Sometime back we wrote about a series of logistical considerations we decided upon in the process of becoming Expatriates in Italy. That included where to concentrate our search for a location in which to live, whether to rent or purchase a home and whether or not to buy a car. And now, after a little over three years of living in a Provincial Capital, ‘off the beaten track’ near the Adriatic Coast of Central Italy, our continuing assessment of the decisions reached in each of those areas is that the results have continued to work well for us.
When we approached developing the criteria to use in making logistical decisions, the core factors we used were; to aim for more simplicity in our lives, being mindful of cost issues in an economy we were unfamiliar with and attempting to reduce sources of stress and frustration. One of the means of achieving that latter objective was to reduce, as much as possible, the necessity of having to interface with the Italian bureaucracy. As it turns out, that latter objective was even more prescient than we realized at the time. The following example will illustrate the point. The experience we are about to relate involved bringing our remaining personal items from California to our new home in Italy.
In the process of the relocation to become Expats, we deferred the decision on bringing furniture and household items with us to Italy until we were more sure of what might better fit into our adopted homeland lifestyle. There were also concerns at the time involving the extended family that made firm, long-term planning difficult. So, we decided to leave some items in storage in California that would also provide a fallback reserve ‘just in case’ we were to return to the U.S. As it turns out, not bringing household items with us in an early stage of becoming Expats in Italy, created an unforeseen complication. Unfortunately, we did not realize at the time there is a finite window of one year once immigrating into Italy within which personal items can be imported from outside the European Union to avoid import duty. We waited over three years. That turned out to be an expensive miscalculation.
In time, as we became more comfortable living in Ascoli Piceno, we decided having our very personal items around us could further reinforce making our adopted community feel more like ‘home.’ We also determined the elimination of storage fees in California could amortize the projected shipping costs over time.
This is probably an appropriate place to reiterate what has been said in the Expat community for years – Do not make the mistake of assuming how things are done in the U.S. is going to be accomplished to the same standard where you are going! When it comes to matters involving responsiveness, timeliness and efficiency, if you want to retain any remaining sanity, be prepared to seriously modify those expectations once you leave the U.S.
An abbreviated overview of our experience is the differences in dealing with the shipping processes in the United States and what we have experienced at the Italian end could not stand out in any greater contrast. In our experience, the U.S. end was totally professional, reliable, performed on a timely basis and made our life much less stressful. On the Italian end of the exercise, the experience was — not quite the same. We were simply not prepared for the extent of the delays that were involved in obtaining Italian port clearance and the payment of customs duty and other fees once our shipment was offloaded onto the dock in Ancona, Italy.
It required 28 days for a container cargo ship to leave the Port of Los Angeles with our shipment to transit the Panama Canal and then have the shipment transferred to a second container vessel bound for the Adriatic Sea and to arrive at the Port of Ancona, Italy. Once at Ancona, it then took 34 days for our shipment to be processed, import duty assessed and paid along with Value Added Tax of 22% of assessed value on our used items, much of it more than 25 years old. The payment due also included an assessed 30 euros per day demurrage, the port storage charge.
Several factors are at play in this delay scenario. First, sea shipments by container are overwhelmingly commercial, not private household goods items. It became apparent early on, some elements in the Italian logistics chain were not particularly motivated to deal with private clients. And in all likelihood, being a private shipment factored into establishing processing priorities.
Additionally, the timing of our shipment bound for Ancona to provide for a minimum layover for transshipment to a second vessel involved a schedule for arrival at the Port of Ancona in mid-August. In Italy, August is vacation time. So this may have had some effect on the delays. Whether that same factor would have been an issue for a commercial shipment is open to speculation.
And we also are confronted occasionally that our being ‘off the beaten track’ in Italy involves various bureaucratic elements not being entirely sure what they are supposed to do with us. Here in Ascoli, we have found ourselves frequently breaking new ground that we hope will facilitate matters for those who come after us.
The overall shipment arrival port clearance experience was very frustrating and gave us concern about how our personal items would hold up in a steel shipping container marooned on an Italian dock for over a month in August. But we are pleased to say, thanks to some excellent packing and palletizing support on the U.S. end, our personal items came through alright. It was not quite the same for our emotional state during the delay experience but that is behind us now. The process that actively started with our departure for the U.S. in mid-June has now finally become an accomplished reality in our lives in mid-September.
As in most things in life, we develop priorities that are appropriate for us but would probably be different for other people. Some have remarked they would not bother with shipping personal household items because the replacement in Italy would be more cost effective. We, obviously, chose otherwise. Perhaps it is a reflection of the stage of life we are experiencing. We are here because we want to experience a rich present and a promising and stimulating future. But for us, there is also much in our past that we cherish and feel reminiscences of the path we have been on helps illuminate understanding the process of how we became who we are. Additionally, being able to touch something that belonged to someone important to you brings you closer to those now gone.
The operative question of the moment is, knowing what we know now, would we still decide to have made this shipment? I have to say, even with the frustrations, we still feel this was an appropriate thing for us to have done. It is now about two weeks since our items started coming up a flight of stairs and into our apartment. By now, we have unpacked many of the boxes and Arlene has applied her special touch in bringing warmth and taste into our rented apartment in how she has arranged these familiar items. Pictures are hung and family mementos are once again in view after having been in storage for over three years. And there is no question, being surrounded by many items representing cherished memories is helping us feel more at home.
The tired old cliché has it that, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Obviously, enjoying a rich life here in Italy is not without having to make accommodations. But the progress of time has also reinforced for us that we are in the midst of a very positive adventure that we wouldn’t have wanted to miss, in spite of occasional frustrations.
Even at this very early stage there already is a comfort in having our familiar belongings around us once more. There is also a reinforcing sense in having these treasured tangible memories of a life already lived that seems to give encouragement to go out and enjoy the exciting future potential here in our new Italian home.
P.S. We can’t let this opportunity pass without expressing our appreciation to the people at the U.S. end of the shipping saga for having helped make that part of the process less stressful than it might otherwise have been.
The Shipping Agent: We highly recommend Farber and Company, Shipping Agents of Long Beach, California. From the beginning, it was clear we were being guided by highly professional and experienced people. They were very responsive, informative and were able to provide us with calm reassurance that made all the difference. Farber saw to the pickup of a loaded seagoing container and its timely delivery to the Italian port. The schedule they arranged was right on target.
Packing and Palletizing: We were also given outstanding support by the San Diego office of Navis Pack and Ship. This highly capable team treated our items with care, were very courteous and pleasant to work with, carefully packed and palletized our belongings, preparing them for sea transport in a manner conforming to complex international regulations. They carefully loaded a steel shipping container from their warehouse dock in our presence and handled documentation.
Both of these exceptional supporting organizations performed absolutely on schedule and contributed a great deal to reducing the stress on us involved in the complex shipment process. A heartfelt thank you!