August 2010
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The 'POST' post office

Saigon Central Post Office

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…..

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8 comments to The ‘POST’ post office

  • Thanks for the post. I find that to be very helpful because I am getting ready to ship something back to Vietnam from the U.S. There are some other services that your sister may want to look into. Some Vietnamese stores in the U.S. will accept packages and send them directly to Vietnam via some service (I forgot the name of it). There are options of sending the package door-to-door or you can pick it up at the airport in Saigon. I think door-to-door is about $4.50 per pound and pickup at the airport in Saigon is about $1.50 per pound. It costs a little more if you outside Saigon. If you are sending a laptop, they charge $85 extra for Vietnam tax per laptop.

    My girlfriend use the same service to send a package door-to-door from Saigon, Vietnam to me here in the U.S. and the package arrive in 4 days.

    • odgnut

      4 Days from Vietnam?!! Wow! If you can recall the name of that service let me know. Do you know if there’s any kind of insurance that you can buy when you ship using that service? One nice thing about the USPS is that your package is automatically insured for $100 (they won’t let you buy additional insurance) so I think that is a little bit of a theft deterrent.

      Tuna’s family sent her a package from The States via the USPS and she got it in about 10 days all the way up in Phuoc Tinh…so the speed of delivery definitely varies greatly here in Vietnam.

  • Here’s the delivery service that my girlfriend used to send me the package from Vietnam to USA:

    You can send packages from VN to USA or vice versa. I think a lot of Vietnamese stores in the USA that accept packages to be sent to VN eventually go through this company because they all seem to quote me the same price as this company.

    As I mentioned, you can send things back to VN on the cheap if someone in Vietnam is willing to go to the airport and pick the package up instead of the door-to-door service. Considering a taxi ride from District 1 to the airport costs between 80,000-100,000 Dong, it may cost less to pay for taxi to go to the airport and pick up the package there.

  • Benny

    My experience has been as follows:

    1. Important business documents – Please use private courier services such as DHL, FedEx or UPS. Using the US Post Office, and delivery will invariably take longer regardless of what US postal clerk may advise.

    2. Care packages – Again please use private services similar to the one mentioned above. The USPS uses its Vietnamese counterpart, and therein lies the horror. How the private services can deliver a care package to a Vietnamese resident’s doorstep and bypass customs and/or other bureaucrats is not easily explained. I suspect it has to do with the almighty buck changing hands.

    Like many services, stick with the private enterprises as often as one can. The public servants, in my personal opinion, do not necessarily serve the public as efficiently as desired.

  • Can indeed seem like a lottery, the “extra” fees. I have send packs of 25 kg books but made sure they were labeled as second hands, because they looked new. No extra fee. I’ve send samples (non-commercial) which I have paid 50 usd for fee. The reason remains unclear.

  • Duy Nguyen

    I want to ship a digital camera to my relatives in Vietnam. Does anyone know a reliable way to do this? I want to be able to pay for ALL costs. That includes any taxes or fees that the recipient may have to pay in Vietnam. Can anyone help?

  • Pedro Vazquez

    When posting something to Vietnam please check that there are US regulations, and Vietnamese regulations. On the US side there are prohibitions but in the Vietnamese side there are others. US says you cannot send any publication, CD, DVD or any Magazine, however, the USPS says they will not open the box, they rely upon a law that if you are caught you will be severely fined. In Vietnam there are other regulations, and you must fill a Customs form that for every allowed item you have to state from where is the country of origin of the item, the weight and the value. If you send too many things to Vietnam even if they are permitted, you have to fill one form for every 5 items you include. So, when your parcel arrives to Vietnam, your package and some items can be confiscated, and all that because you have to read the laws and regulations of the USA and Vietnam. I think this explains many things that happen there.

  • Polly

    well, the additional tax fee is what made me so angry right now. I paid for Fedex to send some gift to my friends and turned out that they have to pay some amount. I called for customer service and the answer was only ” sorry and apologize.” So finally I end up with paying for shipping as much as the value of the gift 🙁

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