The problem (or “fun”) starts when your container reaches India. Your shipper will notify you when your shipment has arrived at the port. Usually clearing customs will take place after a couple of days. While you do not need to be present for customs clearance (the local agent can take care of that for you), I would not suggest this to anybody after what I went through.
When LAC Relocations (the local agent for the worldwide shipper) called me about my shipment’s arrival, I followed my friends’ advice and asked them to clear customs on my behalf but told them I would be personally present for loading. I also asked how much customs duty I should expect to pay based on his experience. The person I spoke to from LAC Relocations was Minesh Shah. When he asked me what was in the container, I told him honestly, “I have $15,000 worth of new furniture and electronics,” etc. He started negotiating customs duty right then and told me that he would be able to negotiate customs duty for around $5,000 with the customs office. I realized right then by his tone that I had made a mistake by telling him the truth, and that what he wanted was to make money in customs duty. I told him that I would not pay customs duty on the furniture, since I had already removed the labels from the furniture, and that I was not expecting to pay more than $750 for customs duty on the electronics items. I also told him later that I would be there for customs clearance myself with him. He gave me a ride to the Nhava Sheva port, since it is far from Mumbai, and on the way he was still trying to negotiate the customs duty down to $2,500, but I said no.
When we reached the port, the container was lying on the ground in open. The customs office had my packing list with the number of boxes on it, so when a lady customs officer approached, she asked the port workers to take out specific boxes and left. Most probably the customs officer will ask for the electronics boxes with the electronics to be taken out. My container had been tightly packed, so when they took out all the boxes I was sure there was no way they could fit them back in the container. After a couple of hours went by with my boxes out in the open, the lady officer came back and asked me to open the boxes so she could check them against the list she had. After she checked it, she left again. I had not lied about the electronics, but I had about the $15,000 worth of new furniture.
Another couple of hours went by before Minesh Shah came and told me that the officer was asking for $1,600 in customs duty. He said that otherwise they would open every box and the lady officer would ask the commissioner to come inspect the goods. He also told me that it might take a couple of days to finish clearing customs. This is where Minesh Shah got me, and I agreed immediately. I could have called his bluff, but I could not see it. All I wanted was my boxes to be back inside the container since I was already very upset for my electronics boxes, including HDTV, having already been out in the open in the scorching heat for hours. After I agreed on the customs duty, 6-7 workers came for repacking. I watched as they stepped on my electronics boxes and packed them as if the boxes were just some junk they were putting back in the container. This was happening right before my eyes; I could only imagine what they would do if I was not there! Anyway, as they packed, I was trying not to think about it.
Usually a moving truck comes the day after the customs clearance since there is not enough time to do it the same day the shipment clears customs. That day, Minesh Shah brought the truck, which was small, filthy and, as I found out later, also used to transport spices, the smell of which caused me to sneeze. Here again the same stupid workers were standing and walking on my boxes and loading them without any respect for my things. All of my wife’s and my effort to mark the boxes with labels like “glass,” “fragile,” etc. had been in vain. They finished packing the truck, and the truck left for Indore, and my task was done in Mumbai.
Finally after two days the truck arrived in Indore, and the workers were a little better than those I found in Mumbai. They unloaded our boxes and furniture properly in a couple of hours. In the end my leather sofa was scratched, my brand new king size mattress was completely stained, and I lost two old night lamps. But considering the way everything had been handled, we were surprised and happy with the results of our packing effort. Also, I had had insurance, so I filed a claim for the sofa and mattress.
So the moral of the story is:
1. Pack you boxes/furniture as well as you can, because the loaders will stand and walk on them, even if you clearly mark them as being fragile .
2. Go personally for customs clearance.
3. Do not tell your local agent the truth. Only disclose that information which you are obligated to share with the customs office.
4. Do not withhold declaring your electronics, since the custom duty is only 15% and they will reduce the value if the electronics are used, and since if you get caught, you will be in more trouble.
5. Carry all the receipts for your electronics just in case you need them, and do your homework in advance about the expected customs duty.6. Insure your shipment.