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.
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.