As a young guy, whenever my dad imported car parts into the country, I had to follow my elder brothers to the port to work on them. Upon arrival, there were disagreements and conflicts between the freight forwarders (agents) and the importer. It kept me wondering why it was most often so. By God's grace, I grew up to work at the port. In retrospect, this article basically goes to the importer.
Whenever your exporter from abroad ships your container, he or she has to give you some documents. They are Bill of loading, Invoice, Packing List, Debit Note and any other docs he or she may add. If for example the goods were shipped from China, it takes an average of 30 days to arrive but irrespective of that, the one that shipped the goods (exporter) must tell you when the goods will arrive. If he or she refuses or forgets to tell you when the vessel will arrive, don't worry. Just ensure that you have the container number, that's very important. Any shipment that someone does for you, you should demand for the container number which is most often not the case when you have the documents I listed above. Where you don't have the documents, you should still demand for the container number to aid you in tracking the location of your goods.
You should also ask which shipping Line will bring the goods. In Ghana, some shipping lines are CMA, ONE, PIL, COSCO, MSC, etc. Once you know the name of the shipping line and the container number, you're good to go with regards to the exact location of your container and when it will arrive.
Let's say the agent told you it's a cosco vessel and the container number is CSNU5628619 (All container numbers are four letters and seven digits). With these info, just go to google and search for Cosco's website. Navigate your way through to container tracking. Once you input your container number, the system will tell you the name of the vessel bringing your container. Not just the name of but the ETA (The day the vessel will arrive) . You have to monitor daily to have current updates of your vessel.
So the essence of the exporter sending you the documents (BL, Invoice, Packing List, Debit Note) is to enable you to process your shipment as soon as possible before the vessel arrives. The documents should be given to an agency. They have the platform to send those documents to customs, only the agencies have. Without agencies, you cannot forward your documents to customs by yourself because you need the platform to be able to link you to customs, and only agencies have that.
Basically the agency should be done with the customs-processing within a week thereabout. Any shipment coming into the country must go through customs. They will give you the final document (declaration) to enable you to clear your goods.
So as the vessel is en route to the country, process the documentations with the agency. Once done, customs will let you know the duty you'll have to pay. Dont forget to be tracking your vessel to know when it will arrive. This will help you to work on time and save you some money. At the port industry, one day is money, so it shouldn't be wasted. You have a Limited number of days to keep the container since it arrives. Once you keep the container more than you should, you'll be charged an average of USD 100 daily. That's what is termed as demurrage, thus the need to work faster to avoid penalties.
The duty must be paid within 7 days to avoid penalties. Once paid, you have nothing to do but to wait for the vessel's arrival. Once the vessel arrives, the freight forwarder will do the rest though the importer must be prepared in advance to pay the shipping Line charges and Terminal charges before you could actually go into the port to start working on the container itself.
The import industry is a broad field. The procedures are just repetitive. Generally, we have two major ports in Ghana, being the Tema Port and Takoradi Port. Ghana as a country heavily relies on import than export. As a matter of fact, the port/harbour is always busy.
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