Prashant, lets try to import film properly via post, I am sure the shipping is much cheaper than DHL.
This is the exact time when you think you’re being smarter than the rest. Yes, over smartness usually leads to trouble, and it was a really bad idea.
My friend Prashant stays in Chicago. He usually is hanging around in exclusively analog shops full of large format films, darkroom chemicals and beautiful lenses. After considering for a really long time, I put together some of my savings and decided to buy my next stock of films, get a old pending lens from my friend and a viewfinder.
After shuffling through Adorama, B&H and a few other places, orders were placed and all the stuff reached Chicago. The last time I got this much stuff was from NY / Calcutta (half and half). So this time, to save on shipping, we decided to use USPS with priority mailing service.
Day 1 : Stuff bought from US. Adorama, B&H and KEH all suck out money in one day.
Day 2 : Shipment reaches Chicago, shipped from there to India via USPS
Day 7 : Shipment reaches India, held up by customs, no intimation by them that its held up, no notification on what is the issue.
Day 28 : Still no notification, finally via tracking number, find it somewhere in Indian customs, New Delhi.
Day 29 : Head over to the FPO (Foreign Post Office, New Delhi) and we are told that the shipment needs to be inspected by the officer and the package has been detained. I question the office why I was not notified. I am told that they ran out of paper and stamps (yes this is the post office) so they were not able to send out letters to anyone.
The officer makes us sit from 11am to 4pm before he opens the package, it must be checked physically before anything can happen. On opening he sees the film and says “this is too much film, its commercial quantity, you need an importers license”. After much convincing, he now asks that I produce invoices for the films and all the other stuff. On being told that the equipment is used and not really bought out, the officer claims that its illegal to bring in used lenses / viewfinders / cameras to India.
Business closes for the day, its 4 PM and no one works post that time.
Day 31 : I go back again, this time with invoices for film. I wait from the morning to 2.30PM when I finally meet the officer. After much arguments and discussions, I get billed for 400$ as duty. From 3PM to 5PM I run around from one floor to another getting signatures for clearance from different heads, Customs Deputy Commissioner, Postmaster General, Postal Officers, etc etc.
So all in all, you can either save 150$ and ship with DHL/FedEx or spend 2-4 days in the foreign post office, its your choice. But if you’re going to post via USPS, here are a few tips :
1. Try not to use this service, only if you really have no other option (like no friend is coming from abroad who can bring your stuff)
2. Make sure you add invoices in the shipment, there is no point of marking it “gift” if the claim value is over 100 USD.
3. There is a postal tracking code on priority shipping, you’ll need to check the status of the shipment yourself because India Postal Service doesn’t care to tell you anything. Make sure you also check it on Indian Postal Site and not just USPS site cause all custom details will be marked only on Indian page.
4. Make sure that the invoices have your name in Billing address, the same name which should be on the package too. If you don’t then the customs people will keep questioning you about your relationship with the people etc etc.
5. Please check the customs duty costs on the Indian Customs Website. Sometime ago I posted a article on Lomography India about customs, it explains in detail how customs charge for any shipment :
Indian Customs charges about 30% duty on all photographic equipment imported into India.
Basic Duty : 10%
CVD Additional Duty : 10%
Central Excise Edu Cess : 3%
Customs Edu Cess : 3%
Special CVD – Special Duty : 4%
Total Duty : 10 + 10 + 3 + 3 + 4 = 30% (max)
Also see link : Duty Calculator
6. Carry copies of your photo ID proof, address proof (same address as shipping address), very important as there is no photocopy shops nearby, only across the road near the TOI building.
7. All duty must be paid in cash, so keep enough cash on you. There is a HDFC and ICICI atm right across the road, near the TOI building.
8. There is a very stupid lame canteen in the FPO and a shop to eat nearby but if you’re looking to kill time waiting, there is a nice Udapi Cafe near the TOI building, good food and great coffee.
9. Be prepared to wait and wait. The customs office is slow but is not interested in bribes or unnecessary arguments. All in all good polite people who just think too much of protocol.
10. In case you have only the tracking number and don’t really know what to do next, call the Foreign Post Office Call Center, they would be able to help you.
Also a few other notes :
Address For FPO New Delhi : Bahadurshah Zafar Mg, I.T.O, Delhi, India 110002
Phone : I am sure there is a call centre for this which actually works but I couldn’t find the number online. You could try (+(91)-11-23233325, 23233304, 23231281, 23233314)
Lastly a very important note: If your package is missing or you’re unable to understand what the issue is, you’ll have to go down to the post office and ask. There is no other way to resolve this issue. While I’m not going to stop anyone from commenting in the blog post about their experience, please don’t expect any help cause Indian Post sucks and there is no other solution to this issue.