How do I get my package that's been "Inbound Into Customs" in NY for 12+ days?
September 15, 2009 9:37 PM   Subscribe

My perfectly boring package from Sweden has been listed as "Inbound Into Customs" since September 4. How can I find out what the problem is? Can I get it cleared somehow?

I purchased some Swedish foods (some soft thinbread, a tube of cheese, a box of pearl sugar, a container of baking molasses, and two bags of licorice candy) from an online retailer - a mom & pop type shop that I've used successfully several times before. They shipped the package from Sweden on September 2, and the USPS tracking tool shows it arriving in New York on September 4. Since then, however, the package status has been "Inbound Into Customs" with no further updates. (Compare with my last three orders from them, which got to me in 4-5 days.)

I asked the store if they knew what was up - they say that they have never had this happen before, and their local post office doesn't know why it's been delayed so long. I talked to my postman and to a clerk at my post office, and neither of them had any suggestions or insights. Searching online for others in the same situation, my case seems a bit odd because a) it's taking more than 4-5 days to clear customs, b) the package doesn't contain even possible contraband of any kind, and c) it doesn't contain enough of anything to make them suspect that it's for re-sale.

I'm extra pissed about the whole thing because the bread and cheese would have been fine after five or six days in transit, but will be stale/spoiled now. And I craved it so...

Have you had this happen to you, and if so how did it turn out? Will they send me some sort of form to explain what happened to my package, and if so when? Can I find out what the problem is? Can I get it cleared somehow by explaining the contents? Any idea why this very boring package would be stuck in customs so long? Any help would be appreciated.
posted by gemmy to Shopping (10 answers total)

importing cheese may be a no-no? unsure...

If I think of it I'll check discretely for you at work tomorrow (USPS Consultant).

USPS can't help you with customs... that's a whole other world... err department.

Talking to someone at customs is prolly your only solution, but that's not much of a solution... all shippers are beholden to the customs dragon... and the dragon takes what the dragon wants.

sometimes depends upon what was written on the declaration, what the customs officer thinks may be in the package (vs what is written), what a dog may have thought was in a package, etc... I don't work much with customs at the moment, but I'll see what folks have to say where I work.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 9:53 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Uh, why don't you just call customs and ask? I'm sure they'll explain any issues to you.
posted by polyglot at 10:03 PM on September 15, 2009

You can get most of those, as I recall, in IKEA, if that's a possibility for you.
posted by alexei at 10:08 PM on September 15, 2009

From personal experience: US Customs is a branch of government designed to remind us residents of the United States how awful things would be if the Nazis had won WW2 by subjecting us in one small area of our lives to conditions which are similar to conditions which the Nazis probably would have created here if they'd gotten the chance. They act with utter impunity; they apparently have no oversight or limitation, especially since 9/11/01; they enforce their own laws and rules which are often actually in conflict with actual federal US law; and they're just downright annoying.

They traditionally will take weeks to deliver a package which they deem verboten and then deliver only a note stating that there were prohibited items within which cordially offers to refund approximate 10% of the purchase price of said item. However, get in touch with them; they may be able to tell you where your package is.
posted by koeselitz at 10:35 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

You should be able to get knäckebröd (like wasa-brand "bread") from IKEA, but maybe not tunnbröd. Knäckebröd is also carried by places like Whole Foods. No idea about customs, though, sorry.
posted by beerbajay at 6:20 AM on September 16, 2009

Thanks all. I should have thought to check with customs directly.

Here is the form letter answer I got from them:

If your package is long overdue or you think it may be lost in the mail, you should contact your local post office and request that a parcel tracer action be initiated to locate it. The Post Office often advises callers to contact CBP. However, we do not track packages into or out of our facilities, and unless you have a detention notice from CBP with a number to refer to when you call, we will not be able to locate your package even if it is being held by CBP.

If the post office has a tracking number that indicates the package went into CBP, but no record of it exiting the facility, you might ask their customer service representatives to work directly with the CBP facility to see if it is still there - although the absence of a record is not proof that the package is still in the CBP area. Packages exit the CBP facilities on a conveyor belt and the post office's electronic scanners do not always catch the bar codes on packages as they exit the facility.
[Emphasis mine.]

So it's back to the USPS again. And they won't initiate a "parcel tracer" for my package, because they already know where it is - it's at the CPB facility! The USPS person I spoke to said that I can wait until it's been 45 days and then try again. They won't consider it lost until then, because it can take that long for customs to send out a detention notice. So I'm SOL, apparently, for now. I may try a different post office to see if the answer changes, though...

(Oh, and I would do the long drive to IKEA. But they don't have the specific items I ordered, only similar ones. Nor do they carry Tyrkisk Peber, which is what the whole order was really about!)
posted by gemmy at 8:21 AM on September 16, 2009

Hey, I don't exactly know how to get this from you... but if you have an article number (either customs unique number or USPS tracking number)... I may be able to get some info.

Turns out my boss is working on some international projects with customs and an "example" of a package that got held up might serve to illustrate some issues that dreamers here don't yet understand about how difficult it is to design a product around a black hole in the middle (customs) where so many unknowns must somehow be explained to a shipper and recipient while still promising a price/timeframe/service standard (trying to grow international package via USPS).

He was saying that since it's not from a "screened" country (Columbia or Netherlands/Amsterdam for eg)... it wasn't automatically stopped... but could have been pointed out "randomly" or for some other subjective reason by an inspector on the belt... and "inspected." If food stuffs... it could have been noticed in the description... remember this is similar to if you're flying into the country - if there is anything that they wouldn't let you walk through the gate with (like soft cheeses) then they aren't supposed to let it get mailed in either.

Anyway... guess you could just post the tracking number here - it's not like this alone will get anyone anything, so it's not really "private" info.

I should be able to get something for you tomorrow if I don't see it before I/we leave the office tonight.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 12:22 PM on September 16, 2009

Oh, hey, that's awesome, Jiff! Sorry I didn't get to check this again until just now.

I have MeFi Mailed you the tracking code from the USPS. If it is of use to you/your boss in some manner, great. And if you do manage to get any additional info about what's going on, all the better.

Oh, and let me clarify the cheese thing. It's not like it's a wedge of raw-milk Camembert or anything. It's a metal tube of processed hard cheese, flavored into bacon cheese...
posted by gemmy at 5:15 PM on September 16, 2009

Update: Thanks so much to Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers for being super helpful and going the extra mile to check on the package status for me. He figured out that the package was really stuck in the customs black hole, not just in route somewhere within the system.

Jiff suggested that I write to the Postmaster General to see if I could get an update on the package by requesting an investigation through the PMG's office. So I did. I wrote an email, explaining my dilemma, giving my tracking number, and requesting an investigation and tracking of the package. As per Jiff's info, here is how I addressed it:

The Honorable John E. Potter
Postmaster General
U.S. Postal Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20260-0010

The salutation should be "Dear Mr. Postmaster General:".

I sent the email on September 17, and got a form letter back saying to be patient while they acted on the issue.

I had kind of written off the package by now, and things got really busy, so I didn't follow up again until September 24, when I checked the tracking info again. I was, frankly, very surprised when now the status of the mail was "Outbound from Customs". That same day, I finally ended up getting the package. It hadn't been opened, as far as I could tell, and the customs declaration from the vendor was super-detailed and 100% complete. I'm just not sure why the package got caught in the first place, and there was no indication on the package that it was even late - nothing to explain what the heck happened.

So, I don't know why it was stopped, and I don't know if the email to the PMG's office had anything to do with it getting released. But it finally made it to me about 20 days later, albeit with nastily moldy bread...

Thanks all, especially Jiff, for your help and support!
posted by gemmy at 10:23 AM on September 25, 2009

Oh -- here's one other resource you could try, with a bigger selection than IKEA-- Nordic House.
posted by alexei at 2:12 PM on October 4, 2009

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