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When we made the decision to move to American Samoa, I knew that shipping our belongings overseas would be a big undertaking, but I had no idea just how big of an adventure it would be! I didn’t know where to even begin when I started this process. I have learned so much about shipping in such a short time. This is the story of the sending part of our shipping adventure with a few tips thrown in for those of you who may need to ship things overseas one day.
Hurdle #1: Finding a Shipping Company
When faced with the task of mailing a package somewhere, I immediately know that I can choose the US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, or another carrier. However, when tasked with shipping our car and household items to the other side of the world, I could not even name a company that did that sort of thing. Nor did I know where to find one, so I did what any reasonable person would do in the 21st century: I turned to Google! I also asked a few people already living in American Samoa for recommendations.
After spending a good bit of time researching shipping companies, I settled on using Air Parcel Express (APX) based in Miami, FL. I chose APX for two main reasons. First, they had way more information on their website about the shipping process than anyone else. They didn’t just assume I knew the ins and outs of shipping. Second, they were the only ones who seemed willing to load our things in Fort Worth as opposed to making us drive several hours to a port.
After I decided to use APX, I called and spoke to one of the agents. He answered all of my questions, gave me some helpful suggestions and assured me of the process. Then, they sent me a quote and shipping confirmation by email. The process had started!
Hurdle #2: Getting Together the Documents
Once I had scheduled my shipping container with APX, the agent transferred my account over to an agent in the Operations Department. Her job was to make sure that I had all of the required paperwork and to actually get the container scheduled and loaded. Because we were shipping our car and household items, we decided that we would need a 20 foot shipping container. The other choices are a 40 foot container or to share a container with someone else (called Not a Full Load Container).
The ops agent and I exchanged many emails and phone calls to make sure everything was done that needed to be done. She was more than helpful, answering my questions multiple times and explaining everything to me.
Hurdle #3: Authorization to Take a Car
Because our car isn’t completely paid off yet, we had to have authorization from the lienholder to take the car out of the country. This was a painful process, mainly because most people at the call center don’t know anything about this process. But instead of telling you that they don’t know and passing you on to someone who does, most of them just make up answers. Between Chris and I, we spent two full days making phone calls to the bank before finally getting this part done! Eventually, we had the authorization letter in hand. I then shipped it overnight to the ops agent.
Hurdle #4: Packing Boxes and the Packing List
Next to the authorization letter for the car, the next most difficult part of the paperwork was the packing list. U.S. Customs requires the boxes and items you ship to be numbered with a packing list detailing what’s in the boxes and the value of each box/item. So, as I was packing up boxes, I kept a list of what went into each box. Once I had everything packed up, I typed up a list and added the values, which I estimated. We ended up having 30 boxes and 29 items (the car being one item) to ship.
Hurdle #5: Loading the Container
Loading day was the longest and most stressful day of my life! APX only gives you 2 hours to load your container. After that, they charge you $100 per hour for the driver to wait on you. Also, the container is not unloaded from the truck. This means that you have to load the car on a truck that is 4-5 feet in the air. They recommend using a tow truck to do this. You also must provide wooden blocks for the tires and nylon straps with rachets to secure the car in the container. Luckily, my dad is a farmer, so he had all of these things for us to use.
What was supposed to happen
We arranged to use the parking lot at Chris’ school to load our container. It was Spring Break, so we had a nice open and flat parking lot on which to load. The plan was for the truck to be there at 11:00 am. I arranged for my dad to be at our house at 9:00 to load everything up and take it to the school. We arranged for our other helpers to meet us at the school at 10:45. But, of course, those plans went out the window in a hurry on loading day!
What actually happened–the delay
Dad, my nephew, and my dad’s farm hand got to our house at about 8:30 on loading day with a 28 foot flatbed trailer. They went straight to the school. A good friend of ours came to the house with his son and helped load up the boxes and items that we hadn’t been able to fit into the car and took those to the school. By 9:30, we were sitting in the school parking lot with all of our stuff ready to load and all of our helpers ready to work.
At about 10 am, I receive a message from the trucking company saying that there wasn’t a trailer for us that day. What!?!? I called the trucking company and the shipping company. Both assured me they were working to find a trailer for us. I explained to both of them that we were ready to load and it must happen this day. About noon, I received word that they found a trailer for us, but it would be 3+ hours before it got to our location and I would have to pay for the delay! No I won’t! I made it very clear to them that I was not paying for a delay that I did not cause! They agreed and sent the truck.
Finally, about 3:30, the truck pulled in! We quickly loaded our stuff except for the car in about 10 minutes. So far, so good.
What actually happened–the car
I then drove the car onto the flatbed trailer and my dad backed it up to the trailer. That’s when the problem occurred. We thought the trailer would be 4 feet high, but it was 5 feet high. The ramps we had were a foot too short!
After a brief discussion, the decision was made to jack up the flatbed trailer. Using some nearby cinder blocks, they jacked up the trailer so the ramps would work. All of the tires on the flatbed trailer were off the ground! It was scary and stressful! A couple of wooden blocks exploded in the process of getting the car up the ramps. Finally, the car was in the container except for the front bumper. My nephew and one of Chris’ friends had to shimmy to the back of the car and rearrange the boxes to make room for the car to get completely into the container. After some maneuvering, the car was in and secured. The doors of the container were closed and the seal put on. Amazingly, this entire process only took 1 hour!
The driver was then on his way to drop our container at the rail station. It was taken by train to California where it would board the ship to the island.
Hurdle #6: Clearing Customs
About a week after we sent our container on its way, I got an email from the shipping company. Apparently, US Customs rejected the letter from the bank and wasn’t going to let our car leave California. I emailed a letter from my office here in American Samoa to confirm that I would be working for the government here on the island. That still wasn’t good enough!
At one point, I received a call from the Customs agent. I told him that I didn’t understand why Customs cared about my car if the bank was ok with it being shipped. He agreed that it didn’t make any sense. I eventually had to get a letter from my boss here detailing when we would be here, that we would be bringing a car, and that the car was necessary for me to do my job on the island. That letter was then sent to Customs. After that, they cleared us to ship the car!
So, after quite a long process, we finally managed to ship our car and household goods to American Samoa. We still have several weeks to wait for its arrival. Hopefully, the hard part of this shipping adventure is over. I hope the receiving end of the process will be much smoother! Needless to say, I learned a lot going through this process. I feel confident that next time I will be much more prepared and capable to do so. I hope some of this information helps you with your future shipping adventure! Happy travels!