Importing your personal effects into Australia in a shipping container

Are you planning to ship a container into Australia with your personal effects in it?
This article is for you.  It is a true story of our personal experience in 2016, of a difficult, even emotional, import of our belongings into Australia, around Christmas time.
Importing your personal effects into Australia in a shipping container

Introduction

When we came back to Australia, we moved with a 20’ shipping container again, but that time was much less smooth than moving to France, due to particularly tough, heartless procedures imposed by Customs and Quarantine.  It was a very stressful time, and a time when we had to wait for your container to be cleared, having nothing else with us than what we had in our luggage.  We started to miss a lot of our daily belongings that were still stuck in the container.

The wait for the container to arrive was no shorter than six weeks; it got even longer, due to poor logistic management and counter productive communication with the freight company we were dealing with.
The delivery of the container to the freighter’s shed and the clearance was a lengthy process, even more so that it was Christmas period, with commercial inspections being more prioritary than individual households.  This point is rather questionable.  Why would commecial and material Christmas items be more important than a family who has been waiting, with small children, all that time, in the heat of Brisbane, to get their belongings? Paradoxically, the Australian Government, which Customs are part of, would be swift to tell you, via the Police, that you should not speed on the road during the Christmas break, to arrive on time for Christmas dinner at your family’s place, because your life is more important than material things.  Well, here it seems these values have been swapped.  By the way, that wait was not free; we had to pay for domestic travel, hotel, and flatsharing expenditures all this time.  It is not like we were staying freely with our family.

Australia has been applying drastic regulations on what comes into the country.  In particular, the Authorities are paranoid and go overboard about the so called biohazards.  It is managed on a strict application of rules, that, curiously, is less strict as soon as it deals with race horses coming to Australia for the Olympics or other sporting events, or food products that are super heavily taxed but still get in (e.g.  European cheeses, nuts).  But as far as the contents of your container goes, they will, by default, judge your contents potentially more harmful for the environment than the guts of a hundred race horses; so they will want to inspect it fully, not just with a sniffer dog to test the presence of drugs or other illicit materials.
To make this inspection feasible, there is more than one way, but they will go for the cheapest, the one that does not use the reliable and accurate technology available these days (spectrometry, X-ray radiography).  Instead of sample testing some items at the mounth, middle, and back of your container, and putting the samples in a spectrometer, the kind you would see at the random checkpoint at the airport, they will send one or two Quarantine Officers to the warehouse of the freight forwarder that your shipping agent has mandated, and they will inspect the contents of your container . . . on the ground!

Unpacked loose . . . lose your nerves

The effect of the above mentionned strict import regulations of Australia onto your container contents are now very concrete, your container WILL be unpacked loose, on the ground, however carefully and compactly you packed it.  The container will not know the luxury to be unpacked by agile and considerate hands, but rather by brupt, clumsy, and inconsiderate ones.  You would think professionals would assume your belongings are important to you, therefore treating them with respect and care, just like they would for theirs.  On the contrary, with that freight forwarder, it was then a time trial, no end customer eyes watching, so the contents quickly found themselves stacked up in the most chaotic way possible, without even respecting the basic rules of stacking.

Choose your agent

If possible not Monaco Global Enterprises Pty Ltd (Victoria)

When, a few months prior to starting the move, we hired a container, we approached a transport agent in the departure country (France).  They then worked with the local receiving freight forwarder of their choice, which we did not choose, and they were subject to the lengthy half-duplex communication due to the timezone difference.  The least point usually took two days to be answered, and a third to come back to us.  
We directly contacted Monaco Global Enterprises to organise a place, date, time, and method for the container delivery.  They did not seem to know that individuals cannot receive a shipping container straight to their door, like we did in France.  This ignorance led to a lot of confusion and time wasted.
Our relationship with them shifted from really nice and friendly initially to near abusive towards the end, with in the middle, an inacceptable leave-the-boat move.  They turned their back on us without letting us know, creating a floating period when no freight forwarder was on our case, without us knowing.  Time was suspended for over a week, making it impossible then to ave our container delivered before the Christmas break, and before the new year, like it was originally planned.

From can-do posture to do-it-yourself-because-I’m-leaving-the-boat

Monaco GE initially sounded really easy to deal with on the phone.  They made every aspect so simple.  All we had to do was to provide a drop-off address and exact physical point, so their truck wouldn’t struggle, and they would come back to us with a day and time.  Pretty much like when we moved to France.  But soon, another music was being played.  The drop-off location was assessed as unsuitable by them, because it was “a complex”.  I then negotiated for a drop-off at the far back of the driveway, which turns into an unsealed area and a field.  But that wouldn’t do.
As we were still securing a final dwelling for ourselves, the place we were ready to rent didn’t work out for other reasons, and we had to abandon the idea to move there.  We quickly found another place to move to.  This time I asked for a container drop-off along a large reserve nextdoor.  I checked with the Council, and apparently we were allowed to leave a container there for the week-end without having to ask for an authorisation.  The perfect plan.

Soon we became disenchanted again; as it were, Monaco GE did not believe it was ok to drop off the container there, on that large turnaround road near the reserve, although the place was big enough for a dozen of containers to be dropped off there, and even though tan even larger carpark next door had already two containers there on a permanent basis for a private purpose too!

Maybe my biggest mistake was to try to discuss our rights, because from that point, after supplying the appropriate links from the Council website, and annotated pictures from Google Earth, our contact from Monaco Global Enterprise stopped communicating with us, without telling us they were leaving the boat! We didn’t receive a communication from the French agent either.  I think she was as confused as we were over the whole situation.

After crying my despair over all roofs, and making a bit of a scandal with the parties involved, Monaco jumped back in, and did a minimal job to be over and done with the “problem guy ” that I was.

On that occasion it was made clear to us that the container will be dropped-off at the freight forwarder’s warehouse near Port of Brisbane, that the Australian Quarantine agents will go to that place to check the container’s contents, that I could be around looking over their shoulder, although be outside of the quanrantine area, and finally I could either organise a final transport of our stuff to our place with the freight forwarder, or simply get hold of the contents myself and move them myself.

I thought I would have helped and reduce the delivery time by offering my assistance to clear the container myself, but Monaco understood my request as a “I’ll do the whole process by myself from now on, get off my way.”.  The problem is less the misunderstanding than the lack of communication from them that followed.  They reacted personally, as opposed to professionally.

Choose your freight forwarder . . . ’s IQ!

Buccini Transport Hemmant, QLD: all wrong

Importing your personal effects into Australia in a shipping container Once again, all the odds were against us when it came to the intelligence (or lack of) and the handling skills of the freight forwarder staff.  As much as, officeside, the warehouse manager of Buccini Transports was nice and helpful, he didn’t seem too much involved into looking closely at what his team was doing containerside.  When I first saw the contents of our container put roughly and chaotically on the floor, with many of the boxes crushed, and all of our spare items put randomly everywhere, I felt like crying, and anger came up into me, instead of being happy to see my stuff again.

So it be clear, let me reiterate that we did not get a chance to choose who our freight forwarder was going to be, as they were elected by the agent in the country of departure.

As much as I insisted with Monaco that I be present at Buccini’s when our container will have been emptied, the container got emptied behind ’closed doors’, and I could only face the result, a real carnage.

Do it yourself if you can

Importing your personal effects into Australia in a shipping container These images show ou how our personal effects got unloaded with only little care, or no care at all, from the container.  In particular, notice the complete lack of method and thinking when stacking up boxes; since I had put the heavier and bulkier boxes first, on the floor of the container, and the filmsier / lighter ones on top, these very intelligent staff unpacked in a last-in first-down fashion, stacking up reverse all of our effects.  Thus we found our flimsy boxes crushed by heavy ones at th etop, containing books for example.  That was just sickening.

No effort was made to respect a semblance of organisation and symetry when stacking.  In particular, the boxes I used came in families: I had four different sets of a dozen of identical boxes.  The ideal way of stacking them is to stack each set separately, and make sure they have adges against edges, to distribute the stress evenly from one box to the one underneath.  Do you think the handlers think of that? No of course, they stacked up boxes with odd-shaped items, creating the worst possible weight distribution, leading to crushed corners or boxes.

There was no point writing “Do not stack, must be topmost” on one of our fragile box, since they anyway put it underneath some really heavy items.  They almost worked as if they had done it on purpose, to make us angry.  In fact I think they were not as Machiavellian, they couldn’t afford this level of nastiness, that would demand a lot of reflexion . . .

Among what we saw, were:
- boxes on their sides - super heavy boxes, like a bass amp, put over a set of soda cans, themselves pushing down on box sides.
- box edges not joining
- written warnings not respected, such as “VERY FRAGILE”, and “DO NOT STACK”.

Confronted to such a mess, cratches, and possible breakages, I decided to not go any further with the freight forwarder as far as boxes went.  I only had them to transport the lounge table, the fridges, and some items that couldn’t break, such as mattresses, since the transport from their shed to my place was included in the price.  For all the rest I rented a van on my own money, and spent one whole day, helped by a resource found on the Internet, to fill up the truck, and drive back home.  At least I was the one accountable for my stuff.

Other examples of horrors we faced

Click the images to zoom

Importing your personal effects into Australia in a shipping container Importing your personal effects into Australia in a shipping container Importing your personal effects into Australia in a shipping container

plastic pallets, the panacea?

At the origin of this fiasco was the so-called biohazard associated with the import of personal effects.  Since Customs want to see and potentially inspect every single box, the idea is to load your effects on pallets before loading the pallets into your container.  This way, a pallet cart could easily and quickly unload them one by one, without reorganising your boxes.  However, there is a but . . .   You should not use wooden pallets, because wood that form pallets is considered a biohzard itself by Customs! There is always something, isn’t it?! An option would be to use plastic pallets, the kind we see in some vegie supermarket or importers.  They are more expensive than wood, because they are rarer (not really more expensibe to fabricate though), but you could keep them for your next move.  To be considered . . .

Good luck for your move to Australia!

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revised 26 August 2017 by M. Fabien Haddadi M Sc. Fab
Tropicalm