Well, I really don’t know where to start.
All along we have been targeting the end of July for our departure from the U.S. and things lately have been going rather smoothly. So smooth that I was beginning to worry that ‘ole “Murphy” and one of his laws of inconvenience would eventually show up to mess things up. But, as fate would have it, we didn’t need “Murphy” to screw anything up…we have a shipping company to blame. From the beginning of my research into shipping our household goods (HHG), I understood that we would basically need to arrive in the Philippines BEFORE our HHG shipment arrived in order to take advantage of the “duty-free” exemption status offered to 13A visa holders. Technically, our passports need to show an arrival date prior to the arrival of the container. More correctly, My 13A visa needed to be approved prior to the shipment arriving, but to keep it all simple, the plan was to be there before the shipment as it takes time to process through airport immigration, the BOI, the Dept of Finance, and then the Bureau of Customs. I wanted everything to be accomplished so that we could be ready with customs to claim the shipment.
Our timeline was completely blown when our local shipper (Allied) miscommunicated the container shipping instructions. It was my intent for our HHG to be stored locally in the U.S. for 30 days (we paid for that) and then shipped. This would ensure the time needed to obtain my 13A visa from the Chicago consulate and also receive our animal permits from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in Manila in plenty of time to get our cats their physicals and international health certificates from the vet. Then we needed to make our travel arrangements and flight reservations. But, as fate would have it, our shipment got shipped! I wasn’t even aware of the mishap until I received an email from Goetz Moving and Storage in Manila about the good news of our tentative shipment’s arrival on the 10th of July! WHAT ?!?!?!
My first thought was to scramble the fighter jets and launch a couple of ICBM’s to create a distraction. I really didn’t know what to do exactly. It was only just last Saturday that I received my Passport stamped with my Non-Quota Immigrant Visa (13A) from the consulate in Chicago, but we were having difficulty with the BAI and obtaining our import permits. Now I was beginning to get a good dose of Philippine government bureaucracy. I began the process many weeks ago by visiting the BAI online where I duly registered for pet importation and downloaded the pertinent import request forms. I filled them out and sent them back as attachments to the email address that was provided on their website. Then I waited, and waited….and re-sent the email…and again…and then I began to panic. I discovered all the emails were being returned as undeliverable. I checked and confirmed the address again. As I read deeper into the gobbledygook of the returned emails, I found the reason for the non-deliverability…the addressee did not have a valid Yahoo account! So much for the email@example.com address they provide. I quickly stuffed an envelope and “snail mailed” the documents to the address in the Philippines with the understanding it would take a minimum of 10 days to get there. Then I loaded up the Skype account on the computer and began calling, and calling, and calling…until I got the right department. They kept repeating that I needed to just send the request to the email address. They also said they get many requests every day. I contacted a friend who imported his dogs about a year ago and he also provided me the same address and said his experience went as smooth as could be. No luck. The address was just not working. So I played around some and discovered that maybe it should be a Yahoo.ph address. I sent it there and it just disappeared into cyberspace for two days until I got an undelivered message. Nope. That wasn’t it. So I called the BAI again, got shuffled around some more, and then I get this “Oh but sir, that is not the correct email address you are using.”Auuggghhhh! “But that is the address on the website and the same address that you have been telling me to send to,” I said. “Yes sir, but that is not the correct address.” Well, after about a 10-minute go-round with this young fellow, and just like pulling teeth, I finally was provided with a different address….seems they now have a Hotmail account, or is it a Gmail account? He wasn’t sure and told me to try both!
Long story short – within 36 hours of sending the request to firstname.lastname@example.org, I received the approved permit to import two cats with all the necessary instructions and requirements for completing the health certificate. Now that’s efficiency. Now if someone would just update the BAI website and online application instructions and process, the BAI would be light years ahead of where they are today. (Webmaster needed!)
So while the technology that has been implemented within the great Philippine government bureaucracy has improved their efficiency, communications still seem to be a laggard. But overall, I think things are improving. A good analogy to this entire evolution would be like having your car run out of gas just before you reach the top of a hill. So, you get out and struggle and push it to get to the top of the hill. Once you reach the top, you just jump in and the ride down is smooth and easy!
Now we have everything we need…my visa, animal import permits – and a HHG shipment due to arrive 30 days earlier than planned. All I have to do now is sell one Jeep Liberty and I happen to have a couple of buyers standing in line. The one thing we didn’t have at this point was airline tickets. So yesterday was totally dedicated to a major scramble – to get the animals their physicals, shots, and required treatments. Airline reservations were made with approval to carry the two cats in-cabin. International health certificates will be prepared this week and will be dated within the (supposed) required 10 days prior to commencement of travel. We frantically bounced around all day doing this and that, going store to store picking up last minute items, and then back to the house to begin packing the last of our remaining balikbayan boxes. We threw two steaks on the little Weber grill and opened a bottle of wine. Whew!!! We were now on track to get to the Philippines 3 weeks earlier than planned and in plenty of time to meet our shipment.
In essence, you really can make something good out of a bad situation. With the right attitude and a little hard work (and some improved efficiencies with the Philippine government), problems just seem to work themselves out. And in our case, it all comes with a big bonus…we get to paradise sooner and don’t have to pay one more month of rent. Nor ever!
NOTICE: Since publishing this article, I have been the target of an apparent scam. Read about it in this Scam Alert!