Warning: this post contains sarcasm!
This picture is NOT what happened to our container, but it may as well have. Our friend Fernando made calls to the port, and got the name of Customs agents, that could facilitate the release of our container. He found one in particular who spoke English; Luis, so I started talking to him. Emailed all the documents associated with the container, passports, visas, inventory sheets, bill of lading, insurance policy, and the EIN #, which is like a tax ID #. Didn't hear from him for almost a day, and when I called him, he sounded like he had never received the email (maybe it went to spam). I resent it all, and when I didn't hear from him again, I lost hope.
Then while walking on the beach, we met some expats that have been here 3 years, we visited, got some advice, and contact #'s to try. We went right home to email our new lead. http://www.insa.com.ec/ We got a hold of Patricio Munez, moving expert is his title at Insa corp. After sending him documents and laying out the whole story, he said for $800 he would post a bond to an a Ecuadorean bank, that we would use as collateral. The bond would be anywhere from $2100-2500, and refundable as long as residency was granted within 6 months. Well, thanks, but I don't have that kind of money... Hope dashed again.
We are at this point thinking we have to abandon the container, start thinking that it is lost at sea, never to be seen again. Start over. We can still stay in Ecuador til Dec 23rd, then maybe we'll go to Peru. Be vagabonds through South America. Found out one can visit Peru for 183 days with just a passport.
That night, as I'm sobbing over my lost possessions, I decide to reach out to the expat community of Facebook. There are two expat pages, one full of expats in the larger mountain cities; Quito and Cuenca, and another for the coastal expats. I choose to reach out to the coastal group, because from reading the posts, this group isn't snarky like the city folk. I specifically worded the post that I wasn't looking for opinion, just experience. I got some opinion, but nothing snarky, lots of kind words, and some good leads. Found a visa specialist, and a shipping expert lawyer, so I have both of them on my case.
Fernando has a contact in Manta customs office, he's meeting with him, to plead our case. And Dave the landlord said he knew somebody who might could help, so we've got them helping. There's hope again. The lawyer said she would come to Manta for $3500, but when I told her we didn't have that kind of money, she said she would waive her fee. She too was going to customs dept today, and said she would plead our case and get back to me. Even though she said she'd waive her fee, it'll still cost at least $4000 in port fees, storage fees, customs fees, bank bond and maybe some bribes. Hope squashed again.
When I started researching this move, I found information stating that Ecuador was wanting foreigners to come live (and stimulate the economy) and so they were making it so you could ship your household goods duty free if done within your first 6 months in country. Awesome, especially after reading many blogs saying that electronics were expensive here, kitchen ware, cookie sheets, Teflon coating and the like weren't as good a quality as we were used to in the States. Also sheets and towels were of inferior quality (I've since found the textiles are fine) but all this led us to looking into shipping a pallet. You may refer back to very early posts (Monday March 10th). We got quotes for both shipping pallets, and shipping containers, pallets was $3500, 20' container $4200. We chose the container, we had at $4200 worth of electronics and furniture we would take, then all those little sentimental things could go too. ( like Xmas ornaments from our early married days, photo albums, stained glass windows and mirrors my Grandfather created, knick knacks we purchased on our trip to Israel, vintage retro finds we've collected from our thrift store excursions, my jadeite collection, and if you know me, my shoes)
The shipper we went with (who reads this blog) really mislead me! Boy! You all know about the moving day fiasco,( big red flag) well getting much info from them since we got here has been limited at best. I'm trying to word this tastefully, because he does read this, and I have to take some responsibility, but "if I knew then, what I know now"!!! When we first made arrangements for arrival of container, we didn't know where in Ecuador we were going to be. We decided to pay for "door to port" service, our original quote was $4200. Our final invoice was over $5000. My understanding was this meant we were paid thru customs, the only thing we had to do here on this side was hire a trucking company and unloaders. Wrong!
When I translated those emails that went to spam, one of them was an invoice for $672, this was all sorts of dock fees, and rental on the container, which starts at $45 per day for the first week, then goes up to $70 per day. The shipper had told me 30 days free storage on this side, nope it's 15 days and because he didn't get an Ecuadorean telephone # from me the emails went to spam and we lost 7 days. I also have found out ( since I'm emailing copies of inventory sheets to everybody) that these are done wrong. I distinctly remember reading and then asking the shipper about inventory sheets. How Ecuador wanted them done a certain way, and even translated into Spanish, he said, "naw, you don't have to do all that, they all speak English at the port, it's a huge international port".
Not only is this container release and inventory business a mess, but we didn't qualify for residency with the documents we had prepared before we left the States. Guess where other documents are...yep inside the container! That's why we have to pay a bank bond, because either I read the information wrong, or they've changed the rules about when you can bring the container to the country. Now they're saying you must have your residency in place before your container ships. I was under the assumption that worse case scenario, if your container arrived and you had not been granted residency yet, you had to pay tax on the declared amount, then if within 6 months you were granted residency, the tax you paid was reimbursed- hence duty free shipment of household goods! I know I did not just make this up, and thru the Facebook expats I've come to realize this is big business, it happens quite often. I'm thinking people don't write about it because it's embarrassing, you certainly do feel like a fool. Naive? Stupid ? Have bad luck? Yep, all of it.
When you hire a "professional" you are counting on, no, you are paying them to use their knowledge, their expertise to guide you thru a process that you've never done before. They have done this before, that's what you're counting on, that they will make the process easy, seamless, smooth. Express cargo USA did not do that. He took our money, and yes our container arrived at desired location, but I did not get use of much else. Stranded in a foreign land is what it feels like...Never would we have attempted this if I knew it would cost us double that initial quote of $4200. We certainly could have replaced a couple of flat screen tvs and a desktop computer for less than $8k! At this point, as I sit here writing this, we are still not sure if we can get this figured out.
The attorney is supposed to get back to me, after her meeting with customs, and maybe talk about getting some retribution, if not some reimbursement from the US shipper, since she says he "did us so dirty". Since the container is here, and we really do want and need all our stuff that's in it, we will throw some more money at it. But we don't have much to throw, there will be a point when we have to really decide to abandon it and move on. Will keep y'all posted, because I want this situation to be well documented, if this can help at least one person make a more educated decision, it may be worth it.
You win some, you lose some, but for sure you'll never win if you don't try. Stay tuned, the adventure roller coaster continues.