We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Living the dream- Shipping our household goods over-- finally!

We've been here a year- hard to believe!!! The rented, furnished apartment has worked out beautifully, in fact, we love it. We've been managing with whatever we brought over in our 4 suitcases well, but, to be honest, from time we found ourselves wishing for some of our clothes, or something or other from around our home back in the States. When the house sold we would have to empty it, so the plan had always been to ship just a few select items over to Italy when it came time. That time came, finally. We had a contract on the house. I returned to the US to handle getting us all moved out of it and deal with settlement.

We had to think long and hard about which items we really needed or wanted to have with us now. We made lists, then crossed ALOT of things off the list, as we were trying to be judicious about this. For one thing, we now lived in a much smaller place which was already furnished, so we didn't require alot of furnishings. And== it being smaller, we had precious few spaces to store anything. Not quite like our Baltimore home which had a huge basement, attic and garage for us to fill up! Finally we had the short list of things we wanted to bring back with us.

Timing actually worked out perfectly, as we are allowed one shipment of household goods sent VAT/duty free. For me, this one time shipment had to be done within 12 months of my receiving my dual Italian citizenship. My citizenship was finalized on October 30.

We did some research about international shipments. We knew it would take 6-8 weeks, maybe longer for our stuff to arrive here. We also knew it would be fairly expensive, and since we were footing the bill for this ourselves, we were very conscious about keeping costs down. Cost is based on volume, not weight. Once I returned to the US, I contacted several international movers and began collecting estimates.

I had to provide the companies with a detailed list of the items I wanted shipped, and they gave me a volume estimate. In addition, they also came to the house to see the items first hand, so they would know what needed special packing, etc. Then the volume estimates got revised, based on reality, not just my list. What I discovered is that the final volume estimate turned out to be 3 times larger than the initial paper list estimate. Yikes!

We then had to discuss packing, packing materials, insurance, storage in port on arrival, port fees, and also the land delivery charges once the ship arrived in Italy. In the end, I chose to hire the first company I spoke with, even though they were unable to actually make an in-person visit to the house. I had the in-person information from two other companies, their estimates were very close, and I was able to give these details to the woman at the company we were hiring. Their bid came in about $1500 less than the other two. We handled the contract via email and fax, the deposit was made, and the pickup/moving date was scheduled.

On the moving date, the movers arrived with a huge truck. They spent several hours wrapping up glassware, taking apart a few pieces of furniture, and carefully documenting every thing that was to be put on the truck. Our sleep number bed was probably the biggest and trickiest of the items to be shipped. The guys helped me deal with taking the bed apart carefully, and packing it all up so I would know exactly how to unpack it and reconstruct it properly. What an ordeal. The truck rolled out of sight around 2pm and I knew this was only the end of the first phase. Heaven only knew what would happen in 6-8 weeks time!

Somewhere along the line in all this, we remembered to have a discussion with the movers at their NYC headquarters who were handling the US side of the shipment regarding delivery once the stuff arrived in Italy. The woman we dealt with was Italian, and was aware our stuff was being shipped to Venice. But when we asked her about how our stuff would be delivered to our door, it was clear there was some disconnect. You can't drive a truck up to the house in Venice. You must get everywhere by boat. A truckload of stuff can come into Venice, but then it has to be unloaded from the truck, and loaded on to a boat. This wasn't patently clear to the woman at the movers at first, finally we got that crystal clear. This necessitated an additional $600 charge for the boat transportation portion of the move. We understood that, as we are constantly paying boat delivery charges for everything over here. No surprise.

I received a phone call about a week after I arrived back in Venice telling me our household goods would be leaving the warehouse in Bayonne, NJ on a ship the beginning of the following week. In about 2 weeks time, the ship was scheduled to arrive in Rotterdam, Holland. Holland? My stuff is supposed to be coming to Italy!!! What happened?? The man on the other end of the phone almost laughed at me. No, he explained, it was coming to Italy, just arriving first in Rotterdam. He explained that they can get a cheaper deal at certain ports, and in Italy, it's always iffy about whether there will be strikes at the ports, they prefer to arrive elsewhere if they can. I was ok with all that, as long as there was a plan for our stuff to get to us in Venice. Yes, no problem. It will be transported from Rotterdam to Venice by truck, and no additional charges except a possible port charge, which would be nominal. I was relieved. So our stuff would be on a boat shortly, making it's way here.

Two days after that call, I get an email from a guy in Rotterdam from the movers on this side of the Atlantic. He requested a stack of documentation from me. Copies of my passport, my citizenship, my residence papers, copies of our lease, copies of the inventory of stuff shipped, and filled in customs forms for the Dutch customs people. Because this was to be duty free, we needed to be sure the proper documentation was submitted and approved. We did a few days back and forth on the documentation, and then we waited. On the day our stuff was supposed to arrive in Rotterdam, we got a phone call from this guy, telling us our stuff had arrived and what the next steps would be.

Our household goods would be off loaded from the ship, loaded onto a truck, and 4 days later would arrive in Venice. We had a few email exchanges to clarify where the doors in the house were, how many flights of stairs there were, and if there was balcony access to the house. We were told they would be bringing a special elevator to move the boxes etc. from the ground level up to our apartment level, no extra charge for the elevator. We didn't think they needed the elevator, as we live on the first floor, but they were going to bring it and use it anyway. Here in Italy, the first floor is what we in the US would normally call the 2nd floor.
On the day our shipment was supposed to arrive in Venice, we got a phone call about 9:30 am. The truck was here, they were loading onto a boat, and they would be here in about 15 minutes time. We were ready!

I flung open the living room windows so I could catch a glimpse of our stuff floating down the canal in front of our house. I actually couldn't believe our belongings had actually made it out of the US, and here they were, just as the movers said they would be, on a boat in front of our place. I snapped a photo for posterity!!!
Two guys came all the way from Rotterdam on the truck,and here they were on the boat, to complete the move into our apartment. There was also a boat driver, and his dog. Now, this is where things get alittle funnier.. this SAME boat driver, and his dog, were the ones who delivered our patio table and chairs to us when we bought them on the mainland! I know there are a zillion transportation boats here, what are the odds it would be the same guy???? And to make things a bit funnier, his dog is riding down the canal, sitting on one of our leather chairs, which is on the deck of the boat!!!
The boat driver helped get things moved from the boat to the street, then he, the dog and the boat took off. Probably to go have a glass of wine!! The two movers made quick work of getting everything into the apartment, without the help of that portable elevator I had been told about. It turns out they couldn't fit the elevator on the boat! The only tricky item was our large china cabinet. They just couldn't fit it around the corner and up the stairs. It sat down in the foyer, and every once in a while the guys would go back down and ponder what to do. Finally, after a measuring tape and lots of head scratching, they shifted the china cabinet somehow and up it came.
The whole move was unbelievably easy. There were one or two little things cracked or broken, but a saucer broken in the grand scheme of things is nothing. One piece, the base to Mike's large easel, was not included in the stuff that came off the boat. They double checked the boat, the warehouse in Rotterdam, the warehouse in the US, it just has not appeared. Fortunately, we had insurance - and Mike was actually able to find a company in Italy that could send him the replacemnt part, so all is well.
What an experience, is all I can say. I know people do this all the time, but this was a first for us. We still can hardly believe the Weber grill has made it from Baltimore to Venice! Thanks, Echo World Transport for making this a very smooth transition.


tianna said...

hey! who did you use to ship? I have a similar issue! tianna kennedy at gmail.

karen said...

HI Tianna!
We used Echo World Transport. They were fantastic with our stuff. It arrived on time - even a bit earlier than expected if I recall- all intact, and the staff they sent were fabulous. Highly recommend them, I was very happy.
Thanks for reading my blog, too!