Norma finally arrived on Thursday October 17th at 10:00pm. The process for unloading a vehicle involves many many many steps and considering our Spanish is basic at best – we hired Ana Rodriguez (a customs agent) in Cartagena to help us with the process. Lots of people choose to save the fees of an agent and do it themselves. And looking back on how complicated the process is – hiring Ana was the best decision we made.
Warning – This post is really really long. Long story short – Ana saved our lives and we got Norma after a lot of waiting.
Wednesday, October 16th
We go to meet Ana at her office for the initial meeting and ask questions (using google translate) and get the paperwork started. We’re optimistic at this point and think – o it will only take a day or two. After using google translate to communicate (Ana only speaks Spanish) for a couple of hours, she says we have to wait until the shipping company Hapag Lloyd responds to our request.
Bill of Lading usually gets sent to the address listed on the shipping document and at the time of us shipping our vehicle (in September), we only had our Airbnb address in Bogota. She is asking them to cancel this being sent to Bogota and have us manually pick it up at the office in Cartagena. We go back to the hotel and wait. She requests this at 11am and doesn’t hear anything back.
Thursday, October 16th
We finally hear something and after paying for an invoice on our behalf, Hapag Lloyd has canceled the transfer of Bill of Lading to Bogota. At 4pm, Edgar (a driver hired by Ana) comes to our hotel to pick us up and take us to Hapag Lloyd. But the 7.7km drive takes us 50 minutes. FIFTY MINUTES because of the traffic. It’s too late and the office closed so we turn around and go home.
Friday, October 17th
8:30am – Ana picks us up with a driver Edgar to go to Hapag Lloyd in Cartagena. Apparently, Hapag Lloyd in the US hasn’t received notification from the shipping company that we’ve paid the invoice thereby releasing the Bill of Lading. We contact Obed in Houston to ask since we paid the full invoice three days ago. The nice man at the desk in Hapag Llyod says he has to receive confirmation and then he’ll give us a bill to pay at the bank.
I have a pretty bad cold at this point and I’ll sleep anywhere. We wait for Obed for three hours at the Hapag Lloyd office and then Ana says she can drive us back to the hotel while we wait. I think she felt bad hahaha. Finally, at 3:30pm, she says we have to come back and they’ll release the Bill of Lading. If I am not there to pick it up before they close at 5pm, we have to wait until Monday morning. We get a uber and a man who felt like the most careful and slowest driver in all of Colombia takes us there. I mean he signaled when he was making a turn and did shoulder checks (which is.. not very common in Colombia). With 10 minutes to spare and finally we get our Bill of Lading!! I’ve never been so excited to see a man stamp a piece of paper.
Saturday, October 18th
Last night, we had a crazy amount of storm – I mean thundering and tons of rain. so at 6:30am, we wake up to what sounds like Zoe walking in puddles. And yes yes it was Zoe walking in puddles of water. The storm last night had leaked the water in from the balcony so about a cm of water had come in and pooled in our bedroom. Thankfully, we didn’t leave anything on the ground.
At 8:30am, we go to the Port and try to arrange an appointment to meet with an inspector who has to sign off on the actual contents of the container before we can do anything. Before any of that, we have to pay the port fees. Guess what hasn’t been generated ahead of time? The invoice. So we meet with a nice man named Harold who says we have to wait while the system generates an invoice related to our container. It takes the system (or Harold) 3 hours. We get charged for the port moving the container because they placed in the wrong area and it’s much more than we estimated.
We’ve been having trouble with our debit card and haven’t been able to take out cash so we only have US cash. Guess what the port doesn’t take. Creditcard or US cash. They only take Colombian Pesos. We only have half of the invoice amount in Colombian pesos. And if we don’t pay this today, then we delay things even more. Ana fronts us the Colombian pesos by asking her husband to get the cash for us. She literally saved our butts.
After another hour of waiting, we finally have a booking for Monday at 8:30am! The inspector will meet us at the Port when the container is opened so that we don’t have to do multiple trips. We are done at 3pm.
Monday, October 19th
7:20am – Ana and Edgar come to get us and we finally go to Port to unlock the container. Wait. we are going to a different port. Turns out, Norma is actually at a different port then we did the paperwork on Saturday. We get there and Daniel, a lovely man (who speaks perfect English), comes to get me. I am the only person who can go since I am the owner of the car. The inspector we scheduled on Saturday isn’t coming so we just go ahead with the process. We go the container and after waiting another hour for the supervisor, the maintenance guy, the bolt cutters, the battery, and jumper cables – we finally get the container opened and there she is!
Now, I check over to make sure everything looks good. Take pictures of the car, the VIN, and the plate and then Ana sends it over to the inspector ahead of time. We do a damage report and then we leave Norma there. We drive to another building – DIAN – where we have to get an inspector to sign off on the pictures I took and to grant us a temporary import of Norma in Colombia. We wait. again.
In order to take Norma home, we have to have him sign off before 11am and it’s 10am when we arrive to drop off the paperwork. The port won’t let you drive the vehicle until you get insurance. You can’t get insurance until we have the temporary import permit. They won’t sell you insurance past 12pm. If it’s past 12pm, you just have to wait until the next day to buy insurance.
It takes the guy 70 minutes to sign off and Ana has to frequently go back and check to see if he is actually working on our paperwork. I mean, he was supposed to show up at the port so he could do it there. but I guess it was an empty promise. After excruciating 70 minutes, we finally get the paperwork at 11:10am and we book it to the shop that sells SOAT (insurance). Most places will only sell your insurance that starts the next day, but Ana brings us to an office where they will let you buy for the day-of and we make it with 20 minutes to 12pm. WOO HOO!
We get the insurance, go back to the other Port (we went to on Saturday) and file all the paperwork we’ve gathered (Bill of Lading, the Inspection, The Temporary Import from DIAN, and the SOAT insurance). Then the last waiting period. They have to file all of this and then give us a letter to authorize the release of the vehicle and verify that we can indeed drive away with it.
Now, all of Colombia takes a lunch break from 12-2pm. I am not joking. Most businesses will close from 12-2pm while all of their employees go and have lunch at the same time. Given, they start their day earlier and end later – but you can guarantee that no business is getting done during these two sacred hours. So, now we have to wait again.
At 2:30pm, we finally hear back and got the paperwork. After more waiting and verifying at the port, we finally drive Norma out at 3:30pm. We go back to Ana’s office to say our thanks and goodbye. We can honestly say that we would have lost our minds if we had to do this ourselves. During the impatience and annoyance, she laughed at funny things and took the pressure off. And times when every single representative we went to would shake their head and make us wait again, she took the time to explain everything by typing it all out on google translate. She is hardworking, giving, and honest person and we are so glad to have met her. We talked about her visiting us in Canada, but she said maybe – because it might be too cold. hehe. THANK YOU ANA! ❤
If anyone needs the services of Ana (importing/exporting to Cartagena) – you can find her information on her Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/tramiteexportacionvehiculoscartagena/