Why did my international move cost $4,000 more than the original quote?


When Mark Hassan shipped his personal belongings back to the U.S. from Singapore, he paid his shipping company, Allied Pickfords Malaysia, $11,000 prior to the move.

He didn’t expect any problems when the shipment arrived at the port of Savannah, near where he resides. And he certainly didn’t expect to shell out more cash for the shipment to reach his home.

Unfortunately Hassan’s shipment was selected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a more thorough inspection. That delayed delivery for almost a month and resulted in an additional $4,000 cost to Hassan.

Hassan subsequently contacted our advocacy team and said he shouldn’t be responsible for the additional charge. “Shipment was 25 days late without notification. [Port storage] was not in the quote or the terms and conditions [of the contract] but they will not deliver the goods to my home unless I pay.”

Hassan said he wanted the additional charges waived and claimed they were “unjustified” and a “scam.”

However, Hassan’s contract with Allied Pickfords applied only to standard customs fees. A representative for Allied Pickfords replied to Hassan that more intensive customs inspections are “out of the normal scope of customs inspection and therefore it was not included in our quote.”

She added that Hassan’s shipment “incurred additional port storage charges…due to the prolonged time it was under the intensive customs clearance. This is also outside of our normal scope of clearance and delivery and is also not included in our quote.”


The representative included an attachment to her email which outlined “What is included & What is not” regarding customs inspections. Had Hanson linked to Allied Pickfords’ website, he would have found more information, including an international brochure which discusses customs clearance delays that are “out of Allied Pickford’s control and may result in additional expenses.”

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There is also a plethora of information available at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s website, which includes information about moving household goods and personal effects to the United States after living abroad.

It is unclear what information Hassan obtained from Allied Pickfords prior to moving his personal items back to the U.S. In Hassan’s case, it would have been wise to double-check what additional charges, such as port storage fees, he might incur if his shipment was identified for a more intensive inspection at the port of entry, which might delay delivery of his personal items.

Nevertheless, our advocate contacted Allied Pickfords on Hassan’s behalf, but the company did not respond. When our advocate followed up with Hassan a few weeks later to inquire further if the company ever contacted him, he replied: “I ended up paying them so I could get my stuff. They blamed everything on customs and said it wasn’t their fault.”

Although our advocates can’t help, this is a cautionary tale about extra fees when you’re moving. One way to avoid additional port storage fees, for example, is to consult the moving company’s website to see what charges are covered by your contract and which ones are not. We like to remind our readers that it always pays to read the fine print in your contract.

We’re sorry we were unable to help Hassan recoup those additional port storage fees.


Michael Hinkelman

Michael Hinkelman is an award-winning journalist with more than 35 years experience. He has worked for daily newspapers in Atlanta and Philadelphia, most recently as a small-business columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, before retiring in 2016. In 1993, Hinkelman won a prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for an investigation into the finances of the Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, he was a lecturer in media relations at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government. Read more of Michael's stories here.

  • SirWired

    I agree that these charges look legit. It’s unfortunate that CBP selected his shipment for additional scrutiny, but that’s not the fault of the moving company, and if they’ve laid out that they aren’t going to bear that risk, it’s of course justified for them not to do so.

  • Marc

    25 days to do an inspection seems unreasonable. Are there no limits to how long the government can delay and the storage fees continue to build? What if they took 3, 6, or 12 months to clear customs? Seems anything outside of a few days and the government should have a holding area so the storage fees don’t continue to climb without limits.

  • AJPeabody

    Unless the storage fee was increased due to the time i took for OP and the moving company to dispute the additional charges.

  • Mel65

    …:it would have been wise to double check …” maybe so. However, I do have to say that one of the reasons I hire professionals to do things, is because I don’t know all the rules, or have the know how or equipment or whatever to do them. If I hire a professional moving company to move me, I expect THEM to know what obstacles might befall shipment and apprise me of them. I shouldn’t have to hire them AND dig into it. And 25 days is outrageous, by the way. How long can it take to inspect a shipping container??

  • Lindabator

    of course, YOU have to list all items and values – should the government dispute this with a more in-depth inspection – fault is not the shipping company’s

  • Annie M

    Correct and perhaps Customs thought the declared amount was too low- this inspection.

    I’d be curious to know how much was shown and listed on the declaration forms.

  • Michael__K

    Their online brochure is not a contract and regardless it doesn’t lay out exactly when they will charge extra or how much. And if the coordinator didn’t contact the customer and assist them with a “customs issue” then it also sounds like they weren’t doing what they advertise in this brochure.

  • Michael__K

    The link in the article to the brochure is broken. I believe this is it:
    http://www.alliedpickfords.com.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/international-brochure—for-email.pdf?sfvrsn=2

    There is a footnote about possible additional expenses for customs clearance delays, but absolutely no details as to what when they would apply and how much they would cost. There’s also something about a coordinator who is supposed to monitor your customs process and assist you with any customs issues (there’s no indication that the OP was ever notified of the customs issues before delivery). They specifically warn of regulatory issues and big with Explosives, Flammables, Corrosives, Perishables, and Firearms. If the issue wasn’t in one of those categories, then the mover can’t blame the customer for it either….

  • SirWired

    There is no reason to believe that the contract fails to mention the liability for additional charges as a result of customs problems, not any reason to think the moving company did not do what they could to get the goods through customs.

  • Michael__K

    From the article:

    “Shipment was 25 days late without notification. [Port storage] was not in the quote or the terms and conditions [of the contract]”

  • Mel65

    Listing the items and values is not the same as knowing all the issues that might occur with shipping. I wouldn’t even suspect that a shipment might get stalled for 25 days for additional inspection but a PROFESSIONAL might think to say it is a possibility as opposed to burying the information somewhere and saying “you should have found it .”

  • SirWired

    It was not in the quote because it was unexpected. And one could guess the advocate DID read the contract, and I expect it mentioned, without going into specifics (because it can’t) that the customer is responsible for charges incurred as a result of customs delays.

  • Michael__K

    If the advocate found that in the contract then why would the article quote the vague reference in the brochure rather than precise language and a fee schedule from the contract? And what happened with the coordinator’s assistance for customs issues?

  • SirWired

    You’d have to ask the advocate why they didn’t include the relevant language in the article, while asserting it existed.

    And what was there to coordinate? CBP hadn’t cleared things yet, but apparently didn’t have any questions that needed answering.

  • Michael__K

    Where exactly did the advocate assert it existed? To the contrary, the author wrote:

    It is unclear what information Hassan obtained from Allied Pickfords prior to moving his personal items back to the U.S. In Hassan’s case, it would have been wise to double-check what additional charges, such as port storage fees, he might incur if his shipment was identified for a more intensive inspection at the port of entry, which might delay delivery of his personal items.

    And you don’t think addressing concerns and customs issues involves even notifying their customer that for 25 days their shipment is being held up?

  • Michael__K

    According to the article, it was 25 days before the OP was notified.

  • SirWired

    The likelihood that the international tariff document (incorporated by reference into the bill of lading) and/or the bill of lading itself fails to mention the customers liability for additional unanticipated expenses associated with customs clearance is zero.

    And I find it difficult to believe that he patiently waited by the phone for a month, not once asking where his stuff was.

  • Michael__K

    Forgive me for not taking your word for it, especially when the company can’t be bothered to respond for itself.

  • SirWired

    A bill of lading is a basic shipping contract. The idea that he did not sign it and receive a copy is as likely as buying a new car and the dealer letting you drive off with no more than your signature scribbled on a check.

    And the likelihood that they mentioned the possibility of additional costs related to customs in two separate brochures, but somehow forgot to mention this in the formal legal contract is similarly remote.

  • Michael__K

    Who said he didn’t sign it? The OP found nothing covering this in his contract. Just because they footnote the vague possibility of additional costs in a brochure doesn’t mean they furnished him with precise details and fee schedules.

  • SirWired

    I find it far more likely the customer didn’t read the contract closely enough and/or didn’t understand it than the idea that a gigantic moving company performing thousands of international moves a year somehow forgot to include language regarding these costs (which are a possibility for any bulk international shipment, and never included in quotes) in their standard contract documents.

    The contract documents need not provide precise details or fee schedules, since the amount and type of costs can vary; they can range from warehouse storage fees, additional fees levied by CBP for the inspection(s), etc. It is sufficient to state that such costs might occur, and that the customer will bear them. (Allied is unlikely to own or operate the bonded warehouse in question, and certainly has no control over CBP, so these costs will not be known in advance, and no such schedule can be written.)

  • Michael__K

    Oh, so under your theory a vague reference entitles them to charge anything they feel like after the fact without disclosing specifics in advance….

  • SirWired

    That is, indeed, how international bulk shipping contracts are written. The shipping agency has no control over costs/delays incurred during customs clearance, so they are explicitly excluded from price quotes. Charges from the bonded warehouse or CBP are passed on to the customer.

    No specifics in advance are possible, because those costs can be anything from a quick and basic inspection fee to a lengthy delay, and paying CBP (at your expense) to thoroughly inspect every single thing in your container.

  • SirWired

    It does seem unreasonable, but that’s how long it can take. And I expect the bulk of the fee was the labor to unload and reload his stuff. (Yes, that would be like paying the TSA to paw through your underwear if your luggage is flagged on inspection. But that’s how the laws are written, and the shipper passes the costs directly to you if you are unlucky enough to be subject to such an inspection.)

  • wilcoxon

    Maybe it’s just me (I’ve never done international bulk shipping) but $4000 seems awfully high for a storage fee (I’m assuming it’s a standard shipping container that would sit in the port and likely be stacked).

  • MarkKelling

    Well, unless they were to list every country where they ship from and to, there is no way to quote a price. Customs charges whatever they want in whatever country you ship to. Finding out what that would be means you check with the destination country’s customs group. The storage charges are also charged by the customs group, not the shipper, because the items are stored in their secure storage facility until released. Therefore, there is no set price for this because it depends on how long it takes for customs to actually get around to inspecting.

    Sure, the company should have been better at notifying the OP about what the charges would be once they knew the shipment was hung in customs, but maybe he was just unavailable. Also, it is not the fault of the shipping company that this shipment was picked for detailed examination. Maybe customs had a reason to suspect this shipment was not just household furniture and clothing. Or it was just a random flip of a coin. We just don’t know. If the OP is unhappy with the additional charges, he could also let customs keep the shipment.

  • MarkKelling

    The $4K was not just storage fees, but the inspection fees charged as well which would include moving the shipment to a secure warehouse location, the costs to unpack and repack it and whatever other government mandated fees go along with this.

  • Michael__K

    You assume among other things that all the charges were government-imposed (in which case they should refer the customer to CBP or the relevant agency) and that the shipping company tacked on nothing of its own.

  • cscasi

    Remember, it seems Michael_K always has the last word. :-)

  • C Schwartz

    Intensive customs inspection is just that — everything is moved to bonded warehouse, unpacked, inspected and repacked. Once a shipment is flagged for inspection it gets in a line for the warehouse. If the warehouse is backed up,the shipment gets backed up — let’s say someone receives notice of the fees and does not pay quickly, the inspected items sit there taking space. It is not unheard of for full inspections to take up to a month unfortunately,

  • C Schwartz

    Yes I do think the amount looks legit. From US customs website regarding a question from an importer:

    Under 19 USC 1467, CBP is authorized to enforce, cause inspection, search and examine any
    shipment imported and/or exported in and out of the United States, it’s
    important to know that you, the importer, must bear the cost of such
    cargo exams.

    A Centralized Examination Station (CES) is a privately operated facility
    where imported or exported cargo, designated by CBP for physical
    examination is made available for inspection. The importer, carrier,
    exporter or its agent is responsible for: (1) Choosing which CES is to
    be utilized for examination; (2) arranging the bonded transfer of the
    merchandise to the CES; and (3) paying the costs of the transfer, as
    well as any fees charged by the CES facility for its service.”

    https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/396/~/importers—charged-a-fee-by-the-centralized-examination-station-after

  • C Schwartz

    One of two entities are responsible for paying the customs fees — either the exporter or importer. Some commercial shipments are sent DDP — Delivered Duties Paid — and the cost is paid by the exporter; what happens in that case is that the exporter is also the importer of record, so the costs are still passed onto the importer. In this case since the exporter and the importer are the same (household goods) and as per US CUstoms the importer is required to pay the fees — not the transit company the importer.

    “Under 19 USC 1467, CBP is authorized to enforce, cause inspection, search and examine any shipment imported and/or exported in and out of the United States, it’s
    important to know that you, the importer, must bear the cost of such
    cargo exams.

    Pursuant to 19 CFR 151.6, all merchandise will be examined at the place of arrival, unless examination at another place is required or authorized by the port director in accordance with §151.7 or §151.15 of this part. Except where the merchandise is required by the port director to be examined at the public stores, the importer shall bear any expense involved in preparing the merchandise for CBP examination and in the closing of packages.

    The CES facility will unload (devan) your shipment from its shipping container and will reload it after the exam. The CES will bill you for their services”

    https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/396/~/importers—charged-a-fee-by-the-centralized-examination-station-after

    The moving company through the customs broker should be able to provide the cost breakdown for the services.

  • C Schwartz

    This was intensive inspection — everything opened and examined and repacked. I had one crate (with a painting) opened and inspected and that took several days — an entire shipping container can take a long time. Once it is flagged for inspection, it gets in a line. If importers have not paid their fees and the warehouse is full the shipment waits in its container. This is not unheard of unfortunately.

  • wilcoxon

    If Customs decides to inspect your shipment, YOU have to pay for them to do the inspection? That’s absolutely absurd (but shouldn’t surprise me that’s how it works).

  • C Schwartz

    I cannot imagine that the fees could possibly be disclosed; there is no way of knowing what will be found in the shipment– especially if the importer is bringing in contraband, like oh an ivory throne. The fine for that could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. I think that is why one only hears after the fact what the charges are.

  • C Schwartz

    That is in the US law. Someone has to pay for it, and the cost is on the importer.

  • C Schwartz

    Or someone is coming from a region where certain items are permitted but are not allowed in the US.

  • C Schwartz

    I have had at least 15 international shipments received in the past 7 years and had to pay for customs clearance and all, and one crate thoroughly inspected (small, and sent by air). Would it be fair for the US taxpayers to cover the cost? Or the person that is using the service, which is me?

  • wilcoxon

    But you aren’t using the Customs “service” – Customs is imposing it on you. To me, a shipper should not be responsible for this cost. To make up for it, Customs should simply impose larger fines when they do find violations.

  • C Schwartz

    Customs is required to check shipments for compliance — there is no set number as far as I know. What if there are no violations for a year or two? What if the violation is something minor, one cannot impose a disproportionate fine in terms of the level of the violation. The cost is still there to unpack and search. So either the taxpayers pay or the importer pays.

  • Michael__K

    So how much of this (if any of it) is the shipping company obligated to disclose in advance? And how does the customer verify that their additional bill represents only fees mandated by the government and not other charges imposed by their shipping company or their sub-contractors outside of those fees?

  • C Schwartz

    I have yet to have a commercial shipper that does not warn me that the customs fees are my responsibility and that it is also my responsibility to know what I can and cannot bring in. No shipping company can possibly know all the import tariffs, restrictions, and potential fines levied by a government; a disclosure would be so vague that it would be meaningless — fines are high if there is serious contraband and if there is criminal activity the fines could be millions. One company plead guilty to importing illegal wildlife products and fined over $100,000; and where I live there was a story in the news with reports fines in the hundreds of thousands for illegal importation of ivory.

    First notice of a shipment being flagged is received by customs broker. Customs broker gets told that the shipment is not being released. The container that the OP had got the intensive examination — at most customs will tell a broker that if there is an extreme wait but they never promise when the inspection will be done and how long it will take and what charges there will. They cannot promise as until the shipment is opened there is no way to know if the import documentation is accurate. Customs broker should be provide the documentation on the fee breakdown — warehouse fees, packing fees, and so on and have supporting invoices for it.

    I have paid the customs broker directly for their handling of import issues — my shipments have been by air and small, so easy to open and inspect.

  • SirWired

    For what it’s worth, other than the basic flat fees everybody pays, Customs doesn’t actually keep the intensive inspection costs; it’s passed through directly to the contractors that run the inspection warehouses (and apparently the shipper gets to choose from a list of them.) The inspectors themselves do not have any additional charges associated with them.

  • Michael__K

    There is no indication the OP tried to import anything that is not allowed.
    This particular shipping company’s brochure, does make it very clear that bringing in hazardous or restricted items “may incur severe costs and penalties.” And they go into considerable specifics in terms of examples. They don’t make it so clear that being the unlucky target of an “intensive examination” can also incur severe costs.

  • C Schwartz

    The brochure is general and not specific to people shipping to the US. And before a shipment is subjected to an intensive search it is usually x rayed — the non invasive search. Customs does not say what triggers a search–could be something in the paperwork– was there too few items listed for the size of the container? Or just a random inspection? The law as written by Congress says that freight needs to be randomly inspected and the cost is born by the importer. As the language of the contract was never given in the post I cannot comment on what was given or not.

    Friends just returned to the US after 15 years in Europe. Their moving contract was long — I visited them before they left but did not read the contract. One of them is an engineer and meticulous with paperwork. Shipment took 2 months door to door but no problems with customs.

  • Michael__K

    “Also, it is not the fault of the shipping company that this shipment was picked for detailed examination. Maybe customs had a reason to suspect this shipment was not just household furniture and clothing”

    I agree we have no reason to believe that the shipping company (or the OP) was at fault for the detailed examination. But then your next sentence belies any firm conclusions about that. If you insinuate that there may have been a genuine cause for suspicion, then it’s possible that such cause for suspicion was introduced by either the OP or by the shipping/packing company.

  • Bill

    Munificently?? I had to look that one up! :-)

  • Mel65

    I totally get that. However just speaking from my own experience, I’ve always moved with the military. If I hired a moving company to move me internationally, I’m not sure that I would know that that was something that might happen. I would expect a moving company to say, “by the way here are some contingencies that might occur just so you know you’re on the hook for them.” Not bury that information somewhere it’s not readily apparent and could become a very nasty and expensive surprise.

  • C Schwartz

    We do not have the contract so I am not sure how the disclosure was. Friends just relocated back to the US from Europe and the contract for moving was long — but I did not read it, I was more concerned about their pet being shipped by cargo (too large for in cabin) and was the back up person in case something happened to them so I read that contract; I visited 2 months before they came back to the US and I just focused on the pet. I do have international shipments that have to clear customs and there are disclosures that there may be issues and additional fees.
    US law mandates that the importer pay even if nothing wrong is found.

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