Terrible Experience with Shipping and Customs from Europe to the US

Log in

SmokingPipes.com Updates

Watch for Updates Twice a Week

PipesMagazine Approved Sponsor

PipesMagazine Approved Sponsor

PipesMagazine Approved Sponsor

Tobacco Treasures Ad

PipesMagazine Approved Sponsor

PipesMagazine Approved Sponsor

Status
Not open for further replies.

Duke of Erinmore

Starting to Get Obsessed
Jul 5, 2020
274
1,312
43
Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany
As some of you may have read, I recently sold a couple of vintage tobaccos here in the Tobacco Sell/Swap/Search section. I imagined that COVID-related delays would be a problem, but there was worse. USPS and US customs. It seems to be unpredictable what happens there.

I managed to sell tins to three people - one bought a single tin and two others two tins each. As extra I added a surprise to each of the parcels, a sample of maybe two bowls of Three Nuns from the UK production. All parcels had an accurate customs declaration with the contents and the price.

I did the shipping with German Hermes which has found a way to avoid the COVID-related delays at DHL by cooperating with the Belgian Bpost. So the package goes from Germany to a hub at BXL airport, where it gets a new Bpost label and travels overseas. They announce a delivery time of 12-14 weekdays compared to 6 weeks plus at DHL.

Here's my experience.

Package 1 - Single tin plus sample. Posted Feb 8th

No problemo at all. Package changed labels in Brussels on Feb 16th, arrived at Chicago airport Feb 23rd, cleared Customs on the 24th and was delivered on the 27th. Customer reported a satisfying smoke.

Package 2 - Two tins plus sample. Posted Feb 8th

Package changed labels in Brussels on Feb 16th, arrived at NYC airport Feb 19, tracking said "inbound into customs". Nothing happened. Then, on Apr 13th I got notified by Hermes that for a fee of EUR 14,90 I could have my parcel back. It arrived today, the word tobacco marked yellow on the customs declaration and a sticker saying "RETURN TO SENDER - CONTENTS PROHIBITED IN US MAIL - CIGARETTES/TOBACCO PRODUCT. They didn't even crack it open to have a look inside. Buyer gets refunded, I'll lose my return fee. But at least I got my tins back.

Package 3 - Two tins plus sample. Posted Feb 8th

If you found package 2 unpleasant, it really gets weird with package 3. Package changed labels in Brussels on Feb 16th, arrived at Chicago airport Feb 23rd (same as package 1!!) and was processed there. Then it travelled back and forth FOUR times between two regional USPS facilities. On March 12 it was finally delivered to the buyer. Happy end?

So we thought. The buyer reported that later that day the postmaster returned to his house and wanted the parcel back as it allegedly hadn't cleared customs (There is actually a difference in USPS tracking between 1 and 3 - for 1 it states "out of customs" which is missing at 3). Since then, its whereabouts are unknown.

I mean, WTF?

How are your experiences with receiving tobacco from overseas? Is it really just a gamble if you get your blends or not? And what are the reasons?

At the moment I must confess I don't know if I'm adventurous enough for further US tobacco deliveries...
 
Last edited:

Ahi Ka

Lifer
Feb 25, 2020
4,242
18,969
Aotearoa (New Zealand)
You should have sent books or toys.
I’m hesitant to comment, but I personally don’t think customs labels matter until a package has been stopped for investigation anyways, in which case a proper or at least passable declaration is helpful.

Has the ability to import tobacco into US for personal use changed from being a taxed product to prohibited?
 

sablebrush52

The Bard Of Barlings
Jun 15, 2013
15,916
28,078
SoCal
jrs457.wixsite.com
Oh...Gawd...

Shipments of tobacco to individuals between the EU and the US have been risky for a couple of years. It's seems to be getting riskier. Think of it as playing Russian Roulette with three bullets loaded. It might get through, it might not.

Last year shipment of a large order from Esterval's ran afoul of the USPS, who bounced it all over before suddenly sending it back to Germany. The tracking said "insufficient address". The USPS said that the return was ordered by US Customs. US Customs told me that they had nothing to do with it and that they never send stuff back. They impound stuff to sell at government auction or to destroy. Once in a long while they release the impounded item to the intended recipient after an appeals process.

Anyone ordering tobacco from outside the US should be aware that there's a good chance they will never see it. At least I got my money back because I had used my credit card, and the "insufficient address" worked in my favor. If you pay with a money transfer and things go pear shaped you're out of luck.

It's like the stock market, never put more at risk than you're prepared to lose.
 

Duke of Erinmore

Starting to Get Obsessed
Jul 5, 2020
274
1,312
43
Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany
You should have sent books or toys.
Not really an option.

"The penalty for outright fraud, such as false valuation, can be the entire value of the shipment or seizure of the shipment."

If they open it and discover a false declaration, I'm worse off, and maybe they'll also go for the buyer. Not a risk I am willing to take..
 

sablebrush52

The Bard Of Barlings
Jun 15, 2013
15,916
28,078
SoCal
jrs457.wixsite.com
Not really an option.

"The penalty for outright fraud, such as false valuation, can be the entire value of the shipment or seizure of the shipment."

If they open it and discover a false declaration, I'm worse off, and maybe they'll also go for the buyer. Not a risk I am willing to take..
Absolutely correct. And you can find certain privileges, like known traveler status, revoked.
 

Duke of Erinmore

Starting to Get Obsessed
Jul 5, 2020
274
1,312
43
Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany
I’m hesitant to comment, but I personally don’t think customs labels matter until a package has been stopped for investigation anyways, in which case a proper or at least passable declaration is helpful.

I don't agree, I think they do matter. Package 2 has been returned just by looking at the label, it was not opened. And the sticker was obviously from USPS. But nonetheless, I would not be comfortable cheating Customs.

I suppose the problem (at least at package 2) was the sample because it just said "tobacco sample", while for the tins I added "vintage collectible". On the other hand, package 1 had the same declarations. So there seems to be some leeway for customs agents to let it pass or not...
 
  • Like
Reactions: BROBS and Ahi Ka

Ahi Ka

Lifer
Feb 25, 2020
4,242
18,969
Aotearoa (New Zealand)
I don't agree, I think they do matter. Package 2 has been returned just by looking at the label, it was not opened. And the sticker was obviously from USPS. But nonetheless, I would not be comfortable cheating Customs.

I suppose the problem (at least at package 2) was the sample because it just said "tobacco sample", while for the tins I added "vintage collectible". On the other hand, package 1 had the same declarations. So there seems to be some leeway for customs agents to let it pass or not...
Yes that’s what I meant. I must have written my thoughts down in a confusing way. Using a false declaration doesn’t help something pass through anymore than something (more) properly declared can pass through without inspection. Apart from a random inspection of entire cargo load, or the 10% or so that get put to one side, nobody is sitting there reading the labels. At least that’s my take on it from personal experience.
 
Jan 28, 2018
9,128
64,875
65
Noblesville, IN & Sarasota, FL
Absolutely correct. And you can find certain privileges, like known traveler status, revoked.

Who do you know, or have heard of, that had their traveler's privileges revoked for falsely declaring tobacco? I had an Irish friend who lost over $2,000 with of tobacco and bourbon, he tried to ship home from the US. Nothing happened other than he lost it when customs seized it. The previous trip, he stopped over $3,000 worth that made it. I thought he was being stupid the way he did it (two very large boxes) and I suppose that was the case the second time. He got sloppy with an inexperienced FedEx clerk who checked him in and didn't fill out the paperwork properly.
 
Jan 28, 2018
9,128
64,875
65
Noblesville, IN & Sarasota, FL
Yes that’s what I meant. I must have written my thoughts down in a confusing way. Using a false declaration doesn’t help something pass through anymore than something (more) properly declared can pass through without inspection. Apart from a random inspection of entire cargo load, or the 10% or so that get put to one side, nobody is sitting there reading the labels. At least that’s my take on it from personal experience.

I respectfully disagree. Customs has an incredible number of high tech tools to help narrow down the list of items they seem worthy of closer inspection.
 

Duke of Erinmore

Starting to Get Obsessed
Jul 5, 2020
274
1,312
43
Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany
Apart from a random inspection of entire cargo load, or the 10% or so that get put to one side, nobody is sitting there reading the labels. At least that’s my take on it from personal experience.
I have no idea how US customs processes these things. Not even if they get to see all of them packages or if there is a preselection by USPS which is well possible because they don't have to actually read the declarations, they are digitally transferred to their systems when you fill it in online (maybe a handwritten one could help more then?).

My experience with German customs is that they just check the value. If it's above a certain amount, they see a chance to tax it and go for it.
 

Ahi Ka

Lifer
Feb 25, 2020
4,242
18,969
Aotearoa (New Zealand)
I respectfully disagree. Customs has an incredible number of high tech tools to help narrow down the list of items they seem worthy of closer inspection.
Exactly my point. Nobody is sitting there reading labels so writing books/toys etc doesn’t make a difference unless your package is stopped, in which case it can make a big difference (but not a good one for you)

Edit: it seems my English is not at its best this morning. I blame it on the homegrown lol
 

sablebrush52

The Bard Of Barlings
Jun 15, 2013
15,916
28,078
SoCal
jrs457.wixsite.com
Who do you know, or have heard of, that had their traveler's privileges revoked for falsely declaring tobacco? I had an Irish friend who lost over $2,000 with of tobacco and bourbon, he tried to ship home from the US. Nothing happened other than he lost it when customs seized it. The previous trip, he stopped over $3,000 worth that made it. I thought he was being stupid the way he did it (two very large boxes) and I suppose that was the case the second time. He got sloppy with an inexperienced FedEx clerk who checked him in and didn't fill out the paperwork properly.
Nobody. But then again, outside of my friends in the pipe community, I don't know anyone who smokes. A question framed so narrowly is like asking how any people do you know who have danced on the head of a pin. When I passed the background test I looked at the regs. You may get that priviledge revoked for making false statements. The operative work is "may". It's not an absolute. But I can think of much better reasons to risk my status than lying about a shipment of tobacco.
 
Jan 28, 2018
9,128
64,875
65
Noblesville, IN & Sarasota, FL
Nobody. But then again, outside of my friends in the pipe community, I don't know anyone who smokes. A question framed so narrowly is like asking how any people do you know who have danced on the head of a pin. When I passed the background test I looked at the regs. You may get that priviledge revoked for making false statements. The operative work is "may". It's not an absolute. But I can think of much better reasons to risk my status than lying about a shipment of tobacco.

Poor analogy. You participate on how many tobacco forums? And been to numerous trade shows. Yes, I suppose it could happen. But the likelihood is very, very minimal. I've known many people who have had multiple shipments of Cuban cigars seized by customs and it hasn't affected their travel privileges. I realize that's not conclusive or absolute but neither is common sense.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.