Last week, my champagne gold Olympus E-PL1 – a camera I’ve been drooling about since it was announced a couple of months ago – arrived in the Philippines. I bought it from Amazon, and had it shipped from the US by a local mail forwarding service called Johnny Air. I’ll be writing about the camera itself in the days to come (it’s a nifty little gizmo that camera geeks have been abuzz about), but first I’ll detail the rather roundabout process that the camera went through to land in my greedy little hands.
Buying online and other hazards...
Online shopping experts can go ahead and skip this post and head straight to the goods. I’m betting you’re like most Third World Nerds though, who find online shopping a little, um, how to say it... all frakked up!
1. Frakking expensive
Shipping fees can get pricey. Tick Amazon’s express door-to-door delivery options and prepare for a big shock when you press the Check Out button. It ain’t cheap.
2. Frakking forever
Choose surface mail, meanwhile, and prepare to wait for a short eternity. I once waited three months for a shipment of books.
3. Frakking corruption
Upon arrival in the post office (regular mail lands in your local post office) expect to be hassled over arbitrary taxes on your package’s “customs inspection”. A good mugging feels less invasive than having these guys sniff through your package, judge how much cash you’re able or willing to part with, and charge you exorbitant fees with a smile. Sometimes you get lucky though and don’t pay a thing. You never really know.
4. Frakking restrictions
Amazon, like many online retailers, also has a lot of restrictions when it comes to shipping. DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and video games are controlled by region restrictions. Some retailers will only ship to the USA, or Europe. This is the perfect time to use a mail forwarding service.
Mail forwarding for the masses
A mail forwarding service accepts your shipments in the country of its origin and then forwards your package to the Philippines. I chose to go with Johnny Air, but there are other services out there. One that I tried before was called My US Mailbox, and that worked fine, but I was after Johnny Air’s convenient location in SM Megamall.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Contact Johnny Air
This is the weirdest part of the process, but don’t worry, it works. You can either call or email Johnny Air and tell them that you wish to use their mail forwarding service. In turn, they will give you a name and address to send your package to. That’s really all there is to it. Here’s their website.
Step 2: Make your order
Order your stuff online and when checking out, enter the name and address Johnny Air gave you in Step 1. It usually looks like this:
Annalyn-[insert your name here]
Step 3: Your package arrives at Johnny Air USA
My wife and I are big fans of tracking our packages, so the moment they arrive, we shoot Johnny Air an email for confirmation. If you have multiple packages, you can make Johnny Air wait for all the packages to arrive before sending them to the Philippines (a P300 fee will be charged to you) or you can just have them send all packages right away.In 5 to 7 days, your package will arrive in SM Megamall. You’ll be charged according to the weight of your package. You will also be charged for any customs fees, but don’t worry; customs fees are transparent. Johnny Air has a list of common items and the fees you can expect to pay. If your package gets through customs without charge, you won’t have to pay anything.
Step 4: Head over to Megamall
Step 4: Head over to Megamall
So how did Johnny Air fare in this shipment?
Speed: From Amazon to Johnny Air USA, it took three days. From Johnny Air USA to Johnny Air Megamall, it took six days. So roughly nine days.
Price: We paid under six thousand pesos for one camera, one camera lens, one toy, and three hardbound books. That was a little more than we expected, but most of the blame belongs to the heavy books.
Service: Annalyn responded by email in an acceptable time period. Fast isn’t the word I’d use, but I have no complaints. At Megamall, the staff was very efficient and businesslike. They managed to find our package quickly among the sea of boxes in their space.
Overall: If the Olympus E-PL1 were actually available in our corner of the Third World (and it isn’t, at least not widely), the price we paid for mail forwarding would probably still be cheaper than the usual markup on cameras. Judging from the fact that the $750 Olympus E-P1 is going for over $1,000, I’d venture that we saved some money. And we now have a camera that isn’t even widely available locally.
So should you go Johnny Air? I highly recommend it!