What to do when US Global Mail fails to deliver

By | January 19th, 2017

Ron Wooten-Green’s packages are stuck in customs. Can I help him get them un-stuck?

Question: We recently shipped two packages from Houston to Cuenca, Ecuador. The packages made it all the way to Ecuador, but is now being held in customs. Do we have any options, or are we just plain outta luck? — Ron Wooten-Green, Albuquerque, N.M.

Answer: Your package should have made it all the way to its intended recipient. The lengthy paper trail between you, UPS, and a third company called US Global Mail explains why it didn’t get there.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version for the folks at home: You were shipping these items to Ecuador because you were immigrating there. The packages contained a chair and paintings by your wife. You declared the value of the items when you shipped them — $1,500 for the paintings, $100 for the chair.

A UPS representative then informed you that you needed to pay customs taxes and fees on the items. Specifically, a 30 percent “ad valorem” tax, a 40 percent “safeguard” and a 14 percent tax.

UPS wanted you to pay an extra $1,441 plus unspecified UPS “fees” of $74. No surprise that you felt your package was being held hostage.

Customs fees are often arbitrarily imposed on items, and it’s difficult to avoid them, once an official declares that you owe money on an item. I base that on years of experience shipping items to and from the United States.


Actually, my father has the best customs story. He faced off with an official in Long Beach, Calif., who wanted to collect fees for a shipping container filled with his used furniture and a 1952 VW Bug. Finally, in exasperation, my father told them to “just keep it.” Instead, they released it.

Related story:   Which airline makes the most from luggage fees?

The best way to avoid sky-high customs fees is to declare the value of the package to be as close to zero as possible and to note that it is a “gift.” (Obviously, you should not lie, but a valuation can be subjective.) In my experience, these packages sailed right through without a second glance. Once you declare a value, especially a high value, they get out their calculators.

UPS discloses its customs fees on its site, but the average consumer probably won’t be able to make head or tail of them. US Global Mail, a shipping company that specializes in deliveries for expatriate Americans, promises on its site that you international experience will be a smooth one, noting that it will help alleviate “the headache of declaring goods and getting your purchases held up in customs.”

A US Global Mail representative apologized for your problems and admitted it, too, was baffled by the high import duties. “We would absolutely like to help our customers in anyway possible,” she said.

A review of your case showed that the Ecuadorians only needed more information from the importer, and US Global Mail promised to help you furnish it with the correct paperwork.



  • John Baker

    “The best way to avoid sky-high customs fees is to declare the value of the package to be as close to zero as possible and to note that it is a ‘gift.'”

    Is there really any duty amount that’s worth going to jail for smuggling? Is it worth being permanently banned from Global Entry?

    Glad this one worked out… Wonder why he didn’t reach out to Global Mail first

  • BubbaJoe123

    “The best way to avoid sky-high customs fees is to declare the value of the package to be as close to zero as possible and to note that it is a “gift.””

    No, that’s the best way to EVADE customs fees. Are you really suggesting people commit tax fraud by lying on a customs declaration?

  • Blamona

    I sent 4 packages to family in Spain, got there in a week. This was October. Still won’t release it. Only $40 worth of stuff each and contained receipts. They said they couldn’t figure out the value, so don’t know what to charge (family is willing to pay whatever) I think they kept the items. There are no excuses!

  • If the painting was done by the wife, then I wonder how the value of the painting was derived. The value of the self produced work could vary greatly. Once a home made quilt was produced by my family here in the states, and sent to a relation in Canada. The “value” was placed on the documentation, and Canada promptly added a duty. Next time something was sent, I listed the material only cost as the amount, and no duty added. I don’t see a problem with doing that.

  • Alan Gore

    If LW is moving to Ecuador, just go to the Customs office there and deal with the shipment in person. I had to do that when I was married while living in Japan and my new wife (who was from a third country) had her belongings shipped in.

    When you ship anything, you have to declare the real value to the carrier to get insurance on the shipment. This is presumably the value they will give to Customs. Being able to insure for full value is worth more to you than any savings on Customs duties.

  • cscasi

    There are costs with knowingly falsifying the actual value of goods that pass through customs. The monetary penalties can be huge. Not that they would put one in jail for that, but that could be a consequence in some cases.

  • cscasi

    Certainly, if the receipts were enclosed with the items, one could communicate that to the Spanish customs holding the packages and they could open the packages and see those.
    Were the packages going to the same address? Perhaps customs thought one was trying to evade customs duties by packaging the things into four packages instead of one. Nonetheless, if someone is able to show them the receipts for the items and the receipt accurately shows the item and the price, then that should be proof enough. Sorry, if the family decided to let customs keep the items.

  • Annie M

    You are proposing that people perjure themselves and lie on a customs form about value. Not responsible journalism.

    Title 19 of
    the U.S. Code of Regulations defines import and export rules and U.S.
    Customs and Border Patrol, or CBP, enforcement of them. One of the
    provisions of this law — Part 148 — states: “All articles brought
    into the United States by any individual must be declared to a CBP
    officer at the port of first arrival in the United States.” Travelers
    “declare” their articles by listing on CBP declaration form 6059B the
    estimated value of everything they acquired and presenting it to a CBP
    officer at their port of entry. Omissions, incorrect or false entries on
    this declaration form will lead to fines and/or possible seizure of the
    merchandise.

    The severity of not declaring imported items centers on their
    classification. The U.S. International Trade Commission classifies all
    merchandise as duty-free or dutiable. CBP defines “duty” as an import
    tax. A “dutiable” classification means an item is taxable at the border.
    Classification as “duty-free” effectively means “tax-free” for customs
    purposes. Examples of duty-free merchandise include antiques at least
    100 years old, fine art and most goods from Caribbean, Andean,
    sub-Sarharan African and NAFTA countries.

    Duty-free

    Fines for declaration inaccuracies involving duty-free goods start at
    $50 and rise to 1 to 5 percent of their domestic value, up to $1,000.
    Fines could double, depending on the circumstances such as level of
    cooperation and traveler experience. For example, a U.S. citizen who
    purposely fails to declare the 110-year-old, first-edition book she
    purchased in England for $500 will be penalized. The CBP has the right
    to double the minimum fine of $50 dollars because the declaration
    omission was intentional.

    Duty Eligible

    When the undeclared article is dutiable, or duty eligible, the CBP
    officer will consider prior knowledge of customs declaration law and the
    circumstances involved to determine the penalty. The traveler can be
    charged as much as $250 or the item’s domestic value, whichever is less.
    Repeat offenses will raise the fine to eight times the applicable duty
    or the domestic value. Duty must be paid in addition to the fine. The
    duty amount depends on the item. For many wines, for example, one bottle
    up to 1 liter is duty free. However, a second bottle is duty-eligible,
    and if it is not declared, it is dutiable at about 3 percent of its
    value. CBP will charge duty and federal excise tax on the second bottle,
    plus levy a fine equal to the duty amount

  • C Schwartz

    I am sorry but I have to agree that proposing that people lie on their customs declaration is very bad. Would you suggest that person who buys an expensive 5 carat diamond ring in Antwerp lie on their customs form, whether it is mailed or brought into the country in person (and is over the $800 limit)?

    And if something gets lost or damaged good luck with that in trying to deal with insurance.

    I have had things held up in customs into the US, paperwork was illegible, the paperwork was redone and I received the item. I have had to pay import duty before.

  • C Schwartz

    I also suspect that it is not a good start for someone to lie on the customs form when they are emigrating from the US to another country. Good way to start out with the new country; I suspect the Ecuador Customs would not like this suggestion.

  • C Schwartz

    Dealing with customs can be time consuming and form heavy; I know people in Spain that have had to do it and have just been persistent and had all their papers. It can be done.

  • Blamona

    Thanks for the ideas, but this time not working (I’ve sent packages many times) 4 addresses, 2 cities, and both cities treating it the same, they refuse to open the packages for the receipts. I have scanned and sent receipts, still no. After 3 months of back and forth and trying, all 4 parties have given up. All 4 have said it’s a constant since summer–

  • MarkKelling

    Issue is you can’t send a “gift” to yourself. Also, misrepresenting the value of items shipped can not only get you in deep with the government but if the item has real value and you declare it as zero, insurance will not pay anything for it if it gets lost or damaged.

  • AAGK

    This one isn’t over until it’s over but I am certain that there will be an issue with that $1500 valuation for his wife’s art. Under no theory would he ever be reimbursed for art, let alone at a made up number,so I hope he didn’t contact Chris as a precursor to another type of claim.

  • C Schwartz

    Yes it appears that the customs are backlogged — I do not know if you saw a website such as this — one person waited 11 weeks after paying the import fee

    http://comoconsultingspain.com/my-package-is-in-spanish-customs/

    The comments are interesting — but your family may have just given up because of the amount of time and paperwork

  • Rebecca

    While I agree, in this case the $1500 paintings were actually painted by his wife. The couple was shipping them to furnish their new home. It isn’t like they paid $1500 for the paintings, the owner herself painted it. I think that’s a very important distinction. That type of value is extremely subjective. While I might claim an heirloom item, for example, is valuable, the replacement cost could be next to nothing. In this case I would think the actual replacement value is significantly less than $1500.

  • C Schwartz

    I did a quick google search and the man is a hospice chaplain and the wife is a professional artist and art teacher. This is the work of the wife and this is likely the same amount that they would insure the works if they were sent for an exhibition (whether selling or non selling show). This is not the same as if I were to insure my photographs as I have never sold one or done anything professionally. Professional artists due insure there work, whether it is Jasper Johns or a personal that sells at local art shows.

    But the point is that Ecuador has rules about the importation of personal property for citizens and those emigrating to the country. There are limits as to amount of personal property one can bring in.

    https://www.aduana.gob.ec/pro/household_goods.action

    https://www.aduana.gob.ec/pro/courier.action

    It is never a good idea to lie an on official form

  • C Schwartz

    A quick google search shows that the wife is an art teacher and artist who has exhibited and sells her work.

  • C Schwartz

    The wife is an art teacher and artist, who does sell her work. I am usually pretty suspicious but I do not have a problem with this one at face value.

  • C Schwartz

    A quick google search shows that the letter writer is a hospice chaplain and the wife is an artist and art teacher who sells and exhibits her work.

    Just the people one wants to advise “The best way to avoid sky-high customs fees is to declare the value of
    the package to be as close to zero as possible and to note that it is a
    “gift.”

    How can a person gift something to themselves? Especially when emigrating?

  • AAGK

    It doesn’t matter if she’s Matisse. UPS excludes art from its standard coverage and she would need an appraisal and a special policy. Otherwise, she could probably recover the value of a blank canvas. A declared value on a unique item will not be honored. My mom framed a drawing I made when I was six years old but unfortunately no one else cares.

  • AAGK

    A customs officer is not the curator at the Met. He looks at the the item description and declared value, and in this case the paIntings would fall under unique collectibles/artwork, or some other broad catchhall for things with unknown value. I have a customs calculator on my phone and Eq levies a massive duty on items in that category. That figure seems slightly bloated but not my much. I definitely agree that tariff assessments are often arbitrary and difficult to navigate. Global, as the customs broker hired by UPS, didn’t do its job but hopefully it will get its act together. This man should expect to pay at least another $500 though.

  • C Schwartz

    UPS certainly does ship artwork and it is easy to have it insured. Smaller auction houses do not have their own packing and shipping departments. I have had a UPS store pick up from Grogan and Co auctions and after I pay and fill out release forms the UPS store picks it up, insures it and sends it to me.
    http://groganco.com/buying/post-auction/
    I certainly have bought things with more than the total value that they spent (art and antiques).

    This is standard with a number of smaller auction houses in the US

    Declared values on unique items are absolutely honored.

    And one does not need an appraisal before the shipping if the value is not high enough. Over a certain level one needs an appraisal. If there is damage to an item or loss that is where the adjusters come in.

    Your childhood drawing, while I am sure is lovely, would not have a fair market value, because their is no history of sales of comparable works. A professional artist, one who exhibits and sells, does have such a track record.

  • C Schwartz

    One certainly has to have the documents in order and an accurate description — and what is usually known as a commercial invoice. One has to fill out the correct harmonized codes — and there are different ones if the painting is an antique, modern — and then the problems can be compounded with more modern and contemporary art — the issues of whether video art and also the art of Dan Flavin (used light bulbs) actually is art for importation sake or just “components'” I have no idea if this problem was ever resolved

    http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=6aa77d09-7232-49e4-88ec-2c8d9214cc20

    One needs a competent customs broker and as you said that did not seem to happen in this case.

    I have had calls from brokers in the US asking for information, more documents, and fees when I am had items shipped from Europe.

  • Bill___A

    Import and export is a complex procedure. I cannot recall ever having a problem either personally or commercially. Although I haven’t done any imports or exports to the country mentioned in the article, my practice is conduct research, fill out the forms honestly and to the best of my ability, and whenever I have doubts, I ask. I have found that where they can cut you some slack, they generally do, or if they can’t, they are generally more than happy to let you know the best way to do something within the parameters of the law These are people who very much appreciate honesty and very much deplore dishonesty. . As we can see from even this article, the solution was to provide some additional paperwork. Not to falsify forms.

    I read this article this morning and i am still shaking my head about the advice given, it isn’t what I would tell people to do at all. To each their own, I guess (although by some of the other comments here, there is widespread disagreement with the advice given.)

  • James Moninger

    I am retired from US Customs and Border Protection. John’s comment above is spot-on. Never lie on a customs declaration. The penalties are severe, and if you are caught, being banned from Global Entry is likely to be the least of your problems.

  • Rebecca

    Fair enough. I was speaking to things created because of a hobby. For example, I have several pieces of furniture that were made by my grandfather. He didn’t sell anything commercially, he made things for family, friends, and just for the heck of it. I have moved with this furniture across the country, and it’s very valuable to me. Some of the pieces are made of extremely high quality wood, with all sorts of intricate work (he prided himself on never using nails or screws and carving and creative all sorts of unique designs) and others are literally pieces of scrap wood, like old produce crates, that he would challenge himself into creating something useful. Since he never sold anything, i wouldn’t have the faintest idea of any real value on an open market. I would suspect it has some real value, as it’s handmade and high quality and I’ve received lots of compliments.

    In short, I was speaking to items created for non-commercial purposes. Something created by family, for use in their own homes, has a different value than that created to be sold professionally.

  • AAGK

    I agree. Customs officers are often woefully incompetent. People ship valuable art all the time successfully. There are many ways to do so and the most successful ways are expensive. This guy shipped with a method that explicitly does not cover its value. His declaration probably hurt him the most. I would have to see the form but you can’t circumvent the process of paying extra to protect your shipment by declaring a high value. With your Jasper Johns ex, how would the customs agent know it was even real. Museums make authenticity mistakes all the time.

    He would have been better served saying $20 bc if it was lost, then that would be the value anyway vis a vis UPS, not the real value but that’s not the point of the declaration. Had he described it as 2 pieces of canvas or whatever, then he would have received a much lower bill. That wouldn’t be a deception so long as he doesn’t seek the artistic value at another time The customs broker should’ve handled this and hopefully will be able to shave off half the assessment.
    Tariff assessments are done badly and the government should probably step in a regulate the process better at some point.

  • AAGK

    DHL is a very commonly used customs broker and they have failed me 100% of the time. Fortunately I’ve never had to ship abroad but when I order something, I will only do so if the sender guarantees to take responsibility for all customs issues and fees. That way the other party has the incentive to do all the work and make sure it is done right.

  • AAGK

    They do but will not arbitrarily accept a declared value of a unique item where no additional insurance was purchased. I have shipped many pieces of artwork, not through UPS, but my partner recently shipped his guitars from NY to Cali. One of them was “vintage” and there were extensive liability limitations/valuation requirements for that item as it is considered unique. He could have also dumped it in a box and crossed his fingers but then he would be out of luck if was lost or broken. UPS did break his piano.

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