Foreigners find it almost impossible to order books, deal with bureaucracy at central Post Office
Foreigners living in Buenos Aires eager for items from their home countries are increasingly turning away from the postal service, as a complex and time-consuming collection process often translates into hours of navigating a difficult bureaucratic system filled with complicated and sometimes contradictory rules and regulations.
Norman Clarke, a 42-year-old software developer living in the neighbourhood of Belgrano has given up on printed books as a result of all the hassle.
“I used to order books online all the time, but after several experiences of going to Retiro and waiting for hours to pick them up, I gave up and bought a tablet,” Clarke told the Herald.
And books should, at least in theory, be one of the least complicated items to receive from abroad because they are not subject to special duties.
Some immigrants have become so frustrated by their experiences at the central Post Office’s international package depot in the Retiro neighbourhood that they have learned to rely on friends — and sometimes friends of friends — to bring them things from their homelands.
“I basically stopped ordering anything on the Internet from abroad and instead bring things back from the US with me when I travel, or ask friends to bring things back for me,” Clarke added.
The lack of clarity in which packages will be sent to a recipient’s home and which will be kept in Retiro is one of the main obstacles. The criteria often seems random.
Some who have braved the office in Retiro quickly vowed never to try to navigate the complicated system again.
“There were multiple lines you have to get into. One to check your paper saying that you have a package waiting, then one to pay, then one to show your ID, then one to wait until they call your package number,” explained Meagan Edwards, a 33-year-old Candian from Alberta currently working in Buenos Aires as a teacher trainer.
“The second time it was the same process but took almost 5 hours. After our third time, we told our families to just stop sending things. It wasn’t worth the hassle,” she added.
For the time being at least, any changes in the system seem unlikely.
The AFIP tax bureau, which is in charge of some of the postal service’s management, insists there is no issue with how international packages are handled and delivered.
“There are no problems,” AFIP spokeswoman Adriana Pintabona said, adding that any issues encountered when receiving packages could be solved through the normal procedures as outlined by the Post Office guidelines.
“If you don’t receive your package then you’ll get a note. Then you have to take it and the AFIP form to the central office at Retiro and collect the package. There may be some waiting in line but you will receive it eventually,” she said.
Some immigrants echoed that sentiment, noting that there may be long waits and multiple rounds of paperwork but they were ultimately able to receive their packages.
“I’ve sent many packages to Argentina from the States for many years and have yet to lose one. I think you just have to look out for the messages of arrival and then bite the bullet and go to customs,” said Lilian Neal, a retiree from the United States.
For others, however, the red tape can become insurmountable.
“I’ve had horrible luck with getting any packages,” self-employed Buenos Aires City expat Kristance Harlow, said. “They end up in customs for months and then just get shipped back to the sender.”