Back in 2005, when I shipped a container, it involved me showing up at the harbor with the agent, navigating various fees and finally opening the container. Much to the dismay of inspectors, I didn’t even have a car in it. What was I thinking wasting all that money and space, just to make sure I could ship a bunk bed, a baby grand, and my precious books? If you have space in your container, invite others to share space and cost!
When I shipped a car a year later, apparently bunched with other cars on ship’s deck and exposed to the elements, it was a much cheaper affair. The car arrived intact and was ultimately delivered to my house by my fabulous agent. (kiss, kiss, agent!)
The shippers don’t always tell you the following, so beware: when you arrive at airport customs in Accra, ask to fill out a PUBD form, Passenger Unaccompanied Baggage Declaration. Just because you’re flying while your container rocks on the sea is no reason not to fill the form at the airport. I forgot this time around. If I had gone back to the airport, within, say a matter of two weeks or so, it would have been okay. But I found out about the form after a month. It was a nightmare I’d rather you didn’t experience. Not only will you pay a penalty, you’ll be subjected to the most painful bureaucracy, traveling back and forth between a customs office outside the airport known as Aviance, and airport customs, then immigration, then back to Aviance, pay the penalty and finally get to fill out the blasted PUBD, all yellow and delicate like onion skin.
A new development (new to me, anyway) is the need for a tax identification number, for which you get to be a guest of the Registrar General’s building, a veritable zoo of buzzing, circling petitioners and overworked administrators. Might take a day or two of your time. Might I suggest you keep your Ghanaian passport updated if you have Ghanaian or dual citizenship? Gone are the days when officials bestowed benign smiles on you, saying, “Yes, you have an American passport but we know you’re a Ghanaian. We understand that sort of thing. Your name is Ghanaian, you speak Ghanaian and act Ghanaian. Welcome home, akwaaba!” These days, your Ghanaian-ness is not a given. After all, there are non-nationals who cheat the system and buy passports, so the government isn’t yielding.
If your passport has expired, arguing that you yourself have not expired won’t fly. It won’t earn you a national ID card nor a Ghanaian tax identification number that will save you from paying taxes on your old tv or craigslist couch you insisted on shipping. You will pay taxes on your fingernails, if possible. So, update your Ghanaian documents, okay? Now, it makes no difference if you’re shipping a car. Foreigners and Ghanaians pay the same taxes. Rather exorbitant. (Try to get your quotes or estimates before the following Tuesday, because every Tuesday, the rates change. Rates are pegged to the dollar, and curiously enough, they never go down. Pay quickly!)
Before I forget, insist on the ship giving you an original Bill of Lading so you can claim your belongings. Although Ghanaians tolerate e-tickets when it comes to airplanes, e-documents are still viewed with suspicion. Pay no mind to Mr./Ms. American shipper who blithely emails you an electronic copy from his or her iPhone. You’ll endure calls and admonishing from your Ghanaian agent who will urge you to call your shipper for a DHL delivery, or send a telex authorizing release from the ship upon indemnity of blah blah blah that will leave you weeping into your pillow. Especially when the USA shipper doesn’t understand what the fuss is and won’t even take your calls or respond to emails. Of course, all this is avoidable if you ship door to door. More expensive but probably worth the avoidance of a migraine and desperate phone calls to America, listening to someone say press 1 for this and 2 for that while your cedis or dollars tick away to the annoying music in the background.
Shipping door-to-door provides a hassle-free experience. You just send a container or boxes through a company/agent, and prepay duties, charges, etc. That way all you have to do is show up at the warehouse to pick up your belongings. Some will even deliver to your house. Now, isn’t that lovely! And when you do get your car and you’re cruising past the tro-tro minivans, you’ll admit it’s worth it!