Planning to import your household container? Then be careful and be patient! Our construction projects continued. And based on our prior inquiries and due diligence, we thought we had timed the arrival of our household container pretty well with our move-in date. The ongoing progress of the work at our house to receive our container load was all wrong.
Chalk this timing effort up to the saying, “the best-laid plans…”
U.S. Customs informed that they had decided to randomly inspect our household container on its way out from San Pedro Harbor in Los Angeles. This inspection caused our load to literally miss the boat and delayed its departure by one week.
The shipping company loaded our household container on another vessel a week later. It made its way down the Pacific Coast and through the Panama Canal to the Costa Rican port of Limon on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
After arrival at the port, there was some kind of customs backlog we were told. This set us back almost one more week. When customs tells us that there were some “problems” when the household container arrived at the customs warehouse in San Jose, it gets a bit fuzzy.
This was causing a further delay.
Finally, we got a call from our mover in Escazu. They said that once we paid the last half of our moving costs, insurance, customs duties, and other import fees “most of our household container” would be delivered early the following week. This was almost one month after our best-guess estimated delivery date. When we went to the mover’s office to make payment, we came face-to-face with a couple of unpleasant surprises.
First, U.S. Customs had the temerity to actually bill us the outrageous sum of $732. Customs The bill was for the unwanted and unrequested inspection they performed in San Pedro, CA that had resulted in the delay of our shipment by one week. I suppose, that this was for the pleasure of subjecting us to the possibility of going to prison if they happened to find contraband hidden in the remaining worldly possessions of a couple of old retired folks.
Costa Rican Customs
Second, we were told that Costa Rican customs had decided to withhold “42 items” from our container shipment. We were told by our mover that this was very unusual, but that the problem should be resolved very quickly and we would receive all of our “stuff” soon.
Delivery Day arrived, our mover unloaded tow trucks. There was only minimal damage from all of the handling and storage our possessions had received. But indeed, missing were “42 items”. As far as we could determine, all of the “42 items” being held hostage by Costa Rican Customs were items fully accounted for on our household container’s shipping manifest. These “42 items” were not randomly selected miscellaneous boxes of little or no consequence. They included our washer, dryer, refrigerator, our living room sofas and chairs, a large dining room hutch, our vacuum cleaner, an antique trunk, stereo, and all of the remotes and hardware for our televisions to name but a few of the absent “42 items.”
It’s important to pay attention here in order to possibly avoid what happened to us. Our manifest listed 338 items. Costa Rican Customs counted 380 items coming out of our household container—a difference of “42 items.” Understandably, an agency like customs, well-grounded in rules, guidelines, and bureaucracy takes a dim view of inaccuracies and/or new arrivals trying to avoid paying duty by “sneaking” unaccounted goods into Costa Rica.
We later determined the cause of the non-agreeing counts. Our Costa Rican mover’s sub-contracted and bonded moving agent in California that packed and moved our belongings into storage for later shipment to Costa Rica, when we designated, had been more than a bit lax in counting and recording items placed onto our shipping manifest. For instance, they wrapped three bundles of tools and gave the three bundles one line and one number on the manifest. They dismantled a piece of furniture and packed it in two boxes with only one number. It didn’t take much of this approach to account for the “42 items” discrepancy.
Our suppliers, the mover, their broker, and the shipping company tried all avenues to get our “42 items” released into our eagerly awaiting hands. They went up the chain of command, tried to different personnel in other customs departments, and I won’t swear to it—but even offered an “inducement” or two. We also tried to enlist people with juice or connections within the customs agency. We made several unsuccessful attempts but were case #401 waiting in the queue.
Note: Costa Rican officials are cracking down on bribery within the government. They are firing offenders and throwing them in prison. The bureaucrats are running scared. The government likely finds customer bribes unacceptable; unlike the old days when a few well-placed colones in the right hands could open many doors.
It has been more than four months and, inexplicably, Customs released just about 15 of the “42 items”. Customs delivered last week a couple of items, including pieces of furniture, the refrigerator, our dryer. PLUS a plastic bag containing two pairs of my baby shoes—honestly! Maybe, the customs warehouse is overflowing with withheld items and they had to make room for new offenders. In any case, we are now patiently waiting for our other “27 items”. Pura Vida.
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica. He and his wife used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of moving to and start a new life in Costa Rica.
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