Living in Colombia for an extended period time, I’m sure you will realize that certain things here are either unavailable, very cheap or VERY expensive and totally out of proportion with the income of the average Colombian. Try paying US$120 for a pair of Levi’s Jeans. Or how about $300 dollars for a baby crib from Graco. Things that cost US$40 and US$79 respectively in the US. High taxes on most imports and a culture of adding excessive profit margins on top of their cost basis, are some of the reasons behind the high prices.
As a rule of thumb, anything that is locally produced is cheap and anything imported is absurdly expensive. Because of this huge discrepancy it makes a lot of sense to import many things to Colombia, especially from the US, because of its prices, close proximity and ease of shopping online.
Most likely, all of the Colombians you see wearing (real) international name brand items have had a friend or relative bring it in from Miami, which is the main Colombian hub in the US. The more wealthy part of the population fly to Miami or Panama City just for shopping purposes. If locals hear that you’re going to the US (or Panama) for a short visit they’d be happy to fill up any excess space you may have in your suitcase with things that are either hard to get here or just too expensive here. Several of my girlfriend’s friends have even made it their job flying back and forth, taking “orders” and adding margins on the things they bring back for people. An expat in Bogotá has also launched a service, called MyAirDrop, making it easier for travelers and buyers to connect. It’s still in beta mode by the idea seems good.
Shipping it yourself to Colombia…
is another option, which most people may not consider, as it sounds very expensive when in reality it does not have to be. It can be quite pricey though, if you use one of the big shippers like DHL, UPS and Fedex. They do a great job and it’s nice to have a tracking number and all that – the only “problem” is that they are a little too good at following protocols. You see, the trick to getting your stuff to Colombia on the cheap is working with a shipper that will take care of customs for you and maybe even declare the value of your goods a little lower than it really is. Not too low, as it will raise suspicion, but just low enough to ensure a smooth process. There are a few good, trustworthy shippers, that will declare a (lower) value on your purchases and pay the import duties for you, leaving you with very little hassle. If the declared value seems fair there are very little chances that your package will be destined for further inspection upon reaching Colombia.
A little tip is to never send (or buy) more than 5 units of each item as the Colombian customs will consider it an importation with the intention to resell. That means further inspection and more taxes for you.
Also, remember that there is a Free Trade Agreement between US and Colombia eliminating import taxes and duties for more than 80% of all consumer products that are made in the US. Please note that a lot of US products are not made in US, but imported from third party countries.
Here’s a list of shippers I have used or had recommended by friends.
ABE Cargo Express – I’ve heard good stuff about them. Only bad thing is that is has become a pretty big company and my friend told me that for some reason it has attracted a bit more attention from the the Colombian customs.
Colombiana de Carga – a friend of mine use this company for all his shipping from the US. He owns a local restaurant chain and they bring a lot of products and pay as little as US$1,4 a pound. Sounds pretty cheap to me. DHL charges around US$8 a pound for a 10 pound package. Big difference.
Aereomar Express is a friend of ours with decent rates. I have never used them, but I know that they do both imports to and exports from Colombia.
Giro Express of South Florida – no website, but a friend of mine that imports motorcycle spare parts, accessories and clothing for his business, swears by their service. He says they are fast, cheap and very serviceminded. He’ll just order what ever he needs online and have it delivered directly to their warehouse in Margate and they take care of the rest.
Your contact and address is:
7816 W Sample Rd.
Margate, FL 33065
Tel. (954) 796-4646
J&D Cargo Express – contrary to the other companies, these guys work out of Atlanta and not Miami. They got recommended to me by a friend that spends his time between Medellín and Atlanta. I’ve personally used them on several occasions and always totally hassle free and surprisingly cheap and fast. Packages usually arrive at our house in Cali within 8 days of sending from the US.
If you have any other recommendations or observations, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Thanks for reading!