Perils of Buying Tools from Abroad

I occasionally order tools from abroad, particularly from the United States and Japan, two countries that make excellent and (somewhat) affordable hand tools. I have bought saws, specialist chisels and a host of jigs and accessories. 

Recently, however, I had a terrible experience importing a small consignment of sharpening tools from Japan. The items ordered were two diamond coated saw files, one coarse ceramic sharpening stone and one conical sharpening stones for honing gouges and other curved blades. Not a big deal. The total value of the consignment was about `4,000 plus ` 1200 for EMS or expedited shipping. 

The parcel should have arrived in 3 days. I waited and waited and no trace of the shipment. Finally filed a complaint on the IndiaPost website with the tracking number provided by the seller ( and discovered that for some reason it had been held up by customs.

Indiapost helpfully provided a phone number and email address to get in touch with the concerned customs officials. I sent several emails and tried calling the number which was either busy or never answered. Days passed and every day I duly sent an email and called.

One day the phone was answered and a very polite and helpful lady explained that I needed to come to the foreign post office in Delhi and meet the customs officials. When I told her that I lived in the suburbs, the lady laughed and said people came from all over north India, even distant Punjab, to have their parcels released.

One grey wintry morning I made my way to the foreign post office, which turned out to be a multi-storied affair, clean but cold and forbidding. I met the customs officer who made me verify the package, checked the items against the invoice and my identity and appeared satisfied.

He then took me downstairs to his office and shut the door, glumly announcing that the package would attract duty. I replied that it was fine with me and told him to charge whatever and release it. He said he would release it and I would have to pay the duty amount to the postman.

I went back home relieved to have sorted out the matter and again waited. Days passed nothing happened; so the next time I was in town I went and met the customs official again. He was most polite and said the matter had completely slipped his mind and that he would release the parcel that very day. I took his mobile number and departed.

Foreign Post Office Delhi. This photograph has been taken from which has an interesting article titled "One Bad Idea: Foreign Post Office"
Again I waited; days passed and I called the customs official every day. Every day he claimed that he had released the parcel. I then found out the number of the EMS in charge and called the lady who looked up the item in her computer and said it had not been released by customs. Again I called the customs official, who as usual said he would clear it.

Then one day, the postman arrived with the item; miraculously no customs duty was charged. However, instead of getting the package in 3 days (for which I had paid double shipping costs) I got it roughly after one and a half months! So much for expedited shipping to India.

Like many things in our country, the foreign post system appears to be broken. A clerk at the foreign post office told me that items could be tracked if they were sent by EMS or registered post. Items sent by regular post often disappeared into a huge black hole and could never be traced.

There appears to be no accountability regarding the receipt and despatch of unregistered letters, documents and parcels. The clerk told me never to order any item from abroad through regular post as it is a hit or miss affair. Many books ordered from abroad have never reached me and several vendors abroad including David Barron, a UK tools maker, told me he never ships to India. The items just do not arrive.

What is worse, even registered items can disappear down the hole since Indiapost does not intimate customers if their letters or packages are held up. When I was looking for solutions to my problem on the Internet, I found pathetic complaints from hundreds of people writing to different forums about their sad experience ordering items from abroad.

From what I could gather there is little or no accountability in the system. Even my complaints registered at the Indiapost website did not elicit any response. I had to find out the name and telephone number of the concerned person to find what was the problem.

The system stinks and if India is planning to go global it better fix its broken foreign post system, among other things.

Indranil Banerjie
27 January 2015


  1. That is appalling, especially as you have no recourse but to repeat your request. The officials fear no reprimand. I'm glad you finally got the shipment.
    Bruce Mack

  2. I had already shared my experience of India Post with you. Therefore, I never buy any thing through India Post. Best is get it through, or have your items shipped to SHOPUSA, IPS or Borderlinx. I just received my consignment from Peach Tree Woodworking supplies. You may pay a little extra, but you are at peace. It was a miracle, that one Whiteside top bearing bit arrived promptly with no duty through USPS-INDIA Post, with no tracking details.

    1. You should share your experience on tyhis forum. Would help many people and forewarn them.

  3. I share your frustration Indranil. I have had a number of similar experiences with India Post when we tried to send stuff to my sister abroad or received stuff from her. More often than not, I find big gaping holes in the parcels that finally arrive at my house, if at all they do. Many times, we have noticed that the parcels are all badly mangled and torn up and specific items are taken from the parcel before they are delivered. I also had a terrible experience with Bangalore Customs office when I received a cargo shipment of my personal artefacts when I moved from US to India a couple of years back. Both of these reasons make me hesitate when I get tempted to place orders for any tools from outside vendors.

  4. Luckily, all my tracked/untracked items shipped from UK/China via Indiapost have reached me safely till date.
    I had to wait 1.5 months for an item from China (sanding discs) wherein it was held for 5 weeks in Delhi FPO for inspection.
    Few untracked items from UK just arrived in 10 days !
    I try to pay atleast for tracked registered post if it is available - atleast I am able to know where the package is as of current date.

  5. Some of my imports too have fallen in the customs black hole. Untill today i didnt even know where to look. Ill now pay a visit to FPO Delhi. Having said that i have come to trust USA for all my imports. The website duly calculates indian import duty which is paid during checkout. Not only you get some of the best deals delivery for orders above USD 125 to India is free and i have never faced any issue.

    1. Yes, is the best bet but sadly they have discontinued free shipping above 125 dollars.

  6. A few months ago, I too had ordered some small tools/bits from China and the US and had to make many phone calls (apart from spending a few sleepless nights) to the Post Office enquiring when they would hand over my package that they had already received.

    Much before this consignment, my brother had sent me some shirts from the UK and I never received them. Luckily, my brother received a refund. Upon enquiring with the seller, my brother was told that shipping to India is wrought with non-deliveries.

  7. Hi Indranil, Welcome aboard!! First time experiences are very hard, but once you know how it works, it'll be easier. BTW, I'm surprised about you experience. Unless, the parcel get to IndianPost, the status of the post should mention that it is with customs.
    My experiences
    I have no complaints now but I'm still at the mercy of human interventions. :)

    1. You seem to be a pro at this! How has your experience with ebay been generally?

  8. Guess, one who takes maximum hits, becomes a pro. :)
    I haven't really bought may woodworking tools from, more of them were cycling tools. My only bad experience was this.
    I have bought lot of woodworking tools from I find sellers very honest. Even a seller with less than 10 rating is very helpful. I usually, get them shipped with Royal mail. Never had a problem.


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