Duty free shipping for legal residents restored but shippers warn of more problems ahead

Jun 15, 2018

Reversing a rule issued in May, the government says that new expats can once again ship their household belongings to Ecuador duty free. The decision reinstates the duty free shipping allowance that had been in effect since the late 1990s.

Shipping containers being off-loaded at the port in Guayaquil.

The allowance had been discontinued May 15 as a result of a presidential decree that expanded the list of items that Ecuadorian citizens returning from overseas can bring into the country. The decree said that only citizens, not foreign residents, were entitled to duty free shipping.

Word of the policy change had apparently not reached the customs office in Guayaquil as of Thursday night, according to two North American expats whose shipping containers are being detained at the port. “The aduana [customs agent] says he knows nothing about any changes and says he will not release my shipment,” says Alex Spendler, who moved to Cuenca last month. “They’re still charging me $110 a day for storage and it’s killing me.”

Expat John Hansel has a similar story. “My facilitator is working on getting my stuff released but she has no idea when it will happen,” he said. “It’s great that they’ve brought back the old rule but I’m still being gouged with expenses.”

Despite the reinstatement of the duty free rule, two shippers say the customs situation in Ecuador is becoming increasingly more difficult and one says new expats should consider not shipping at all.

“The customs process in Guayaquil has become a bigger mess every year in the eight years since I’ve been arranging shipments,” says Florida shipper Stephen Aron. Unless changes are made in the scheduling and procedure of what he calls “draconian” container examinations, expats will continue to pay exorbitant fees for container storage, he says.

“It’s fine that everyone is spreading the good news that household goods imports are now allowed again but sad that people are promoting their facilitator services, ignoring the plight of the expats that get caught up in this mess,” Aron says.

San Diego, California shipper Curt Ellis agrees and says that those moving to Ecuador should carefully consider their options before deciding to ship containers or air pallets. “I’m in the shipping business so I have nothing to gain by telling people not to ship, but if I was moving to Ecuador, I wouldn’t do it. People are routinely paying hundreds and even thousands of dollars to store containers that are perfectly legal. It’s grossly unfair. And then there’s a big problem with theft.”

He adds: “Shipping anywhere in Latin America is a major pain in the ass but it’s become much worse in Ecuador.”

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