The Long Road – Making Friends with Customs

Argentina, Hermes, International, Panamerican, South America

WeberThroughout the planning stages of this adventure we struggled over whether shipping a vehicle to Argentina was the best idea or not. We had obvious concerns about cost and clearing our vehicle through Argentine customs but never worried about issues on the US side. [side note: we did consider Uruguay but then our agent told us we couldn’t ship there without expatriate transfer orders and now after arriving in South America we’ve learned that Zarate, AR is a less expensive option all around ] As you may have already read in our previous post “Houston We Have a Problem!“, the US side was a nightmare due to the inadequacies of our state-side shipping agent (Warning: DO NOT USE: Sea & Air Experts). However, our agent here in Buenos Aires, Weber Servicio Internacionales, is 5 star; the family owed company in Buenos Aires was established by Francisco Weber and his brother over 55 years ago. It was comforting that they seemed to know exactly what was going on and who to talk to in a respectable, professional manner. 

Claims – part I:  Our vehicle is registered in Colorado, USA, a title holding state; meaning, if you have a loan on the vehicle the lender holds the title as a lien until the loan is satisfactorily repaid. We approached this issue a number of times and from a couple of directions within the months preceding our departure. We also had numerous conversations with our US agent who clearly didn’t have the ability to see the big picture and thought we’d satisfied the requirements.  We really should’ve known when our trusting guts told us things were not going to go smoothly when we showed up to the Houston receiving warehouse and they didn’t have any idea we were coming, then later asked for the title. After our vehicle arrived and in our initial dealings with customs we learned that Argentinian law requires drivers to carry the original title in the vehicle at all times and must be presented to an officer if you should get pulled over.  That being said, our black and white notarized copy was not going to be accepted.  We needed the original title.  After numerous hours on the phone with USAA and working every angle we could think of, we had a color, notarized copy in the mail. 

Shippingcont1Claims – part II:  With a new document in the mail I jumped in a tiny car with Francisco Weber (who speaks German & Spanish) and Nicolas (who speaks Spanish & some English) and off we were to the port to continue negotiating. From the second we stepped out of the car Francisco seemed to know everyone he walked past and was sure to give them a hug and the customary kiss greeting or at the least a “Heeeeeyyyy” with some sort of open armed hand motion or fist bump.  After providing a passport and finger prints I was ‘sworn’ in and given a badge so I could enter the gated section where customs and the unloading docks where. Francisco approached the customs agent that would eventually help us unload the container, hopeful we were making progress but of course it was lunch hour, so we had to wait. About 30 minutes pass by when finally the customs agent and two other men with hammers brought us to the container that held our overlander. What a relief to know that our container was actually there!

I held my breath as a few locks were cut and the doors were slowly opened. An exhale of relief…there it was, our truck in tact and seemingly in the condition we had left it with the exception of a bit of dust. I climbed into the container and was able to connect the battery while the two men with hammers dislodged the supports on all four tires. I sat in the drivers seat and again held my breath as I turned the key…without hesitation Hermes started right up. I must say that is was a fun and unique experience reversing out of a 20 foot container, then driving through the aisles of a customs warehouse to the inspection point. Workers turned there heads and smiled as I drove by as if it was the most exciting part of their day, I know it was mine 🙂

Yes, fully in tact overlander

Now another clock is ticking; with Hermes out of the container we have 5 days to produce the proper documentation and remove the vehicle before we start getting charged ‘storage fees’. We were diligent to make digital copies of important documents prior to our departure so, determined, I searched city streets for a Kiosko that would print a double-sided, color document that I could provide Weber Servicio something worth another attempt with customs.  Realizing the different paper sizes I also had to work to ensure proper alignment and cut to size so it looked (somewhat) official.  With one more piece of paper in hand, we spent the better half of the afternoon waiting for the “persona correcto” to arrive…unfortunately, we were unable to connect so we try again tomorrow.

Claims – part III:  The following morning, we were able to speak with “ la persona correcto” only to find out that our only option was to obtain a copy of the title that has been certified by an “Apostille“. When I heard this, my heart sank because I had no idea what that meant or where to start. So what else do you do when you have no idea where to begin, ask Google. After reading what an Apostille actually is and how to obtain it I was also able to find a service that was designed to help those in a similar situation. PERFECT! came to the rescue with getting a color copy of our title, notarized, certified, signed off by the New York Secretary of State and sent via DHL. Although we missed the Friday evening cut off, it was in the mail Monday for delivery on Wednesday or Thursday.

Weber International
Francisco, German and Chad

Claims – part IV:  Monday morning rolls around after a nice weekend and German Weber, my Argentine agent, asked me to come in to sign some customs paperwork. Upon my arrival the FedEx truck was just dropping off the color, signed and certified copy of my title I requested from USAA the previous Thursday (not the Apostille). When we opened up the package we all thought it may be worth at least giving it one more try, so Francisco and I were off to customs to give it one last shot before giving up and waiting for the Apostille copy. After a ridiculous conversation between the two of us speaking in broken English and Spanish we arrived at the customs office. We were the only ones there this time, walked right in and as if they had never requested the Apostille they signed off on all the documents and it was off to the Port to begin another round of inspection and verification. Three hours later, with what seemed to be a dozen different agents and two inspections I was in the drivers seat pulling out of the customs warehouse and on my way. It was a surreal feeling driving the streets of Buenos Aires in our truck we had so patiently yet painfully waited for these past weeks.

Seriously… it was that simple. I have been waiting for the time when I can finally say, that this has all been wonderful but now I’m on my way.

Houston We Have A Problem !

Hermes, International, Panamerican, South America

 Let me begin by saying that shipping a vehicle overseas can be a logistical nightmare; there are so many pieces to the puzzle it will make your head spin. I’ll give it a whirl to see if I can make it clear enough to make sense of it all. Private shippers, meaning those who do not have a license with a shipping company to utilize their services (like us), must use an “licensed agent” to coordinate all shipping logistics. Remember that there is a departure port and an arrival port, therefore you are required to have an “agent” at each; and yes you guessed it, that is a separate payment, I mean, agent per port.  The hired agent is the single point of contact for the drop off warehouse, container packing, trucking company (carrier), the departure port and the shipping company itself. Keep in mind you are working with dual agents, one from each country, so in the end you’re essentially coordinating 7 companies to get your vehicle overseas from point A to B. Here is a little sketch to put it into perspective….

Shipping logistics
A good agent on both sides is critical for success

We felt as though a brief explanation of the over all process was necessary before giving an update as to where we are in reuniting our beloved truck; so I hope that helps. When we dropped off Hermes at the warehouse for receiving and customs it was quite sketchy but we were assured everything was okay and on track by our agent. We spent the next few days in Houston tying up loose ends and catching up with friends, assuming everything was going according to plan. Upon arrival our arrival in Buenos Aires we got through our first hurdle of getting Lucia, our 2 year old foxhound/cattledog, out of customs and felt like things were off to a great start. I contacted our agent to confirm the expected arrival date only to find out that they were having significant issues with the receiving warehouse who missed the customs deadline in order to make our expected ship out of Houston (1 week delayed). Adding insult to injury, the warehouse failed to inform our agent that they missed the cut off and were having additional issues with “the paperwork”, so they claimed, and were not able to get our container cleared in time for the next ship out the following week (2 week delay). I immediately began micromanaging the situation, to include calling customs on my own to find out what the issue may really be.

Keep calm
Keep calm

At this point patience was beyond thin and I went straight to the owner of Sea and Air Experts; he informed me that he was changing the warehouse, carrier and shipping company all together to assure our shipment would be on its way. However, it wasn’t over, yet another speed bump:  Labor Day!  (additional 3 week delay). Ok, deep breath, it will be okay, we are in Buenos Aires – we are trying really hard not to complain but, begrudgingly, days and budget tick by.

Our agent assured us we were cleared for the next ship scheduled: September 15th, 2015. The paperwork was submitted and the truck completely cleared through customs on a ship stamped for anytime on or after the 15th of September. Low and behold, the shipping company was running ahead of schedule and moved the sail date to September 13th.  Our paperwork was stamped for the 15th, and already within the 72 hour window couldn’t be changed (4 week delay); so yes, you guessed it, yet another week.  Having made our lodging arrangements for the original ship date we are now checking out the day the truck was supposed to arrive and it’s still sitting in Houston, not scheduled to depart for another week.  The blows to the chin keep coming.

After four weeks of delays our truck is finally confirmed as loaded on the “Monica” shipping vessel leaving Houston, TX for Buenos Aires on September 22! We are thrilled with anticipation of its arrival…we just hope everything is in place on the Argentinian side and things go much smoother!