(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Friday, April 4, 2008

the saga of shipping.

One aspect of moving abroad is how to get your belongings where you are going. Now, I'm not talking about those who are packing a suitcase and hopping a plane to a furnished pad. This is for those who have a place to hang their hat and need something to hang it on.

To go fancy free and start from scratch there? Or to bring along familiar furnishings and cherished treasures to ease the transition? Considering the miserable state of the U.S. dollar, I've determined the cost of shipping is the better option when compared to what a similar amount of money could actually purchase in euros.

So, I've been on a quest for a shipper. Now let me tell you, it has been a daunting journey. There are a number of pitfalls I didn't anticipate and so ... I'm still looking, and getting more nervous with each turn in the road.

I started with a referral. Being in the wholesale trade, I met a fellow retailer who ships regularly from Europe AND who has owned a home in France. Brilliant, I thought. Here's an experienced person who will help me avoid problems. Not quite. He gave me a very good referral to a friendly shipper. First exchange goes like this: Dear Samson (creative fake name), I'm moving to France and so and so referred me to you as an excellent shipper. His response ... oh dear lady, yes I DO ship, but I only ship TO America from Italy. I'm so sorry. But, please ... send me your details and I will see if I have a colleague who might ship the other way!

I'm looking for door-to-door service, maybe even with a bit of fragile packing thrown in.

Thinking I better have a back-up plan, I decide to take advantage of the wonderful expanse of the internet! I mean, what can't you find on Google, right? I immediately locate a site that boasts it makes quotations a piece of cake. Just input your basics and presto! bango! five quotes back to you in the blink of an eye.

First one out was Schumacher Cargo out of NY. A gem of a man, Martyn, calls me straight away and walks me through all the details. Patiently answers all of my many questions. Asks me the size of container I need, 20bx or 40bx. Wha'a? Hunh? (That little bit was for Marcus!). I say 20 after confirming that is a 20'. Off he goes to confer with his estimators.

Meanwhile, Samson and I have been furiously exchanging emails. Samson likes to ask one question per email, see. I ask him the dimensions of a 20bx (figured I'd doublecheck). His reply is returned, in millimetres.

Martyn calls back in a day (yes very prompt. very diligent). His quote is over $11,000 USD. Shock and awe, shock and awe. See, in my initial research with other ex-pats who have done similar moves, I had been expecting in the range of $3,000-$4,000. I'm doing a very basic move, not a full household. Just enough to get started. After I pick myself up off the floor and read the fine print, I discover that Martyn's quote is for 1,000 square feet in volume. That is one hell of a lot of stuff.

I ask Martyn to redo the estimate. He decides I should fill out an inventory checklist (I'm wondering why we didn't begin there?) Martyn reviews it with me, estimating I have at least 600 square feet in volume. If I do less than a container, their fee is $16 a square foot. So the estimate is basically the same.

A third provider jumps in the mix. Global Ocean Freight, located in Florida. This firm starts with the shipping inventory. I email it and we review over the phone. Noam calculates my goods at 380 square feet in volume. His initial estimate is less than $4000 and if I want to stretch it an additional 200 square feet, it will come in at $5400. Wow.

Feeling smug, I ask him to send me the details and I hope we can work together. Not being a total guppy, I also decide to see if I can research this company ... find any complaints. This is where the fun begins.

I locate a site entitled movingscam.com. Horror story after horror story unfolds. They have a blacklist as long as both of my arms. Apparently, many of these non-local movers like to get their hands on your stuff. And hold it hostage till you fork over more money. Hmmmm. And yes. There were a couple of complaints about Global Ocean Services. Thankfully, they were not on the blacklist. This site also has a list of recommended international movers. A list of five.

So now I've contacted all five of them in order to see where their prices land up. I haven't tossed Global completely out of the running. I mean, any service company can achieve complaints over a period of time. You can't please ALL the people. But apparently this is a particularly fertile pasture for scams in internetland.

Oh, and Samson? He came back with an $8,000 estimate. No loading or unloading included, let alone packing! So, he's probably out of the running altogether.

It will be interesting to see how this one ends. Stay tuned.


Lotta said...

This is so fascinating! And I love that Warning sign in the post below!

Kimberlee said...

why thanks, it is even more entertaining wading through it all!

Diane said...

Check out ShippingQuest.com they were the ones I was thinking of using. It was going to cost me about $1,000 from Austin to Glasgow. Course I only had about 20 boxes and I didn't actually use them..so take it all with a grain of salt.

I'm so much help, aren't I??

Kimberlee said...

thanks, I'll take a look, you salty miss!