ShareThis Page
Travel

Save time and money by being honest when going through customs

| Monday, June 11, 2018, 2:06 p.m.
Save yourself time and potential fines by being honest when going through customs. Here, passengers arriving from abroad at Los Angeles International Airport in 2014 use new automated passport kiosks, to expedite the entry process for U.S. and Canadian citizens andreduce time spent with a Customs officer.
Save yourself time and potential fines by being honest when going through customs. Here, passengers arriving from abroad at Los Angeles International Airport in 2014 use new automated passport kiosks, to expedite the entry process for U.S. and Canadian citizens andreduce time spent with a Customs officer.

Earlier this year, a passenger was standing on the jet bridge, moments from boarding his South African Airways flight, when an obstacle appeared in the shape of a Customs and Border Protection officer.

During the random search at Washington Dulles International Airport, the law enforcer asked the man how much money he was carrying. He responded $500, normally not an amount an officer would question, except in one instance — when it's a lie.

After digging a little deeper, the officer discovered $13,000 in the man's luggage. In addition to fibbing, the traveler had also broken the law by not declaring funds exceeding $10,000. Needless to say, he missed his flight and the agency seized his cash.

The moral of the story: Tell CBP exactly what you are carrying, down to the sleeve of nuts in your coat pocket.

“To be safe, it's better to declare it than have to pay a fine,” said Patrick Orender, the agency's assistant port director at Dulles.

Undesirable items

More than 25,000 CBP officers and agriculture specialists protect hundreds of sea, air and land portals against invaders. Thousands of undesirable items attempt to sneak into the country daily.

Many hitch a ride on edible souvenirs purchased by unassuming tourists; others arrive through nefarious means orchestrated by smugglers. On a typical day last year, officials unearthed 352 pests; 4,638 quarantined items of the plant, meat, animal byproduct and soil varieties; $265,205 in undeclared or illicit currency; and $3.3 million worth of products that violated intellectual-property rights.

Of the three categories the CBP oversees, two are straightforward: Don't buy counterfeit goods, including that obviously fake Gucci bag from Shanghai, and always inform an officer if you are carrying 10 grand or more into or out of the country.

The regulations on flora and fauna, however, come with a few asterisks.

The list of prohibited items is long and involved. For instance, Yorkshire pudding made with suet or animal fat is not allowed into the United States from Britain because of the fear of foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly known as mad cow disease). But the stuffed pastry sans farm critters is allowed into Yankee territory.

Rise and fall of threats

In addition, the greenlit map for one food might resemble a puzzle with large missing sections.

Take pork, for instance. The agency only accepts commercially packaged and clearly labeled porcine products from Iceland, Australia, Canada and Fiji, as well as some specialty cured hams and pork delicacies produced in preapproved facilities in Italy and Spain.

Or bananas. Caribbean vacationers can bring the fruit back from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Barbados and the Bahamas as long as the inspector can establish its place of origin. A foodstuff's status can also change weekly, depending on the rise and fall of disease outbreaks and pest infestations. You don't need to memorize the CBP catalogue, but you really must share your purchases with an officer.

“Your job is not to know what is allowed,” agriculture specialist Valerie Woo said. “Your job is to tell me what you have, so I can tell you if it's allowed.”

If you are worried that the act of declaring will automatically result in the agony of relinquishing, it won't. If the officer deems the product safe, you can enter the country with it. However, if you knowingly flout the rules, the agency could slap you with a fine of $300 (first offender) to $10,000 (major violator) and revoke your Global Entry privileges.

“If you do not declare an apple,” Orender said, “you could lose” your membership in the trusted-traveler program.

Regulations based on real threats

The regulations are based on real threats. Plants and animals can harbor bugs and diseases. Counterfeit goods, meanwhile, siphon profits from the original manufacturer and support an unsavory underworld.

“Knockoff items hurt the economy and put the consumer in danger, because they are made under conditions that are not regulated,” Orender said. “You also don't know what you're funding — sex trafficking, terrorism. Why fund the bad guys?”

Orender said the agency sees a rise in fake goods before major sporting events such as the National Football League's Super Bowl and the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup playoffs, as well as over the holidays, when wish lists to Santa include coveted footwear and designer bags and scents.

Passengers who declare their goods must go to a secondary screening area for inspection. To catch the undeclared, officers and their canine colleagues roam the baggage-claim area and hallway leading to the exit.

Enough meat for a butcher shop

Agriculture specialist Jennifer Jones said she and her colleague, Beazley the beagle, typically root out 10 to 12 items a day.

Jones and Beazley have been working together for a year and, in that time, the pup has sniffed out enough meat to fill a butcher shop. Last September, the pair discovered 10 smoked cow legs — hoofs and all — from Vietnam.

“The passenger declared beef,” Jones said. “There were two and half cows in four suitcases!”

Beazley also sussed out horsemeat sausage from Kazakhstan while it was spinning around on the luggage carousel.

To dispose of the banned goods, the officers chop them up in an industrial grinder or burn them in an incinerator.

Andrea Sachs is a Washington Post travel writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me