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Moving stuff to Mumbai

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Moving stuff to India.

We have multiple homes in the US, EU and India. Some times it becomes necessary to move items from one place to the other. In March Protected content decided to move around Protected content feet of household stuff from our home in Los Angeles to our home in Mumbai. It was a very trying experience and I wanted to share my lessons learnt.

We hired International Van Lines, a Miami based company to execute the move. We were given rates for “Door to port” wherein the movers pack and ship the articles from your home (source) and get it to the destination port. It is your responsibility to have the customs paper work ameliorated and get the items released and then moved from the port of the destination to your home in the destination.

This was an immense mistake.

We were offered rates of around $ Protected content move the Protected content feet from “Door to port”. In contrast, other moving companies were charging $ Protected content “Door to door” (from your home at source to your home at destination). We went with the cheaper option, thinking with cheaper labor costs, moving the items from the port of Mumbai to our home would not be terribly expensive.

The adventure started, with the shipment being delayed around 20 days more than expected. The quintessential bill of lading was delivered quite late, towards the end of April.

We contacted movers in Mumbai to execute the move, and we started getting outrageous demands. We wanted the items claimed from the customs, transported to Mumbai and then some items would be moved to our home in Mumbai, and some to be put in to long term storage.

There is barely any storage facilities for private users in Mumbai, the places are called “warehouses” and sound rather suspicious. The charges for monthly rent varied wildly, with some storage owners charging as little as INR Protected content month to some others trying their luck with INR 12,000. Of course they shared their views as to why their facility was the best : the others had rats, leaking roofs which would allow the monsoon and dampness, thieves, dogs, etc.

Then came the issue of the customs clearance.

The port of Mumbai is in a place called Nhava Sheva. It is around 60 Kms from the heart of Mumbai. But given poor public transportation, the distance is daunting. I do not dare drive in Mumbai, so it presented logistical challenges.

The Indian governmental method of working is exceedingly old fashioned and bureaucratic. Indeed some laws are left over from the days of the British Raj, around150 years ago. The laws do not make a lot of sense, and thus it is easy for the corrupt officials to give you the run around until you bribe them.

Also, as I was later told : Brazil and India are 2 countries, exceedingly ‘famous’ for having customs officials with “sticky fingers”. In other words : they love to steal your stuff.

Firstly there are a lot of papers that need to be filed, the most important is the “Bill of Lading”. The bill of lading defines the name of the shipper (Sender) and the consignee (receiver), weight of consignment, and other details.

Note: if the shipper and the receiver is the same person, and is a citizen of India, and has been out of the country for more than 2 years, there are no customs charges for receiving the items.

The bill of lading has to show that the shipper and consignee as described above.
Amending the bill of lading while the shipment is still at sea is very easy to accomplish. However once the shipment arrives, the receiving shipping agent has to submit the Bill of Lading to the customs department. Once submitted, amending it costs a lot of money, to the tune of INR 20,000 to INR 35,000 or even more depending on the weight and value of shipment.

The charges that have to be paid in India:
1) Customs (which we had to pay).
2) Holding agent fees : for the period the cargo was held until released from Customs
3) Nhava Sheva union fees
4) Nhava Sheva villager’s fees (to pay the people living in the villages of Nhava and Sheva).
5) Octroi charges for moving the cargo from Nhava Sheva to within Mumbai City limits
6) Charges for the moving company for labor and transportation.

We got delayed significantly by International Van lines, who on an average took 20 days to reply to a query. Repeated phone calls and emails had no effect. We had a problem in the bill of lading, which went unresolved thanks to the inefficiency of International Van lines.

The items arrived towards the first week of July. Then it took around 4 weeks to have it released from Nhava Sheva.

The Indian moving company : Servile Relocations, owner Mobin Shaikh was a bad joke.

Typical of Indian companies, the promised the sky and could barely deliver anything at all. Delays, inefficiency, attempts to over charge, chicanery were rife.

When the issue came to having our items released from customs we were told that a bribe of INR 15,000 was necessary to do so. We disagreed and were told to go to the port. Therein we spoke to the superintendent of customs, a rather unpleasant man.

But I will say this: the superintendent appeared to be somewhat honest, however he was exceedingly rude and took a lot of pleasure in insulting us.

Our “agent” at the Nhava Sheva customs office was a person named “Vicky”. Vicky epitomized the slimy sleaze-ball character that you would find in a low budget B grade hindi movie. Constantly chewing some foul concoction, and a barely hidden greed for more and more money.

We asked for a fair appraisal, and we had to pay INR 12,500. Combine that with transportation charges from Mumbai to Nhava Sheva, it would have been cheaper to pay the bribe of INR 15,000. Not to mention we wasted 2 whole days at the customs offices, a rather dingy place.

It was amazing that what ever Mobin had told us was essentially a corrupted version of the truth. Every charge had 10 other charges added to it, hidden fees, taxes which did not make sense, etc etc.

In the end it was hilarious because he stated “I am trying to help you because of friendship!” I was so frustrated at this point that I commented “Enough of your friendship. This is a business deal, I am paying you for a service. At least do the minimum that is needed!”

Finally : literally when we had just 5 days before we were due to leave India, the move was done.

We had initially planned to keep some stuff in storage, but our experience with Mobin et al was more than enough to scare us away from that idea. We moved everything in to our home. We were missing several articles from our cargo. Items of significant value. And of course there was no way to recover anything. International Van lines had only 1 type of insurance: if the items were damaged or lost at sea due to problems in the ship. And since the items were merely stolen, we were not covered.

I am not sure who stole it. Maybe the movers in Los Angeles (Since we were not present at the time of packing), or maybe the customs officials and Vicky who went for the inspection, or maybe Mobin’s men who moved it from the port to our home.

My advice:
- Go for a door to door service from a reputable US company.
- Insist on full coverage insurance. If the shipper does not provide it, get it from some thing else. Like Home owner’s or Renter’s insurance.
- Ensure the bill of lading is correctly made. Hound the shipper to have it corrected (if needed) before your shipment reaches the destination port.
- Do not plan on long term storage in Mumbai.

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