Ask Shmuel, the shipping expert

Vol XX: We want to ship a stove and couch from J'lem to my newly married nephew in Haifa, but prices are high for their student budget.

shipping88 (photo credit: )
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For Shipping resources click here. Shmuel Mantinband works with Unigroup UTS Sonigo, partners in the parent company of Mayflower and United Van Lines. He still remembers with great pain his lifts when he made aliya over 30 years ago. Send us your questions for Shmuel. * * * Vol XX Q: My nephew and his new wife, both new olim, are now living in Haifa where he is a student at the Technion. We want to give them a stove and small, two-seater couch for their apartment but we live in Jerusalem. We have checked with several moving companies who wanted at least 1,000 shekels for doing this move, which seems ridiculously high and is beyond their student budget. Is there any way to find out how they could do this move for much less, possibly by sharing a van with someone else or using an empty van returning to Haifa after unloading in Jerusalem? Any information would be most appreciated. Thank you. Marni. A: Dear Marni, Well, we certainly have to come up with a solution so your nephew and his wife will be able to cook their meals! Unfortunately, even though it is a small job, it still requires at least two people to carry the oven and couch. A quick calculation of salaries for two men for at least five hours (round trip from Jerusalem to Haifa plus loading and unloading) plus five hours of trucking time would indicate that NIS 1,000 is perhaps appropriate. If you are able to arrange loading and unloading from the truck, then you no longer need a "moving company" and instead can use a freight company for the transport. Freight companies drive their truck up to a loading dock, receive the freight and deliver to a loading dock where the freight is removed from their truck. They will not make a special trip for your goods and therefore can offer you significant savings over a moving company. I hope this solution will get the oven to them in time for preparing their Shabbat meals. * * * Vol XIX Q: My wife and I (and oldest child) were A1 temporary residents from 10/87 to 3/89, and sent a lift with various small appliances and household items. We are returning this summer (with our 2 youngest children, who have never lived in Israel before). We would like to send a lift of household items when we come, but are getting nervous because we are being advised to bring no lift, so as to avoid any unpleasantness with customs (or to wait until we get to Israel, meet with customs, and attempt to figure out what we can bring). Is this a reasonable fear? Any advice? A: While Customs is the only one who can give you a definitive answer, I would expect you will receive the rights of a new immigrant (oleh chadash), minus those rights you have already used. (To be sure, you can write Customs at Specifically, any appliances you already brought in when you were here in the 80s will be taxed if you bring them in again. You are allowed three lifts in total. Since you already brought in one lift, you will be allowed to bring in two more. You have the right to bring in lifts, tax free, for up to three years. Again, the period you were here in the 80s will be deducted from your three years. Your shipper may be able to check online with customs to see what items you already brought in, so you can decide what you would like to ship this time. A final consideration is your children who were born in the States. If they make aliyah on their own after they are 18, they will have their own rights. Something to think about if they are close to 18. Good luck in your return home. * * * Vol XIII Q: I am planning to make aliya in about a year. I have a lot of stuff here and I'm trying to decide how much to bring with me. I own a large box truck, and I've been thinking of filling it and shipping the whole truck filled. Is this a viable option? The truck is an '89 model a little over 8 feet wide, 12.5 feet tall and 33 feet long. I also have a car and two '70's era motorcycles. I know such things are hard to replace in Israel so I want to bring them, but I've also heard that registration and insurance of old vehicles can be a challenge too. Do you have any advice for me? Thanks, Arie Dear Arie, When I first read your question, I was a little overwhelmed, but the answer is simpler than I originally thought. First of all, lets look at a new immigrant's (oleh hadash) rights for a vehicle. An oleh is allowed to bring in (or purchase here) one vehicle for personal use and enjoy a significant discount on the purchase tax. You will note, I did not say the purchase or import is tax-free. Even though the discount is significant, the taxes you will pay remain very significant. So, let's drop the truck as an option for importing on your rights since the oleh reduction in taxes, only applies to a vehicle for personal use and includes motorcycles. So you can import your car or one of your motorcycles with your rights. Your other vehicles, after the first one, are restricted to the standard restrictions every Israeli faces when she or he wants to personally import a car. An Israeli can import a car no more than two years old. A returning citizen (toshav hozer) can import a car up to four years old. Now, if you thought about importing the truck and paying full taxes - well that is not an option either. Israel does not allow the import of used trucks - certainly not one from 1989. If you ask whether it is worth it to import a car, in almost every case, I would answer - no. I give this advice knowing that it will hurt my parnasa (income). I recently worked with Customs to determine the expected taxes on a 2000 Toyota Camry to be imported by an oleh hadash. Taxes alone came to around $8,800 and this does not include the cost of shipping. The client took my advice and sold the Camry in California and is buying a used car here. For your information, as an oleh you will pay purchase tax at the rate of 50% of the value of the vehicle plus VAT (16.5%). VAT is calculated on the value of the vehicle, the purchase tax and the value of the ocean freight! In short, this comes to a small fortune. If you import a vehicle, customs will determine the value of the car and the ocean freight in order to calculate taxes due. One last option is importing antique vehicles. An antique vehicle is any vehicle over 30 years old and may be imported without the two year or four year age restriction mentioned above. Your motorcycles may fall in this range. If not, you will not be allowed to import them. A little beauracratic humor to end on...An oleh wanted to import a motorcycle with a 1200 cc engine. In order to import any vehicle the oleh must have both an Israeli license and a license from the country of origin. A new driver in Israel can initially get a motorcycle license only up to 800 cc. After a year, he can take another test to get a license for a larger engine. In this case, the oleh could not take possession of the imported motorcycle until he got the second license over a year later. His motorcycle sat in storage for over a year. He could have bought another bike with what he paid for storage! * * * Vol XII Q: Why was my shipment inspected and why was it so expensive? - Inspected and poorer in Ramat Bet Shemesh Dear Inspected and Poorer, This is a very important question and I am glad to clear up the air about this subject. First of all, about 4% of all shipments into Israel are inspected. A few are randomly inspected as decided by Customs. Others are inspected based on intelligence sources - usually those with guns, drugs or illegally smuggled or declared goods. Finally, customs will inspect those shipments that don't "smell" quite right. Reasons for inspection include a container being heavier than expected, based on the packing list or a large shipment not including any electrical items, etc. In short, anything out of the ordinary may trigger an inspection. There are two kinds of inspection, and your shipment can go through either or both! X-ray inspections are the easiest and potentially least expensive. Physical inspections can be very difficult and expensive. With an X-ray inspection, your shipper will have to truck the container from the port or bonded warehouse to the X-ray area. You can expect to be charged for trucking and time of your shipper to supervise the inspection. If you go through a physical inspection, the charges are much higher. Again, your goods are trucked to the Custom's Inspection area where men will unload the container as directed by the Customs' official. They will open individual boxes if requested and repack them before reloading in the truck. Depending on the time and effort involved, you can expect a relatively high expense for this "adventure." You do not have to be present during the inspection, but you can be there if you like. Inspections are almost never done on the same day as requested by Customs, but rather on the following day. Some very important issues... 1) Customs does not charge for either type of inspection 2) You can arrange the entire inspection yourself and save some money, although you may end up paying more if you order a truck from the "Yellow Pages." 3) Demand and insist on getting the Customs Report of the inspection. Every inspection results in a Customs Report. If you cannot get this report, your shipping agent may be pulling a fast one on you. 4) Inspections are always done before clearing customs. A client just told me an unbelievable story - his friend received his container a few weeks ago. On the morning of the delivery, his agent called him saying he had bad news - he was at the port supervising the inspection of his container because, on the way out of port, customs had pulled his container for an inspection - please pay the driver NIS 750 for the inspection. Less than a minute later, the driver called and said he was on his street, but could not find his house. Obviously there was no inspection and this less than honest agent was taking advantage of an unsuspecting client. Don't let this happen to you! * * * Vol XI Q: We want to order about 25 heating units for our apartment and have them shipped to us in Israel. Are there any special requirements we should know about ahead of time? -Cold in Jerusalem Dear Cold in Jerusalem: There are absolutely issues and requirements you must address before you ship them to Israel. Customs will generally allow a private individual to import up to two of any item as a personal import. You will still have to pay customs duties as required by law, but you will be allowed to import the items without any need for special permits. More than two units though may be considered a commercial shipment. If so, only a business can import a commercial import. On rare occasions, if you can prove you are importing a large number of items for personal use, Customs may allow the import. I had one client import 30 meter-long brass trumpets. He claimed to be importing them for the Leviim to use when the Temple is rebuilt. Customs allowed the import. I like that story because it could only happen in Israel. When importing anything that uses electricity and will be plugged in an electrical outlet, you must also receive a permit from the Standards Institute. This can take many long months. If you do not have this permit, Customs will not clear the shipment and you will have to pay storage charges until you receive the necessary permits and Customs clears your shipment. Please be aware - the model number for which you receive a permit is the only model you can import. It does not matter that your approval for model 318 is exactly the same as model 319 - Customs will not recognize your approval of 318 as having anything to do with model 319. Don't let you supplier "upgrade" or send a newer and better model. I have had some clients relabel a product with the "old" model number to avoid problems! Depending on what the item is, other government ministries may get involved and you may need other permits as well. I hope this answer will help you get warm and toasty before the end of the winter! All the best, Shmuel Vol X Q: Can I trust a shipping company that I find on the Internet? A: There are more and more Internet sites that will send your information to a number of shipping companies. This allows you to receive a variety of bids for your move. Getting bids this way is fine, but - and this is a very big but, it is absolutely critical you do your homework and check out the companies who give you a price quote. Get references, ask for feedback from on line aliyah forums and go to a packing job handled by each of the movers you are considering. The fact that the moving companies subscribe to an Internet "lead generating company" only means the company is a little more techno savvy. It does not really say anything good or bad about the quality of the packing, loading or experience with handling international moves. In earlier columns I have discussed what you should do when deciding on a shipper. That same advice applies if you find a shipper on the Internet, through friends' recommendations or simply from an ad in the yellow pages. You are trusting your entire household to your shipper. It is worth investigating and making sure you have the right company handling it for you. * * * Vol IX Q: I live in Lakewood, NJ, USA. Could you recommend shippers to Israel (I have my whole house to ship). How can I get information from other people who have used them? Should I ask them for references? A: Ah, the joys of picking a shipper... This somewhat scary experience is very similar to any other major purchase you will make. Ask friends for recommendations. Check on aliya-related web sites such as those belonging to Nefesh b'Nefesh ( or Tehilla ( or the Jewish Agency ( You can certainly open the Yellow Pages or search on the Internet for more options. But, and especially with the Yellow Page or Internet options, you will want to talk to people who have used those movers. You want to make sure a mover you are considering has international experience. The difference between handling a domestic move and an international move is huge. Differences include the proper way to pack and load to handling the paper work to making sure your things are properly delivered here in Israel. Your next question about how to find customers who have used these movers is critical. I would not put much faith in calling someone the mover suggests. He or she will only give you names of "successful moves." A better place to find more objective reviewers are on discussion forums such as the Janglo forum on Yahoo ( You can ask for feedback at a forum such as this and be assured of a range of unfiltered information. In terms of recommendations - there are many in the New York area who specialize in the aliya market. At the same time, you can also consider Israeli shippers as well. Of course, (disclosure time) I am biased since I live in Israel and in fact, about 80% of my business is based on handling people moving to Israel. With internet and telephone availability, working with an Israeli company greatly increases the universe of experienced shippers agents. Working with an Israeli company offers a number of advantages including the fact that you are helping the Israeli economy. If you use an Israeli company, they will be able to arrange full door-to-door service from Lakewood to Israel and if you have a problem in Israel (where 90+% of the problems happen) your solution will be a local phone call away and in the same time zone. * * * Vol VIII Q: I am considering doing the packing myself in order to save some money, when I come on aliya. Is this a good idea? A: Packing services, like every other service, cost money. If you pack yourself, you should be entitled to a discount. Usually though, the savings are not that significant. Many times, a client will pack all the books and clothing leaving the breakables and furniture to the professional packing crew. Keep in mind that packing books and clothing goes very quickly for a professional packer - what will take you weeks to pack may take a packing crew only one or two hours. Add to that the time to find boxes for packing or expense of buying them and you will end up saving very little. One way you will save, by packing yourself, results from your packing "tighter" than the movers. You will fill every nook and cranny in a box by going from room to room to find that perfect sized nick knack to fill a hole. Movers will grab whatever is in hand's reach - they will not walk around to find something to fit in a space. I once had a client who removed all the of the pot and pan handles. He probably reduced the volume of of his kitchen ware by 50%. A mover will never take time to do that. You should be aware though - since 9/11, many top moving companies will not accept PBO (Packed By Owner) boxes. They will open and examine every prepacked box. If this is the case, you will receive no savings. Finally, you should consider the impact on insurance. Boxes packed by owner do not enjoy "All Risk" protection. The insurance companies say that if a box was not professionally packed they cannot be responsible for damage. (If a box is missing, then, you do have coverage). If you are already packing by yourself, one of the best ways to save money is to bring the packed boxes to the shipping company's warehouse. If your mover does not have to send a truck and crew to your house, the mover's expenses are greatly reduced and you are entitled to that savings. Bottom line, self-packing is usually not worth it unless you pack everything and bring the boxes to the mover's warehouse. Sometimes, just the idea of packing for weeks vs watching professional packers finish packing everything in a few hours is worth the extra expense. * * * Vol VII Q: What is the best way to determine which shipping company to use? Most of the aliya sites have listings for the East Coast. Also, are there any sites where new olim post how their delivery experiences went with their shipping companies? A: You have asked the $64,000 question... Picking the right company to handle your shipment is critical to getting your goods to their destination in good shape. Of course, you should ask friends for recommendations. Their good (or not!) experiences can help you make a decision. In addition, I always suggest getting at least two bids for your move. You should expect a representative to come to your home to perform a pre-move survey. This survey allows for an to estimate the volume of your shipment so we can prepare a quote. Knowing your volume, may also lead to a recommendation for sharing a container (consolidation or groupage) or going with an exclusive container just for you. Based on this volume estimate you should be able to come pretty close to knowing your cost for your move. Feel free to ask the surveyor about the volume of items you are not sure about bringing. This will help in your decision process about what you should or should not bring. Your decision will be largely based on the impression you get from the surveyor, but you should try to look beyond that. Compare bottom line prices (and not just the per cubic foot or container cost) between the companies. Ask to go to a packing in your neighborhood. This will help you will get a feeling about the type of people who will pack your things and how professional they are. Good sources of experiences and feedback about moves are the Tachlis forum, Nefesh b'Nefesh forum (only open to Nefesh participants), and the Jewish Agency web site. There are good companies on the West Coast that specialize in moves to Israel, but now with the internet and easily available international phones, you can feel very comfortable considering a company in Israel as well, to handle your entire move. With an Israeli company handling your move, if there are any problems, someone locally will be responsible as opposed to someone who is 10,000 miles away. * * * Vol VI Q: Can you explain about Value Added Tax or VAT (mas erech nosaf or Mam"). A: VAT is a "pass through" tax. In other words, a business collecting VAT, does so on behalf of the government and passes it through to the tax authorities. Currently 16.5%, it is assessed on all services rendered in Israel and all products sold or imported into Israel. Of course, olim are exempt from VAT on household goods imported into Israel in one of the three tax exempt shipments. But, if you import something that is not tax exempt, such as a fax machine or garden furniture, you will have to pay VAT (and customs) on the value of these items even if they are used. VAT is also charged on services rendered in Israel, such as storage or local trucking, etc. If you are not an oleh, then VAT will be charged on the value of the items in your shipment, the value of the ocean freight and an assumed value of insurance (even if you did not take insurance!) Please remember, in most cases when VAT is charged, customs will also be charged. When deciding to ship your things to Israel, it is very important to take the various taxes into account. They can be a very significant part of the cost of shipping. Your agent in Israel should be able to give you a good idea of what your taxes will be. * * * Vol V Q: I have heard horror stories about charges at the port. As an oleh hadash do I have to pay any taxes? A: This is a more complicated question than it may originally seem.... Israel has "invented and created" numerous kinds of taxes. Today I shall discuss the port tax (mas namal) In the future, I shall address Value Added Taxes or VAT (mas erech nosaf or mam) and customs duties (meches). New olim are the only people exempt from the 1.02% port tax (mas namal"). As you may have noted, not only are you exempt, but the real amount of the tax is 1.02%. If your delivery agent wants to charge you any amount for port tax (mas namal ), there is a mistake and you should refuse to pay it. For all others (non-olim), this tax is calculated according to the value of the shipment, including ocean freight and cost of insurance. This can easily add hundreds of dollars if you have a large or high value shipment. If you are an oleh, have already paid this fee and your delivery agent does not kindly return the money along with an apology, small claims court may be the most effective way to get their attention and your money returned. * * * Vol IV Q: Can two olim decide to share a lift? If so, will they only ship the contents of the crate to one address? A: By law, when we, as a customs agent, declare a particular shipment belongs to John Doe, we cannot know that there are item belonging to anyone else in the shipment. Obviously, what we don't know, we don't know. Delivery to two different addresses is not unusual, although it usually incurs an extra expense. (It is also possible to arrange pickups from two or more different address, although, again this will usually incur a surcharge.) On the other hand, it is very common to consolidate shipments where more than one person's shipment is in a shared or consolidated container. In this case, each shipment has it's own Bill of Lading, is an "official" shipment and is individually cleared through customs. This kind of shipment is called an LCL (short for Less than Container Load.) No hints for what FCL stands for - Full Container Load. In any case, LCLs are put together every day in consolidations. There are shippers around the world who only handle consolidations - a testament to their popularity. Another important advantage to having your own Bill of Lading - if you share a lift and the shipment is pulled for a security or customs inspection, how do you determine who is responsible and how do you split the costs? If you are "catching a tremp" in some one else's lift and customs does not allow it to be released, you may be stuck with sharing storage and other fees that may not be your responsibility. There are many potential issues if one shares a lift. * * * Vol III Q: I am paying a tremendous shipping fee to mail individual books to America. Besides the package, each book costs NIS 37 to mail! The postage alone is 1/3 of the retail value of the book! In the States there is a book rate. Here there is not. To mail these book within the States it costs $1.87 (about NIS 8). Is there some way I can avoid these high rates? A: If you are talking about individual books, and time is not critical, the least expensive way to send them is via the post office's surface mail - this is what it sounds like you are doing now. If time is important, then the post office's EMS (Express Mail Service) is the way to go, although this is much more expensive. If you have a quantity of books (up to 20 kilos), the Post Office offers a "Book Sack" rate in which they provide the sack, but it is highly recommended you pack the books in a box for protection. This method will take up to three or more months. Bottom line, as you have already discovered, there is no inexpensive way to ship small amounts of printed matter overseas. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Q: After reading your comments about the problems with lifts, the question is: Except for irreplaceable personal effects, when does it pay for a new oleh to ship things to Israel, as opposed to purchasing them there? A: Your question is one of the most common, yet most difficult questions I hear. There are three aspects to this question:
  • the financial aspect
  • brand comfort
  • nostalgic considerations. Today, the financial aspect is much easier to address. You can investigate Israeli web sites to see current costs in Israel. Taxes on appliances have come way down, so Israeli prices are much more competitive than they used to be. Two other sources of local price information are Janglo (a Yahoo discussion group) and Tachlis (an aliya forum sponsored by the Jewish Agency.) See Cafe Oleh Listings for these addresses. Both of these forums discuss many topics - but local prices come up frequently. Don't forget to add in the cost of shipping when calculating the wisdom of buying there vs. buying here. Brand comfort is a particularly common concern when you look in Israeli stores. If you prefer brands like General Electric and Maytag, you will be hard pressed to find them in Israel. While these brands are occasionally available, you will much more frequently see European brands and local "store" brands - most of which will be unfamiliar. If it is important to you to have a Maytag washing machine, you may have no choice but to import. Nostalgic considerations are more difficult to address and ultimately one you will have to decide alone. ( I have moved my grandmother's desk four times - so you know which side of nostalgia I am on... ) * * * Vol II Q: I only want to ship one item (a rug) from the US to Israel, will I still need to pay all the same fees as if I sent many items. What is the best way to do this? A: Individual items are usually best sent via the post office. Maximum package weight typically ranges between 15 to 20 kilos. If your rug weighs more than 20 kg., you can consider Heavy Weight air freight through one of the courier companies like UPS or Fedex. Air shipments are an expensive option. Unfortunately, ocean freight of personal effects has so many one-time expenses, it is usually not worth sending via ocean freight. As you suggested in your question - you are right, many of the expenses are "per shipment" regardless of the number of items.Customs clearance and e-transmission are just two examples of expenses unrelated to the shipment's size . Another issue you must consider is customs expenses. Rugs are charged at the rate of 4% of the value, plus NIS 11 per square meter. Finally, one last option, is to find someone who will take it for you in their lift, but keep in mind, you will still have to pay the customs fees mentioned above. (If the shipper is an oleh, there are limited customs exemptions on carpets.) Q: I have received all sorts of conflicting information regarding bringing a car to Israel from the States. Is it financially advantageous to do so if I already own a car there? What if I buy on there and then ship it here? Or is it just better to purchase a car here even with the extraordinarily higher prices? A: The issue of shipping a car comes up very often and almost never makes sense financially. (If the car brings back great memories - well that's something else.) There are no tax breaks when you import a car. If you are an oleh, or you import a car with no "rights," you will pay the same customs and VAT taxes as if you bought the car here. Therefore, it is almost never cheaper to import a car. As an example, a client recently asked me to check the cost for him of importing his 2000 Toyota Camry. We roughly calculated it would cost him in excess of $8,800 in taxes to import his car as an oleh! This does not include the cost of shipping. Ministry of Transport permits and code requirements must be considered as well. Tourists and students though, do not have to pay taxes on imported (or locally purchased) cars. A tourist must export the car within six months or pay the appropriate taxes, while a student can use the car as long as his or her student visa is valid. * * * Vol I Q: Why can't my shipper give me a exact delivery date for my shipment? A: Unlike airlines which have frequent take offs and landings and in case of a problem, substitute another aircraft once a ship is loaded it is only unloaded at the destination port. This means any delay along the way will delay your vessel's arrival date. Delays include both the obvious and the less obvious. Obvious delays include mechanical breakdowns (a major engine problem can cause a long delay and your container will be stuck on board, enjoying drinks poolside until the engine is repaired) and bad weather (big enough waves have even been known to wash containers over board.) Less obvious delays are caused by events such as strikes, port congestion and high winds at port. High winds can literally blow the containers around when they are being unloaded from the ship and are a relatively common delaying factor. (The boat will simply not unload during high winds.) Port congestion often causes more than just a delay, shipping lines frequently add a congestion surcharge to compensate themselves for having to sit outside of the port and wait to off load their cargo. The Los Angeles port of Long Beach has been suffering from (expensive) congestion for quite some time. After the strike of the summer of 2005, Ashdod and Haifa also had serious congestion problems. Shipping line issues listed above are part of the problem - once your shipment arrives in Israel, assuming your agent handles everything on a timely basis - our favorite government officials at customs enter the picture. I will try to not be too cynical when I point out that during the peak summer season, when we handle 70% of our annual business, most of the customs officials take their vacation. Makes sense, no? More work, so take a vacation, let someone else be stuck with it. Needless to say, files are cleared by customs more slowly in the summer than during the rest of the year. Q: How can I be sure I am paying the right amount when I send my lift? A: I will assume you are talking about less than a full container (LCL). If your shipment was in consolidation or groupage (these are both terms referring to a container with two or more shipments) then you will be paying by the cubic meter or cubic foot. You have every right to take a tape measure and measure. Multiply the height (from the floor!) by the width and by the depth to get your cubic measurement. Verify this is the cubic meters or feet you are charged. Be warned, correct measurements in the shipping business are far too often incorrect. I will be gentle when I only say, I have never seen a mistake to the advantage of the client. * * * Cafe Oleh experts have been chosen for their knowledge and reputation. 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