This will be a quick blog post, just to share my recent experience in buying an Apple MacBook online and shipping it to myself in Kenya. Or, more precisely, a tale of "what not to do" for anyone who happens to be in my shoes.
I needed to buy an Apple MacBook for one of my coding assignments, while still residing in Kenya. I didn't have any immediate plans to go back to US, and thus I decided to purchase it online, ship it to my friends in US, and then have them ship it to my address in Nairobi, Kenya.
I weighed in my options, and having gotten an online quote from the UPS website, it looked reasonable. So I went ahead with it.
The purchase and shipping of the laptop from Apple to an address in the US went smoothly. I had my laptop at my friends' address in about a week's time.
Then came the shipping part to Kenya via my UPS online account. It was a little bit more complicated, but doable. I had to fill out their online form, and also fill out their commercial shipping invoice.
For those of you wondering why I had to fill out commercial shipping invoice, it turns out that even if you are sending something to yourself, or to someone else, and your package has nothing to do with commerce or running a business, you still need to do it.
Don't ask me why. It's a red tape, I guess.
So after filling out the shipping details for my package, and preparing the commercial shipping invoice, I paid $382 USD at the UPS website. Then I got a PDF file with the shipping label. I sent it to my friends in US and they used it to ship my package with the laptop from their local UPS store.
So far so good, right?
Big Kenyan Gotcha
The UPS website informed me (after I entered the tracking number for my package) that it should arrive to my Kenyan address in 10 days. Which was reasonable, so I continued waiting ...
After about a week I got a phone call to my Kenyan phone number from some guy, asking for my email address. He informed me that this was concerning the tax that I have to pay for the package that I was receiving from the US.
The guy knew too many details of my shipment, and thus I gave him my email address and continued waiting.
The UPS website in US informed me that I may have to pay an import tax on my package in the receiving country. I understood that, it sounded fair. Thus I was expecting to pay some fee upon the receipt of my package.
After about a day I received an email, with the following wording:
Kindly be advised that we are expecting your shipment from the US to arrive.
However take note that the commercial invoice that was provided has no item and value indicated on it.
Please do share a commercial invoice with item indicated together with the value to enable us to calculate the duty payable for the shipment and share to avoid delays in shipment clearance upon arrival.
Freight in Time Kenya Ltd-Authorized Service
Contractor for UPS.
FIT Building, 2nd Avenue,
Tel: 0709348000 Ext: 205
That message was very weird because it had a copy of the commercial invoice in the attached PDF, that clearly stated that the item shipped was: "Laptop computer for personal use. Not for resale." That also showed its original purchase price of $1699 USD.
Nonetheless I replied back:
The item shipped was a laptop computer that I purchased for a personal use. Not for resale. The original price tag was $1,699 USD + tax. I'm attaching the original invoice from when I purchased it.
I also attached the invoice that I received from Apple.
The Final Tax Bill
A few days later, I received another email with the final tax bill. I'll copy-and-paste it here:
Find the attached estimated charges payable for the subject shipment which has arrived.
Verification of shipments by customs is done after payment of taxes to KRA and shall let you know whether there will be changes on the taxes.
Meanwhile proceed with payment to enable us register customs entry.
Also do share your KRA pin for customs clearance purposes.
Kindly advice once payment is done to enable us proceed with clearance. Deposit and scan the deposit slip to avoid delay and storage charges.
Below are our payment details.
BANK DEPOSIT DETAILS
ACCOUNT NAME: FREIGHT IN TIME LTD- UPS
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 2035399871
BANK: ABSA BANK PLC LIMITED
BANK BRANCH: BARCLAYS PLAZA
SWIFT CODE: BARCKENX
BANK CODE: 03 077
M-PESA PAYMENT - DEPOSIT GUIDELINE
M-PESA - PAYBIILL 166666
ACCOUNT NAME 2289101
The email contained an addendum giving further details:
Express Mail Center - UPS Import Storage Charge
Free storage period granted 3 days free from date of shipment arrival/notification at the express mail center. Thereafter below storage charges will apply which will be billed in addition to total charges accrued at time of shipment's release (final customs clearance).
- Storage charged at Kes 25.00 per Kg per day / (i.e actual weight or dimensional weight, whichever is higher) - Minimum charge will be Kes 3,500.00 + VAT
- After 21 days (if shipment is still at our courier facility) Kes 25.00.00/Kg per will continue to apply until the shipment is released/handed over to forodha. A minimum charge of Kes 3,500.00 will apply.
Above charges apply if shipments are;
- Being cleared by customer's appointed agent, after notification to pick clearance documents (paperwork).
- Being cleared by FIT-UPS and customer has been advised on total amounts payable but fail to pay within the stipulated time (3 days after notification).
JKIA Customs warehouse storage Charge
- Customs warehouse storage levied at Kes 1.00 per kilo per day, min Kes 200.00
Shipments which remain in the Express Mail Center (Customs Cage) un-cleared up to 21 days of arrival date will be transferred to the JKIA Customs warehouse where it will be under the control of K.R.A. Shipments which remain in the JKIA Customs warehouse for more than three months, will be subjected to Customs disposal or auctioned thereafter.
Finally, that email had the attachment with the break-down of the charges that I had to pay to get my package:
Invoice Amount: $1699 USD
Amt KES: 205,579
Ins Amt & Rate: 3083.68 | 1.50
VAT Amt & Rate: 33,386 | 16.00
Total Duty: 33,386
G.O.K: @ 3.50 = 7,303
Concession Fee: = 250
KRD Levy: @2.00 = 4,173
Total Duty: 45,112
KEBS Fees = 1,800
IDF Fees = 2,320
Custom / Brokerage Fees = 5,800
Amount Payable = 55,032
For those who don't operate in Kenyan Shillings (or KES) the 55,032 KES was roughly equivalent to $450 USD at the time of this writing. Yeah. Not a bad "import tax" for an item that cost $1699 USD, hah!?
The Red Tape Getting Deeper
I paid the above-mentioned fee of $450 USD on a Saturday and immediately notified UPS Kenya via email. Then they got back to me on Monday, with the message that they need my "KRA Pin" to proceed. I had no idea what that was, and replied that I am a foreigner, currently residing in Kenya on a visitor's visa.
I then received the following message from them:
Kindly be advised that the provision of the KRA pin is mandatory since we need it for the entry registration process to pay the taxes you have shared to KRA.
Also take note that the clearance process takes about 2 to 3 working days for the shipment to be released. We shall deliver to the address provided on the shipment documents.
As you can see, systems like this one are designed to put you in a corner. I ran this by my girlfriend, who grew up in Kenya, and she advised me to offer them her KRA pin instead. I replied, and received the following statement:
Take note however that you can share your girlfriend's KRA pin together with a letter addressed to the Chief Manager of Customs explaining the reason why you are using the KRA pin.
Be advised that the letter requirement is due to the strict implementations by the New Head Verification Officer stating that the KRA pin we provide the details must match with the documents that accompanied the shipment.
I'll be honest with you, I have never dealt with this much worthless red tape before.
At this point I was wondering what would UPS website show with the explanation of a missed delivery date, that was supposed to be today.
My laptop was finally delivered to my address in Nairobi, 12 days after it was shipped, at a cost of $830 USD.
I'm also wondering what would happen, if I didn't know anyone in Kenya who was willing to share my KRA pin with me?
As you can see from the messages above, I wasn't left with much of a choice but to comply. I couldn't obviously tell them that I won't pay their ridiculous tax, and that they need to send my package back. As the language in their email states, if I don't pay their charges, they will impose additional "storage" fee per every 3 days that they keep my package, and then after 3 months they will auction it off.
Translation: A head at the JKIA customs office will get himself a brand new MacBook.
So I had no choice but to pay up.
But what pisses me off, is not that I got fleeced by a corrupt government. What rubs me the wrong way is that a seemingly reputable company like UPS is dealing with systems like the Kenyan one. Or, if they provide a shipping service to Kenya, they could've at least shown a big warning written in red block letters, that if you send your package to one of those corrupt countries, expect to pay a huge import tax and if you refuse, keep in mind that your package will not be sent back.
A warning like that would have helped, UPS!
Finally, I received a very funny email from the official UPS account when my package was held for ransom in the Kenyan customs. I'll just show it here:
Hi, your scheduled delivery date has changed.
Exception Reason: Your package is being delayed due to the processing involved with handling lithium batteries.
Oh, that's what the reason was. I see.
I posted this story on the Kenyan Reddit, and had people offer some solutions to shipping laptops and valuable items to Kenya.
One was to use alternative shipping companies, such as Kentex Cargo and Aquantuo, which found ways to circumvent paying import taxes, and thus charge way less. But that would definitely make me think twice before using their services. Here's why:
- Any such business will rely on illicit means to bypass Kenyan government import regulations, and thus can lose your package at any moment. It may be OK to use them for shipping of a small item, but you will be taking a huge risk of losing a more expensive item if you do it with them.
- Moreover, I dealt with both companies before. And neither one of them was reliable enough to let them handle my $1,699 USD laptop.
On one occasion we ordered some small items from the US, and received someone else's shampoo. We contacted Aquantuo about it, but they are yet to send someone to pick it up. (It's been about a month ago.)
- And I don't even mention that both of those companies are very slow, taking up to a month to deliver a small package, and are very disorganized, taking days to reply to emails.
- But what takes the cake is this. I asked both companies if they provide insurance, and they replied that they do. I asked them to give me any online document that states their policy terms, and they just replied via WhatsApp that I shouldn't worry, without quoting anything. Then while reading reviews on Google Maps, someone noted that if you pay the insurance policy (which I believe was around $80 USD for my shipment) and the company loses your expensive item, they will pay you back your insurance money. Or $80 USD in my case. "Nice insurance", hah. 😂
So obviously shipping anything more expensive than $100 would be highly risky and not advisable through those alternative shipping companies.
But how else would you get a laptop to Kenya?
Unfortunately there aren't many ways. If you are a Westerner, then a much easier method is to buy a ticket to any country in the Western Europe and buy your laptop there and fly back. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but let's count how much it cost me to send this laptop to Nairobi:
I paid originally $380 USD to UPS for the shipment, and then paid $450 USD to the Kenyan government as their import tax. So it cost me $830 USD and 12 days of waiting to get my laptop. If I added just a little bit more, I could've gotten a ticket for a direct flight to Germany, purchased my laptop there, stayed for a night at AirBnB and flew back. I would have gotten my laptop in 2 days and made a trip to Germany.
On the other hand, I paid this money to UPS and to the Kenyan government, which, I'm sure, will spend it for a good cause.
The conclusion of this story is simple. DO NOT ship anything through UPS, FedEx, DHL or through any other courier to countries with the corrupt government. Unfortunately those companies don't seem to warn you about exorbitant import fees that such countries may impose on your package, and that they will hold it hostage until you concede to their racket and comply with all the red tape. So simply don't do it. Learn on my mistake!
If you are an outsider to one of those countries, then buy your expensive item on your trip home and bring it back with you. This will result in huge savings and a piece of mind.