Mail Ecuador Style

You’ve Got Mail – Ecuador Style

So you’ve done everything perfectly right…made your exploratory visits to Ecuador, established professional contacts, purchased that sweet beach house of which you’ve always dreamed, sent off an army of shippers to relocate your household belongings across the globe (please, reconsider the latter, for your own sanity) and said good-bye to the kids, now busy with their own families. Your big, ol’ jet plane makes a smooth landing in beautiful, sunny Ecuador, as you embark for that new beach house, to just wait on the delivery of your precious household goods (no, seriously, reconsider this step for the sake of your sanity).  As you unpack everything, perfectly delivered to your doorstep just as you remembered (buy a lottery ticket and win $50 million – better odds), you suddenly realize, wowza!  We forgot the items in the attic.  Your helpful spouse, of course, turns to you, with that special look of bemusement and says, “We had an attic?”  So…it begins, for many, mail Ecuador style.

Inadvertently, one of those “attic items” is always that “one in a million” item you can’t live without.  Your beloved wedding album.  Junior’s” first report card.  Your customized and personally engraved, jewel-studded bowling ball. Oh, come on now, this is Ecuador…we won’t judge.  What is important is that you have to retrieve the item and fast.  Forget that this already involves an embarrassing call to the new owner, of your previous home, but now you have to figure out how to get that “thing” shipped all the way to Ecuador.  Good luck!

Let’s start with the basics.  Unless you have moved to Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca or parts of Manta, the truth is that your brand new home is unlikely to even have a street address.  I swear…I am not making this up.  It is not some kind of cruel prank we play on all the new expats.  Street addresses are not necessarily common throughout most parts of Ecuador.  I know what you’re thinking…yes, it’s going to be kind of hard to receive delivery of your “bowling ball” sans address.

Perhaps you have the luck of the draw, as I originally did.  My first condo in Salinas was in a building so recognizable that any postal worker knew exactly where it was, despite the lack of an actual building address.  You could literally mail something to me addressed as:

Hector G. Quintana

The Building [insert name here]

Salinas, Ecuador

I would actually receive it, even if you failed to include a condo unit number or zip code (more on Ecuadorian zip codes, later).  However, I wouldn’t bet on this kind of luck, as it is the rare exception and not the rule.  So, at this point, any sane person would be thinking one of two things: “I am never moving to Ecuador” or “Well, then how do I get delivery of my forgotten attic items?”

My experience suggests that the best way to get stuff from “point A” to Ecuador is a  qualified international drop shipper.  I know, more questions than answers.  Think of the “drop shipper” as a go-between…an intermediary…a broker of sorts.  They receive any item you wish to have mailed (within reason and the confines of law), regardless of source, and because they have access to “sorcerers tools” or by some other way of “strange divination”, they can find you.  These guys make the IRS look like lightweights.  So, whatever you do, never get your drop shipper angry at you, or regardless of where you move, or how often you change your alias, precisely 14 times per year, you will get a delivery from the “fluorescent lawn gnome-of-the-month” club.  Trust me, this is not something you want.

Drop shippers, especially of the “international” variety, need to be well-vetted.  You’re not going to entrust your “bowling ball” to just “anybody”.  Keep in mind that many in this profession establish “fly-by-night” operations.  Sort of like David Copperfield…now you seem him, now you don’t.  One well-known and highly advertised operation just recently “vanished” overnight.  I never did fully understand what happened to the items they had delivered to their offices for transit.  Such mystery is not what you need in your life, after moving across the globe and learning to adapt in a new country.

My suggestion, for those living in the USA, is that you consider a tried, true and stable operation, like that run by Club Correos.  They are an outfit run out of Miami.  I am pretty sure that it is now a “federally mandated law” that states if you have a business operation in the USA, which goes anywhere near Latin America, you must…I repeat…must…be headquartered in Miami.  Can’t understand why, since Miami is a pretty nice city and I am sure businesses would eventually find their way there, all on their own.

Club Correos offers the shipping of items purchased in the USA directly to you in Ecuador.  If you stick to their basic, simple requirements, all clearly published on their InterNet website, then they have an exceptionally reliable track record.  So, having a “jones” for all things Amazon.com, but they don’t deliver to Ecuador.  No problem.  Have the items shipped to Club Correos in Miami and they will have them at your front door, faster than you can say, “How much?”  Glad you asked.

Club Correos is a “by membership only” operation.  Now, before you start peeling off Franklins, the cost is only $11.20 annually, but it must be billed to a credit or debit card (what doesn’t now-a-days?).  Yes, precisely, $11.20.  That’s a $10 yearly membership fee + the 12% Ecuadorian sales tax (known as IVA).  Why does an operation out of Miami charge an Ecuador sales tax?  Same reason the USA Congress defines a “budget cut” as a “reduction in the excessive amount we will increase this fiscal year’s expenditures”.  Frankly, there are just some “mysteries” in the world best left unsolved.  However, if you want to be a member of Club Correos…you need to fork over the $11.20 yearly membership fee.

Once you are a member, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Membership is ongoing.  Automatically renewed each year. No surprise, right?  If you wish to terminate service, you need to provide them with your social security number, a secret 20-digit encrypted PIN and the precise GPS coordinates as to where Jimmy Hoffa lies.  Ok, I did make that up.  Actually, you send them a request, in writing, to terminate the arrangement.  However, if you like to receive regular deliveries from overseas in Ecuador, I am betting you don’t cancel.

Also, you have to promise that the total value of your shipped purchase, for any single purchase, is not more than $400 USD.  Remember, that is per shipment.  If you need to have items shipped above that dollar amount, you must split up the order across several shipments.  This works great for folks like my friend, Bill, who bought one of those handy-dandy espresso machines in Ecuador…you know, you just drop an “espresso pod” in them and they make a killer espresso, so rich it puts you in a coma for 12-days.  Well, the good news is that he got a good deal on the machine, here in Ecuador.  The bad news…there isn’t a single store in all of Ecuador that sells the espresso pods.  So, now he orders them, by the hundreds, via Club Correos.  Works great!  If you are trying to get around Ecuador’s strict import laws and receive a Ferrari this way…not so much.

Furthermore, any one shipment order cannot weigh more than 8.8 pounds or 4 kilograms.  Again, you can split up the order and ship separately (tough luck on that jewel-studded bowling ball).  Now, at first, these “item values” and “weight restrictions” seem silly.  However, there is a method to the madness at Club Correos.  In Ecuador, any item entering the country, valued at over $400 or weighing more than 4 kilograms is subject to a full Customs Inspection.  Officially and on the record, this means that Club Correos (meaning you, the customer) will have to pay a hefty Customs duty.  Unofficially and off the record, a “Customs inspection” means, Christmas just came early for some lucky Ecuadorian family.  Trust me, best to follow the weight and value limits and bypass the “full Customs inspection”.  This place is may be paradise, but nowhere is “perfect”.

For all this, Club Correos charges some very reasonable fees.  They have a “read at a glance” chart on their website.  However, for anything under 1 lbs, it is only a $10.29 surcharge and for the maximum 8.8 lbs, it is $45.74.  That’s the maximum you will pay.  Not bad for the convenience of having a “slice of home” brought to your doorstep, here in Ecuador.

Again, all payments must be made by credit/debit card, but Club Correos does provide the convenience of arranging other forms of payment in advance.  Such options include an electronic bank transfer and a PayPal payment, but no cash or cash equivalents.  All payments must be received and cleared, before they can ship off your package.  Club Correos has a website at http://www.clubcorreos.com.  I encourage you to review their website and ask specific questions directly.

Some readers might wonder, if any other options exist.  Sure!  However, there are a few special drawbacks.  For starters, Club Correos, as an international drop shipper of sorts, has that “special way” of locating your address, which I alluded to earlier.  As such, they are one of the few shipping sources to which, with an actual straight face, you can actually say, “I don’t have a zip code in Ecuador.”  Now, let me be clear.  Ecuador does have zip codes.  However, more mystery surrounds them than Area 51 in the Nevada desert. No one uses zip codes here, not even the postal service.  Ask any Ecuadorian on the street, “What’s your zip code?” and they will start looking around to see if you have a hidden camera as part of one of those “Gringo gag” hidden camera shows. Keep in mind that this is a serious obstacle, as many shipping services cannot ship without a zip code.  At Club Correos, work-arounds exist, because they are very used to delivering to this part of the world.

Some of those other options include, for example, Federal Express or DHL.  The traditional international shippers.  However, unless the item you are sending is lighter than a feather, the costs are going to far exceed those of Club Correos.  Then there is the whole sticky “zip code issue”.

You can try the good, old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service.  This means that at our end, here in Ecuador, the Ecuador postal service, known as Correos de Ecuador, will handle delivery to your door.  For practical purposes, simply don’t bother. It will save you the cost of shipment and the heartache of waiting for a delivery from Correos de Ecuador.  You can bank on it.

Lastly, you can try an unknown, not well-vetted international drop shipping service.  For the end results, read above referencing the USPS option and then add the inconvenience of never-ending automatic service charges to your credit card.

Truthfully, not a lot of options.  I encourage you to search the InterNet for choices and compare recommendations and options to the Club Correos offering.  No one is perfect, but the folks at Club Correos have a great deal of experience doing what they do…and, mostly, doing it well.

If any of my comments or examples in this report have proven inane, annoying, or simply not uplifting enough, please remember to be kind in your critique.  Otherwise, a fluorescent lawn gnome collection could be part of your not too distant future.