FedEx-Customs Shakedown

I started this blog with two goals in mind, to share our experiences:

  1. as new immigrants in Israel, thus providing a realistic view of Aliyah to people in other countries considering coming home.
  2. with family and friends in America so that they won’t feel like they are no longer part of our lives.

In reviewing some of the 204 posts and pages I’ve written since last July, I realized that this blog has also provided me with an outlet for venting my frustrations. And this, my 205th post, is exactly of that persuasion.

It all started with a simple need to obtain over-the-counter medications and cosmetic products that we used on a regular basis in America. You might be asking:

  1. Why didn’t you just bring enough with you to last until you could travel back to America?
  2. Why don’t you just use the product equivalents available in Israel?

Good questions. Silly ideological fool that I was, I had planned to just assimilate and force myself to be happy with whatever Israeli products I could find. I wanted to become Israeli! Live like the locals! Ah yes, all very romantic thoughts until reality sets in! I happen to be highly allergic to perfumes and dyes and therefore have a medical reason for some of my purchases – Israelis seem to be in love with perfumes.

So here’s what happened:

March 22nd: I placed a $200 online order with Drugstore.com and had it shipped to my NY address at Mail1USA (Drugstore.com doesn’t ship to Israel and the order qualified for free US shipping). What was so urgently needed and couldn’t be purchased in Israel?

  • Airborne Effervescent Health Formula – nothing like it available here.
  • Blistex Lip Protectant, Herbal Answer, SPF 15 – plenty of options in Israel, but nothing that doesn’t have scents and flavors.
  • Icy Hot Extra Strength, Pain Relieving Cream – I didn’t find anything OTC here, but the doctor later told me that it is possible that he can prescribe an alternative.
  • Imodium A-D Anti-Diarrheal with Loperamide HCI – we spent the week of Purim suffering from a stomach virus and the doctor on call wouldn’t prescribe Imodium. I later learned from my doctor that they “don’t like to prescribe” it, but will if pushed.
  • Imodium Advanced Multi-Symptom Relief Chewables
  • Jr. Tylenol Fever Reducer & Pain Reliever, Meltaways, Bubblegum Burst – you can buy Paramol-Kat, the equivalent of Tylenol Jr. but even the pharmacist admitted that it tastes awful (he tried it when his daughter complained – and spit it out).
  • Mucinex Junior Expectorant, Mini-Melts – can’t buy (even with an Rx) child strength chewables here.
  • Mucinex DM Expectorant & Cough Suppressant, Extended-Release Bi-Layer Tablets – no extended release tablets here, just the ones you have to take multiple times a day.
  • Pepcid AC Acid Reducer, Tablets – the doctor later told me he could prescribe something similar.
  • Rite Aid Aspirin, 325mg, Tablets – 500 ea cost us $4.09 and in Israel we pay about $7 for 30 tablets.
  • Triaminic Cough & Runny Nose Thin Strips – not available here and all the pediatrician will prescribe for the symptoms this addresses is tea with honey and lemon.
  • Triaminic Children’s Thin Strips, Night Time – not available here.
  • Q-Tip brand cotton swabs – according to my husband, the Israeli equivalent is just not the same quality – he’s obviously very sensitive.
  • DenTek Floss Picks, Mint – we’ve found dental floss here, but not the pick type

March 27th: Using the online shipping manager, I instructed Mail1USA to ship the package the LEAST EXPENSIVE way. For some reason, which will forever remain a mystery to me, they chose FedEx and charged me $98.09 for the 7 lb. package (the package containing $200 worth of goods).

March 29th: I received a phone call from David Kamenshin, Import Department at FedEx Israel followed by an e-mail requiring me to complete the attached Power of attorney form (which was in Hebrew), a Customs declaration of personal import form (that required me to detail the quantity, description, manufacturer, and price of every item in the package), and scans of the original Invoice, my teudat zehut, and my teudat oleh. Being the efficient person that I am, I quickly provided every item they asked for.

March 30th: FedEx acknowledged receipt of my “paperwork”.

March 31st: I received a phone call from Adi at FedEx indicating that I must obtain a letter from my doctor acknowledging that he is aware of the (over-the-counter) drugs in my package! She instructed me that he must list each drug and describe its ingredients and use for the Health official’s approval at Customs. She then told me that I would not be allowed to have the 10 Blistex Herbal Answer lip balms I ordered because they felt this was an excessive amount – that 4 is the maximum for personal consumption! I explained that these are $1.99 items, there are 3 of us living in this home, and that it would be cost prohibitive to order these more than once a year. Too bad, rules are rules she replied. And just where are these rules, where can I read them to avoid such problems in the future? No response to that one.

April 1st: Convinced that this was all about someone in Customs wanting to take my order home with them, I made an appointment with Dr. Baum to obtain the letter. Then I went to Drugstore.com and copied/pasted every item on my order into a spreadsheet, along with the ingredients and recommended use information, and brought it along on my visit to the doctor’s office. Dr. Baum was very accommodating and explained the process to me, while he hand wrote a letter on Maccabi stationery. It seems that I’m not the first immigrant ignorant to this potential shakedown. He assured me that the Customs workers wouldn’t take my 6 lip balms home, that they would actually throw them in the trash – along with several other “questionable” items. The good doctor advised me not to get my hopes up, that there would probably be more hoops to jump through before this was over – and advised me to stock up on these items during my visits to the States.

At 3:44 pm I sent off an e-mail to FedEx with a color scan of the doctor’s letter and my spreadsheet.

April 2nd: Adi from FedEx called to inform me that the Health Ministry is now requiring the doctor to complete THEIR form and fax it to them. Apparently there was concern that I might have stolen a sheet of Maccabi stationery and penned the letter myself – a completely ludicrous thought considering my level of Hebrew skills!

When Adi’s e-mail arrived, I printed the form and her letter and dropped them off at the clinic with a note asking the doctor to phone me when he had faxed it to them.

At 8:00 pm, Dr. Baum phoned to tell me he had sent the fax and again cautioned me to expect more harassment. I sent an e-mail off to Adi at FedEx informing her that the fax had been sent.

April 5th: Adi from FedEx sent me an e-mail indicating that she did not receive the fax. I responded that she should check with the Health Ministry since their fax number was also on the paperwork I had received.

April 7th: Adi from FedEx confirmed that no one at the Health Ministry received the fax either.

While out shopping I stopped at the Maccabi clinic and found Dr. Baum there doing paperwork. Fortunately he had not destroyed the form he had faxed to them. So I asked if I could have it and then scanned and attached it to an e-mail back to Adi.

April 8th: Adi acknowledged receipt and told me that the package wouldn’t be cleared until after Pesach, but assured me that I wouldn’t be charged for storage during that time (they’re in control of the delays and I might be charged storage fees?)

April 19th: With Pesach ending on the 15th I decided to give them a few days to get this resolved but since 2 business days had passed with no communication, I sent an e-mail asking for a status update.

April 20th: Adi responded that they had not received a reply from the Ministry of Health, but indicated that the “rep. will come to the airport in person tomorrow and I’ve asked already that the matter be taken care of urgently.”

April 22nd: Adi phoned and cheerfully told me that my package had been approved for delivery and it was only going to cost me 580 shekels – and that was a reduced amount because she had convinced a manager at FedEx to discount their fee from 209 to 120 to make up for all the trouble I had gone through!

She indicated that the package would be delivered on the 23rd but the system wouldn’t give her a time frame. I just needed to agree to the charges. After arguing with her for several minutes about the detailed breakdown of fees, and realizing that there was nothing I could do or say to get the amount reduced because “the charges are outside of FedEx’s control”, I gave in.

April 23rd: FedEx delivered the package to our home and Michael fumed while the driver happily wished us a good day.

The net cost of this shipment totaled $436.26 for $200 worth of products:

Products $207 (with US tax)
Shipping US – Israel $98.09
FedEx-Customs Fees $131.17

Considering that I placed a similar order last fall and received it via the Israeli Post Office, consolidated with lots of mail, with no fuss or customs fees at all, I will not be using FedEx-Israel to clear my packages in the future and advise you to BEWARE! Apparently Customs chooses to randomly harass citizens at their whim, and FedEx aids them in complicating the process, discouraging customers and thus cutting down on American imports

Advice: If you are making Aliyah in the near future, I strongly advise you to stock up on a few years worth of OTC products (check the expiration dates) if your family has favorites they feel they can’t live without. Otherwise you might find yourself having to smuggle the products in via friends and family – like I had to do with the unscented shampoo I use, no such product in Israel.

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6 thoughts on “FedEx-Customs Shakedown”

  1. I am currently studying in Florida via online courses, and had books shipped via two methods: Barnes and noble, and amazon.

    I had never had anything shipped with Barnes and noble, though I have had through amazon.

    Amazon, charges a little more fore shipping,but its to cover customs, and Barnes and noble charged less.

    I received my books from amazon via the Israeli postal service, and Barnes and noble books through ups.

    Needless to say, UPS charged me over a hundred dollars to clear my stuff. I will never use them again.

    And customs isn’t the only problem in this country. I am so fed up with the treatment, I was going to study in university of Haifa and as an olah chadasha, minhal studentim told me to ask my parents in the U.S for money and that they wouldn’t give me. I am 26, 23 when I arrived and applied for university, and I was not willing to call mommy and daddy in the U.S for money. This is one of many examples, that have driven me to decide that Zionism does not exist here, bureaucracy is a total waste of time, and this country does not know what freedom actually is. They charge double on everything stating taxes, or shipping..etc, and its bulls**t. October of 2012, when I get married, I will return to the U.S never to lend support to my “Jewish neighbors”.

    What Israel stood for in 1949, even 1967, is not what Israel is today. Israel is a bunch of Jews trying to steal from other Jews, its a bunch of people fighting for survival, and being uncaring of their fellow patriots. And its quite a shame. I have given up on Zionism, and go back to the U.S where at least I know I’m not being ripped off, and I have freedom.

    – Rose P.

    1. Dear Rose,
      I’m not surprised by your UPS experience – it happened to me again recently when I forgot to check the “NO UPS” box on my mail forwarding from the US!

      I’m sorry to learn of your bad cultural experiences here. Mine have been totally opposite yours – both here (where total strangers have treated me like loving family) and in the US (where I had loving family & friends, but was also subjected to/burnt out by back stabbers, unethical business people and dishonest politicians – regardless of their religious affiliation – throughout my 50 years there). That’s not to say that I haven’t had frustrating experiences in Israel too, or that everyone I’ve encountered has been nice or honest.

      My point is, don’t throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater. I was once told by a wise man, “don’t judge Judaism based on the behavior of a Jew. Judge it on what the Torah says, because people are only human and not every Jew – even if they claim to be Torah observant – is a good representative for God.”

      So I ask you to please not judge the entire country of Israel based on some jerk’s behavior at Haifa University. I’ve learned that there is really no such thing as “no” in this country and that many Israelis who have had rough lives are jealous of Americans and will give us a difficult time just because of where we came from. You have to assert yourself when someone declines your reasonable request, don’t take “no” for an answer the 1st, 2nd or 3rd time! Go above their head if necessary – or ask someone else to help you get there.

      Native Israelis can be harsh at times – and sometimes it takes getting to know the person in order to soften them. I’ve been on buses where I wish I had the foresight to video the events that transpired – they’d make great TV. I’ve witnessed strangers in heated arguments later help their “victim” with their packages, stroller, etc. as they’re getting off the bus and wish them “Shabbat Shalom”! It’s difficult for those of us who have come from the American “mind your own business”, “equal rights” (which is a fantasy) & “freedom for all” culture to understand, but when I recall my mother retelling my grandmother’s stories from the “old country”, I realize that things in Israel are pretty normal and it’s the US that isn’t.

      Another point worth considering is the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” syndrome where we tend to only remember the best, most comfortable, heart-warming things about the land of our birth when we’re experiencing difficulties in Israel. It’s best not to make snap judgments and decisions during a moment of emotional upheaval – give it time and do a reality check on both sides of the ocean before throwing in the towel.

      Shabbat Shalom!

  2. I recently went through a similar ordeal with FedEx. I have a 2001 Chrysler (Dodge) Neon, which is very rare in Israel (only 42 sold). Parts are hard to find in Israel.

    I needed a couple of small parts that came to $30. The parts are on the Ministry of Transportation’s automatic clear list (I.e. Don’t need special permission to ship over the parts).

    FedEx insisted on getting that special permission that just didn’t exist and insisted that the 212 shekel fee was a fee that the State of Israel charged and not them. They lied and it indeed was a FedEx fee. In fact, the State doesn’t charge anything even if I actually did need a permit. In the end, they wanted to charge me $110 to get my package. Obviously, I told them to go *&$! themselves and ordered again from someone who sent it via USPS 1st class mail.

    Fortunately, I recorded all of my conversations with FedEx and have proof of their deceipt. I will be filing a small claims lawsuit if they don’t compensate me for the trouble.

    Do not use FedEx, UPS, or DHL unless you have no choice. They all charge outrageous customs clearance “brokerage fees.”. If you have no choice, it is your right to tell them before the package arrives in Israel that you intend to self-clear the package through customs, and then you pay very few fees and they all go to the State and not FedEx. Remember that!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Morris. That’s good advice about self-clearing packages. I self-cleared a package through customs in Jerusalem last year (forcefully and completely in English) and it was not a pleasant experience, but at least it didn’t cost me a fortune! I only paid the VAT on the value of the imported items.

  4. Can confirm the FedEx scam in Israel. Made the mistake of having wedding invitations sent via FedEx. Instead of timely delivering the invitations, FedEx claimed customs seized the items and required special handling charges to clear. Made no sense that a small package of invitations would be seized. Went to the airport to expedite and… shocked to discover that package was not seized. (It took about 2 hours to figure out that package was not held by customs. FedEx sent me to the customs seizure warehouse but package wasn’t there… eventually it became clear that the FedEx scamster ‘agent’ in Israel is not real FedEx from US.) Once I was directed to the proper place, I picked up the package in 10 minutes at no cost other then wasted time and delivery fees paid to FedEx that they did not earn.

    Instead of processing the express package through, FedEx Israel deliberately left the package unclaimed to try to scam their extra customs clearance fee. Caused tremendous stress at the time, but seems clear that is part of their scam. They know they are holding your package hostage. Incredibly, when I initially complained they offered to ‘discount’ their desired ‘processing’ charges.

  5. Mort I’m sorry to hear about that challenge, but happy that you beat them at it!

    The SCAM continues…
    I fell into it again a few weeks ago with a US order that came via UPS instead of the post office. It was a $115 (with shipping to NY mailbox) clothing order; USAMail1.com charged me $73.88 to ship the less than 4 lb package AND when it arrived they had opened my order (I did not request this), disposed of the OneHanesPlace.com envelope, and placed the clothes along with CATALOGS that I did not want, inside a large Amazon box giving the impression that the contents might not be the simple items I had ordered from Hanes.

    A few weeks after shipment (before I received the package), I received an email from USAMail1.com indicating that UPS and Customs required my tax ID number in order to release the shipment. I didn’t notice the email for several days and in the meantime UPS called me for this information. I asked why they needed it and was only told it was a customs requirement.

    The woman asked to arrange delivery the following Sunday and I told her that I wouldn’t be home that day, but they should deliver on Monday. While I was out of town on SUNDAY, UPS showed up at my door and my husband phoned me because they wanted 288 shekels to release the package! I was in the middle of intense work at the time and told him to just pay it and we’d deal with it later. It turned out that the UPS guy didn’t have change, so he took 300 shekels and scribbled that on the receipt!

    In summary, it cost me:
    $115 for the product + in US shipping
    $ 73.88 for shipping to Israel
    $ 85.71 for delivery and customs fees!
    = $274.59

    It ended up costing me $54.92 per pair for 5 pairs of $21 leggings!

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