I started this blog with two goals in mind, to share our experiences:
- as new immigrants in Israel, thus providing a realistic view of Aliyah to people in other countries considering coming home.
- 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:
- Why didn’t you just bring enough with you to last until you could travel back to America?
- 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|
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.