The Strange Tale of a T-shirt That Went on a Brazilian Holiday and Returned 6 Months Later

One thing that has surprised us the most since we started Anglotees is how popular our shirts are outside the USA. In fact, when we launched we intended to only ship within the USA due to the huge hassles and expense of shipping internationally. But we were hammered in our first few weeks about availability in this country or that country, so we made the wise choice to ship everywhere (now 20% of our sales are outside the USA).

Anyway, the reason I’m bringing this up is that shipping internationally is a much different beast than shipping domestically. It costs more. It requires more paperwork and it takes much longer.

In the case of one package, it takes almost 6 months.

Back in March, a customer in Brazil bought a t-shirt (incidentally, we ship A LOT of orders to Brazil, lots of Anglophiles there!). We dutifully fulfilled the order a few weeks later and didn’t think about it again. This was before we were using ShipStation for international fulfillment so this was when we had to fill out customs forms by hand and had no way to track orders. I got an email two months later from the poor customer – their shirt still hadn’t arrived.

I looked into the matter as best I could and came to the simple conclusion that the package had been lost somewhere between Valparaiso, Indiana and Rio De Janiero, Brazil. I gave the customer a refund/store credit and moved on, never giving is another thought.

Then on Monday, a package arrived in the post. A well packed package from Anglotees that had never been opened. It had been battered by its journey and was covered in labels written in Portuguese (a language I do not speak). On the one hand, I was pleased to see the shirt arrive back in the same condition we sent it – brand new.

On the other hand, I was dismayed that the package was returned at all. Why was it returned? Why was it never delivered to its destination.

Thanks to the help of Google, I was able to get the labels translated and it appears the mystery has been solved. The package eventually arrived in Brazil, but their Import Customs agency decided that tax was due on it. The tax was never paid and thus the package was sent back to its point of origin. A fascinating process that apparently takes 6 months to happen.

I wondered why the duty wasn’t paid. This has been a problem with a few countries we’ve shipped to – we’ve gotten emails from customers with sticker shock that their postal services were trying to extort them. We have no way of knowing how much import duty would be charged in which country. But I was able to look up Brazil and discovered that the customer would have been expected to pay over $30 US dollars in import duty – more than they had paid to buy and ship the t-shirt!

This is obviously absurd but there is nothing we can do about it other than warn customers that your country may charge you import duty if you buy a shirt from us. This is an area where our knowledge is woefully inadequate but a good rule of thumb is that you’ll probably be on the hook for VAT/Sales Tax/etc when you receive your package. If your country has a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, then usually you wouldn’t have to pay duties. But it depends. It’s really complicated and frustrating.

If your package is returned to us due to unpaid import duty, we will simply refund your order – MINUS the shipping cost. We can always resell the shirt but international shipping is expensive and we can’t recoup that.

All that said – this is rarely a problem – I’m only writing about it because I found it interesting. 99% of our international orders arrive at their destination promptly and we can track them every step of the way (and so can the customer as we provide you the tracking number). But there are some unusual cases where the various postal services return to the 19th century and something unusual happens.

I just hope that the t-shirt enjoyed its six month holiday in Brazil!