Tag Archives: customs

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?




I know that this TV series which was aired on National Geographic had a lot of fans – myself included.  Unfortunately the series has been pulled because of some rights violations so now we will no longer be able to sit in our lounges and pass judgment on people who are “pulled over” going through customs and immigration.

You know how it goes “There you go… I knew she looked edgy” …. Or “You see – I knew he was lying” … yep – my kids hate watching TV with me and having to put up with a running commentary.  (Below follows a message from my kids).

talking meme

Being in the travel industry it is just so interesting to see behind the scenes at Canada’s major airports and how people are questioned.  It also has made me quite neurotic about filling in the proper information on my customs form when I return to Canada.

I keep a note of all purchases and also keep the receipts and even if I have bought an item of clothing which I have already worn I still declare it.  Really I am not a huge shopper so I never exceed the limit but it has certainly made me more conscious of what I buy.  So on my flight home I sit down with a piece of paper and make a note of all my purchases in Euros or whatever currency I spent and then convert out to Canadian so I have a total of what I have spent.  I keep this note handy so if the customs officer asks me what I spent the money on or what I bought then I give him my list.

So why do I still feel guilty?

Maybe it is something to do with having watched the TV series.  Standing in a line up after a long international flight it is a bit daunting when you are finally at that painted line on the floor waiting for the next officer.  And all I have are some t-shirts and the odd dress and some chocolates or candy for the girls in the office.

So why do I still feel guilty?

I can’t imagine how someone would feel who was actually smuggling something in that they shouldn’t.  Remember that scene in Midnight Express – oh my goodness – I would be shaking like a leaf.

midnight express

Apart from the usual suspects (drugs and alcohol), people have tried to smuggle in the weirdest things – like lizards!  Yes, 6 baby lizards to be exact, smuggled into Canada by some guy in the pocket of his hoodie.  Yep – he was caught and fined $6000.   A lot of the confiscated goods at customs are food items (and we always see that on Border Security).   I can’t quite see myself smuggling in chicken wings or fish cakes or even a human skull (yes someone was caught with one of these in her bag).

So I will keep making my lists on the flight and declare everything I buy and try not to look too shifty when I pass through customs – and try not to feel guilty.

guilty meme

Dirty little secrets

borderI love watching Border Security – the documentary series that follows the events at the border both at airports and on the road.  Having spent so much time in airports myself it is just fascinating to watch what people will try to take into another country.  It’s not just the drugs but the other stuff – like weird food or tens of thousands of dollars in cash packed in your checked luggage ????

But come on!  Have you ever brought anything into Canada when returning from a trip that you didn’t declare?  What about that fancy purse you bought in Vegas?  The one where you cut off all the tabs and filled it with your personal stuff and then ditched the old one at the hotel?  C’mon – you know you did it!

Just filling in the declaration form on the flight is bound to bring tears to your eyes when you jot down a list of what you spent.  This can’t be right, you think to yourself.

Just say you do get stopped at a “random” check.  OK so you’re clean.  But what the heck were you thinking about when you bought that apron in Florence for your best friend?  You know which apron I mean – the one with the close up and very very personal picture of David?



Or why would you have 10 individually wrapped bars of soap in your suitcase as well as eight shower caps, six bottles of shower gel and two coathangers?  Really?  Not to mention the three cans of olive oil and two tins of truffles.  These are not generally a problem (except maybe to the hotel from whence you filched said coathangers) but you really run into problems with some food items.

Talking of smuggling food reminds me of a time back in Swaziland where we had a Cholera epidemic.  The Swazi authorities decided to ban all fruit and veg from coming across the border in South Africa.  Well the fact of the matter was that most of our fruit and veg came from South Africa and nothing was coming into the Swazi shops.  I’m talking lettuce, cucumbers, apples.  Those who had green thumbs were to be envied and if you went to a dinner party and there was a lettuce salad you were the bee’s knees!

???????????????????????? So…. we went shopping in Johannesburg and I confess I could not resist the package of Granny Smiths green apples.  I just had to have them.  Now the border guards were pretty thorough and would search the cars for evidence of edible contraband.  Clever me though had an idea.  Let’s put the apples in the engine under the hood just before we get to the border and then we can stop around the corner and take them out again.  Easy peasey!  Until the very friendly Swazi policeman asked for a ride into town.  Oops!  We drove and drove and I could just picture in my mind my lovely packet of apples bumping along next to the battery under the hood.

FINALLY – we dropped him off with much thank you’s and clapping of hands as the Swazis do….. whipped around the corner and stopped to open up the hood to find…… yes – a very large soft package of stewed apples.

That will teach me!

Snakes on planes – monkeys in pants

Yes they made a movie about this – pretty bad one actually – but fantasy becomes reality on an Egypt Air flight recently.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/04/egyptair-snake-on-plane-emergency-landing-passenger-bitten_n_2238602.html

So you can imagine the reaction when there really is a snake on a flight.  Images abound when you google “snakes on a plane” – some of them from the film and others not so much.  snakes 1It seems pretty ridiculous that someone can sneak on a snake.  The security I went through on my recent travels (on Egypt Air no less) was quite stringent.  But I guess snakes don’t have belt buckles or cell phones that could trigger security alarms and I wonder what a snake in a bag looks like on the x-ray?  Did you wonder too?  Then wonder no more…. here is the real thing.
xray_of_seizure Seen by security officials in Australia. … It really could only be snakes, unless someone was trying to smuggle in sausages.  Makes you wonder what other weird things people try to smuggle onto flights.  I was told last week by someone who shall remain nameless, that she smuggled pork chops into Dubai when her son was working there because, for obvious reasons, you just can’t get pork chops there.  Problem was, her flight was delayed and therefore so was her luggage.  Happy ending – the pork chops arrived frozen solid.  Just as well she had it in her checked baggage and not carry on!

How would you feel sitting next to a man with monkeys in his pants?  Seriously.  “In 2002, when customs workers opened a man’s bag in Los Angeles after he returned from Thailand, a bird of paradise flew out. They ended up finding three more birds and 50 rare orchids in his suitcase. When officials asked him whether he had anything else illegal he was bringing into the country, the man said, “Yes, I’ve got monkeys in my pants.” He turned over the pair of young pygmy monkeys, which are an endangered species in the U.S., that he had been carrying inside his underwear, and they were taken to the Los Angeles Zoo. The man received a 57-day jail sentence.”

And finally – back to the snakes.   A woman from Sweden was caught with 75 snakes in her bra on a flight.  I am not kidding – 75 snakes.  Where the heck do you put 75 snakes in anybody’s bra?  Customs officers became suspicious when she kept scratching herself.  I am surprised the man with monkeys in his pants wasn’t scratching himself too.

So next time you get on a flight take a hard look at the person sitting next to you.  You never really do know…..

snakes 2