The initial motivation for this update was that I received an email from Art Haddow, a shipping company CEO whom I highly recommended as someone to contact about shipping a container to the Philippines. It seems Art is still getting quite a few inquiries from readers of that post, but the phone number given is incorrect. So here is Art’s correct contact information: J. Arthur Haddow, President, Premier Van Lines International, 5830 E. McKellips Rd. Unit 46, Mesa, AZ 85215, FMC# 024223NF, USDOT – 1930177. Correct phone number is 480-641-9268. Arranging and coordinating a container shipment is complicated, and there are many, many ways to get ripped off. As I said in the original post, “my best piece of advice to anyone in the U.S. thinking of doing this is: call Art.”
Beyond that, and now with the benefit of six years of hearing about the experiences of other expats here, the main bit of advice I would give on both subjects (container shipping and pet importation) is: don’t expect either process to be entirely predictable. Philippines institutions don’t do predictable, which in my mind is a feature, not a bug. They do, however, usually figure out some way to get things done, sometimes seeming to make up the requirements on the spot based on common sense rather than on following rigid rules. This is perhaps a commentary on expat life in general. If you’re the sort of person who is deeply troubled by situations where you can’t be sure what will happen and you might need to improvise or negotiate, expat life in the Philippines probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea.
I would also again emphasize to anyone thinking of doing a container that if your ultimate destination is not Manila, do whatever it takes to have your container go directly to your nearest port of entry without passing through Manila. Having to clear customs in Manila will greatly complicate the process even if everything goes right. I might also pass along the experience of a fellow Davao expat, whose container did go through Manila and was opened and reloaded there, and arrived in Davao missing a lot of the contents. In contrast, our container, which arrived directly to Davao, was delivered to us with the original seal intact – it was never even opened. Everything I’ve seen and heard in the six years since we did this reinforces my impression that interactions with Philippine officialdom should best be undertaken anywhere but Manila, when possible.
A number of commenters asked for the text of the tax exemption request letter that we submitted to the Department of Finance. As I indicated in the original article, the request letter was one of seven items they required. We didn’t find out we needed it until we got to the Department of Finance so we wrote it up on the spot — I just borrowed a sheet of paper and a pen and wrote the letter out by hand with the Department of Finance person telling me what to say. I have posted a copy here. The takehome here is, when dealing with Philippine government offices it isn’t at all uncommon to be asked for papers you didn’t know you needed, and the solution is, you ask the friendly government person how or where to obtain whatever it is, and they tell you what to do.
Several commenters were worried about the possibility of having some customs official decide that the value of their shipment is greater than the amount of the exemption. I understand the concern, but I would say this: there are lots of ways that the container-shipping endeavor can potentially go sideways, and you have to be of a frame of mind to deal with them if and when they happen. I didn’t worry about the valuation issue because I knew that if it came up, we could almost certainly negotiate something acceptable (and also I’ve never heard of anyone having a problem with that). In fact, it’s very unlikely to have any contents-related problems, as long as you don’t try to ship a motor vehicle or firearms or other contraband.
With the benefit of six years of hindsight, would I do the container thing again if I had it to do over? Yes, I think so, but with somewhat different choices of what to ship. I would look on it as an opportunity to load up on things that are expensive or hard to get here, such as – surprisingly, at least to me – furniture and appliances. In the US, nice furniture in good condition is practically given away, just check craigslist. Here, there is zero availability of used furniture – no one ever sells. Anything you want you have to buy new, usually at mall prices, or have made (an adventure all its own). I would also give much more thought to hobby-type supplies, very little of which can be found here – as a general rule of thumb, any specialty item that you couldn’t find at a typical large US mall anchor like Macy’s or Sears, you will quite likely not be able to get here. I would also give a lot more thought to what sorts of things I might want later on that I can’t have shipped over in a balikbayan box – things like bicycles (expensive here), scuba tanks, golf clubs, weight machine, large power tools, anything else too big for a box. Again, there is little or no second hand market here – sporting goods and such that you could pick up very inexpensively in the US on craigslist or ebay, you will have to pay mall prices for here, if you can find them at all.
I apologize for the unresponded-to questions in the comments to the previous post – I didn’t realize anyone was still commenting after the first week or so after the article appeared. Future questions, if you don’t get a response just shoot me an email – just google for my name and “davao” and you’ll find my contact info.