I’ve struggled for quite a while on how to convey this post into words. You may have noticed a long absence of updates from us in and around the holidays. This was primarily due to the story I am about to relay. It was one of the most challenging series of events we’ve been faced with since we landed in Peru. In many ways, I would rather be back in the ICU fighting altitude sickness and pneumonia than have to deal with this again (not that I would willingly choose either).
A little background is probably in order. When we were preparing to embark on this journey, we quickly realized that there were a few different methods a family could move to another country in. Some families have put all their possessions into a shipping container and literally moved a household into a new location. This has the advantage of allowing the family to instantly feel at home once they move in. However, it requires a degree of coordination to have the shipment arrive exactly when the family is ready for it (i.e. they have found a new apartment to receive the shipment. Shipment and customs clearance times can be extravagant, and the import tax can often be exuberant. We know one family that was charged the maximum 30% of declared value of their goods on their shipment.
There is also the other side of the spectrum. These are the families that move to the country with only what they can carry with them on an airplane (this is actually a fair amount with 2 check bags, 1 carry on, a backpack, and a pillow per person). Their philosophy is to buy everything in their destination city once they arrive. We know several families in Brazil that used just this method to great effect. Overall it is probably much cheaper to go this way. Yet the opportunity cost with this method in South America varies vastly country to country and even more so from city to city. Major metropolitan areas such as Lima, Buenos Aires, La Paz, or Rio have nearly all the amenities that you would want to buy. Cusco and many of her less developed sisters often will have many of the creature comforts unavailable for purchase. This could include but is not limited to squishy mattresses, kitchen utensils such as cast iron, well-padded sofas, picture frames, BBQ smokers, and any number of personal home furnishings that you can’t quite put a value on.
In the end, we adopted a hybrid of the methods for our family. We decided to ship only the things we determined would be hard to find in Cusco or things that meant a lot to us on 4 plastic pallets to Cusco. As four pallets is dramatically less than cargo load, the theory was that this would be much less expensive than those who had gone one before us. We wouldn’t be able to ship a couch down, but we could definitely get that smoker for church evangelism BBQ social events down here! There are several companies that are willing to help out missionaries with personal moves. We called probably nearly all of them, but the one that was most helpful and responsive was Straightway Logistics out of Michigan (ironically). Their main rep, Dan Gregg, gave us a more than fair price and quickly educated us on the world of shipping. However, he could only get our goods as far as Callao (the port area of Lima, Peru). He referred us to a long list of contacts he had that were “in network” that could help us clear customs and truck the pallets to Cusco.
This is the point that now made this post so difficult to write. I firmly believe that I desire everything we do to be a reflection of the light and love in our lives from Jesus Christ our savior. We also fully desire to be so much more that a name on a bulletin to our supporting congregations. We want them to – as much as possible – walk through this journey with us step for step. We want them to know the great moments, the sad moments, and the terrible moments. That being said, when the difficult moments come and you feel as though Satan has chosen to target you in particular for his next crusade, it can be hard to be a bright beacon of love and hope in the journey. I chose to wait and write this post until now to allow as much of the emotion as possible to fade from it.
From here on out, I will outline what happened to us on a day by day basis. This is reconstructed from email records, phone logs, notary stamps, and picture time stamps. We had to reconstruct all of this when we submitted it to the investigative squad, but luckily living in the 21st century has all the advantages of being digital. I will try to keep to mostly facts in describing the events of each day, but I will also try to add in vital details where needed. On certain days, long periods of prayer and devotion were required to just make it through the day.
November 27 – We get multiple quotes from several companies for cost to ship to Cusco. ABC Moving Company stands out to us. They are willing to work with our limited Spanish, and their outline of expected charges on their quote is far more detailed than any of their competitors. I even used their quote when talking to other companies to ask about missing items on their quotes. I quickly realize that there are a lot of sharks in these waters waiting to take advantage to gringos wanting to ship goods.
November 28 – We receive arrival notice to Callao and that the shipment will be available on the 29th. I provide it to ABC.
November 29 – We receive an email about if we want to file a damage report for our shipment to Callao, we need to do it soon. I have no idea why I would get this. Talking to ABC, they tell me it is just a standard notification. I forward the email to them anyhow.
November 30 – I have a phone conversation with ABC explaining to them our situation of being in Cusco already. He assures me it is no issue, and that there will be no need for us to come to Callao. He says photo copies of our passports will be fine.
December 1 – 8:26 AM – we send an email to ABC requesting their services. I include a copy of my passport and a copy of the packing list as we provided it to Straightway (the American freight company). ABC replies with the amount we need to deposit into their account, and makes reference to Vanguard (the warehouse coleader company), showing he has knowledge of them.
4:18 PM – We receive an email from ABC with all the documents we need to get notarized. However, due to the hour, we must wait until the next day to notarize them.
Looking back at this, this is just one of several moves ABC would make in a similar fashion. Whether deliberate or not, they had a propensity of waiting until last minute to provide me the information I needed. This would cause us to wait until the next business day to accomplish their requests. All the meanwhile, the temporary warehouse charges of housing prior to clearing customs would be accumulating.
December 2 – We go to notarize the documents provided to us by ABC. Just for reference, getting anything notarized here can often be a half day plus process in Cusco. The notary is often not in office, lines can be absurd, many notaries refuse to notarize a document for an individual with only a passport (you have to have a carnet), and they like to go over every detail on the document (they aren’t just validating your signature as authentic). In our case, the notaries refused to notarize them as they have the date and location typed as “Lima, December 01” on them. We redo the documents with the correct time and date, get them notarized, and send ABC pictures taken with our cell phones of the documents at 12:27 PM. Not bad for an effort that started at 7 that morning! No reply from ABC until Monday as this is a Saturday, but still I’m pretty sure they were operating that day.
December 4 – 9 AM – I resend all 5 documents that we notarized in a higher quality scan. I also send a copy of Rachel’s passport. I ask how to get the original Bill of Lading signed to them and a copy of my Passenger Migratory Movement (2 things they requested of us with no instruction whatsoever).
12:39 AM – ABC responds saying the packing list I provided needs to be in Spanish with a value for each item listed. They advise us to go to Migrations in Cusco for the Passenger Migratory Movement. No mention of Rachel needing one is made. They also resend the Bill of Lading (turns out this is just the cover page of the shipment that Straightway made for me) saying “The Bill of Lading Original must be signed by you, enclosed the digital BL that you sent us, since your co-loader (Vanguard) indicates that it does not have an issue at destination it must be provided the original to you in origin”. Still not entirely sure what they meant to convey in English right there, but I took it as you need to go get this notarized with your signature.
Insert a long period of time where I type up the list into an Excel table with everything in Spanish. I keep to the advice Straightway gave us in keeping the descriptions basic and generic. I have fully comprehensive, itemized packing list with every item listed on it, but I refuse to share this or the knowledge of its existence with them on principal. If customs demands it, I will give it to them personally. I get some Spanish speakers to proof read it and send it to ABC.
5:31 PM – ABC responds that she doesn’t like the format of the new Spanish packing list. They says the list will also need to be notarized and finger printed. They also asks for the children’s passports as there are several kids’ items on the pallets.
5:48 PM – We respond to ABC telling her we don’t have kids but plan to soon, and that for now the toys belong to us.
December 5 – I go and apply for a migrations movement form on myself. This is basically an official document by the government that outlines my entrances and exits from countries for the past year. I still can’t get the exact reason why it is needed, but perhaps they want to prove I really am moving here. It takes 4 hours to finish the up at migrations in Cusco and they tell me to return for the paperwork the next day.
December 6 – 9AM – ABC calls our friend from church who has been helping us out to tell her she needs our physical passports to proceed. Meanwhile, I go and get one of the powers of attorney done again in Cusco. The first one did not have the shipment number on it, and inasmuch was useless. I do not email this to them, as we are expecting to have to fly to Lima at this point with all the difficulties we are encountering. The notaries refuse to notarize the packing list and bill of lading. They say they can only notarize the original bill of lading and that it is not the correct process to notarize the packing list. One would think that a shipping company would have known both these pieces of information.
12:12 PM – ABC says the list wasn’t matching what they were seeing on the pallet. At this point, we got real suspicious. We email ABC to tell them we will be flying into Callao tomorrow.
Sometime that afternoon – Per the timestamp of the pictures, ABC carried out their own inspection of our pallets on this date. They did so without our knowledge, consent, or with any powers of attorney in hand. One of the pictures of the power of attorneys they did have was completely useless at this point as it did not have the shipment number on it. In conducting an investigation in this manner, ABC has just broken international law.
December 7 – We fly into Callao. A friend we had made in Lima who is fully fluent in Spanish meets us and we walk over to ABC. We’ll call him Jorge for now. When we got there, they informed us that there were several items they were highly concerned about going through customs. When asked about how they knew anything about particulars on the pallets outside of the packing list, they told us that they had opened our pallets and conducted their own inspection. This was without our knowledge or permission. Jorge was with us for the entirety of this conversation. This obviously upset us. They were chiefly concerned about what an ottoman is (thinking we had packed a miniature dude from the Ottoman Empire, my wifi repeater station, a blue tooth speaker, and kid’s toys. Since we don’t have children of our own yet, they claimed it would look suspicious to customs for us to have them. My rebuttal was that A) I happen to like Legos and things of the like and B) we are a young couple moving to a foreign country for many years and plan to have kids soon. Why would we not have toys for their future on what we plan to be our one big shipment?)
Nevertheless, they continuously advised us to deliberately omit any reference of toys of our packing list and refused to let us submit any list that had them to customs. We have email chains showing us providing the packing list to them with the toys included, but we are rather sure that they submitted lists without toys to customs. We would eventually be hit with a $350 “charge” (more on that in a bit) on the toys by customs.
They then told us that they needed a migrations movement paper on Rachel too. This was brand new information to us. They also said that we were going to need to pay an extra $1200 as our warehouse time was expiring for the initial “lease”.
Luckily we brought Jorge with us. He got them to admit that they knew all along they would need our physical passports, that our warehouse time would be expiring and the rate would go up, that they did not inform us of this until we arrived, that they could have taken action to move it into a cheaper facility on our behalf but didn’t, that they opened our pallets without permission, that they knew I would have to sign the original Bill of Lading in Callao, and that the entire thing was more or less set up to ensure we failed at getting our pallets through the process in a timely fashion such that we would get charged more.
Jorge had to basically threaten them the book of reclamations. This is basically a government issued book that every corporation must have. Think of it as a way to alert the Better Business Bureau of any misdeeds. We think it may actually carry some power, because upon mention of it, ABC seemed to get their act together and promised to do all they could to try and make our experience pleasant. We would just have to run to the migrations office to get the movement document for Rachel, and we had to do it within 4 hours on Thursday. As Friday was a holiday, the office closed in 4 hours, and Monday would be too late to avoid the extra $1200. Luckily we succeeded and got the papers to them in time.
I requested photos of the inspection they conducted. It may be the norm for them, but for an inspection I did not authorize, I was highly upset at the lack of care that seems to have been afforded to our things. Finally, we spend an extra $180 to reschedule our flights for the following Wednesday as it looks like we’ll need at least one full more day to take care of everything.
December 8 – Today is a holiday so no work is accomplished.
December 11- We receive the pictures of the inspection they conducted. We sign the original Bill of Lading and give our passports to a ABC agent at the house of Jorge
December 12- 4PM – We get notice that they need a copy of our marriage certificate last minute
5:41 PM – We send a copy of the marriage certificate to ABC
10:12 PM – ABC, “Tomorrow we will present the documents at first hour hopefully they will not notify us again to deliver your passport.”
December 13 – We fly back to Cusco after having present all the documents to customs. Inspection is tentatively scheduled for the next day.
December 14 – ABC tells us there is a $350 fine for the toys. We must either agree to pay it or the toys will the immobilized in the warehouse. We agree to pay it. We would later learn that this is a common tactic used. If they omitted the toys from the list, then technically they don’t exist in paperwork. If we think there is a fine for them, then often foreigners will just ask to refuse to that part of the shipment, and the shipper gets to keep them without any documentation.
December 15 – We had returned to Cusco for our team retreat. It was there that they informed us that we had cleared the customs inspection, but there were a few things that needed to be cleared up before we could have our goods shipped to us. First the customs import tax was much higher than we expected. On their initial quote they told us to expect 5-10% tax on the value of all the goods. We were taxed at closer to 15-18%. When I confronted ABC about this and said they deliberately misled me, all they would respond with was, “I’m Sorry.” Second we were issued a $350 fee for the toys. Third we were issued a near $1600 fee for the warehouse charges. This was up from the initial $250 quote we were given on what it would cost.
When I asked for details on the warehouse fee, they claimed that they could not do anything about this charge. They claimed that this is simply what the warehouse said was owed and they couldn’t even negotiate with the warehouse on our behalf. They said that the carrier we used to ship to Callao had placed our goods into an American warehouse, and because of as much they couldn’t access or do anything to it. This made little sense as we knew they had conducted their own inspection of the shipment already. They said that we would have to call the American company that shipped our goods and see if they could ask for a discount on the warehouse charges.
I don’t believe they expected us to call internationally, but we did. Our contact from the American company told us that they do not own any warehouses in Callao, and that we needed to call the Peruvian warehouse listed on our Bill of Lading. We did so, and the Peruvian warehouse told us that the shipment had been there since the first of the month, that ABC should have brought it out of the warehouse and put it in a more long term cheaper facility soon as it arrived, but they would see if they could provide us a discount.
We send an email to the warehouse explaining the situation and asking for a discount. To their credit, ABC sent emails out asking for the same almost immediately when they saw we CC’d them.
December 17 – We get a 15% discount from the warehouse. There are a few emails reminding ABC of the $295 already paid to them for warehouse expenses and to subtract it from their new bill to us.
December 18 – Money is deposited into ABC’s account.
December 19 – ABC has issues getting the shipment out of the warehouse. However, it is the fault of the warehouse and no additional cost is charged to us.
December 20 – ABC tells us that the truck is in route to Cusco. Expected delivery is Thursday
December 21 – We call ABC. They check into it and tell us that the shipment is delayed due to holiday traffic. Arrival is now expected Saturday. Google maps shows there is no additional traffic and max transit time is 18.5 hours direct. At this point they will be driving our cargo less than 4 hours a day to arrive to us on Saturday.
December 23 – Finally, the shipment did arrive on Saturday. The condition of the shipment upon its arrival is beyond words. What looked like it was an open air garbage truck pulled in front of our apartment for us to unload. The shipment looked as though it had been rained on multiple times in transit from Cusco. Boxes were thrown haphazardly into the back of the truck with absolutely no care or gentleness. Boxes were rotting and smelling awful. Boxes were in near destroyed condition. Plastic bins had standing water in them. It was painfully obvious that the shipment had been given as little care as possible.
We took pictures of every box in the condition it arrived to us in and the condition of the contents as we unpacked everything. There is about $1300 in damages and missing items. When all is taken into account for damages, missing items on the shipment, negligence, and additional fees because of ABC’s actions the monetary value of what they cost us is approaching unthinkable realms.
January 3 – It takes quite some time for us to get through everything. We are meticulous as we unpack everything in documenting the process with photos. Many items there are no saving, they just have to be thrown out. One of the biggest reliefs was actually the day we were able to get a truck to haul off the rotting cardboard boxes out of our apartment. Those things reeked so badly! Shortly after Christmas, the lawyer working on our carnets (residence cards) told us that they were ready. He advised us to come into Lima on the 3rd as the 1st and 2nd were holidays. He also offered to put us in touch with some customs agents while we were in town. We had contacted him about any powers we had to recoup costs due to damages when we received the shipment. He himself didn’t specialize in shipping cases, but he believed his friends could help us. Big win for this day was that after nearly 4 months of waiting, we were residents!
January 4 – We meet with the customs agent for over four hours. Turns out the lawyer’s contact is the actually the head of a shipping company now- Mt. Zion Shipping. She used to be an agent for customs and inasmuch knows the ins and outs of the process. She carefully listens to our story, asking questions along the way. She seems to be crossing off all possible people at fault before passing judgement. For example, she asked a lot of questions of Straightway’s involvement, how we chose ABC, our interactions with customs (none personally, all through ABC), and anything we knew personally about the warehouse. Eventually, she seemed to determine that ABC was the only avenue that could have done the bulk of our description. At this point she started going through our paperwork and noticed a lot of irregularities.
1) The dates of the receipts of payment were a full week after we actually got the shipment. These are usually issued day of. The dates used are suspiciously around the last time I had contact with the company. They had called to make sure we received the shipment. In my frustration I told them we had, I wasn’t happy with the condition, and that we were seriously contemplating coming to sign the book of reclamations. To her, this looked very much like ABC trying to get the paperwork in order once they realized an investigation might occur.
2) Apparently when I received the shipment, I was supposed to sign a copy of the packing list asserting everything was received in expected condition. Ya…. That didn’t happen.
3) The guy our powers of attorney were made out to so that ABC could represent us at Customs isn’t on the official government record of employee’s for ABC. Hence, she had no idea how they got us through Customs clearance.
4) Nowhere on the customs side of paperwork was there an indication of $350 for children’s toys. It would appear that this charge was completely falsified to us.
5) ABC charged us $1400 for packing and care expenses in addition to transportation costs. This was to cover making sure everything arrived to us in good condition. I have a hard time not laughing at this one.
Overall if you need something shipped in Peru, I now have the contact. We were very impressed with Mt. Zion. They even printed off copies of all our documents and pictures for us. They advised us to write up a day by day account (similar to this) and present everything to Indecopi directly. This the government intuition that oversees the book of reclamations. This would dramatically cut down the time to resolution and keep us from having to see ABC again.
That evening we create the entirety of the paperwork to submit to Indecopi. Jorge’s wife helps us translate everything into Spanish.
January 5th – We submit everything to Indecopi. There are a few bumps in having to redo the cover page and format, but overall the process went smooth. They tell us that due to the amount and our status as brand new residents, they are placing us on the emergency case list. This drops the time to completion from 120 days to around 30 days.
And that is the last we had to really do with regards to our shipping issues. It was a rough and stressful situation. There were times we honestly didn’t know if the shipment was ever going to come. Part of us really does believe this whole thing was just another way for the Devil to try and run us out of the country. Had we been any less stubborn of individuals, it may have worked. We have no idea if the investigation will result in anything, and honestly if it doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things it will matter very little. We are here to try and be lights to the world and help install the first wave of leaders to the church in Cusco. If that costs us a few thousand dollars, then it was money well spent.
Once again, we don’t write this to y’all asking or expecting for any money or tears. The chief and main purpose in this novel is let you walk in this journey with us. People have often told me that the cost to follow Christ and do his will could and would be high. Sometimes that sentiment is understood more clearly than others.
Mitchel and Rachel