Don’t worry amigos. Part 2 isn’t going to be nearly as bad as Part 1.
All cargo arriving in the US is supposed to be declared on an ISF form. We had an agent complete this form for us. They charged a $35 fee. The ISF form is supposed to be submitted before the ship departs the port where the cargo was loaded. Because of the mess that often occurs in shipping, the form often times can’t be filed until the ship has left port. This is not a big deal. As our agent explained, as long as it is submitted before the ship reaches the first US port of call, you will probably be fine.
One thing is for certain, if you don’t file this form, you vehicle will most likely be put on a customs hold and you will undergo a long and arduous waiting process to have everything cleared. Just ask Monica and Jeff over at Overland the World.
Note that most ships take a day to unload and most cargo takes at least a day to be inspected, assuming that customs does not place a hold on your vehicle. Customs agents in Galveston don’t work weekends. If your ship comes in on Friday, there is no need to be at the port at least until Monday.
Our ship docked Friday at 4pm, and we arrived at the port Tuesday at 11am. We could call customs and Wallenius on Monday and check the status of the vehicle. There was no need for us to wait around and pay for extra nights in a hotel. There is a chance that your vehicle may be flagged for extra inspections, referred to as a customs hold. This could delay the clearing process up to a week, and happens usually when the ISF form is filed too late.
Our car was loaded May 15th in Santos. We received the Bill of Lading on the 21st. The ship was scheduled to dock in Galveston on June 6th. Knowing how frequently shipping schedules change, we decided to wait to book our plane tickets from Seattle to Houston. While we waited in Seattle, I contacted my good friend Miguel, who originally introduced us to Wallenius in the first place. He was currently in Galveston to retrieve his van from the port (he shipped from Cartegena).
At this point we had only a vague idea of what ISF was. We confirmed with our agent on the Brazilian side, that the ISF form had not been filed. Kathleen emailed us several docs for customs, a power of attorney and the ISF form to complete. She said that the ISF was technically late, but as long as it was in before the ship reached the first port of call in the US, we would be fine. We filled in everything, signed them electronically and emailed them back to her.
Around the same time, the shipping company, Wallenius, emailed us a Bill of Arrival. It was a 5 page PDF and looked very similar to the bill of lading, except it also show the fees we owed. A total of $85 for THD, which is a port fee in Galveston. Thankfully they accepted checks, so rather than pay the $25 wire fee, we just mailed a check to the address specified. It cleared 2 days later. Easy!
A few days later Kathleen, our agent in Galveston, said the papers had been submitted and that we needed to make a wire transfer to the RW Smith Bank of America account for the amount of $190. Instead of pay the $25 wire transfer fee, we simply drove down the street to our local Bank of America and made a deposit directly into their account.
The next day Kathleen verified that she had received the funds, and emailed us the final paperwork. She said that we would need to take this to Galveston to retrieve the car. She said we should plan to call Wallenius in Galveston when the ship had arrived.
As expected, our ships arrival was delayed a few days. The schedule on the Wallenius website had it slated to arrive Friday June 7th and depart on the 8th. We know that when a ship departs on the following day, it usually means that it is going to arrive late. Knowing that customs was closed for the weekend, we had 0% chance of our vehicle being unloaded and cleared on Friday.
Wallenius told us that we had 15 days to pick up the car in the port before we would incur any fees, so we decided to fly down on Monday the 10th, and pick up our car the following Tuesday.
That morning, before leaving for the airport, we checked the Wallenius website and noticed on the Track & Trace page, that the car had been discharged. We called Wallenius to verify. They concurred and said the car was waiting a customs inspection.
Next we called customs in Galveston (409-766-3581). The customs agent asked for our Bill of Lading number. He found the car in the system, but said that there was no paperwork associated with it. We assured him that we had an agent file the paperwork. We hung up and called Kathleen. She explained that the paperwork was filed manually, not electronically, so it is likely that it is not in their computer. We called the customs office again. We explained the story to the DHS agent, and he understood. He said that often time papers filed in Houston don’t make it to Galveston on time. He asked us to email him the paperwork. (Totally crazy, I know!).
We emailed the papers to the DHS agent and then called to make sure they were correct. He verified they were the right documents, and said that our car would be inspected later that day or first thing on Tuesday. Satisfied with this report, we got on the plane to Houston.
After a rather long flight from Seattle, we booked into a Super 8 near the airport for the night. A cross country flight, plus the time change, meant that we weren’t going to get anything else done on Monday.
First thing the next morning, we checked Track & Trace again and noticed that it had two more line items: Customs Release and Liner Release. We thought this meant the car was good to go, but we weren’t positive, so we put in another call to the customs office. They verified that the car was cleared, all we needed to do was to call Wallenius to sort out where to go to pick it up. He said there was no reason to visit the customs office, everything was done!!
We called the Wallenius office in Galveston. The official there know the car and said it was ready to be picked up. He said that in order to get into the port we needed a TWIC escort. (Meaning, we don’t have the right credentials to get into the port unsupervised). The WW official gave us a phone number for a guy named George, who was to be our escort. We called him, and he said that he could escort us, and asked that we call again when we were at the gate of Pier 10.
From the Super 8, we took the free shuttle back to the airport, and then took another shuttle to the rental car area. It was cheaper to rent a car in Houston and drop it off in Galveston, than it was to take a taxi or shuttle service to the pier.
We picked up the rental car and headed to the port. About an hour and a half later we arrived at 14th street, Pier 10. We called George, our TWIC escort, and he said he would meet us at the gate momentarily.
We pulled up to the gate and explained to the guard that we were picking up a vehicle and that George would escort us in. He asked to see Kobus’ driver’s license. George showed up and waved us in. We followed him into the port and around the corner where we saw Blue proudly sitting in the middle of a big empty lot.
George pointed us into the Wallenius office. The official there asked if we were there to pick up the 4Runner. Yes Sir! He asked to see our Bill of Arrival and Kobus Driver’s license. He entered a few things in the computer and printed a sheet, which he stamped and gave to us. He said we needed to go to the window next door and they would give us a gate pass to leave. We made jokes about the lack of photocopies and bureaucracy that I don’t think he understood.
We went next door and stood at the window. Kobus handed over the stamped paper we received next door and waited. Meanwhile George told us that yesterday the customs agents spent a good half hour poking around our car. He said that they had wanted to flag it for a more thorough inspection, but someone else had shipped a camper at the same time. The truck camper had a sign on it that said “Stay Away, Explosives!” Of course they were just trying to keep the thieves away in ports, but customs didn’t see it that way. Thankfully for us, the camper was flagged and our Blue was set free. Whew!
Finally the guy at the window asked Kobus to sign another paper and then said we should go get the car. He said he would meet us outside with the Gate Pass.
We went to Blue and tried to start ‘er up. But, somewhere between Brazil and Texas, both batteries were deader than dead. We brought the rental over and jumped Blue and let her charge for a while. We checked out the car and noticed that the back tool storage had been raided and all the tools were spread around, but nothing seemed missing except a pack of batteries. The rest of the car was solid. Fridge was still there, and except for a few dead batteries, everything else was running great.
The official at the window came out and signed the gate pass. He handed it to us and said that we would need to present it at the front gate. Then he started to walk off. We asked, “Wait, are we done?” Yep. “Seriously, it’s been like 15 minutes.” Nope. Nothin else to do. Have a nice day. We paid George his $30 fee.
I hopped in Blue and Kobus took the rental car. We followed George back to the front gate. I rolled down my window and handed the gate pass to the security guard. He took the paper and waved me through. We took the rental car back to the closest Budget office about 20 miles away and then hit the nearest store to pick up a much needed beer. Wahoo! We’re free!
USD$85: Port of Galveston Fee for THD (Paid to Wallenius)
USD$190: Agent in Galveston (Breakdown was $110 for entry papers, $45 for auto clearing and $35 for the ISF form filing)
USD$30: TWIC Escort Fee
Total cost in Galveston: $305.
Total shipping costs (Brazil and USA) : USD$2934
(excludes flights, accommodation and other transportation)
Other travel fees:
Flights from Seattle to Galveston: USD$405
Hotel in Galveston: $85
One day Car Rental: $88