Before we left Auckland for Belgrade, I promised to myself that I will not get irritated with anything we encounter, because things are as they are and I'm not making a living from complaining about new host country. This principle got tested in last 2 weeks with our stuff finally arriving. It took us 11 days to get container through the customs and there are few points to be made about moving to country with practices somewhat incompatible with what you got used to in ex-British colony:
Here is why:
I found that shipping cost of a container from New Zealand would be roughly half of what we paid for full service.
When container arrived it was in my name rather than in Jelena’s. This was a problem since Jelena had authorisation from Serbian consulate in Sydney to import goods without customs duties as she was working in foreign country for more than 3 years. Change of ownership of a cargo once it arrives was a loophole promptly closed by Serbian officials in order to curb dubious practices of the past.
Customs Department under Milosevic regime was state within state and was generating hefty foreign exchange for the government and officials. Funny enough, I found brochure in Customs office with independent review of their services based on interviews with importers and it was, in general, stating that importers perceived that there was less corruption in the service. However in 60% of cases some form of bribe is used (!) – It was impressive to see that government department would print something like this at their own cost.
Next issue was that MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) used train rather than truck to transport container from Thessaloniki (Greece). If goods are transported with the truck, they get cleared at the border and container can proceed directly to its final destination. True, train is cheaper, but in case of transport of personal effects to Serbia you will be liable from unloading of container, loading to truck that takes stuff to Customs depot, unloading truck and storage of your goods. This, apart from money, takes some time. I’m sure this is the case with all ex-Yu countries are the same with exception of, maybe Slovenia now in EU.
To make it more fun container also arrived to “Terminal for legal entities” rather than “Terminal for physical entities" (individuals). To allow Customs to proceed with the procedure this required approval from managers of both departments.
We also required invoice for the shipping. Another problem – cost of shipping was higher than declared value of the goods. My freight forwarder (špediter in Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian) said that this would confuse customs officials. BTW freight forwarder is a person that you absolutely need and that your door to door service will not cover. This is a guy that navigates dodgy bureaucracy for you.
As my brother said it is door to door but you must pull your door bit closer. I heard about the case when they dropped stuff in front of apartment building door arguing that it did not state which door.
And finally, paintings and books. We imported Jelena’s paintings to NZ from Serbia few years ago. This required extensive paperwork from Ministry of Culture. You would assume that presenting same paperwork would do the trick? Of course not, we needed original export customs declaration from few years ago...
Serbia is quite regulated place and, on face of it, this leaves little manoeuvring space. In practice this is bit different – nothing is possible, but, on other hand, everything is possible.
Container arrived to Belgrade on Monday, 9th April – which was of course Easter. This was 12 days later than scheduled (MSC). We finally got our stuff from Port of Belgrade on 20th April.
Movers were something else. We live on third floor of building built in 1936 (it looks like there was a huge building boom in period 1932-1939). There is no lift in the building and each floor is about 4 meters high + 2 meters of stairs on the entry. This meant moving 148 items weighing 5 tons in total 14 meters up by hand. We got 2 youngsters and after Maori boys that handled moving in NZ I admit I was bit sceptical. Half way through they were helped by another guy, who is I found, high school teacher supplementing his income with bit of work on the side (7 NZD an hour but it could be as low as 4 NZD an hour for this kind of job). I also found that truck driver has degree in Mechanical Engineering. Clearly there is some human capital to be released here.
Finally – we are quite happy with our new apartment. We are 400 meters from Marina’s primary school and Iva’s daycare, 200 meters from Jelena’s sister, 1200 meters from Jelena’s work, 400 from fresh produce market, 800 m from Kalemegdan 400 m from from Knez Mihajlova and numerous other facilities like theatres (apparently 39 of them in Belgrade), bookstores, movie theatres etc.
If you ever end up in Belgrade this is where we are: