A First Time Importer’s Experience with International Shipping

I had a fellow contact me recently (I’ve changed his name, but lets call him ‘James’) in a slight panic. James had found a reputable supplier and paid for his goods. The only problem was now his goods were sitting in some city in China, thousands of miles away from him in Montreal and he had no idea how to get them. His supplier had emailed him regarding shipment and it was all Spanish to him (it couldn’t be French to him because being from Montreal presumably he speaks French!).Here was the supplier’s email:

PLS GIVE US YOUR POST CODE,B/L NEED IT;
We decide to ship the good from Qingdao port to your end,as it take about 18 days from B/L date,its freight cost is lower than Lianyungang port;Lianyungang port need about 30 days through Korea to your end.
Although transport charge to Qingdao is higher than Lianyungang port,we should pay higher transport charge for it,but you pay less freight and short delivery time.We should do our best to supply super goods and fine service for our friend for long time business relation

In James email to me he said “I would like to know costs associated with the play he is suggesting.”

Where I think James really got confused was this whole business about shipping his goods from Lianyungang to Qingdao through Korea to Montreal. In his mind, his supplier’s broken English sounded a little bit like “cha ching cha ching cha ching”.

First, this Supplier was overcomplicating things for James. If you ship a package from Los Angeles to New York via UPS, you don’t care if it gets taken by truck to San Diego and then loaded on a plane to Boston where it is put on a rail car to New York. All you care is how much money and how much time it costs (and UPS makes things easier by giving services catchy names like “3-Day Select”). But that’s what this Supplier was essentially doing- breaking down the journey step by step. To be fair, if you have some experience in importing the details the Supplier gives are relevant, but for the first-time importer they aren’t really relevant. What the supplier should have said is:

“Please give us your postal code, we need it for the shipping documents. Also, we want to have a long term business relationship with you so we are paying the higher cost to have your goods shipped via expedited 18-day service opposed to the slower and cheaper 30-day service”.

International shipping tends to be one of the most confusing parts for first time importers. And it isn’t that shipping internationally is that much more difficult than shipping something via UPS across the country. It’s that carriers like UPS/FedEx/etc. have simplified the whole shipping process to make it understandable for most of the general population (but in the background, the same process is occurring). However, as I explained to James, international shipping does have one difference that makes it easier than UPS/FedEx.

When you are get something shipped from China to Montreal/New York/[enter any other medium-large city) there will generally be a local office of the company shipping your goods who will be responsible for your shipment. This local office is often a single person sitting in a very small office coordinating the shipments arriving for various businesses in your city. This person will call you when your shipment is close to arriving (and ask you to pay a small handling fee of around $100). If you don’t pay that fee in a few days they will call you again reminding you. After you pay, if you haven’t cleared customs for the goods they will call you and ask you why you haven’t done this yet. If you pay your money and have cleared customs and haven’t picked up your shipment they will call you and ask you when you’re going to pick it up. The point being is that this person will not rest until you have picked up, for lack of better words, your shit. This in sharp contrast to UPS who will try to deliver you package 3 times and then send it back to the sender. As I explained to James, your first time dealing with international shipping you might want to cry, but the chances of you not receiving your goods are next to nil.

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