How to Bring Your Belongings to Ecuador in a Shipping Container

Please note: this is a guest post written by Stephen Aron, of International Freight Experts, Inc. You can email Stephen at saron@ifeonline.com or visit his website at www.ifeonline.com

I have been in the shipping business more than four decades, I have moved my home internationally many times and in the last five years my company has moved hundreds of container shipments to Ecuador. I read a lot of misinformation in the postings and blogs about moving household goods to Ecuador, so I would like to try and enlighten people about shipping and I hope my explanation gives some guidance and information to people before they contract to move.

My first advice is to consider not shipping at all and take what is really important to you on the airplane. Alternatively take your time and put your things in storage, live in Ecuador without shipping until you know what you really want to bring there and then ship a 40ft hi cube container. Try to avoid shipping a small number of things this is a very expensive and the least desirable option.

This outline is specific to USA but it is relevant for shipments from most countries because there are no companies that will handle the entire move from country of origin to delivery in Ecuador, even if you contract the complete service with one company in your country of origin or in Ecuador you need to know who the other companies are that will be subcontractors involved in your move. These subcontractors will not be financially connected to the party you contract with so you need to make sure that all of them are licensed and qualified to handle your shipment.

The Vessel Operator is the company that will supply the container that carries your household goods; they don’t deal with the public so you will communicate with them through an Ocean Transport Intermediary. If you chose to purchase your own container the vessel operator will charge a premium to carry a “shipper owned container”. If you are planning a smaller shipment and not using your own exclusive container, there will also be a Consolidator who arranges several shipments in one container and makes them available in Guayaquil through a Deconsolidator.

You need to know which port of exit your container will leave from and the transit time offered to Guayaquil. If the sailing is not direct then ask which ports/countries they will transship your container. Ask to see the proposed shipping schedule. Each vessel operator has their own representatives in Guayaquil that set the local rules and charges such as payment of a “container deposit guarantee”. Know in advance how much “free time” they allow you to return the empty container to them after their vessel discharges your container in Guayaquil and what the charges are if you exceed the allowed free time. Prepay the local charges assessed by the agent in Guayaquil in your country of origin or have these charges spelled out for you in writing especially when you are going to be dealing with a Deconsolidator because the cost to have your pallet taken out of the container in Guayaquil can run into hundreds of dollars.

The Ocean Transport Intermediary is also known as a Freight Forwarder or NVOCC (non vessel operating common carrier). They are licensed by the US Federal Maritime Commission. The license is issued after a thorough background check, trade references and proof of experience as well as financial responsibility. The FMC gives advice and information on household goods, international moves and licensing on their web site http://www.fmc.gov/ under the headings “Public”, “OTIs” and “VOCCs”. You will read on this web site that OTI’s post a bond with the FMC and this body will investigate complaints by the public if a shipment is not handled correctly and to your satisfaction. Professional moving companies have licenses and some have bonds but these are not to be confused with the ones issued by the FMC. The moving companies don’t have any third party that will help you when things go wrong.

The OTI is responsible for booking space with the vessel operator then the OTI arranges to position the container at the warehouse or residence. They file the export paperwork on behalf of you the shipper and making sure that you the consignee have the required documents to clear the shipment at destination. The OTI does not arrange packing or loading but can generally help you with recommendations or refer you to moving companies they work with. You the shipper is expected to supply all the information required for the shipping and export paperwork but a good OTI will work with you to ensure it is all correct. For instance the weight of your effects is very important because they will be weighed in Ecuador prior to being allowed to leave Guayaquil and any discrepancy will delay your shipment. Most people can only guess at the weight of their belongings but this information is available on line free at the ocean terminal where every export container is weighed, so there is no need to pay the movers or the trucker to scale the load, the OTI can get this weight for your documents without a charge.

The price to ship a container from North America to Guayaquil varies depending upon the proximity of a port with a service to Ecuador. There is also not much saving for a 20ft container 1,172 cubic feet compared to a 40ft hi cube 2,669 cubic feet. A reasonable budget from positioning the container at your residence to arrival Guayaquil is $5,000.00 for a 20ft and $6,000.00 for a 40ft (there is no difference in price between the standard 8ft 6in high 40ft and the 9ft 6in high 40ft hi cube). Closer to a port it might be less and further away slightly more.

To purchase seaworthy container also varies according to the region you buy it but $3,500.00 is a good budget and the usual additional charge by the vessel operator adds $500.00 to your freight cost. Currently you can sell your container in Ecuador for more than you have paid for it but be careful because you will have to include it as part of your special onetime free import which restricts your ability to sell it because you are prohibited from selling your duty free imported goods for three years. So unless you are planning to use it for long term storage this probably isn’t a good option for you. Also before you buy be careful to check that it will fit down the roads to your new residence and that there is an economic option to get it off the truck once it gets there. Cranes capable of lifting a loaded container off a truck are not generally available. Usually they will unload the container then pull it off the truck with chains.