Shipping personal belongings from China to Poland during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Recently I began the arduous task of having my personal belongings shipped from China to Poland during the Covid-19 outbreak. Because of this experience, I would recommend avoiding shipment of personal items into Poland from non-EU countries unless it is absolutely necessary.

There are several reasons for this, the first of which is the lack of any up-to-date information on the required documentation needed for shipment. While information on the shipment of goods for commerce is abundant, there is a dearth of reliable and current information on shipments of personal belongings eligible for VAT and import duty exemption. I could find only a few outdated travel blogs and both the EU and Polish customs websites were of little help, except for noting duty free limits (€480.00) or disallowed items (firearms, animals, etc). My subsequent emails and phone calls sent through these sites seeking information were misdirected or unreturned most likely due to the Covid shutdown.

I was eventually informed by the shipping agents whom I hired, that two entirely different sets of paperwork would be needed in order to clear customs; one set from the country of origin and the other set on the Polish side. Since Poland is part of the EU, it is subject to all the relevant import laws and fees in addition to its own domestic set of regulations, fees and documentation.

In contrast Chinese clearance was simple and straight-forward, needing only copies of my passport and Chinese work visa to get my items released for outbound shipment. The only real problem I had on the Chinese side was with the wire transfer of funds from my American bank account to the shipping agent. But that is a subject for another posting.

As of late June 2020, the documents I needed in Poland for duty and VAT free clearance were the following: (a) my Polish address registration – form EL/ZC/5, (b) an inventory list of all my items and their value, (c) a letter from my previous employer in China stating that I had worked there for at least a year with a certified translation into Polish, (d) a power of attorney from the Polish shipper allowing customs clearance on my behalf. Plus I had to snail-mail signed hard copies of all these documents to the clearance agency – all signed in blue ink.

Originally, I had planned to carry my personal belongings as excess airline baggage, having pre-arranged this with the airline and paid all the fees in advance along with my ticket reservation. But once Covid-19 hit, I was unable to return to China to retrieve my belongings as planned due to flight cancellations, although I did get a complete and timely fee refund from the airline.

Finally, if you simply must ship your personal items into Poland from a non-EU country, it is of the utmost importance that you research the shipping agents thoroughly online. While I was able to do this research on the Chinese side, I was unable to do this on the Polish side as my Chinese shipping agent had already secured a shipping agency in Warsaw without my assistance. This has resulted in numerous delays due to discrepancies in the required documentation needed and poor agent communication once my shipment reached Poland. As a consequence I will end up paying more in shipping and storage fees, than the actual value of my items. Unfortunately I was required to pay all shipping fees up-front and as of the writing of this blog entry, my belongings have been sitting in a Warsaw warehouse for almost two weeks accruing storage fees at €55 a day while I await clearance. But what’s a little extorsion amongst friends right?

Mark is an American expat digital nomad, currently living in Krakow.

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