Cargo Pickup and Customs Clearance at Lahore Airport
If at all possible, avoid sending any luggage or cargo to the Lahore Airport in Pakistan. The hassle you’ll go through, the fees you’ll pay, and the time you’ll waste are only worth it for a large amount of cargo. While shopping in Thailand, I ended up with 10 kg of luggage over my weight limit for Thai Airways. I decided to use Thai Airways ThaiPac service for tourists to send my extra 10 kg bag to Lahore. This was a bad idea for many reasons, especially once I found out about the process I needed to go through to actually pick up my bag in Lahore.
When your bag arrives, you’ll get a call from someone working with Shaheen Airport Services (SAPS). Don’t talk too long to this person, as he may actually be an agent and not an employee of SAPS. I had two men calling me, from different numbers, telling me to meet them in various places that were not near the Cargo Terminal. At first they were giving helpful information, such as when the SAPS office would close, but they were also lying and telling me that they could get my bag for me without me going through customs clearance. They wanted to make themselves my ‘agent’ and do the process for me for a high fee. I’d suggest that when you get your items shipped to Lahore, you take note of when the cargo is supposed to arrive. Don’t give your mobile phone number if you don’t want to be harassed. Then show up one day after your baggage was expected.
The Cargo Terminal
The Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore actually has great signs directing you to the Cargo Terminal. Follow the blue signs marked “Cargo” until you see SAPS office on your left. Enter the gate and pay 15 rupees for a ‘token’ (paper ticket). Don’t lose the paper as you’ll need it to leave the Cargo Complex. Park on the left across from the SAPS complex.
SAPS and customs are technically open from 9 to 5, with a tea break from 1-2. The customs clearance process, even for personal effects, takes at least two hours. I actually had to go on two different days, and on the second day it took fours to get my bag cleared. You basically have two windows to work with, 10-1 and 2-5. The morning is more pleasant as all the agents who prowl around looking for customers aren’t awake until about noon. I wouldn’t suggest going before 10, because it’s unlikely anyone will be there yet to process your papers. The day I went, the customs officers arrived at 10:40am. I’d already been there for an hour just waiting.
The first thing you need to do is get a delivery order (DO) from the SAPS office. When you enter the cargo complex, you’ll see office areas on your left. The place where you get the DO is towards the center on the left. Signs in this area are lacking, so you might have to ask around. Asking for help is likely to send a swarm of agents after you who want to help you with the whole process. You can talk to men in brown uniforms if you need help. I found them to be very helpful and genuine.
The DO costs 400 rupees ($5). Why do you need to pay just to pick up your bag when you’ve already paid to have it shipped? I have no idea. I was quite confused, but the delivery order only means that you can pick up the bag. It will not be delivered to you by truck or anything like that, although for 400 rupees it should be!
After you get the DO, you need to go to customs. Exit the SAPS complex and turn left. Enter the PIA complex and go left. Enter the last bay and go all the way in and turn left. The office in the right corner is the customs office. There are four desks inside and a bunch of worn green chairs. If you’re lucky, there will also be some customs officers!
Now this is the tricky part. Many people told me that it was impossible to clear customs without an agent. I didn’t believe them on my first attempt. On my second attempt, I realized that it was next to impossible unless you’re a man and you speak Urdu and Punjabi. Out of about 20 people who were getting customs clearance, only one man was doing self-clearance. The rest were agents. The customs officers were actually shocked that this one man was doing it himself, as it was totally not the norm. I gave up and the brown uniformed men asked one nice man to help me out. He would charge less than an agent, and he seemed to have the respect of the officers since he regularly worked with them. The airlines officials suggested I give the man 500 rupees for helping me out ($6.13) with the two hours customs clearance process, but they didn’t want to pressure me and kept saying that I could give as I pleased.
My customs clearance took from 10:00am to 1:00pm. The computer system that you need to use to fill in the customs forms was down most of the time. I basically did nothing during this time, but the man who was helping me, Zaheer, had to go out and type my information into a computer somewhere and make multiple photocopies of my passport. Then he had some other guy running around getting all sorts of signatures from different places, that I probably never could have found. During this time I had to pay a 200 rupee ($2.50) fee for the weight of my baggage. I got an official receipt for it. Save this receipt as you need it to leave the airport.
When all the signatures were done, we headed back to SAPS to where the baggage was being held. It was already 1:00pm and the officers were leaving for tea and prayer time. Zaheer called the office and asked them to wait for me, because otherwise I’d need to come back again after an hour.
We left the PIA complex and went back to the SAPS complex. First I had to pay a handling and storage fee. If your cargo is only there for 2 days, there is no storage fee. There is a flat 50 rupee (60 cents) for handling and a 20 rupee (25 cents) fee for ‘documentation.’ I think that means you’re paying to get the receipt printed.
After getting your receipt, go all the way to the end of the SAPS complex, towards the side where you parked your car. Enter an off white gate and walk down an outer corridor to the baggage hold. There are no signs. Turn right into the first room. Here you’ll meet Mr. Mohammad Saddiq from the PIA Baggage Section. This man was very helpful to me, as well as the other man working in his office. Here they just need to enter some numbers into a big register and you’ll need to sign a few things. Then you’ll get your bag! As you get your bag, one man will need to sign it as you left the baggage hold. Make sure you get this signature or you won’t be able to leave the airport.
If someone helped you with the process, don’t pay him inside the office. He’ll walk you to your car so you can pay him without all the other workers seeing. This saves you having to tip everyone who you talked to that day. The man who helped me do the customs clearance was Zaheer Ahmed, and he was very polite and professional. Many of the men hanging out at the Cargo Complex were downright scary. **Update: Unfortunately Zaheer no longer has the same mobile number, so I don’t have a contact.
Leaving the Airport
You can’t go out the way you came in. Drive past the PIA complex and turn right at the first intersection. You’ll come to a gate. Give your token and show the signature on your cargo and your blue receipt from customs. As the gate opens, you and your cargo are finally free!