Fun with customs - Jay Maynard

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Thursday, 20 November 2003


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1705 - Fun with customs

The flight to the Dominican Republic was uneventful. The itinerary was such that, while I had to leave Fairmont at 5 AM, I didn't have to do anything hectic like get across NYC in 90 minutes at rush hour.

The fun started when I got to Santo Domingo...

I got through Immigration just fine, and picked up my suitcase. I'd packed three of the special pieces of hardware that my erstwhile employer sells in there, and when Customs inspected it, they decided that I'd have to leave it and pay duty on it in the morning. I was allowed to take clothing (only one change, though, as I didn't have room in my other luggage for more), my toiletry kit, and my glucometer, but the rest had to stay.

The representative from the reseller took me back to the airport the next morning. It's a good thing he was there and stuck with me, because nobody in the Customs office spoke much of any English. I traded in the receipt I got the previous evening for my suitcase. We took it to a table where a Customs official recorded all of the model and serial numbers on a form (which we had to buy for RD$10), then closed it up again. After filling in some more blanks, the suitcase was wheeled out into the hall, and we went up to a window to have the form validated.

Here's where the fun got better: I did not have an invoice for the equipment, since it was not being brought into the country to be sold. I estimated its value at $500. The lady at the window looked at the form, and twiddled her thumbs (literally!), and thought, and piddled around with her mouse, and then told us the duty: US$300...! Seems she didn't believe my estimate, and tripled it. The duty was 20% of the new amount.

Next, we went into the office of the finance people. They wanted US$300 in cash. We tried to buy US$ in the airport, and were completely unsuccessful. I withdrew RD$14,000 (at the exchange rate I got from my bank, RD$37.96=US$1, the result was US$368.75), in a series of 4 ATM transactions (one machine wouldn't let me withdraw more than RD$3000 at a time, and another only RD$5000) and went back to the finance office. They hemmed and hawed, and finally took Dominican pesos - at RD$41=US$1, the total was RD$12,300. Once that was paid, I got another receipt. Supposedly, I can bring the equipment and that receipt back to the office when I depart Saturday, and get my money back. Literally: they stuck it in an envelope, and I'll get that envelope of currency back.

I have no idea where I'll turn the Dominican pesos back into US dollars...probably at the airport in Miami, at yet a worse rate of exchange. I'm going to compute just how much I lose with exchange rate differences, and include that on the expense report.

In the meantime, I've got more cash in my wallet, if you just look at the numbers, than I've ever had in my life. There's a certain feeling you get with a big wad of 100- and 500-unit notes on your person...

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