Dear Chatelaine's Antiques,
I want to buy some beautiful antiques that I saw on eBay. I live in South
Carolina, but the seller is overseas. Any advice on shipping items to the United States?
— Milton M.
It's wonderful how online auctions have opened markets and brought buyers
and sellers together from all over the world. But be careful. Customs fees
and other import laws can make buying objects from overseas a lot more
complicated than you might expect.
First, make sure the objects can be legally imported. There are several
items, including those made of ivory and materials from other endangered
animals, which you can't bring into the United States.
Now do some calculations. You may find that packing, shipping, and
delivery costs outweigh the value of your objects. According to the U.S. Customs Service's
Guide to Importing, some seemingly inexpensive shipping methods can end up
costing more, because they're susceptible to theft and logistical problems.
Try to arrange for postal or door-to-door delivery, so you don't have to
meet your package at a port or hire someone to forward it to you. Make
sure the seller provides an accurate description in English along with the
package. Even though the seller writes it, you'll be the one paying fines
if customs says the description is misleading.
Basically, maintain a good line of communication with the seller. And
since you'll be on the hook for any mishaps, it pays to research all the
laws and regulations. Visit the U.S.
Customs Service web site for more information.