Once we’d packed our household goods, and the 100-cubic foot carton had been collected by the local freight company, we waved it goodbye. Early the next day (August 31st) we received an e-mail that our carton was already at the shipping terminal in Charlestown, South Carolina. At this point, the shipping company had contracted for space in a container, would put our carton inside with other peoples’ goods, and when that container was full, assign it to a ship for the journey across the Atlantic.
How long will this all take? There is no clear answer as it all depends on how long it will be necessary to wait for the shipping container to be filled. If the container is empty when your carton goes in, and there are not a lot of people shipping to Europe, it can take several weeks to fill it. However, if there are sufficient shipments, it can go rather quickly. This was the case for us.
We received a note on September 8th that our shipment was booked to leave on the 14th and due in Rotterdam on the 26th of the same month. They supplied us the name of the ship , Maine Trader, so we were able to track the progress of the ship from Charleston, to London, to LaHarve France, then finally to Rotterdam where our package would clear Customs. (See below for where the ship was as of February 16 this year, which in this case was Savannah, Georgia.)
Our inner geeks were tickled about being able to track the ship. But first there was the "little" issue of a hurricane headed directly for the Port of Charleston.
Sadly, 2017 was a very ugly year for hurricanes. No slouch, Irma came through the city with a record storm surge at high tide. To be honest, we were sure our carton had to have taken some damage sitting in the port, if not being outright destroyed. When we didn’t receive any bad news--UPakWeShip's representative was always on the ball--we kept our fingers crossed. To our relief, Maine Trader left Charleston as scheduled, staying one step ahead of yet ANOTHER storm, Hurricane Jose.
While our carton was enroute, the company handling our shipment on the European side contacted us for even more paperwork. We had most of what they required, but we needed to have an Atestado de Residência, a certificate of residence, to prove we were now residents of Portugal. We’d already had to prove that we’d been living in the United States for at least 2 years by sending utility bills and tax statements, and now we need to prove European residence to avoid having to pay duties. A check with our lawyer confirmed that we needed to visit Porto City Hall to obtain the proper paperwork. Harold grabbed his passport and a copy of the rental contract and made the trek downtown.
When dealing with bureaucracy in Portugal, the drill is usually the same:
1. Go to the information booth or ticket machine and get a number
2. Take the ticket to a waiting area and wait for your number to be displayed
3. Go to the desk identified after your ticket number is listed
4. Prepare for yet another level of bureaucracy and probably a trip somewhere else to get another ticket.
That being said, Portugal is pretty efficient and precise, but often requires a load of paperwork and time to make everything work. (Much like the U.S. on occasion.) In order to streamline the task somewhat, the larger cities have developed a system of Lojas do Cididão or Citizens' shops which allow for one-stop shopping for many administrative tasks. Most offices for various services and governmental activities are clustered at these locations.
Harold's first stop for the residence certificate was the Citizens' Shop in Porto. Eventually a clerk looked over what he had and told him that he’d would need to go to the town hall in Cedofeita to get the certificate.
This happens occasionally, kind of like a scavenger hunt requiring a Metro card. Fortunately, the office was located in Boavista, not too far from our apartment, and quite close to a Metro stop. After some back and forth reviewing what he needed, the clerk there filled out the proper form and took copies of our entire 14-page rental contract and copied the ID and Visa pages of his passport. The verdict: Return tomorrow and they’d have the certificate ready for pickup.
Indeed, the next morning there was a proper document with a raised seal attesting that he is a resident of Portugal (the shipping contract was in his name so all this paperwork was as well). Harold snapped a photo of the doc with his phone and sent it to the shipper. They emailed back that they had everything they needed, and we were all ready for the shipment to arrive in Europe. Now came the tricky bit – getting a 900-pound, six foot tall carton into our below grade parking garage. More about that nail-biting adventure in the next blog post.
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.