When we were preparing to move to American Samoa, shipping our car and household belongings was a major ordeal. The mere thought of it was overwhelming and stressful. I had never shipped anything overseas before and wasn’t sure at the beginning where to start. The entire process took about 2 months. And I learned a lot along the way. In a previous post, I talked about the shipping process. Now, I want to tell you about the second part of that adventure: receiving our shipping container. While I was hopeful that it would be smoother than the shipping end, it ended up being just as eventful. Here is part two of our shipping adventure: the receiving end.
Our Prep Work
Our shipping container was scheduled to arrive on April 30. About a week before this, we started our prep work so we would have all of our ducks in a row once the container arrived. We got our island car insurance and temporary tags. We tried to pay our import tax on the car, but the Customs agent told us that we had to wait until the car actually arrived before we could pay this.
Additionally, we spoke to the shipping company who would act as the receiving agent. Tahani, the lady who helped us, was very nice. She explained step-by-step what we would need to do in order to claim our container. It was during these conversations with Tahani that we discovered our first problem. APX, the shipping company out of Miami that we used to ship our container, had not sent us the original bill of lading like they were supposed to do. We had to have this in order to pick up our belongings and car. Tahani said that she would make some calls and try to get an express release for us. So, now we just had to wait until that ship arrived.
Release of Our Container
On Monday, May 1, the day after our container was to arrive, we contacted Tahani. She confirmed that the container was at the port, but stated that she had not yet received the release documents. So, we had to wait until she received them before we could claim our things. She explained to us that we had 3 days of free storage at the port before we would be charged storage fees. So, the goal became to get those release documents by May 3.
After some phone calls and emails, Tahani discovered that the ship company wouldn’t release our container to us because they had not received payment from APX. She suggested that while she worked with the ship company, we should contact APX to expedite things from that end. Between Chris and I, we made over 30 phone calls and sent multiple emails to APX between Tuesday and Wednesday. We got no response! No one answered most of our calls. When we did get a live person on the phone, we were told that they couldn’t help us because they worked in a different department and then they would transfer us to a voice mail. I was beyond mad at this point because we had paid APX in early March! For me, this was unacceptable!
On Wednesday, Tahani told us that the policy on storage fees had changed and we had free storage at the port until Saturday. This helped to relieve the stress a little, but not much. Finally, we got through to someone at APX and was told that they had paid the ship and the release was being done as we spoke. First thing on Thursday morning, we got word from Tahani that the release documents came through and we could pick up our container! Woohoo!
Jumping Through Hoops
I practically ran to the port after hearing the good news from Tahani! I had to first stop at her office and sign some paperwork. Then off to the port. Luckily, we started this process at 8:30 in the morning because it ended up taking all day! While Chris made his way to the port, I went ahead and started the process of jumping through all the hoops.
The first stop was at Tahani’s office, across the street from the port, to sign paperwork. That was a short and painless process. Once done there, I went over to the port to the Customs office.
Need for Cash
While the Customs officer was processing our paperwork, he told us that there was a $200 fee (I don’t remember what it was for) that we needed to pay at that point. I handed him my debit card, and he told me that they couldn’t accept cards, only cash. It would have been nice if that was posted somewhere or if they had told us that when we were there the week before! I began to get irritated at this point, Chris had to keep reminding me to stay calm. We didn’t have enough cash, so we had to go to the ATM. Actually, we had to go to 2 different ATM’s in order to withdraw enough cash to pay the fee and the import duty on the car. So, after losing an hour ATM hopping, we headed back to Customs.
When we returned to Customs, we worked with a different Customs officer, who was much more pleasant. He processed our paperwork, took our $200, and sent us to the guy sitting next to him for our first stamp. Throughout the process, we had to collect 3 or 4 different stamps on our paperwork in order to claim our container. This was bureaucracy at its finest!
After getting our first stamp, we were sent across the hall for stamp #2. We went to that office, waited in line again, and then got our stamp. The lady in that office then sent us to the warehouse. None of the instructions and directions we were given for the next step were very clear. About this point, I began to feel like I was on an episode of Amazing Race searching the port with only vague instructions to figure out what I was supposed to do.
Once back at the warehouse, I found another Customs officer who looked over our paperwork and then sent us to the other end of the port to have someone pull our container. This was the most confusing and dangerous part of the whole process. We started walking through the port with stacks of containers and heavy machinery everywhere. Chris ended up taking Boston back to the front because it was just too dangerous for him to walk through all of that. So, I walked the gauntlet by myself, trying to avoid being ran over by a truck or forklift. I felt so out of place, and was wishing I had a hard hat and yellow safety vest.
When I got to the end of the port, I was supposed to go to an office. However, I didn’t see anything that looked like an office. Finally, a man stopped unloading some beams and pointed me in the direction of the office. The problem was that the office was so hidden, that even with his directions, I couldn’t find it. So, this man had to actually lead me to the office. Once in the office, I gave my paperwork to yet another man to look over. I had to pay him a $65 fee for him to pull the container and have it scanned. He gave me another stamp. He then sent me back to the warehouse at the front of the port.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
By the time I got back to the front of the port, our container was already on a truck sitting there waiting! Oh happy day! I was so excited to see it! The truck driver told me that it had already been scanned and we were just waiting on a crane to take it off the truck. A short time later, the container was put on the ground. We were told that we could have it at that point! Yet, there were still several hoops to jump through. The Customs officer who we first talked to at the warehouse came over and opened the container for us. What a beautiful sight seeing my car again!
A port worker jumped in and began unhooking the car and removing the blocks from the tires. Once he got the car free, I climbed up on the hood and through the driver’s side window. I very carefully drove the car out of the container. We were worried that the boxes at the back of the container would fall when the car was moved, but they didn’t. We were told to pull the car into the warehouse so it could be inspected by the Customs K-9 unit.
Search by Customs
Once the car was removed from the container, the port workers stacked the remaining boxes onto pallets and moved them into the warehouse by the car. The first pallet was moved quickly. Then, we had to wait for about 30 minutes for the second pallet of boxes to be moved. When I questioned what the delay was, I was told we were waiting on a ramp to be used by the forklift. Once all boxes were inside the warehouse, the Customs dog sniffed the car and boxes. Then two Customs officers opened and looked in a few of the boxes.
Back to Where We Started
At this point, we had to go back to the Customs office in order to pay the import duty on the car. When we got there, I was worried because there was a long line in front of us, and it was about noon. There was a note on the door that the office is closed for lunch from noon to 1:00. I was worried that we were going to have to wait until after lunch to finish. Luckily, they worked through lunch. The line moved quickly and soon it was our turn. I happily paid the $850 import duty and finished the paperwork. Finally, we were done!
Receiving Our Shipping Container
After paying the import duty, we went back and loaded up our boxes in our friend’s truck. We also stuffed a few more things into the car. I drove the car, while Chris and Boston rode in the truck. We weren’t able to get everything in one load and had to leave a few boxes for the second load. We made the 30 minute drive to our house. I finally felt like this was our home when I was driving to our house in my own car. The island was so much more beautiful from the driver’s seat of my car! After dropping off the first load, we headed back for the second load. On the way, I got called to court, so Chris and our friend finished moving the boxes while I went to court. We were all so happy to have our car and all our stuff!
Shipping our car and belongings overseas was a huge undertaking. It was at various times confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating. The shipping end of the adventure was stressful and irritating. The receiving end was a major test of patience. While receiving our shipping container was easier than shipping it, it was still not an easy process. I’m glad this process is over and I learned a lot, but I hope we never have to do it again! Hopefully, our adventure helps you if you ever have to ship your stuff overseas. Happy travels!