‘Brutal’ homecoming dampens wedding day, says groom

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A groom who returned to the Cayman Islands to get married and celebrate his honeymoon says it will be the last time the newlyweds return to the island after the way they were treated by customs officials upon entry. 

Scott McLean, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had previously lived on the island for nine years and returned last week for his wedding but was shocked when officials removed his wife’s wedding dress from its protective bag and demanded he pay $500 deposit to allow the dress on island, or face losing the gown. 

“I chose this island to come back to for my wedding and, within one hour of the plane’s wheels touching the ground, my honeymoon was cut in half, my wife’s wedding dress was confiscated, and my 67-year-old mother was in tears,” Mr. McLean said.  

“They kept changing the laws as we were standing in front of him, then he took the dress out of its packaging.  

“My wife was crying, my mother was crying – it was just a massive ordeal. It was not the homecoming I wanted, it was devastating.” 

Mr. McLean said although the issue was resolved with him paying a $67 deposit, he and his wife had vowed never to return. 

“That two-hour segment put such a damper on our wedding, that’s all people [at the wedding] could speak about,” he said. 

“We will never come back. It was just a brutal, brutal homecoming and now we are making other arrangements.”  

Collector of Customs at H.M. Customs Department, Samantha Bennett, said passengers are required to make a full declaration of all goods being imported onto the island, and failure to do so would result in the seizure of goods and fines imposed. 

Returning residents can enter with dutiable items or household goods up to the value of $350 duty free, while for a nonresident, an item, such as a wedding dress, is dutiable at 22 percent upon receipt of the cost of value. If the wedding dress is imported on a temporary basis, a deposit of 30 percent of the gown’s value is held as security and returned upon exit. 

“I understand there was an incident involving a wedding dress and the passenger opted to pay a deposit, pending export versus paying the duty. This is the normal process the Customs Department encounters on a weekly basis, as Cayman is a wedding destination location,” Ms. Bennett said. 

She said the couple did not initially declare the wedding dress or the suit for the groom. 

“These items were found by an initial search by a customs officer. While we had the discretion to seize the item … the matter was considered by H.M. Customs and it was agreed a deposit would be paid by the passenger.”  

Joy Basdeo of Simply Weddings, who was the celebrant at the couple’s wedding on Seven Mile Beach on Saturday, said she had never heard of such an incident before, but added that most Cayman brides purchase their wedding dresses overseas because there are not many stores on the island.  

“I’ve never heard of that happening before, but that was the most exquisite, handmade wedding dress that I have ever seen,” Ms. Basdeo said. 

She said the busiest season for weddings is between December and May, with a 50 percent split between resident and tourist weddings. 

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Wedding dress intact, Scott McLean and his wife Elizabeta were married on Saturday.
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25 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunate incident with a lot of bad salesmen now out in the states not spreading good news. My daughter got married in Grand Cayman and I brought her wedding dress in with no problem, but then again, I declared it upon entering. I think therein lies the key…and like it or not, I always tell people, I do not care what you are allowed to do where you live, or whether you agree with them or not, when you are going to someone else’s home (Cayman)…you have to abide by their laws, or do not go….so when they ask you to declare on that little white custom paper, that is what they mean…declare….sorry

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  2. To Scott McLean, his wife and family my most sincere regrets. I have no doubts about your horrific experience and hope those in charge of Customs will read this and realize the harm that is being done to the people of Cayman Islands by the mistreatment of visitors to the country.

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  3. Why should they declare a dress or suit when they were only visiting? Does that mean that all visitors need to declare all their clothes and pay duty or a deposit? This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of.

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  4. Let’s ruin the one new area of business for tourism. Destination weddings! Dress is coming with the bride to be, being worn to a wedding and leaving with the new bride! When are we going to learn to live in the modern world? Look at the islands around us that do massive quantities of destination weddings every year, all the business that they bring and get a policy that makes sense. Sure you don’t want us to pay duties on the new clothes we may be wearing as well?

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  5. Personal items of the visitors (a wedding gown or underwear or a pair of shoes) not brought in from a foreign country for use, sale, processing, reexport, or services, therefore not imported, or temporary imported, whatever the heck it is.
    Does one require to declare an evening gown, shorts,dresses etc. she will be wearing on her vacation? So what is the difference?

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  6. Curious, how is a visitor to Cayman to know that they have to declare a Wedding Dress. Is it the cost of the dress or is it the fact that it’s a Wedding dress. Does this include clothes that people pack such as if someone comes to Cayman with expensive pair of shoes or sneaker do they have to leave a deposit. Also is it me or does a 500 deposit seem a little excessive.

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  7. The Customs Tariff Law, 2012
    page 223

    5. Baggage and household effects

    Baggage and household effects consisting of the following to the satisfaction of an officer of the Customs Department, subject to the condition that articles admitted free of duty under this provision shall, if not previously consumed or used up, be re-exported at the end of the importer’s stay in
    the Islands, and will not, while in the islands be sold, hired, lent or otherwise disposed of to other persons for a period of at least two years, and also subject to any other conditions which the Collector may see fit to impose –

    (2) Wearing apparel of tourists and other visitors; articles of personal adornment and other personal effects which, to the satisfaction of an officer of the Customs Department, are reasonable for the period of the intended visit. This relief covers any items which a visitor to the islands might reasonably be expected to carry, regardless of whether the items are new or used.

    Was it even legal to treat the visitors they way they were treated? They did not break any laws. It is clear to anyone, but CI Customs, that a wedding dress and a suit are the Wearing apparel of tourists.
    If Customs officers think otherwise, then on which legal grounds? Can they point to the specific line of the Customs Tariff Law?

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  8. When I saw the headline and photo on this, I cringed a bit thinking it would be a ridiculous story, but I want to thank the Compass for running it. This is absolutely shameful, and highlights how awful customs policies are, and more importantly, how awful the customs officers are who enforce them. I am ashamed that Ms Bennett would take the position that she takes, that all items must be declared. Does that mean that a visitor to the island must write out the full contents of his/her suitcase? Of course not! While Mr Mclean may have previously been a resident, he and his fiance are now visitors, and should not have to declare personal items that are to leave the island with them.

    Are we going to ask tourists to leave deposits on their computers when they come to the island?

    I am glad Mr McLean will never return, and I hope he spreads his story around and people avoid coming here until the government reviews its customs policies and decides to treat tourists with basic human dignity and respect.

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  9. I suggest that adding a link to the customs form above the welcoming of comments would be fair. If the Declaration Form clearly states that incoming articles of value must be entered, then the comments (including my own) might not be so clearly skewed against the Customs Department.

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  10. From the customs website. All visitors may bring with them personal wearing apparel, articles of personal adornment and other personal effects which, to the satisfaction of Customs, are reasonable for the period of the intended visit.

    I would be interested in someone explaining how a wedding dress isn’t reasonable for a wedding, or why they would need to declare it.

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  11. First of all Congratulations to Mr Mrs Mclean on their wedding. I’m sorry that you had a bad experience.
    I was a resident of the Cayman Islands for 13 years and had a similar incident when returning with my wedding dress. I bought a dress for 199.00 from Miami.I would have bought my dress on the island but because I was 5 months pregnant they didn’t have a lot of choice !!
    However the dress needed to be altered immediately and I was charged an additional cost bringing my total over the allowance. I too was in tears at immigration and forced to pay duty. I just couldn’t get around the idea that even though my receipt showed the purchase price was 199.00 they charged me duty because of the cost of the alterations. I Can’t believe this happens especially as most brides take their dresses home with them.

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  12. I think this a case where someone acted too close to the letter of the law rather than in the spirit.

    Keeping it in context;-
    Lets not forget the recent victories over the Easter weekend with the seizure of illegal drugs – customs officers did some stellar work there, especially impressive given that the department is well below ideal staffing levels.

    Hindsight is great, but if we do a cost/benefit analysis, it is pretty clear that (generally, not just in this instance) spending by the Bride and Groom, their Families, Friends and other Guests contributes a significant amount of foreign revenue to the island.
    Balance that against the relatively small potential lost revenue duty if they were to sell the dress after the ceremony (like that’s ever going to happen), plus the delays, time and manpower used to take and refund deposits, it may be the appropriate policy is to not enforce this law for tourists who are just here for a wedding…

    How many man hours were spent for on this issue and how many other bags could have been searched in that time? Did something far more insidious make it onto the Island because the appropriate resources were tied up on a storm in a teacup.

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  13. Can someone with a legal background comment on the actions of the CI Customs. CayCompass, can you please clarify. What satisfaction of the officer means? Does that mean that he or she can interpret the Tariff Law as he or she may see fit? What is the definition of wearing apparel of tourists?

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  14. I wonder if people coming here to attend a wedding have to pay duty for the gifts they are bringing to give the Bride and Groom which they will be taking home. I assume these deposits are to insure people don’t sell the items before leaving the island. How many brides would sell their wedding dress right after they get married. Wedding dresses should be exempted from Duty and most suits or tuxedos that grooms wear are rented and they have to take them back so the same should go. People coming here to get married should be made to feel welcome, so they will tell all their friends what a great time they had. That’s what Cayman Kind is supposed to be about. Sad thing is Cayman is starting to look not so kind to foreigners. And Yeah I get it most people will say we don’t need or want them here anyway.

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  15. Cayman Public Relations 1.01. Advertise the island as the perfect venue for a wedding, and then shoot yourself in the foot. Even if the Law doesn’t already clearly exempt wedding clothing – clarify it.

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  16. This is appalling to me!

    If you want people to come to your country as a tourist, then leave them alone at customs! Especially for a wedding dress!

    My last few trips to Cayman have turned me off. They have oversold the island and not built an airport to support it. The last thing they should be doing with the crowds in the airport is to slow it down harassing tourists.

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  17. AND NOW THE TRUTH: WEDDING DRESS UPDATE: Bride WORKS in Cayman and was NOT travelling with them even!!! Groom was bringing in the dress and NOT declaring it. They were being very rude with the custom officer asking if they needed to even declare their underwear See what I told you guys about getting the full story? Very dishonesty story!!!

    Compass and CITN this is irresponsible reporting and has done immense damage to the reputation of the Cayman Islands and Customs. SHAME ON YOU ALL FOR BUYING THIS CRAP!

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  18. Quote……10-year rebate on room taxes given to Dart for any hotel developed or refurbished within the next 30 years a concession that consultants estimated would be worth around 60 million within 20 years.

    That’s a lot of duty on wedding dresses.

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  19. I receive daily Google alerts for the Cayman Islands.
    As do many thousands of others around the world.

    This was the number three item today.

    Amazing negative publicity that will work against all our promotions as a wedding destination.

    I’m sure the groom was less than well mannered. perhaps one cannot blame him.

    We need to understand that this sort of stuff has repercussions worldwide.

    And of course all wedding gear should be considered duty free if bought in for a wedding and going to leave with the happy couple after the wedding.

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Comments are closed.