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How to Send and Receive Mail and Shipments in Ecuador

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We receive lots of review materials. Mostly books, but some software too. Some publishers are hesitant to ship to Ecuador, telling me that their shipping department is “unable” to ship out of the US.
international-shipments
Other publishers (especially Wiley) must have broken the difficult shipping secret because I regularly receive review copies from them. I have received packages via UPS, DHL, FedEx and the postal service. Couriers can take from a couple of days up to 10 days. 

The postal service is often surprisingly fast – but can take up to 2-3 weeks. I received a package (sent regular post) from Alltop coming from Hawaii to Cuenca in just 9 days.

How to Receive International Shipments in Ecuador

The process is a little different here. At the post office, every package is opened in front of you, by an armed soldier. I think it’s a pretty good way to deter illegal shipments. They open everything, to ensure nothing is hidden.
It takes almost no time, but it was a little surprising the first time I saw it. I thought I was being singled out because of where it shipped from.

(Update Nov 14, 2013): The armed soldier hasn’t been at the post office for a long time. While there is an armed guard, he isn’t involved with the packages.

Something else that’s a little different, is although they state door-to-door delivery, it isn’t. You might pay for UPS to deliver to Cuenca but you’ll also have to pay another $10 to get the package from Guayaquil to Cuenca.

UPS has service here, but only through an agent. The agent bills for the final leg. Not too serious, but tends to add up when 6-8 books all come under separate shipping labels.

We’ve also ordered shipments online with Amazon.com and they will ship internationally, quoting the price on the site. It worked flawlessly.

The most important thing to remember when having shipments coming to Ecuador is: Make sure that your phone number is on the package – multiple times.

Most homes don’t actually have an address. An article a few months ago in the local paper noted that there are more than 1000 unnamed streets in the City of Cuenca.

The only way you’ll get your package is if they can call you. I always go pick up the packages. Unless you have a rented office space, they’ll never probably never find you.

How Can I Receive and Send Mail in Ecuador?

In the States, and I suppose in many other “developed” countries, receiving mail is a simple matter of walking to the curb and checking the mailbox.

Every house has a mailbox and a street address where one can receive mail and packages. In the States, we take home delivery of mail and packages for granted, but here in Ecuador, you will be hard-pressed to find a house with a mailbox. They do exist but they are the exception rather than the rule.

We have lived in four different houses since moving to Ecuador and none of them had an official street address, house number or mailbox.  Also, I’ve yet to see a uniformed postal, UPS or FedEx employee making home deliveries here.

So, in the absence of home addresses and mailboxes, how does one go about sending and receiving mail and packages here, especially mail or goods from other countries?

send-mail-ecuador

How We Send and Receive Mail

In order to receive regular mail from the U.S., we rent a P.O. Box in the main post office in downtown Cuenca.  It costs $25.00 per year.

To send a letter regular mail from Ecuador to the States it cost about $1.00. It cost about the same to receive regular mail from the U.S.

If you need to mail important documents to other countries from Ecuador, you can send them via registered mail and it costs about $15.00 and the documents usually arrive at their destination within a week.

Sending and receiving regular mail is not that big of a deal. We have found the Ecuadorian mail system to be efficient and reliable.  We check our PO box about twice a month and have even started to receive junk mail in it in addition to the occasional letter or card from family members in the States.

Can you receive packages from other countries?

We have ordered items from online retailers in the States and have had mixed results receiving the packages in Ecuador.

A couple of years ago we ordered some school books for our kids from a popular online bookseller and were told that they did offer international shipping to Ecuador. However, the books never arrived and the company did not offer any way to track the package.

For a while, it seemed that the only safe way for us to receive goods or packages from the States was to have them sent to the address of friends in the U.S. and then make arrangements to have the package forwarded to Ecuador via UPS, DHL or some other international shipping company.

The problem is that the packages have to pass through customs and there are fees that have to be paid in addition to the international shipping charges.  Therefore, receiving packages this way is not 100% reliable or hassle-free.

Update: In February 2015, Club Correos announced that they were permanently suspending the service.
I recently discussed how to send and receive packages in Ecuador.

Club Correos: Receive Online Purchases in Ecuador

And for quite a while, we had trouble with international shipments. However, things have recently changed and we have successfully received a number of packages from the U.S. directly from online sellers.
The Ecuadorian Postal Service has recently offered a service by which we can receive packages from the States rather quickly and at a reasonable rate. 

The service is called Club Correos (Mail Club) and has proven to be a reliable and easy to use way to get some of the products we can’t get here in Ecuador, such as clothes and shoes that fit and some health and beauty items.
club-correos-ecuadorHere is how Club Correos works: For a $10.00 yearly fee, you are assigned a physical address in Miami which gives you a U.S. shipping address where you can receive packages from online retailers in the U.S.

Each Club Correos customer has an individual box number which distinguishes you from other customers who use the same Miami street address.   It is similar to renting a P.O. box at a UPS Store location.

Once you have signed up for Club Correos, you just log on to your favorite online store, such as Amazon.com, and place your order using your credit card. There are some shipping limitations with this service:

  • No package can weigh over 4 kilos or have a value of over $400.00.
  • The shipping cost from the States to Ecuador is about $5.00 per pound which I’m told is a reasonable rate for international shipping. Club Correos bills your credit card for the shipping charges.

With this service, all customs matters are taken care of so you don’t have to deal with Ecuadorian Customs officials. When your package arrives in Ecuador, the post office gives you a friendly call to let you know that you have a package waiting for pick up.

They will even deliver the package to your house if you can tell them how to get to your house.  Remember, most houses here do not have assigned addresses so unless you speak good Spanish and have a house that is easy to recognize it is better to just pick up your package at the post office.

My wife recently ordered a pair of shoes from her favorite U.S. shoe company and they arrived via the Club Correos service within two weeks.  The total shipping cost was $17.00, which for us is worth it considering the fact that it is not that easy to find good fitting quality shoes here.

There, of course, are other shipping companies that offer service in Ecuador, but Club Correos is the most efficient and hassle-free way we have found to receive online purchases and mail from the U.S.


Avoid Problems With Club Correos (9 Lessons Learned)

problems-club-correosIn this post, I breakdown 9 things you can do to avoid problems with your Club Correos shipments.

But first:

Why Use Club Correos? 

There are two benefits to using Club Correos over direct shipping to Ecuador.

  1. Reduced Shipping Costs: Because of bulk shipping thousands of packages, the freight costs are very low.
  2. No Customs Paperwork: If your package is under $400 and weighs less than 4kg then you pay no duties or taxes. And they handle all of the paperwork and customs clearance. At least that’s the idea.

How Club Correos Works

When you sign-up (econcargoecuador.net, just $11.20 per year) you get an address and a mailbox number in Miami.

When buying online (most often via Amazon.com) you just ship your packages to your Miami address, making sure that your mailbox number is on the label. They then forward it on to Ecuador and to the address registered with them.

Our Club Correos Experience

club-correos-problems
We’ve been using  Club Correos for many years. And we’ve received more than 70 packages from the United States.

We’ve bought everything from clothes and sunglasses to cameras (Canon SX280 and GoPro) and hard-drives. We even ordered a humidifier (to help with Cuenca’s dry air), a water filter, and a bike trainer.

We’ve ordered goods from Canada and shipped them to our address in Miami. When we placed the order, we ensured that they included an invoice and that it was addressed properly. The package arrived without any trouble.
We’ve had packages arrive as fast as 10 calendar days – with the average being around 2 – 2.5 weeks. We have never lost a package or had anything take over four weeks to arrive.

That is, until now.

Two Problem Packages and Some Lessons Learned

A few months ago, we had trouble with two packages at the same time. One was a box of a number of small things: stainless coffee mugs, food, and vitamins. The other was a small envelope with 3 pieces of makeup.

For the box with the small things, we were told that it didn’t meet the rules and we would have to ship it back to the US. The weight wasn’t anywhere near the 4kg limit and the value was very low.

It seems that someone in the shipping department at Amazon grabbed a big box and started filling it with the little pieces. Even though it would have been less than half full, they shipped it anyway.

From their perspective, this didn’t matter. The shipping is free for customers so the box size isn’t important. That is unless you are having it forwarded to another country.

When it arrived, the box was listed at a cubed weight of just over 16kg. Now it is possible that the vitamins we had in the box were also a problem, but they flagged the shipment as overweight. According to the cubed weight, it was more than 4 times over the limit.

So I went to the post office and paid to ship it out of Ecuador. Because the box was so big, this cost almost $100. In the notification email, I was warned that if I didn’t ship it out of the country, I would be fined more than $2000. All of a sudden, $100 didn’t seem so expensive.

The other package with the makeup had a value of $20 and weighed less than 1lb. I was told that we could receive the package if we did one of two things.

  1. Provide a certificate from the Ministry of Public Health stating that we have the right to import this product.
  2. Provide a sworn oath stating that we will never, ever order this product again.

The first choice wasn’t really an option. This is for companies wanting to commercially import the product. We just wanted a couple of units. So we went to a notary and swore that we would never buy this item again.

We presented it and a few days later they told us that the package had been rejected and it needed to be shipped out of the country anyway. Back to the post office again – we paid to ship the product to my parent’s place in Canada. This was back in July.

I was waiting to write this post until the packages arrived safely in Canada – but they still haven’t. More than four months have gone by and we don’t know where the boxes are. The postal service is “looking into it”.

9 Ways To Avoid Problems with Club Correos

While there is no way to avoid all problems, these tips should help avoid many of them.

  1. Enter Your Miami Address Properly: Include your mailbox number in the “Name” field. For example, Bryan Haines, EC10687952. I’ve heard from many expats that they can’t get the address entered correctly. In the “Address Line1” enter the physical location: 7824 NW 71 ST If you don’t include your mailbox number in the name field, it may get dropped by the vendor’s system and the package won’t arrive. If it does, they won’t know who to assign it to.
  2. Don’t Order Used Goods: A few days ago, I heard from a distraught Canadian mother who sent a care package to her daughter who is teaching English on the coast. The box included new and used clothes, along with used books, etc. The postal service told her that the package was rejected and that the goods would be donated to charity. I think by refusing used goods it simplifies importation by assuming that everything is new and thus subject to duties. Without a commercial invoice, it is almost impossible to assign duty/tax value. There are two opportunities to bring in used goods: 1) as personal effects when you enter the country or 2) as part of a “menaje de casa” or household goods for your permanent move to Ecuador. A shipment of used goods constitutes an import of those items into the country. (Thanks to Jakob for clarifying this.)
  3. No Cell Phones: This is a popular one. We did order one before the law changed – and it cost just 25% of the price here. There is an attraction to order a good phone for much less. But it will be confiscated. Also, cordless phones with DECT technology (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecomunications) are prohibited.
  4. Nothing in Bulk: The guidelines state that if you order more than three similar articles it could be considered as a commercial import and this would require supporting documents.
  5. No Clothing Without Tags: Clothing without tags is considered used and will be seized/confiscated by Customs.
  6. Read the Rules: There are weight and value limits. These are easy. They call it 4X4. That is packages up to 4 kg and US$400 of value enter the country without paying taxes or duties. There are other rules that you must know. Vitamins can raise flags and makeup can be rejected.
  7. Don’t Order Too Many Small Items at Once: As mentioned above, too many small articles run the risk of ending up in a big box – that could be cubed and then rejected. Best to space them out over time.
  8. Don’t Order These (Obviously) Restricted Items: explosive articles, animals, jewelry, firearms, ceramics, glass, fuel, explosives, cell phones, used parts, money, checks or credit cards. There are other items that require prior approval. Check Aduanas del Ecuador for more info. (Note: this is not an exhaustive list.)
  9. Names Must Match (Update March 10, 2014): Correos del Ecuador announced last week that effective March 5, 2014 packages must have a) the same name as the owner of the mailbox in Miami, and b) the invoice attached which matches the contents of the box. Packages where the name doesn’t match may be subject to delays and/or may not be delivered at all.

The Glitches Are Still Cheaper Than Flights to Miami

We continue to use the service – and we’re very happy with it. The problems that we’ve had are mostly our fault. I should have checked the fine print – and used better judgment when ordering.

What has been your experience with Club Correos? Share your tips and/or problems below.

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