Anything to declare?

After a few too many seasons of Border Patrol I always want to be very careful with my customs declaration when I get back into Calgary.  I have found it useful (although sometimes alarming) to write out a list of everything I have bought with the approximate Canadian dollar pricing so that I have some detail to hand over to the officer should he or she ask me what exactly I purchased.

My husband and I usually make out just one list between the two of us – after all – we both made the purchases and they are generally for ourselves or family members.  The latest trip home, however, featured a larger purchase of a carpet (yeah – you go to Morocco you have to buy a carpet – you do know that don’t you?).  We just lump all our purchases together and then divide by two – but the customs officer told us that’s not the correct way – especially if we have a significant purchase.

But now I know I will be watching that carefully – because going through customs makes me really nervous.  I don’t know why – I just feel guilty.  Maybe it was something I did in a previous life – maybe I was a gun-runner or smuggled gin into the US during prohibition – whatever it was I have to try hard to look awfully casual and relaxed and not guilty.

guilty cat

Now I have always had very nice treatment from the customs officers when arriving in Calgary so I have no reason for this trepidation – but it seems that I am not the only person to suffer angst at this situation.  I loved this story I came across online –

When Kristina F. was heading home to the US from Canada during the holidays, she found herself at the desk of a humorous border agent whose requests she couldn’t deny. “The US customs agent at the Calgary airport asked what kind of instrument I was carrying and I said it was a ukulele. He requested I play him a song right there. So I played ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and I’m pretty sure everyone was staring at us. It was goofy and surreal. He loved it, but I was bright red the entire time.”


That’s why I really like watching Border Patrol.  They do a great job.  I loved the one episode of the British lady visiting family who put on her declaration no foodstuffs but had three chunks of lovely English cheese in her bag.  She was actually allowed to bring that in because it was fully wrapped but she had thought she might have to sneak it in so that’s why they searched her.  I am not sure how they knew that she had cheese in her bag, however.  Did the dog sniff it?  Or was it that she was acting nervously – like me?

It is true, however, that travellers do constantly try to smuggle things into the country or onto ships that we don’t really think of as smuggling.  Maybe it is something small and innocuous but means something to us whether it is a food stuff or a plant.  I came across this really interesting article by Donald Payseur

“I had a passenger one time on a flight coming back from Treasure Cay Bahamas back to the United States. We had Departed Treasure Cay and our short flight to Fort Pierce Florida to clear Customs was only about a 30-minute flight in the Mitsubishi MU-2 that we were flying.

Before the flight, I briefed our 5 passengers on the things that could not be brought back to the United States. That is any illegal drugs, or any medicine prescription or not that was bought in the Bahamas. For instance some medicine such as aspirin which are made in different countries like Israel or Eastern Europe are not sold in the United States. So if you buy the aspirins in another country and try to bring them in, if found they will be confiscated and you will possibly be fined. Other items are an excess amount of cash, excess amount of Duty Free materials such as liquor, beer, jewelry, unprepared meats or Foods such as raw hamburger meat, etcetera and plant or vegetation of any kind.

So we landed in Fort Pierce and taxied up to the customs ramp. I had everybody’s passport in hand along with the entry form all filled out nicely packed for The Examiner to identify and question and clear my passengers.

One of my passengers started getting nauseous, sweat breaking out, fidgety and generally nervous. A supervisor behind a one-way mirror came out tapped her on the shoulder told her to bring her bags and come with her. She did I went also because I was in charge of the flight.

The Customs officer brought her and her luggage into a private room with a camera into corners of the room took her handcuffs out and put the handcuffs on the table, put them squarely in front of her and said.

“ I’m going to ask you one damn time. Do you have anything to declare?”

At that time, my passenger broke down sobbing and said that she had some hibiscus plants stuffed into her suitcase.

Immediately the suitcase then came open the plants were confiscated and I was asked to go with another officer to have the aircraft searched.

Out come 2 or 3 service dogs to search for drugs, and any other contraband. After taking three or four panels off of the airplane searching for drugs and contraband and then leaving those panels off for me to have to bring a certified mechanic to come back and put the airplane back together.

Then the customs officer read me the Riot Act for not doing a better job of briefing and pre-screening my passengers.

Luckily no fine was assessed, only about four hours of pure Agony and scrutiny to get the airplane cleared and the passengers cleared and put back on the plane.

All for one selfish act of stupidity.

Had my passenger not told the truth. The consequences would have been a lot harsher. She would have been arrested, fined and the plane would have been impounded for a deeper search along with fines to my company.”

Makes you think, hey?



By Lesley Keyter

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.

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