What I learned losing $150 on package forwarding

I recently read several great books. One is What I learned losing one million dollars on how to avoid irreversible losses in the stock market. It inspired me the title of this post, in my search to rationalise the (much smaller) amount I lost trying to save money with package forwarding.

Another great book I read is Your personal paleo code, as I’m a paleo fan. In my view, this is the ultimate guide to eating and living intelligently. Whether you agree to the paleo approach or not does not matter here. What matters is that I decided to order a bunch of supplements advised by the author for a health condition I’m living with. It does not come out cheap, I told myself, but I need to stop this lifelong medication I’m married with, and this guy knows what he’s talking about.

So I went over to Amazon and compiled a $200 order. At the last moment, I decided to throw in a pack of 100 Indian incense sticks, as a cheap “add-on item”, as I love the idea of add-on items. I paid, used my Shop and Ship (SnS) forwarding address in NYC, and waited.

After a while of waiting, I started wondering what the hell was going on with this order. I usually receive a SnS notification when a package gets added to my account. This time, the package had been added to the account all right, with an unusual “Damaged” status. Apparently the rule “When status = Damaged then notify customer” had been replaced by “When status = damaged then keep quiet and wait”. Programmers, you know.

I have a contact person locally for SnS. A real person, with a name and a number. I contacted her and she sent back this beautiful picture:

incense

Indian packaging, I guess. OK, forward it anyway, it doesn’t matter that the package will smell of incense, why did you even have to ask.

I went back to waiting, the couple of days needed for the package to cross the Atlantic. Then I got a call from SnS, and she gave me the news. Your package is stuck in customs, because the amount is well over $25. OK, so take care of it, I said. We can’t, was the unwelcome answer. Once the package is stuck, you need to do the customs procedure yourself. WTF? I called my contact, hoping for help, and she confirmed the bad news. She added: you need to let me know in advance when a package arrives, so that it does not get stuck in customs. Now, depending on where you live, this might seem odd. Here, in Morocco, this is pure common sense. Why did I even not think about it?

So there I was, with a package stuck in customs at the airport, 100km away from where I work. This is Morocco, a wonderful country until you have to deal with their XIXth century administration. I built part of the customs’ IT system, I know these guys, and it wasn’t going to be easy.

Indeed it wasn’t. I drived to the airport a first time, met with a dozen officials, waited for a cumulative four hours, explained several times what supplements were and why I was ordering them from abroad, tried to use common sense to counter burocracy (what was I thinking?), and ended up with the requisite to come up with a medical prescription. I asked my doorman to pay a doctor to do it, it did not work out, so I asked a relative to write me one, which finally worked out. I drove back to the airport with my trophy, the guy in office 14 accepted it, I met another dozen officials, one reported a bug to me on the IT system, I paid, the clerk did not have change, OK, and finally, finally, I left the airport with my incense-smelling package.

sns

I felt like this almost deserved a party. However, I had spent alltogether a whole day taking care of passing customs. Not counting the $68 regular shipping fees, it had costed me and additional $28 for the shipping company to do nothing (standard procedure when stuck in customs, I tend not to discuss standard procedures), $88 dollars for customs taxes including VAT, and another $23 for storage as it took me over a month to do this. Plus, it took 2 months from order date to package-in-hands date.

So what did I learn?
– When living in a country with a XIXth century administration, use all possible ways to avoid dealing with said administration. Use all possible workarounds and never, ever, deal with them directly.
– When chosing a package forwarding service, do not underestimate the “customs handling” feature.
– If the package forwarding service has the cute “invoice removal” service, consider it seriously. SnS does not have it (at least not from the US), which is a shame.
– In considering package forwarding over other means of purchase, take into account the risk that you might pay for customs once in a while. This is a bit like investing, some level of loss is unavoidable and must be planned for.
– It does not serve you to have worked on an IT project for an administration before, it just makes you responsible for the bugs in their IT system.

Any feedback is welcome on similar experiences, and I hope mine will serve you well!



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