The e-mails we received after deciding to not employ their services became more bizarre and emotional. We felt like we were dealing with a 10-year old that was feeling rejected in the school yard. It was very bizarre. Our questions were never answered truthfully, and we decided that they should be someone to stay clear of. Conversely, the most expensive provider may charge you for services you don't really need at all. Of course, it all depends on your personal circumstances and the size of your wallet and finally, the amount of items you are shipping. (We shipped approximately 25 medium and large shipping boxes purchased at our local U-haul location. You may be shipping an entire three-bedroom home full of stuff--including furniture. We did not ship any furniture.)
- If you can afford it, door-to-door shipping is the best option: the shipping company will usually do a pre-move survery in your home, give you realistic estimates, send a crew to pack all your prized possessions, provide packaging materials (which can easily approach $200!), ship your items, insure them, deliver them to your new home, and remove any and all debris.
Of course, this is labor-intensive, and with labor being expensive these days, door-to-door shipping will cost you a pretty penny.
(Sidenote: remember you will need moving boxes, bubble wrap, a dish-kit, lots of tape, etc--this all adds up suprisingly fast!)
- On the other end of the spectrum is port-to-port shipping, which is the do-it-yourself approach to international shipping. You pack, you deliver to the warehouse, the company ships, and you pick up at the destination port. Upside: this is the most economical way of shipping. Downside: you will need to do everything yourself, including itemizing all your belongings by box down to the last pair of underwear. (note: The exact itemization of the contents is necessary for the purposes of customs clearance. You will be surprised how much this slows you down and that's why we recommend that you begin packing early. You will think to yourself--well, last time we moved it took X amount of time---this time it will be much slower!)
- Somewhere in between is port-to-door (our selection): while you need to pack and drop off your boxes, you don't need to worry as much about what happens at the back end. You pay a slight premium for onward delivery in the destination country to your home/local warehouse, but it's worth it (in our opinion).

No matter which option you choose, there are a few common things:
- The prices will be quoted in cubic feet so you will need to whip out your old college calculator to determine the cubic footage of your shipment. And when you think you got it all figured out, guess again: it's not the boxes that get measured but the pallet as a whole. For example, a shipment of 25 boxes totalling 90 cubic feet can measure up to 120 cubic feet once palletized, especially if you have bulky items such as bikes or furniture.
- There are usually some incidental charges such as palletizing fees (in our case $65), bill of lading fees ($50), documentation fees ($25), all of which are payable to your company of choice.
- At the back end, you will incur destination charges, such as port charges and fees to pay an agent to take your underwear through customs. These are hard to determine in advance and vary by port. Our estimate at this point is $200 for Hamburg. You will have to pay an agent to process your items through customs unless you can be there yourself, but it is highly recommended that you hire an agent that knows the process. The shipping company will call us in Duesseldorf once the items have arrived and then you have 5 business days to pick up the items before they begin charging a storage fee.
- Insurance is always extra and is calculated as a percentage (2.5-3.0%)of the replacement value. So make sure you are compiling a good estimate of what you are shipping. Too low and you will get burned if the shipment is damaged. Too high and you overpay insurance.

General observations:
- If you choose any method that involves some do-it-yourself work, plan ahead and start early. You should start researching at least a month in advance, make contact with a shipping vendor about 2-3 weeks prior to your shipment date--maybe even 4 weeks in advance would be ideal, and start packing right away!
- Check the regulations of your destination country! Germany usually taxes all imported goods irrespective of their nature. Exception: household goods imported due to relocation to Germany. In order to make this as smooth as possible and highly recommended, you can obtain a relocation certification from the German Consulate nearest you for $20. This document serves essentially as customs pre-clearance and should speed things up quite a bit. You will need to provide documentation to the consulate proving you have lived in the US for X of years so they know you are actually relocating. This form of proof can be utility bills, credit card statements, rental leases for the apartment you've occupied the last X number of years, etc. However, I cannot stress enough to check with your local consulate for more detailed information about the regulations for importation of your household goods. You do not want to be missing a document on the other end and have to pay taxes on your personal items. You can simply pick up the phone and ask them about any regulations and/or documentation you might need in order to ship your personal effects.


Anonymous Megan said...

Makes me feel better about chucking the junk, giving the nice bits and books to my parents for storage and just heading over with two suitcases and starting from scratch.

If I were faced with your situation I'd be weighing the value of every pair of panties and asking myself, 'do i really need 20 pairs, when with three I can wash and go?' ;-)

1:37 PM  

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