Send/Receive International Packages
This page has taken a little from the Communicate how to and expanded some options.
The basic answer is that you can:
- Ship by regular postal mail
- Ship by a courier company
- Get a "foreign address" and have your mail forwarded
Each will be explored in detail.
Post Office (Correos)
The post office (correos) offers little in the way of surprises. If you go to the cunter with virtually no Spanish skills and hand them something addressed to any destination in he world they will understand and just ask you for money.
The offer various services for sending. The default is "regular mail". It tends to be relatively fast (usually 2 days) around Nicaragua and gets slower the further away you get. But, I have found the delays to usually be larger in the US than in Nicaragua, for example. It has proven to be cheap and reliable.
There are no posted mail rates for sending packages so I asked. Here is the info I received on Paquetaría Internacional rates by writing firstname.lastname@example.org:
5 Kg. es de C$ 344.00 10 Kg. es de C$ 571.00 Nota: En este servicio no se cobra IVA.
So, in today's prices that is about $20 for 5 kg and about $33 for 10 Kg for what the US would call "Air Parcel Post". Certainly a lot cheaper than courier rates.
Tendrá que pagar 10% del valor de la mercadería a enviar para ser asegurada.
10% of the value seems like a lot for insurance (I belive UPS in the US charges $.35 per $100 and makes a profit) but at least it is available.
Many national postal systems offer a "courier service" alternative and Nicaragua is no exception. Many are members of the EMS Cooperative. That includes neighboring Costa Rica, the United States and well over 100 other countries. If EMS service is available, it is fast and usually costs a lot less than private courier services. Info including rates can be found at http://www.correos.com.ni/.
If you receive packages with a customs value, the post office handles the customs clearlance for you. When you go to pick up your package at the local post office, you will get a "Postal Police" form with a list of the items and the value. Just pay the duty in the Post Office and leave with your package. For low value items, it is amusing to thing that they translated the packing list to Spanish for maybe $1 in duty.
Note that there are no duties on books, videos, CDs and DVDs. Most duty will be 15% but some special items (such as phones and communications equipment) will have a higher duty.
If you don't have a permanent address, you can receive mail at the central post office in any town. You will need id and you will be charged $.15/letter. Have the mail addressed as follows:
Your Name Lista de Correos Correos de Nicaragua Town, Department Nicaragua
Harry Chest Lista de Correos Correos de Nicaragua San Juan del Sur, Rivas Nicaragua
If you are sending something from the U.S. to Nicaragua, do not use WorldMail, a USPS option that is supposed to fly the package to the destination country and then put it in the local mail. After two tries with two different vendors, I now know how it works. DHL flies the package to Germany and then sends it surface mail (meaning by boat) to Nicaragua. Yes, this is crazy but it really is what is happening. That's your USPS.
DHL, UPS, FedEx and maybe TNT operate in Nicaragua. The only surprise you are likely to experience is that there may be duty on items you send to Nicaragua. Of all of these, only DHL has been helpful for me. If you are in Managua, any of the services may work but, elsewhere, find out if there is a local office. The difference between a company office (DHL has one in Estelí, for example) and an agent can be the difference between getting and not getting your package. Bottom line, if there is no local company office, either plan on going to Managua or use the postal service. I have all too many horror stories about the options.
Of particular interest has been my experiences with FedEx and TNT.
- I have a personal horror story related to FedEx and duty. There is no FedEx office in Estelí so FedEx seems to think I want to drive to Managua (300km round trip) to pick up a package. Or, if I deposit the duty in their bank account they might deliver it. Twice when I told them to deliver it they faked delivery attempts and then returned the package to the shipper.
- TNT has actually been worse. Apparently TNT doesn't really exist in Nicaragua but there is an agency called Real Express. The Estelí office lied to me for over a month about how I would soon get my package and would pay the duty to them when I picked it up. Talking to the office of Real Express in Managua they said, flat out, that they would not do the customs clearance--that was my problem to come to Managua and deal with it.
I assume these companies must either actually do their job in Managua or only deliver documents.
Note that I just talked with the long-term employee in the DHL office here. She has proved to be extremely helpful and reliable. She seems to understand the word service.
I was talking to her about the TNT/Real Express mess. (She worked for the DHL Agency here before they opened an office. The ex-owner of that agency is the husband of the owner of the Real Express agency here.) She said that if something is not picked up in customs, unless the sender requests that it be returned, it will eventually be auctioned off. Thus, if you have something "lost in customs", contact the shipper to ask to have it returned or file an insurance claim.
General Courier Information
I have had people tell me that they always had great experiences with one particular courier or bad experiences with another. I can assure you that there is no one magic answer. I have been shipping stuff commercially for 20+ years and there are all so many variables.
We used to use RPS and had great luck with them. They were more like a cooperative--each driver owned his own truck, for example. When FedEx bought RPS we were worried but all was well. FedEx proved to be a 100% reliable courier for us. When I moved to Costa Rica, they remained great. But, for example, in Nicaragua, they have been a disaster.
More often than not, these disasters are a result of not really having the shipping company in one of the countries. For example, while TNT and FedEx "deliver" to Nicaragua, all indications are that the parent company only contracts with someone local do to the work. The result could be good or bad. In my experience, always bad.
If you need to receive mail and packages from the United States regularly you might consider a service offered by TransExpress ( http://www.transexpress.com ). You get an address in Miami and they fly your mail and packages to Managua daily. They also deal with customs for you. I used their service called Interlink in Costa Rica for over two years and was very happy with it. The Nicaragua service is called NicaBox.
Note that I am less happy with their service in Estelí as we make a lot of phone calls to get them to coordinate shipping up here by bus. An alternative service is JetBox.