Blog: “Drop Hide Lose”


dhl delivered to brokerWe knew that shipping stuff to South America was surrounded by horror stores: parcels lost, returned to sender, and the inevitable long wait. We prepared ourselves for a long wait, but we were stunned by the utter incompetence demonstrated by a company which – we’d naively imagined – would have the experience and know-how to deliver our parcel without hiccup.

Following an accident in the wind in the Torres del Paine we needed to send a new fork, along with other bits and pieces, from Lancashire, UK to Patagonia, Chile. We considered using Parcelforce, but having heard bad tales about them (there’s a theme emerging here), and having seen DHL offices in Chile, we plumped for the latter. We thought they’d understand how logistics in Chile work as far as addresses, customs, etc were concerned.

From the outset, we tried to make sure we did everything correctly, and followed DHL’s instructions to the letter. ‘Basecamp’, AKA Peli’s mum, phoned DHL a few times to check how the process would work: what paperwork was required; how long it would take; whether the address would be OK.

Since we would be out and about doing touristy things while waiting, we hoped, we decided to have the parcel sent to our local post office in Puerto Natales, the Correos de Chile and use Postal Restance. DHL said this would be fine.

dhl drop it, hide it or lose itDHL informed Basecamp that they would come and pick up the parcel, check over the content and paperwork that Basecamp had printed out and filled in.

Friday, February 17, 2012
Everything seemed to be going well, and almost right away we saw the parcel speed through the DHL network on their online tracker.

From home it sped to Manchester, then East Midlands Airport, then Madrid in Spain. Then, nothing happened for a nailbiting day. Where would it go next, via the USA or…?  No, in fact it went straight to Santiago in Chile in under three days, even over a weekend. This felt good and right in line with what DHL UK staff had told us, 3-5 working days.

Then, the total incompetence of DHL reared its ugly head.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The tracker told us that the parcel was in “Clearance Delay” for three days with no further information. DHL didn’t even contact us, they had our details in Chile and Basecamp’s details in the UK, but we heard not a word.

Basecamp then started a barrage of phone calls to DHL and was told, by a different person each time: “We don’t know anything, we’ll get back to you”. But they made no proactive attempt to contact us.

Thursday, February 23, 2012
Then suddenly they told us to call DHL urgently in Chile to give them more information. They needed a Chilean tax number and a Chilean phone number which would work. This was information that should have been double-checked by the DHL when they collected the shipment on the very first day. For example, we don’t have a Chilean tax number as we’re travellers. Apparently, a passport number would suffice.

Peli called DHL Chile, in Spanish, and provided her passport number, checked the delivery address (it was fine to deliver to Correos de Chile, said the Chilean DHL man). Again, these were details we could have provided earlier. The Chilean DHL man said we should call back on Monday to check what taxes and import charges were due, and start the ‘billing process’.

Friday, February 24, 2012
The confusion continued for the following days. When Basecamp called DHL UK we were informed that there was no record of any call to Chile DHL on the system. All contact was instigated by us. DHL didn’t proactively provide us with any useful updates. We expected much better, especially since we’d paid a premium for their ‘Express’ service.

In that phone call we learned that there were no details regarding our phone call to DHL Chile in the system.  Having finally received their email address after numerous phone calls, we quickly emailed a copy of Peli’s scanned passport to them.

Then after many phone calls to DHL and six days wait the online tracker informed us that DHL is trying to contact us and if they can’t reach us, we should contact them. Eh?

A day later, now a Saturday, DHL contacted Basecamp (the first time they had proactively contacted us) and told us that they have sent the passport details and other information to DHL Chile. DHL Chile would be closed until Monday morning.

Monday, February 27, 2012
Early Monday morning for us – since we are three hours behind the UK – we started an online assault on DHL. Basecamp emailed. Peli’s sister emailed and we called with Skype.

We were passed like a hot potato around the call centre: DHL staff clearly didn’t want to talk to us. We also emailed every address we could get hold of at DHL, with all the information they might need. It was guesswork at this point as we didn’t know what was needed, and DHL UK didn’t seem to know either. We put our foot down and told them to get on with it: we’d paid for a premium ‘express’ service which was not being given.

We were generally fobbed off with, “We’re looking into it” replies. No one seemed to want to grasp hold of the problem and try to solve it effectively.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
On Tuesday, two weeks after our first contact with DHL, they informed us that customs in Chile needed the original invoices for each item in the parcel. They thought we were trying to import the goods into Chile in order to sell them. on. What’s more, if they’d looked into the parcel, they would have found all this information.

DHL also tried to fob us off with the line, “Customs can hold your shipment for up to 30 days without letting you know why”. It was clear that DHL UK had no idea what the problem was, and their attempts to solve it were entirely ineffectual.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
On Wednesday we woke up to an email from Basecamp telling us that the paperwork accompanying the parcel was fine. “It is perfect,” said DHL UK.

Can I hear you say, “Argh!”? You’re welcome to thrown in your own choice of swear words, too.

Just an hour or so later, we were informed by DHL UK that their advice was – in fact – wrong, and the paperwork accompanying the shipment was incorrect. This was a week and a half after the shipment had arrived at Chilean customs.

Clearly, when it goes wrong at DHL, it goes tits up big time.

Basecamp was immediately on the case, and got on the phone with DHL UK to make sure she was filling in the online form correctly. Halfway through the call the DHL minion had to go to a meeting and abandoned Basecamp with her incomprehensible form. What fantastic customer service! We even had to work out how to complete the online form for them, as even their IT department couldn’t complete it.

Later that day we received two emails from the online tracker: one saying that the parcel had been ‘delivered to broker’ and another from the apologising for the delay and saying they would refund the cost of the shipping (£140). At this point we still didn’t have the parcel. We had no idea who the broker was and it appeared that DHL tracking had ceased. We were utterly confused. Where was our parcel? When do we receive it?

DHL added to our utter confusion by stating that the broker in this case could be Peli, and that she “would now know more about what happens next than we do.” What?!

Thursday, March 01, 2012
We spent Thursday waiting around. We were getting pretty good at this. We received no updates.

Friday, March 02, 2012
On Friday we were told after pestering DHL, that the parcel had been sent into storage due to the delay (that DHL had caused). DHL tried to reassure us that they would pay for the storage as a ‘compensation’. You’re damn right you will! The paperwork was now complete, we were told, and the shipment would be sent to pass the normal customs process.

We settled in for a relaxing weekend since the DHL Chile offices wouldn’t be open.

This situation was more than frustrating. We began to consider what other avenues we could explore to force them to get a shift on. To stir things up, we started to draft letters to the Chilean Embassy in London.

Monday, March 05, 2012
On Monday, Basecamp called DHL only to learn that DHL appeared to have closed the case on finding our parcel. A new DHL person had to read the file again from scratch to find out what was going on.

Late on Monday we finally got a reply from DHL Chile. We were told that we had to pay almost 70,000 Chilean pesos in taxes and import charges, and that they would pay for the storage of the parcel, as a ‘goodwill gesture’.

They provided bank details into which we had to deposit the funds. An urgent email to DHL Chile asking if we could pay by credit card was ignored in the usual fashion. We queued for ages at the local bank in Puerto Natales, only to be told that they couldn’t accept funds for a different bank, and the nearest branch was in Punta Arenas, an 8-hour round-trip away. DHL Chile didn’t give sufficient details to make an international bank transfer, so we spent another day tearing our hair out, trying to get answers from DHL.

Calling and emailing DHL Chile was futile: they didn’t answer, or the person didn’t have the relevant information. The only way to get some information was again via Basecamp and DHL UK.

To add insult to injury, we received an email from DHL UK telling us that they were sorry, but that the delay was caused by Chilean Customs, over which they had no control. This was entirely incorrect: had DHL given us the correct customs paperwork in the first place, this delay would have been avoided.

We sent an urgent email to anyone we could find at DHL, requesting the correct payment details. It had already gone way beyond a joke. We just wanted our parcel! As we were preparing for bed in Chile, Basecamp sent us an urgent SMS alerting us that DHL Chile had finally replied. Logging on in haste, we noticed an email from DHL Chile saying that our parcel would now be delivered to us within the next 72 hours and DHL would find a new way for us to pay them. It was clear that someone had kicked DHL Chile up the bum, at last.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012
it arrivedOn Wednesday morning, a full three weeks after our first contact with DHL, we got up to no more news from DHL but the tracker said: ‘Departed Facility in PUNTA ARENAS – CHILE’. That is only 3-4 hours down the road, but how did it get there? According to the tracker it never left Santiago. Around lunchtime we got an email from the Chilean Embassy in London who wanted to get all the information relating to the saga. We arranged to send them the emails.

The parcel finally arrived, by special delivery, at 17.30 on Wednesday March 07. We almost hugged the bewildered delivery driver, and we did hug the parcel. Phew. We had a celebratory phone call with Basecamp, who was mightily relieved at having reached the finish line.

Who knows what would have happened if hadn’t had such a brilliant support team back at Basecamp. We would certainly still be waiting for the parcel and know nothing about its fate, as DHL doesn’t take responsibility for its deliveries.

Please make it your mission in life to never use DHL, aka Drop Hide Lose, or DHhelL as Basecamp has dubbed it. The poor service provided by this company is beyond a joke. In a few years time I may have stopped seeing red every time I see a DHL van, and laugh about this episode. But right now we are at least three weeks behind schedule and out of pocket because of the ‘brilliant’ service we received from DHL.

DHL’s website has a number of boasts about their service. This will make you laugh :)

*Ideal for time-sensitive shipments
*Global coverage
*One simple price for door-to-door delivery
*No hidden costs
*Unparalleled customs expertise
*Online-real-time tracking
*An end-of-day delivery promise


  1. This is not unusual with DHL or any of the international courier firms. UPS are just as bad. Normal post is about the most reliable way to send things internationally, it may be slower, but then again, it usually isn’t.

  2. Good story, and typical of what to expect much of the time here in Chile. DHL seems to be the best of the worst, all of which are unreliable. On the other hand I know of one recent shipment of documents which did indeed make it from the US to southern Chile in three days and no glitches, though such success stories are rare.

    Personal experience with Chilean post is about 9 out of 10 packages mailed either within Chile or from outside the country, will make it. Interestingly: all the packages with merchandise mailed from China have arrived in reasonable time.

    Chile is Latin America. Always remember that, and never get your hopes up too high. Latin America is what it is precisely due to endemic incompetence.

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