Shipping our car and household belongings from Texas to American Samoa was a major ordeal. In the beginning, the mere thought of it was overwhelming and stressful. I had never shipped anything overseas before and wasn’t sure where to start. The entire process took about 2 months. 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 receiving end of the process. While I was hopeful that it would be smoother than the shipping, 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 the 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 to pay this.
Additionally, we spoke to the shipping company who would act as the receiving agent. Tahani, our shipping agent, 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 that we discovered our first problem. APX, the shipping company in Miami that we used to ship our container, had not sent us the original bill of lading like they were supposed to do. This was required in order to pick up our stuff. Tahani agreed to make some calls and try to get an express release for us. So, now we just had to wait until our ship came in.
Release of Our Container
The day after our container was to arrive, we contacted Tahani. She confirmed that the container was at the port, but she had not yet received the release documents. We had to wait until she received them before we could claim our things. She explained that we had 3 days of free storage at the port before we would be charged storage fees. Our goal became to get those release documents by May 3.
Tahani discovered that the ship company wouldn’t release our container 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. We made over 30 phone calls and sent multiple emails to APX in two days with 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! This was unacceptable!
On Wednesday, Tahani told us that the policy on storage fees had changed and we had free storage until Saturday. This relieved 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 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! 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 jumping through the hoops.
The first stop was at Tahani’s office to sign paperwork. That was quick and painless. Next, I went to the Customs office at the port.
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 could only accept cash. It would have been nice if I knew that before waiting in line! 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 an hour of 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. Bureaucracy at its finest!
After getting our first stamp, we were sent across the hall for stamp #2. There, after waiting in another line, we got our stamp. We were then sent 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 the Amazing Race searching the port with only vague instructions of what I was supposed to do.
Once at the warehouse, I found another Customs officer who looked over our paperwork and 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. 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 for a hard hat and yellow safety vest.
At 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. He had to actually lead me to the office. Once in the office, I gave my paperwork to yet another man. I had to pay him a $65 fee to pull the container and have it scanned. He gave me another stamp and 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 sitting on a truck waiting to be unloaded! Oh happy day! I was so excited! The truck driver told me that it had already been scanned, and he just needed a crane to take it off the truck. A short time later, the container was on the ground. We were told that we could have it at that point. Yet, there were still several more hoops. The Customs officer who we first talked to at the warehouse 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 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 had to pull the car into the warehouse to be inspected by the Customs K-9 unit.
Search by Customs
Once the car was removed from the container, port workers stacked the remaining boxes onto pallets and moved them into the warehouse. The first pallet was moved quickly. Then, we had to wait for about 30 minutes for the second pallet of boxes to be moved. Apparently, someone snagged the ramp the forklift driver was using before he was finished unloading our stuff. Once all boxes were inside the warehouse, the Customs dog sniffed the car and boxes. Then two Customs officers opened 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 closes 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 the last hurdle, we loaded up our boxes in our friend’s truck and stuffed a few more things into the car. I drove the car, while Chris and Boston rode in the truck. We 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 my own car. The island was so much more beautiful from the driver’s seat of my car! On the way back to pick up the second load, I got called to court, so Chris finished moving the boxes while I went to court. We were all so happy to have our stuff!
Shipping our car and belongings overseas was a huge undertaking. It was 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, none of it was easy. I’m glad this process is over. I learned a lot, but I hope we never have to do it again! Hopefully, our adventure helps if you ever have to ship your stuff overseas. Happy travels!