High prices at home and wider exemptions on customers are causing more and more Israelis to order goods online from overseas, but Israel Post hasn’t adjusted for the surge in deliveries and they are often sitting in postal centers or sent back undelivered.
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Online shoppers tracking their orders often get notices saying that their package is stuck in customs, but in many cases that’s not true.
Orders valued at less than $75 are automatically exempt from duties of any kind, but online trackers frequently mark deliveries that way when the final leg of the delivery is done through Israel Post, rather than through a private delivery company like Fedex, UPS or DHL.
In the latter case, customs get an advance notice that the package is arriving and does a preliminary assessment based on weight, assessed value, sender and recipient, about any customs due before the goods arrive and decide whether it requires further inspection.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, said she waited for three months to get an order of perfume from the United States delivered. The order was for $68 and under the exemption ceiling, but the online tracker said it was in Israeli customs.
“I decided finally to call customs, but never succeeded in reaching anyone and finally gave up,” she recalled. “I called Israel Post’s customer service number and told them I’d been waiting a long time. The representative said there was nothing to do.”
Finally, after three months she found out through her order tracker that the perfume had been returned to the U.S. without any explanation. When she complained to the Customs Authority, she was told that the office itself never holds packages, even those liable for duties – everything is stored until cleared at postal centers.
Israel Post says it has been inundated and processed 40 million packages from overseas last year, a quarter of them in the final two months of the year when Israelis were spurred to buy by Black Friday and Christmas sales. Private companies deliver a lot more.
A survey by PayPal estimated that online sales grew by 19% in 2015 to 9.3 billion shekels ($2.4 billion), while mobile purchases jumped 41% to NIS1.8 billion. About 73% of Israeli Internet users polled by PayPal said they had made at least one online purchase in the last year, the third highest among countries it surveyed.
Israel Post said it is introducing new procedures to speed up deliveries and improve service. “We recently distributed to professional staff in the field new procedures that prohibit returning deliveries until the customer has been called, rather than relying on mailed notices. This policy should prevent deliveries being sent back accidentally,” a spokesman said.
The Israel Customs Authority estimates that 90% of all personal imports, as online orders by consumer are called, fall under the $75 ceiling for customs exemption. When they are over $75, the buyer gets a notice about the customs due and pays them at the post office – they are not supposed to remain at customers more than two days.
However, the authority says deliveries can be delayed when the product requires official government approval, which is the case for imported car parts or a food supplement, which need to be cleared by the transportation and health ministries, respectively.
In cases like these, the recipient is supposed to get a mailed notice, but approvals are not supposed to take more than a day or two.
The other big exception is packages containing something the Israel Post suspects is contraband or mislabeled.