Shipping to India & R2I customs duty tips from ‘Gabbar the shipper’

Shipping to India: Excess baggage with 7 Israeli military bagsPHOTO: Flying to India with 7 check-in bags (3 excess) bought from the Army Navy store

Prashant and I used air and sea shipping for carrying our clothes and furniture to Gurgaon/Delhi before R2I from USA in October, 2010. All the shipping companies were sneaky and we missed not having Gabbar Singh from Shole fight for us. If you are going to be shipping to India, these Gabbar the Shipper tips should help you.

Decide what you will be shipping to India

First, create an inventory of all your household items. The list should include everything from furniture to stationary. Excel is good for this. Write what you’d like to do with each item – ship to India, sell, offer to friends, donate or trash. It will help you keep track of every item before R2I.

Shipping to India - ListPHOTO: Deciding what to ship/sell/donate/trash before R2I

Shipping to India choices

You have 3 choices for shipping to India:

  1. Air shipping to India
  2. Carrying excess baggage when flying back to India
  3. Sea shipping to India

1. Air shipping to India before R2I

Contrary to what you might think, air shipping to India is not that expensive. You can get quotes easily by calling UPS or Fedex. Benefits of air shipping to India:

  • It’s much faster – 1 week via air shipping to India vs. several months for sea shipping to India
  • It’s easier – Fedex and UPS have fixed rates and are easier to deal with. So easy, in fact, that you won’t need Gabbar’s help.
  • It could be economical – Sounds odd, but for smaller items air shipping to India is not a bad deal.

Typically, people use air shipping to India for clothes and other small items since these items are required immediately after your arrival in India.

Gabbar the shipper tip for shipping to India

Don’t consider air shipping your furniture to India – furniture shipping prices range in tens of thousands of dollars. Even corporate moves seldom include air shipping for furniture as a part of the package.

2. Carrying excess baggage when flying back to India

For the stuff you want to air ship to India, consider carrying it on the flight with you as excess baggage. You could also send it as cargo with the airline. Prashant and I carried all our clothes, books, shoes, etc. in 7 Israeli Army Navy bags. If you plan to do this, find out the free baggage allowance for every airline you can take. Some allow only 1 free bag per passenger, while others allow 2. The excess baggage rates also vary significantly. For us, British Airways turned out to be cheapest allowing 2 free checked in bags each and charging $208 for 3 excess bags.

Gabbar the shipper tip for shipping to India

Suitcases with wheels weigh 8-15 pounds by themselves and cost a fortune. Gabbar recommends that you check out duffel bags like ours (3 pounds only, $21 at the Army Navy store) to maximize the amount of stuff you can carry. By using an overpriced cart at the US airport before check-in and one after baggage claim in India, the inconvenience of duffel bags goes away.

3. Sea shipping to India before R2I

For sea shipping to India, you’ll need to know if your items will fill an entire container or not.

Full Container Load (FCL)

FCL means that a full ocean container is exclusively for you. FCL shipping to India is more convenient than LCL.

Less than a Container Load (LCL)

LCL means that you do not have enough stuff to fill an entire container and will need to consolidate with other people’s stuff. This usually takes longer than FCL since you’re at the mercy of the freighter to fit your stuff in a container with other people before they can begin shipping to India.

Gabbar the shipper tip for shipping to India

If you have enough stuff and your budget permits, definitely take the full container – it’s faster and easier. Prashant and I had only 2 sofas, 1 queen sized mattress, and 1 27” LCD monitor which was too little to fill a container. We were forced to opt for LCL shipping and wait 40 days from the time the shippers picked up our stuff until they started shipping it to India. Delivery to our home in Delhi took a few months after shipping began.

Selecting a company for sea shipping to India

Shipping to India is a dirty business and a price sensitive game. Here are some things you should do:

  • Read online reviews – Most companies will have nightmare reviews about lost shipments, insect infested shipping containers, etc. Avoid the worst of the lot. Be warned, however, that you’ll never find a shipper with good reviews. They all suck. Just pick the best of the lot and hope that Gabbar is watching. If your firm has tie ups with specific shipping companies, definitely lean towards them as you’ll have more leverage if things go wrong. Review sites: BBB, R2I Forum and general Google search on each company you shortlist.
  • Bargain – Yes, you can bargain. For the same amount of shipping to Gurgaon/Delhi, I received quotes ranging from $2500 to $5000. I was able to bargain down the $5000 quote to $4000. The $2500 quote did not include delivery charges of $800. Gabbar says – buyer beware.
  • Get quotes for Door-to-Door shipping – Make the shipping company responsible for delivering to your house in India. They will engage a local clearing agent (for getting through Indian customs) and delivering at your house in India. They may charge you “local handling fees” but it saves you the hassle of doing it yourself. No matter who you choose, you are responsible for all customs duties in India which are billed after your shipping container reaches a port in India.
    Gabbar recommends that you learn about Indian customs duty laws before you ship everything. If you Google “Indian Customs Duty NRI” you should find the Government of India site with all the information.
  • Ask for timeframes – Ask the shippers for their estimated pickup and delivery dates. It can take the shipper weeks to pick up.
    Gabbar the shipper tip for shipping to India: The shipping company will not volunteer their pickup date before signing the deal so be sure to ask before settling on a shipping company.
  • Buy insurance – Most shippers sell insurance to cover damage or loss to your items during shipping. Insurance costs a measly 4 cents per $1 declared value with $100 deductible. 
    Gabbar the shipper tip for shipping to India: Make sure that all your items are packed by the shipper. Items that are packed by you cannot be insured for damage.

Schedule a pick up for shipping to India

Congratulate yourself (briefly) – you’ve picked the shipping company that’s going to screw your happiness for the next few months. Schedule a date for them to pick up your shipment as soon as you can start living out of a suitcase.

Gabbar the shipper tips for shipping to India

You have to be physically present in India when your shipping container arrives at a port in India or they won’t clear customs. Buy your air tickets accordingly.

Shipping container arrives in India

Shipping container reaches a port in India

Congratulate yourself (leisurely) – your shipping container has reached India and the government officers are giddy with happiness. Your clearing agent should contact you and handle everything from this point on. They’ll ask for a copy of your passport (don’t give them the original) and will require your signature on documents listing your shipped items. Thankfully, you will not have to go to the port throughout this process. Once the agent pays ‘local handling charges’ and gets your shipment cleared, he will ground/rail ship it to a government warehouse (called Central Warehousing Corporation or CWC) nearest you.

Shipping container reaches your city in India

Customs duty in India at a warehouse near youPHOTO: Going to pay customs duty in India at the Central Warehousing Corporation in Delhi

It can take 2-4 weeks for your shipping container to come from the port to your city, so don’t go around planning your house warming party yet. Once the shipping container reaches the warehouse in your local area, you will be required to go in person to pay any Indian customs duty and clear the shipment. The clearing agent should have most of the Indian customs paperwork ready – just make sure you only pay customs duty for legitimate items only. Our agent wasn’t very good and tried to have us pay Indian customs duty on a LCD monitor claiming that only ‘full’ desktop computers were exempt from customs duty. Prashant showed him the customs duty laws of India and gave him a piece of his mind – we didn’t have to pay any customs duty.

Gabbar the shipper tips for shipping to India

Indian customs clearance is a day-long affair at a dingy government office so charge up your iPhone, add some movies to it, take custom laws printouts and don’t forget to take food and drinks with you. Cameras are apparently not allowed.

Customs duty in India - dingy government officePHOTO: Meenal and I waited for hours at CWC Indian customs office. We were starving.

Your shipment arrives home

After you clear Indian customs at your local warehouse, the shipping company should deliver the items to your house in 1 or 2 days. Before hugging and kissing the delivery guy, make sure that your shipment was not damaged during shipping. If everything is alright – read Gabbar’s request.

Gabbar the shipper request

Oye, praji. Welcome to India – you are having too good shipping luck. Wanting to sell your USA sofa to me?

shipping to India – our timeline

  • September, 2010: Began researching shipping companies
  • October, 2010: Short listed 2 shipping companies – ShipSmart and Bolliger. ShipSmart could pick up sooner, so we choose them.
  • Oct 16, 2010: Shipping company picked up our shipment
  • Oct 18, 2010: Prashant and I arrived in India
  • November 24, 2010: After we inquired about the shipping status, ShipSmart nonchalantly told us that our shipping container had been delayed by a month
  • December 27, 2011: Our stuff should have been delivered by now as per the original estimate
  • Jan 10, 2011: Our shipping container arrived at the port in Bombay
  • Jan 17, 2011 – Jan 24, 2011: Signed several papers, and made several phone calls to follow up on status of our shipment
  • Jan 23, 2011: Our shipping container arrived in Delhi
  • Jan 24, 2011: Prashant and I went for customs clearance
  • Feb 7, 2011: Our shipment was delivered at home. It was delayed after our Jan 24th visit because the fork lift at the warehouse was broken. It took them a week to get our stuff out of the shipping container.

shipping to India – our cost

Sea shipping to India

Shipped 2 couches (both 3 seaters), 1 queen sized mattress and a LCD computer monitor. In hindsight, we should not have shipped the mattress to India since we found perfectly good ones in Gurgaon.

  • Shipping company: $3550
  • Handling charges at Indian port paid after shipping container reached Mumbai port: $250
  • Handling charges paid at the Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC): $80
  • Customs duty: None

Excess baggage on British Airways

Checked in 7 Israeli Army Navy bags of 50 pounds each. 4 of them were free.

  • 3 extra bags: $208


18 local comments so far.
  1. Nice blog post you have shared here thank you very much for sharing such kind of blog so keep posting and update us.

  2. Amazing article……thanks for posting.

  3. Anonmyous,

    Why would you spend 5000 US dollars to ship 4000 dollar stuff ? Doesn’t make sense to me . is there anybody who thinks like me?

  4. nirav,

    Nice info. Which shipping company did you finally use?

  5. Nyaya,

    Going by own friends experinece and my own calculations based on web prices all the basic stuff can be purchased in India ie the same brands etc for about 3-5 laks. So dont ship mattresses, fridges etc. Just take your basic books which can be bought on kindle, some bed linen, towels of good quality and your clothes. There are plenty of good furniture stores especially in south India and one can buy any type there. Go to OFIC for all teh documents and taxation matters. For all used goods generally there is no customs duty but if you take too many electronic items like laptops then there is 35% duty.

  6. DSR,

    Hi Prashant and Meenal,
    Can you tell me what Shipping company you used and in general how was your experience. I am not looking for a details review but just a thumb up / down kind of hint ?

    Thanks a lot

  7. B.Venkatesan,

    We have export Industrial Locking Devices to USA , Salem
    What is the Actual Customs Clearing Charges for 1380 Kgs
    Please mail me by return

  8. Divya,

    Hi Meenal & Prashant,
    I am returning to India back after 3 years of stay in US and trying to find info. about the custom duty on the stuff i have shipped from us.
    The above two links are not working now, can you please provide me some information about the rules and allowances.

  9. Anonymous,

    Hi there a very good post… there is so little information on this topic.

    I have a question perhaps you can give me your opinion, I live in the Netherlands and I find Air shipping to be cheaper and easier from NL. I just want to ship my clothes (as you have pointed out) and my precious books. My doubts are with the books. I have such good books I cannot imagine leaving them back. They are not many but heavy, definitely around 5-10 Kgs. Do you know if I will have any customs problem if I ship books to India? I have to fill in a form and attach it to my TNT box inside a transparent envelope, which gives the details of all the things in the box, their PRICE and so on. Now what should I fill as the price? They are my personal stuff and for some of the books I don’t even remember where I bought them and how much they cost any longer. Help!

    • Prashant,

      I doubt they’ll create any fuss for books. Usually, they are looking for electronics. You could just put low numbers for price if you have to.

      Check the customs link in my other comments for “Full complicated version”. I didn’t see any mention of books.

  10. Ajain08,

    Meenal and Prashant…you guys rock..I am R2i to GGN shortly…but thank you thank you for everything on this website such a piece of mind

    • Prashant,

      AJain – glad to hear that Delhi Ledger helped. And welcome to Gurgaon.

      • sun,

        Hi prashant,
        We are moving to India. We are in California. Please helps us with the air shipping option. Can you please tell me some good cargo service or how can i send my bags to india thrugh air

  11. Ranjita_ray,

    “Prashant showed him the customs duty laws of India and gave him a piece of his mind – we didn’t have to pay any customs duty.”
    Hi Meenal and Prashant, we will be relocating to Gurgaon very soon. Which website did you refer to for the above customs duty laws? or did yo have ot compile for multiple sites?

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