We had all our stuff shipped to Maine from Buenos Aires, Argentina, by cargo freight ship! It took a long time and caused lots of stress but it was cheap and … miraculously, here’s our stuff! delivered to our doorstep. Arrived on Wednesday, right on time!
A few people have asked us for details about how we shipped all our cargo from Argentina home to the United States, so here’s the nitty gritty, as much of it as I can recall: We used a shipping agent called Pluscargo Argentina. Our contact person there was Agustina Villanueva. I don’t know if I would recommend it… we were looking for the rock-bottom-cheapest price quote, which is why we went with PlusCargo. We explained that we could handle EVERY aspect of the shipping, all the tramites and paperwork and packing and transportation and everything, except for the actual cargo ship. So we asked for a cheap price and bare-bones service and that is what we got! It ended up being really complicated and pretty stressful, my spanish is pretty good so I was able to navigate a confusing maze of bureaucracy and paperwork, though it took a LOT of time and energy. The worst problem was that our shipping agent never really explained to us what we needed to actually do! She was just like “OK, here’s the name of your ship and the departure date, you do the rest” and didn’t always answer phone calls or emails when I asked her to explain more. So I was bouncing around from one agency to another, asking questions and begging everyone to help me out and tell me what to do! This process is normally handled by shipping agents who know the whole process and are friendly with everyone involved and take care of all the paperwork, so it’s very strange for a person like me to show up in the customs office with no contacts and idea what I’m doing. If you decide to go with a bare-bones service like this, it will probably help you a lot to actually know what the steps are:
• you need to pack up all your stuff in boxes and estimate the volume (in cubic meters) of your items, in order to get a price quote from your shipping company. Use sturdy boxes, as they’ll be shipped in cargo containers on high seas. We used lots of bubble wrap and were very careful with fragile items. Wooden crates might be helpful. We did everything in cardboard boxes, some of them (containing clothes) were a bit smashed-up when they arrived but nothing was broken, even glass stuff arrived in one piece.
• you need to keep a detailed list of EVERY single item that is packed in your boxes. You will need to show this to customs.
• be careful with WOOD items such as furniture. Customs requires a certificate to prove they have been fumigated before they can enter the USA.
• be careful with ART of any kind. Whether it’s childrens’ drawings or a cheap magazine photo in a picture frame, anything that looks remotely like art, or anything in a frame, will raise red flags at customs. Argentina is very concerned about fine art being illegally removed from the country. You are supposed to contact some agency (perhaps affiliated with La UBA?) and show them photographs of every piece of art or framed picture you are transporting. They are specialists who certify that it’s NOT a valuable work of art (or if it is, they value it and you have to pay proper duties on it). People have said this is actually not such a difficult process, but we didn’t want to deal with it so we just took all of our “art” (nothing valuable) out of the frames and folded or rolled them or otherwise packed them up in a way that made them not look like valuable art.
• EMBA (Estación Marítima Buenos Aires) is the govt. agency that handles exporting personal effects. Their office is located down by the port, in the general area of Retiro – you probably will want to take a taxi over there, though you can walk from Retiro. Get the address from your shipping agent, I can’t remember it!
• your shipping agency should give you a checklist of tramites, from EMBA, that you must do, and documentation that you must provide. I forget all the stuff on it. You need to have an escribano certify a copy of your passport showing that you are a US citizen, and a copy of your working papers or residency papers or other evidence that you’ve been a legal resident of Argentina for at least one year (I was not a legal resident but my boyfriend DID have a working visa so we shipped everything in his name). You need copies of your list of what’s in your boxes. You need a booking sheet (from your shipping agent) that tells what freight company and what boat your stuff will be traveling on. And I think there were a few more…
• if you have a shipping agent who will handle the tramites for you, you will need to have an Escribano write up a form that gives your shipping agent the power to handle all duties related to exporting your personal effects for you. If you are going to do it all yourself, you don’t need this “poder.” The people in EMBA seem to work with an escribano named Emilio Perasso (Paraná 123 piso 7, 4372-4341) but after visiting his office twice, we finally figured out that we don’t need to work with him at all, since he handles the “poder” which we didn’t need to do. We went to a cheaper neighborhood escribano to have the residency & passport copies certified.
• discuss insurance with your shipping agency. We decided to forego it since we mostly were shipping things with emotional value but little monetary value. But for valuables I’m sure it would be a very good idea.
• your shipping agency should give you the name and address of a cargo-storage “deposito fiscal” down by the port that will receive your boxes and hold them until they are packed on the ship.
• once you’ve assembled all your paperwork, bring it in to EMBA at the port. Make sure you don’t go at lunchtime when everything is closed!! If they approve your paperwork they will send you across the street to a customs office that will take a copy of your packing list and make an appointment for you to have your boxes reviewed by a customs officer (he will come to meet you at the deposito fiscal and do the inspection there).
• talk to the deposito fiscal to find out exact procedures and hours to drop off your stuff. You should drop it around a week or at least a few days before the ship departure date.
• hire a flete (truck and driver) to pick up your boxes and bring you, and the boxes, down to the deposito fiscal. Again, make sure you avoid the lunch hour! We had a hell of a time with this step of the process, it ended up taking AN ENTIRE DAY because we were missing some certification from the customs officer so the deposito fiscal did not want to let us in. Again, they are accustomed to seeing familiar faces of shipping agents who normally handle this process, so they didn’t really know how to handle us and I think part of the delay was just them being like “who are you? what the hell? where’s your shipping agent?” We had to keep the flete waiting, on the clock, for like 6 hours while the whole thing got worked out. Again, you’ll need to present copies of all your paperwork at this stage.
• the customs officer should meet you at the deposito fiscal. You will need to fill out more paperwork and get a security badge to enter the storage facility with him. He and his team will open up about 25% of your carefully-packed boxes and rifle through your stuff to make sure it’s not contraband. He was very nice and they taped everything back up very carefully when they were done.
• Afterwards we got more papers and tracking numbers, confirming the cargo had been delivered to the deposito fiscal.
• then go pay the shipping company and give them copies of the papers from the deposito fiscal. We gave them our address in the USA where we wanted our boxes delivered, and they contracted with a US cargo transporter to have our boxes picked up at the port in New York and delivered by cargo truck to our address in Maine.
• Then … wait! It took about 6 weeks for our cargo to arrive at our doorstep in Maine. The US cargo company handled the customs paperwork on the US entry side, and charged us an additional fee for US customs clearance. The customs clearance took about a week, as our boxes got pulled out for special x-ray inspection and then further personal inspection by hand. The US company did complain that PlusCargo Argentina had not filled out their part of the paperwork correctly!
• The total price was around US$1000 for less than 1 cubic meter of cargo. I think we paid about $850 to PlusCargo and the rest to the company in NJ that handled our US customs clearance. This was only for shipping and handling and stuff, We did NOT have to pay any customs charges to the country of Argentina or to the USA, since we were able to prove that all our goods were just personal effects, nothing for sale.
If you have a little bit more money to spend, I would suggest seeking a slightly more full-service agency because this whole process gave me a lot of grey hairs and I might’ve rather spent my last days in Argentina drinking wine in San Telmo, not sweating in the cargo port. Although for me the hardest part was actually figuring out what we were supposed to do, since nobody would tell us all the steps and how to do them! Hopefully this info would be helpful for somebody else trying to navigate this maze on their own, and perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult if you go into the process armed with this knowledge.
Here is another place we considered because they had a relatively low price quote. No idea if they’re any good or not. http://internicmovingservices.com/eurotransport/us_booking.php
Hope this helps anybody who’s thinking of trying to do the same thing!