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I write this as much for your reading pleasure as I do for my own reference, as I know I will forget some of this info and need it for future reference. If you’re interested in learning the basics about how to export stuff overseas, read on. This was the first step in my tale of how to (or how not to) start a business overseas.
You can read all the books and guides to import/export you want, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. It sounds like a simple process, and it is, but there are a lot of details you won’t learn until you’ve done it. And most of those details involve costs, costs which you can avoid if you know what you are doing.
I used a company out of Miami called OceanAir Logistics as my freight forwarder. Basically, they are the ones who get your cargo on the plane or boat and prepare all the necessary documentation for you. And while maybe some of them are willing to hold your hand the first time you do it, I highly doubt it. This company certainly didn’t do any handholding for me, though they did do what they promised, on time and at the stated cost-plus a few surprises I’m going to tell you about shortly.
First, I purchased several pieces of kitchen equipment/implements from three different companies based in the US. I never saw any of it. You can have the company ship your purchases directly to the freigh forwarder, where your shipment will be consolidated at their warehouse until everything is there and ready to go. Then you just have to provide them with a packing list detailing exactly what is in the shipment, to whom it’s going, its value, and how you’d like it shipped-see Incoterms, these can quickly get confusing but CIF is the most usual form. They tell you what it’s going to cost, you pay, and basically it will show up the next day at its destination.
What this particular company didn’t tell me upfront, and probably others won’t as well unless you inquire, is that there are receiving fees for your goods at the warehouse. This is sometimes called the Warehouse in/out fee. In my case, $25 per delivery to their warehouse. So if it’s a 1,000 lb. pallet or a Fedex envelope, it’s $25 bucks out of your pocket each time. So say some of your items from one of your suppliers is backordered, and they send it after sending the initial shipment. $25. I had six warehouse receipts at $25 each so that was a quick $150 for the company. I was only expecting three shipments originally.
Most places will also charge you for warehousing the stuff, but fees usually don’t start until after your stuff has sat there 30 days, so you usually don’t have to worry about it.
One document most freight forwarders will prepare for you is the commercial invoice. This is a standardized form indicating the inventory, the shipper, the consignee, addresses, contact info, shipment value, that is used worldwide. You can get a software program to prepare it for you, but it’s usually only $10 to $15 to have the company do it for you.
There’s a document preparation fee that covers all the other miscellaneous paperwork, a cargo insurance fee, and sometimes an airline transfer fee, which as I understand it is the fee to move your stuff from their warehouse to the airport.
Not really much to it, just act like you know what you’re doing and ask all the right questions up front, and you’re more likely to get an accurate quote the first time around.
Air freight seemed pretty cheap to me, overall it came out to a little under $1/lb to ship from Miami to Quito, Ecuador.