February 23, 2010

Sending a package to Ghana and the post office

Sending a package to Ghana or receiving one in Ghana is a headache. 

When it arrives you’ll receive a postal notice in the PO Box. You take the notice inside the post office where they will retrieve the parcel for you. Then, you have to take the parcel and notice to the customs desk in the post office. There, a customs officer will inspect the value of the parcel, as stated on the customs declaration that was applied by the sender, and ask you to open it. For example, if the declared value is US$75.00 as written by the sender, that's what they'll use to charge you duty on the package. 
They’ll search through the parcel. 

They’ll then apply a rate of duty to the package. After they write the duty amount on the form you must sign the form and pay the duty. If you don’t sign this or pay, you won’t receive your package. 

Since customs will almost always calculate duty amount based on the external value on the coupon stuck on the outside of the package by the sender, it’s worth asking package senders to write a low value to help reduce your duty costs when you come to take your package. 

Technically, the goods should be duty-free. You shouldn't have to pay anything on them, especially if it's your own old clothes or books or items from home that you asked your family to send you over (as was for me). Also not on chocolate or chips or other small goods. However, Ghana customs service at post offices has its own objectives and one of those is applying duty on every single package, irrespective of what's in it and even if it's of no value. 

Don’t fall into the trap of signing the duty forms before the officer fills in the amount of duty to be paid. Wait until the assessment is done and then sign the form. I hope this helps anyone receiving packages from home in Ghana.

The only time I avoided the post office was when someone from home sent a package via Express Post Courier (from Australia, probably similar elsewhere) from the national post service. It's a door-to-door service and it truly was. I received the package IN my place of volunteering and didn't have to go through that whole customs debacle. It's expensive, but could be worth it depending on the circumstances. 

22 comments:

  1. There goes Ghana Post Office revenue.
    Useful info though

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  2. Fair comment and thank you. I wanted to avoid specifics but I realized that the advice doesn’t make much sense without understanding what you may encounter in practice. So here it is: When I first arrived I heard stories from other volunteers who left packages at the post office because the value applied was more than the value of the package itself. As a result, we were given the advice to make the value as low as possible so, at least, we had some hope of not being over-charged. The first time I went to pick up two packages at once, the first thing the man asked me when I handed over my two notices was, “Will you leave it if the money is too high?” Great. Do you say yes so he will make it too high and you leave your package there? Or no, so he’ll over-charge? I said yes. He the asked me to sign the blank document before he filled in the amount. I refused. Looking fairly pissed off, he pulled a machete from beneath the counter, threw it across the table and told me to open the box. I took my time opening it. My Mum had put a lot of thought into what she sent and I decided I wouldn’t leave it so I was nervous. I mean, the machete made me nervous but I was doubly nervous after seeing inside. Then he looked at the label on the other package. It said “CDs”. I’d asked my friend for one burnt CD of my favourite tracks. It felt like a whole stack of CDs, but the officer didn’t open it, he just wrote 200,000 on the duty form. That’s about 40 Cedis today! I realized he thought it was a CD player so I said clearly that it was not a CD player, but just CDs. He threw the machete again. So I opened it and, to my joy, there were burnt music CDs. He revised the amount of duty on that to a reasonable level and then wrote what I felt was OK for the package from home. I dreaded going to pick up packages after that and every time it was the same act, although I never had the machete treatment after that first time. When I came back to work in 2007 I’d had to send one carry on bag by post at the last minute from Singapore because I had too much luggage. It was full of my books and some small clothing items. When the customs officer opened the box he broke my bag, the handle fell off, and then he tried to charge me 100 Cedis for my own personal effects—you don’t pay duty on your personal luggage or items of non-commercial value at the airport. I had to argue that this was my own property and not of commercial value. I can’t actually remember that final amount but I wasn’t going to leave it there so I had to pay. That was Cape. Kumasi weren’t too bad; at least they weren’t hostile. Bolga were fine and straight forward. I never received two packages that Mum sent in recent years to Cape Coast, and plenty of other volunteers never received theirs either. My Mum has stopped sending packages. I’m sure that office is making money, but I don’t know whether Ghana actually benefits. Anyway, don’t take any rubbish and stand your ground when picking up packages from home. And be frugal with the assessment of the value. Has anyone else experienced this? I’d be curious to know how other offices are.

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  3. And don't forget, if there's 'goodies' in that package, the customs officer will no doubt ask for their 'dash'... This be Ghana afterall.

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  4. Hey Pale Observer, absolutely. The volunteers gave their 'dash' and it sweetened the atmosphere--chocolates were a hit. I didn't know that when I was a customs virgin though!

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  5. I've had similar experiences with customs @ the post office so I can relate.
    For me, stating the value of the item comes handy if the package doesn't make it to it's destination & I need to file a claim.
    Hopefully, their revenue will go up (somehow & soon) so the officers will get paid well and wont have to ask for dashes, and parcels will quit vanishing.

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  6. Hi Mike, Thanks for your wise words. I hope too re the revenue. It's funny how I've had virtually no issues with any other office in Ghana, just that one. Ghanaians, incidentally, also get the same treatment--at least the few who stood before me in queues so it's not just an obruni thing. All part of life in Ghana.

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  7. I wish I had read this before I sent my fiance his birthday present but he never told me that he would also have to pay to receive his gift - he payed almost $40US (converted) - he knew I would feel bad knowing he had to pay that. I didn't find out until I sent him a package last week. I am assuming that he signed the duty forms before they filled in the price because he said they kept saying "oh you have to pay this fee & oh now you have to pay this other fee as well." My fiance is from Tema so it happens there. Thank you for the advice - I told him this time not to sign anything until after the amount is filled in.

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  8. i had a parkage frm uk and whn i went to the kumasi post!adum brnch. I was very happy becos it was a customized gold necklace and a mobile phone. Bt to my amazement the parcel was opend before me. When the custom askd me to open it. The tin was already opend and the items in them were stolen.

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  9. I regularly send packages to Accra, Ghana. Today, my cousin received the package I sent, a laptop computer. The customs "official" tried charging him $450 USD (FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY!) dollars. My cousin talked him down to $150, only a bit less than the laptop is worth. I spent $122 USD to send it. The US Postal Service told me their would be NO CHARGES in Ghana (uh, right.....), and the USPS tells me this is illegal activity anywhere in the world. Totally ridiculous. Is there anything one can do? Anyone we can tell?

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  10. We experienced a similar situation when we lived in Argentina. Also we told people to never send cash. My father sent my little girls $10 for their birthdays, but we never got it.

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  11. Am expecting a parcel from the USA which was posted on the 13th of june,is been almost 3weeks now and i haven't heard anything from the post office.I also did tracked the item several times and all i get is 'no imformation' from the official post office website.need an advice pls on my next line of action.

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    Replies
    1. call the USPS in Ghana and find out hat is happening then you will get back to the sender ...

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  12. The US postal service will have a tracking page online. You can enter the tracking number in there and see where the package has gotten to. Ghana Post is pretty good about entering numbers into their data base these days, and they show up back on the originating country's data base as well. Good luck with it. Same goes with parcels from Ghana to overseas--can log in at the originating country or destination country's postal service site for details.

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  13. I have friends in Ghana and I sent them packages. Besides paying the for items in the package and the cost of sending it I have to dish out and wire the money for customs so they can get the package out of customs. They all tell me that their public servants are all corrupt. Post office, Police, Airport officials. Such dishonesty should be reprimanded towards the entire country in boycotting the trading of goods to that country or any country whose public services are corrupted by their employees. Its a form of oppression. Tony aka DJ Sunday Towers

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  14. Yes, it's true you need a certain amount of money every time you receive a package IN ghana from overseas. Customs simply will not give it to you without applying some level of duty on it, and I still wasn't sure in early 2013 what calculations or rules were used to figure it out. I had no idea when writing this in 2010 that it would still be getting comments in 2013.

    One of the ways we didn't get charged duties was when the box was sent by the fastest form of post akin to a courier service. I can't remember which one it's called, but it just showed up one day. Given it was chocolate and vitamins, I was happy. The box was delivered to our door, not the post office. It was a well known shop in Cape Coast so they knew where to go. I was amazed.

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    Replies
    1. what? courier service, please be specific !!!

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  15. Yes, tracking items sent from Ghana to you, overseas, is better than ever. You enter the tracking number into Ghana Post's online system and can see where it's gotten to. However, I've noticed their server sometimes doesn't work and you get html rubbish appear. Sometimes you have to press enter three or four times for it to work--miraculously, the fifth time it will show the details. Other times it won't. What we learned (importing recycled baskets from our organisation G-lish Foundation) is that if the parcel has left Ghana, but not yet cleared customs in your country, it may not show up in any system. It may be in the port or arrived in your country, but won't show up until it's cleared. Once it's cleared customs in your country, it should show up in your postal service's system as well as Ghana Post's systems.

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  16. Hello! I am looking for receiving parcels in Accra. If I ask to the sender to put the real location of my place (and my phone number) and no the PO Box, the parcel can arrive? Is it better to use a big society of mails? like UPS or chronopost...

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  17. does the duty computation needs to be on the cedi equivalent of the value quoted on the package? if that's the case then i i am being cheated.

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  18. I sent a package (clothing for orphans/children at a school in Accra) on November 26, 2013. I received tracking info on the December 16 that the package was being held in Accra for payment. This is ridiculous. I spent money to buy clothing for 9 children; paid $175 US for shipping and the recipient has to pay to get the package? So sad and disappointing after trying to do something kind.

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  19. I sent a package to Accra Ghana from the United States on 12/13/13. Express Mail. It went through our customs on 12/14/13. It has yet to reach my friend there. Any suggestions on where it might be held up. Thanks.

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  20. To Anonymous on Dec 30: Yes, it's a sad story that this is the case for receiving packages of donations in Ghana at the post office. I saw many others struggle with the same challenge. Even I sent my own old summer clothes (some raggedy) and old joggers and second hand books and I had to pay duty on my own old stuff simply because it was shipped via the post office from overseas.

    Anon Dec 31: Yes, you have to go to the post office to which the package was addressed. We received items in Bolgatanga at our PO Box there. You go to the postal window at that post office and then around to the customs people to pay duty.

    Just always be really really nice to everyone involved. If you're a regular, be friendly as the postal guy will become your mate and it will make it easier picking up parcels in future.

    Abene Dec 11: Whatever currency is noted on the packing slip from abroad, the customs officer will calculate that into Cedis using the day's rate. Then, you pay duty on the Cedi equivalent. So, if it's US$100, it becomes roughly GHC 200. You pay duty on the 200. The challenge is it seems the duty rates fluctuate as does the amount you need to pay. At times we received tiny boxes of recycled cloth for our project. They had no value at all, but they did some kind of calculation and told us to pay 10 GHC. This was common.

    Adeline: It doesn't make any difference which postal service sends your package from abroad--whether sent from USA or anywhere--and it won't help putting your exact location in Ghana on the package either. It still goes to the nearest post office and you still have to go and pick it up from there.

    I think it was when someone used Express Courier International, which is door to door courier, that it was delivered directly to me at my place of volunteering at the time (centre of Cape Coast).

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