From Iceland — Customs, Inspections, And Permits, Oh My!

Customs, Inspections, And Permits, Oh My!

Published April 20, 2012

Customs, Inspections, And Permits, Oh My!

Moving halfway around the world to Iceland isn’t just about walking onto a plane and stepping into a new life. It’s not even all about finding a job, finding a place to live, learning a new language, or even getting the permits to work and live in Iceland. That’s because unless you’re leaving everything of your old life behind (or had little to begin with), you have “stuff” to bring. And getting that “stuff” to Iceland isn’t necessarily simple.
Furniture and other ordinary household goods are one of the most straightforward—albeit time-consuming and costly—of such challenges. To send these from America, there’s pretty much one shipping company option: Eimskip. First, of course, I had to pack everything I wanted to bring and sell everything I didn’t. Everything had to be staged into the garage because when the shipping container comes to pick up your stuff to take it to the port, in addition to the many thousands it costs to ship, they charge $80 USD an hour to sit there while you load it. Which means hiring a lot of people to help—and not just to save time. There’s no ramp and the container is 1.2-1.6 meters off the ground, meaning lots of heavy lifting of your big heavy stuff. I rented a forklift.
If that was all one has to do—oh, that’d be too easy. No, you also have to inventory everything, which entails filling out long lists for the shipping company and a more specific list of taxable goods for Icelandic customs, which spends a couple days rifling through all of your stuff to see if you’re trying to bring in contraband or, more commonly, trying to avoid paying the (quite significant) customs duties. Things you’ve owned for less than a year as well as anything in specific categories (such as food) must be listed to be taxed.
Shipping a car is an entirely different issue—and since I had thoughtlessly packed the car’s ownership title, I had to (on an extremely tight timeframe) get a replacement title requested and sent directly to Eimskip’s offices. The car can’t go in with your furniture and must have its own separate shipping truck and crate.
My case became even more complicated because I’m bringing plant seeds in my household goods shipment. That’s a whole new issue, and you have to bring in Matvælastofnun (the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority) to get an import permit. You first have to list each type (name, genus, species) and quantity of seeds, and if you get approval, you then have to fill out a request for an import certificate, which you can’t even send in until you have all of the shipping details confirmed. But bringing in seeds is far simpler than what I had to do to bring in plants.
I moved my plants by plane in February—by plane because, obviously, rare tropical plants don’t exactly enjoy hanging out in cold dark shipping containers for 2-3 weeks. That, too, took a certificate, as well as transplanting all of my plants to soilless medium or bare-root, wrapping them and insulating them heavily, adding heat packs, cramming them all into airplane-sized suitcases or boxes (even the trees), and getting them transplanted back as soon as possible on the other end.
But to get that certificate was itself quite an endeavour. There was a great deal of back and forth over whether I could get an exemption to not have a kennitala (Icelandic ID number). That turned out not to be a problem, but then I hit the big stumbling block: only licensed and supervised growers can import. So I had to become a USDA-certified grower, and then have a USDA inspection of all of my plants before I could ship them. And due to a glitch in the USDA computer system that classified vanilla and dragon fruit as “endangered species,” I had to leave a few behind. Bleh. And after all that work, when I finally went through customs, they didn’t even look at the plants, and were more concerned about how much alcohol I was also carrying.
The last challenge has been bringing my parrot. First I had to get approval for a “home quarantine,” which means getting my apartment owner to approve and then the Food and Veterinary Authority to inspect and certify the apartment for him to be quarantined there. Then I had to pay the fees ($75 USD), and then in preparation for my flight with him to Iceland, have him tested for Salmonellosis, Newcastle Disease, and Avian Influenza ($540 USD). The timeframe between when the results should come back and when the papers must be sent in is only a few days, and the (incompetent) local avian vet told me that it couldn’t be met (but not until after taking my money and accidentally injuring my parrot with the needle). I managed to squeak by the deadline, barely. And to top it all off, the Icelandic side neglected to mention that I might need to get a CITES certificate for him to be able to leave the country. More money, more rush, more headaches.
I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve had to spend on international and overnight mail these past few months. Probably at least $600 USD.
By now my furniture and car are at the port in Virginia awaiting the ship, my parrot is ready to go, my plants are being babysat and recovering in Kópavogur, and in a couple weeks I’ll be back home in Iceland. Resting up to deal with the anticipated hassles on the other side of the pond. 😉

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