Article – International Shipping2018-04-23T04:21:16+00:00

Don’t Get Burnt on International Shipping

The shipping process can be full of sneaky little clauses
designed to separate you from your money.

For the most part, shipping of personal goods is straightforward. A group of “packers” arrive and pack up everything. Then, when the shipment arrives at its destination another group unloads and unpacks it into your new “place”. Simple? Yes! But what’s not so simple is the tricky little clauses in shipping company contracts and those of the insurance companies that will insure your shipment .

After six international moves I’ve more than paid my dues and learned some very important lessons. I’ll pass what I’ve learned on to you in this article so you can avoid the costly and frustrating ways in which shippers have taken advantage of me. I’ll also show you some tried and proven ways to take your belongings with you on the plane as excess baggage.

Sea & Air

Air shipments can be prohibitively expensive. Check into the cost well in advance of your departure date. It may be the only affordable way to ship your belongings is by sea. Some teachers cleverly split their shipment into two parts, using air for items they want to have immediately and sea for less important things. Sea shipments can be slow. Start early. Spending the first two months of school in a bare bones apartment is no fun.

Shipping insurance is designed to help insurance companies make money. Insurers of international shipments generally offer personal belonging insurance in increments of $5000 coverage. The price was $250 – $300 the last time I looked. Most schools will pick up the tab for the first $5000 to $10,000 of coverage. Should you want more you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket. But be careful. Things are not always what they seem!

Keep an eye on this! Let’s say that you value your shipment at $15,000 and have paid $250 out-of-pocket in addition to what your school has already paid. You would think if the boat sinks you would receive $15,000 in compensation. Wrong! Should your entire shipment be lost you may very well receive less than $8,000, although your contact is for $15,000 of coverage.
This is how insurance companies work it: If you read the shipping contract very carefully (which you absolutely must do), including that light blue print that’s hard to read on the back-side, you’ll probably find a clause that states you are required to have the equivalent of $8.00 worth of coverage for every pound in your shipment. If you have a 2500-pound shipment you will thus need $20,000 worth of coverage to meet the terms of the contract (2500 lbs. x $8.00 per pound = $20,000 in required coverage). Although it’s not spelled out for you in the contract, what this all means is that in order to collect 100% of the stated value of your shipment you must pay a $1000 premium and insure your 2500 pounds for $20,000. But since you figured $20,000 is more than the value of your goods (being honest) you opted for the $15,000 of coverage, which equates to $6.00 per pound. Based on the terms of the contract you inadvertently insured your goods for 25% less than you should have and will receive 25% less for what you claim to be missing or damaged — should it become necessary to file a claim, that is. This goes for one box or the entire shipment. To add insult to injury, shipping cartons are usually of heavy cardboard and simultaneously add considerable weight to your shipment while reducing the insurance companies responsibility. If you play with the numbers and carefully access the value of your shipment you can get the coverage you really need and work the numbers to your advantage.

Insurance companies can further reduce the value of your shipment. The “valued inventory” clause is designed to help insurance companies pay you less, should you file a claim. Basically it works like this: Everything that gets put into a shipping box worth more than $100 dollars has to be valued by the shippers and the value noted on a special “valued inventory” form. Without this form a missing box is simply valued at $100 and that’s that. Your $800 stereo is only worth $100 in the eyes of the insurance company unless you have the valued inventory form. This means you need to be present when the shippers show up so you can stand around and argue the value of everything going into the boxes. A box of 50 CDs is only worth $100 without a valued inventory. Be sure to have the packers note the item and its value on the “valued inventory” form. Get the form signed. This can be a difficult task in a third-world country where the shippers have no idea of the real value of your goods. Some companies require that you use their form and not just a piece of paper. Start early and get the information you need and the required forms to do it right. If you don’t see a value inventory mentioned in the contract, ask for the form. Somewhere, someplace is an addendum that says you need a valued inventory.

Ouch!!! here’s the double whammy!!! If you took out only $15000 worth of insurance on your 2500 pound shipment, the insurance company will first reduce their responsibility by 25%, as seen in the above example. And then they will pay only $75 (instead of $100) per missing box or damaged item not appearing on the valued inventory form. $75.00 for your missing or damaged stereo is not much. You also want to be sure that the shippers pack all the boxes. Should you pack a box yourself it will be labeled and recorded as “client packed”. Since you are not a “professional” packer the insurance company is not responsible for damage to “client packed boxes” even if the movers back-over it by accident with the moving truck.

Filing a claim with an insurer. When you do file a claim with an insurance company remember they are in business to make money, and not give you money. This may sound harsh but it’s true. Companies that insure shipments will try to settle with you for the least amount of money they can. If this was not true they wouldn’t have hidden ways to pay you less built right into their contracts. Remember that you do not have to accept the first offer an insurer makes to you for compensation for lost or stolen goods. Tell the company you’ll think about their offer. Then send them a letter asking for what you think is fair. Be persistent. Keep calling. These people are tough and trained to wear you down and give you as little as they can. Agents don’t get promoted for making big payout’s. If you’re dealing with a U.S. based agent, a threat of contacting the insurance commissioner in their State seems to carry some weight. If you’re talking about a large sum of money, get an ‘ambulance chaser’ to help you.

A few extra bucks may be a good addition to shipping insurance. Let’s face it. Sticking other people’s stuff in boxes and then lugging it out to a truck is not exactly a rewarding career. Taking the boss aside and greasing his palm with a few bucks in exchange for his word that the job will be done well is a small investment for peace of mind. A little money goes a long way in the third-world. When leaving Romania for Pakistan, I put $100 in the shipping boss’ hand and told him, “I want the TV and stereo along with CDs and other valuables to arrive at their destination”. Everything in my shipment arrived safe and sound. Most all the other teachers leaving the school that year reported their stereo, CDs and TV missing from their shipment. Some fell prey to the “valued inventory” and ‘premium per pound’ clause.

When my shipment arrived in Pakistan the ‘president’ of the shipping company contracted to receive my goods came to school with bad news. He said my shipment was in customs but that the company in Romania had neglected to send the papers required to get the shipment out of the customs warehouse. He went on to say that for just $300 U.S. he had a friend in customs that could “help it through”. Although he wanted to proceed immediately, I put him off and sent an email to the man I had paid $100 to in exchange for his promise of secure shipping. By the end of the day I had the name of the man affiliated with the Pakistani company who picked up the papers at the DHL office in Pakistan. I also had a scanned copy of his signature, the date and time of the pick-up. The “president” of the company in Pakistan responded to the news by saying he had mixed me up with another teacher. Or did he mean to say another ‘sucker’?

There was more to come. The day after the shipment arrived at my house in Pakistan, a man from the shipping company appeared at my front door asking for a bottle of scotch in exchange for having helped get the shipment through customs. Gee – I didn’t think they drank in Pakistan! I sent him on his way with a stern warning. Then the school’s business office informed me that the shippers had paid a $600 bribe to get my shipment through customs and wanted the money refunded. I refused and the tab was later reduced to $300. Again I refused to pay and was warned to be careful about who I was dealing with. Weeks later I was told by the business office that the director paid the “bribe” for me out of school funds. Upon thanking the director for his help with the matter he replied that our conversation was the first he had heard of the incident. Some teachers paid the bribe money. This particular business office employee has since been dismissed from his job. I can only imagine for how many years he had been pulling this stunt on unsuspecting teachers.

The point is…..When it comes to shipping and insurance you need to keep your eyes open and your guard up. The only one on your side is you. This is not to say it’s impossible to have a perfectly positive experience shipping your goods with a shipper your school has used for many years. Still, my advice is to keep your finger on what’s going on and be prepared to stand up for yourself.

Taking it All On the Airplane

Not all international schools offer generous shipping allowances. This leaves you carrying your belongings with you on the airplane in the form of excess luggage. This is not a bad way to go because you can buy furniture and a TV at your destination and sell it all when you leave. There is a lot to be said for traveling light. 

I’ve taken everything with me on the plane at three schools and I’ll fill you in on things you’ll want to know about airlines and their excess baggage policies. A little advance footwork can save you from big headaches at the airport. Fortunately, the airlines have policies and all you need to do is adhere to them to have a smooth experience.
Before making a reservation. Call around and find out which airlines fly to your destination and what they charge for excess baggage. Prices for excess luggage can vary greatly between airlines. While you’re at it, tell the airlines when you plan to travel and find out if there are any excess baggage restrictions during those dates. Some airlines restrict excess baggage for certain months as their commercial shippers have reserved space in advance of the high tourist season. For example, during August Continental will restrict baggage into South America whereas American Airlines does not. The last thing you want to do is make a reservation and pay for it and then find you can only check two bags with no excess baggage allowed. 

The price for excess baggage has recently been changing on a regular basis and you should use air lines’ web sites or call customer service to get the exact prices and regulations. Should your excess bag weigh over the limit, you may be charged double. Naturally you’ll want to get ever permitted pound into the suitcase. But, will your suitcase support that much weight? If not, you can purchase heavy-duty plastic shipping crates at home centers and ship your articles in them. I have a friend that ships in large beer coolers. He tapes the tops down with duct tape. 

You should also inquire with your airline as to the size restriction on baggage. Be sure to get this information. It is usually stated in linear inches and refers to the length + width + height. Without checking, I believe most airlines restrict luggage to 52 linear inches. Should your box or suitcase exceed these dimensions you may well be charged double. The bike box is a great way to get around the 52 linear inch restriction. Most airlines will sell you a bicycle box to ship your bicycle. These things are huge, and in addition to a bicycle there is room for pillows, blankets, clothes, you name it. I would imagine that if you forgot to put in the bicycle you could get a lot of stuff in that box while keeping to the weight limit. What if you had two bicycles?

I recommend you figure out exactly how much excess luggage you will have. Then make a flight reservation and at the same time make a reservation for the excess luggage. This is common practice and airlines have no problem issuing you a ticket with an excess luggage reservation attached. Now you are guaranteed your luggage will fly with you.

Security is only a problem if you arrive late. Plan to arrive at the airport three or more hours early to allow for the security check. You can be sure security will want to open your luggage and take a look at what’s inside all those suitcases and boxes. I bring packing tape with me so I can reseal the boxes they open. And, oh yes, it goes without saying that you don’t want to put anything in your carry-on luggage that might get taken away from you at the security check. If you’re not sure about an item, just put in the checked luggage and make life simple.

Join the Discussion