I asked my sister to mail me some stuff from the U.S recently….some white undershirts, a couple of pairs of shoes, 6 books and some various knick knacks that I needed. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has fixed price priority mail boxes that costs a little more than $40 to ship to Vietnam. Those boxes aren’t very big, so I told my sister to just fit whatever she could into the largest priority mail box that they had and and anything leftover could be mailed at a later date. My sis, ever the generous soul that she is, decided instead to go ahead and ship me everything I asked for in a big box that cost her $143 to mail to Vietnam. The box weighed about 23 lbs or a bit more than 10 kgs, mostly because of the books and shoes.
The package was shipped on July 9th, with an estimated delivery time of 7 days….even so, I didn’t realistically expect to see my stuff for 2-3 weeks. I’ve seen my mom mail enough packages to Vietnam over the years to know that although whatever you send may arrive in Vietnam in the estimated date….the time it takes for your things to go through customs, sorted and screened (and sometimes opened) by the local postal service (buu dien) often adds a significant amount of time to the date of delivery. In this case, I didn’t get my box until August 16th. It took over 5 weeks!! In additional to the horrible delay, the local VNPT post office ended up charging me an additional 1,400,000 Dong tax ($75) on top of the $143 my sister paid to send me everything. Why? Who knows?
Initially, I had thought the tax was due to the weight of my package, but the employee working at the counter said that wasn’t the reason. She gave me a sheet with a list of what was in my box (which had obviously been cut open and then re-taped) and the tax charges for each item and what looked like a bunch of random codes. My cousin who accompanied me couldn’t figure it out why this particular package was taxed, when other shipments in the past had not been. So I asked the lady assisting us to please explain what all the codes on the shipment receipt meant and why even my old shoes and undershirts were taxed. She said that she didn’t know, but she would give us a phone number to call if we wanted to get a better explanation. My cousin took the receipt and said she would call and ask about the taxes when she had some free time.
Personally, I just think that someone saw how much it cost to ship this box to Vietnam so they figured that either the contents are very valuable or really important and therefore the recipient (me!) would most likely be willing to pay the additional tax. In reality, the contents of the box were worth less then the cost of transport. If I had known what the final tally was beforehand, I would have never had my sister mail me anything . Just last spring, I had received another package with no problems. It took a bit more than 2 weeks to arrive and there were no additional taxes to pay. In fact, the contents of that box were probably more valuable than the one I had just received. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. But I suppose that’s just the price of living in a fast growing but still very much developing country like Vietnam….in which the rules can seem to change by the day.
At the end of the day, I’m glad my last package wasn’t lost or stolen and that my sister’s efforts to pack and ship everything to me wasn’t for naught. She is mailing me another package soon with some medicine and a few remaining items that I had recently ordered. She’s going to ship them in a regular priority mail box this time, which I speculate will help it arrive more quickly and hopefully tax free. After dealing with the Vietnam postal service, I now have a much greater appreciation for the level of service we get in the States with the USPS….where something “late” is usually counted in days….not weeks.
Better late than never I suppose…..