To: Samantha Bennett, Collector of Customs, 
H.M. Customs Department

Dear Ms. Bennett,

The phrase you were looking for is, “We apologize.”

We refer to the recent incident at the Owen Roberts International Airport, where your officers harangued a visiting groom who was bringing to the island his fiancée’s wedding dress. His now-wife (they got married on Saturday), who was not traveling with him, has been working in Grand Cayman and will be leaving the island soon to begin her new life with her husband.

Ms. Bennett, repeat after us: “We apologize.” “We apologize.” “We apologize.”
See, it wasn’t really that difficult getting those utterances past your larynx, now was it?

Compare those salutary words to what you did say: “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.”

If customs officers really are harassing visiting grooms transporting wedding dresses to their brides-to-be as a matter of routine, then the Cayman Islands’ status as “a wedding destination” is not long for this world.

What your officers did threatens to knock out one of the few new bright lights for our country’s tourism product — and compelled this particular groom, a former nine-year resident of Cayman, to declare that he will never return to Cayman, ever.

Apparently, customs officers demanded that the groom either pay duty on the wedding dress or put up a deposit of $500, refundable once the couple leaves the island. Eventually the $500 was reduced to $67. Why? Are these sums negotiable?

Ms. Bennett, you also observed that the groom did not declare the suit he intended to wear at his wedding.

Since when are items of clothing of visitors declarable or dutiable? Must swimsuits, business suits or party shirts also be declared and duties or deposits paid by entering tourists?

We have no inkling, and your statement shed no light on, why officers singled out this particular groom for such attention. Was there an implication that he and his new bride were going to sell the custom-made wedding dress before they left the island? C’mon.

This incident is particularly troubling not only because Grand Cayman is a tourism destination, but also because it detracts from the serious, and difficult, work customs officers perform each and every day.

Make no mistake: We understand customs officers are vital to this country. They collect much-needed revenue, provide a first-line defense against smugglers of drugs, guns and goods, as well as act as welcoming ambassadors to our visitors.

The best among them have the smile and demeanor of a greeter at The Ritz-Carlton and, at the same time, the substratal toughness of an agent of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence-gathering agency.

We prefer to think — and actually do believe — that this recent incident was an aberration, an event that escalated and became emotional, confrontational and unprofessional — to the benefit of no one.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. last week the paper wrote about all the drug busts at customs and I knew that they werent really looking for drugs, they were looking for non declared duty items, and used the guise of drugs as their reasoning.
    I’m sure the governement gets ripped off daily from people who dont declare goods over their allowable allowance, it happens to countries all over the world but the difference is the customs agent. You take other countries where this situation would have played out, this would have been an non-issue, common sense tells the customs agent wedding, wedding dress.. pass but not in Cayman where the average customs agent needs a calculator to do simple math.
    I personally dread the day I have to fly back into Cayman.

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  2. Wow, we come to the islands at least once a year for all the familiar reasons, but also for the world class diving. I surely hope these types of incidents don’t extend to very expensive dive equipment we ‘temporarily’ use while in the country. We truly support all the challenges custom agents are presented with, but would seriously consider not returning to the islands if we were ‘harassed’ each time we entered the country for a diving vacation. Keep up the good work, but use common sense.

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  3. Customs Agents have a job to do. I agree that upon entering the country one must declare. It’s the majority of Caymanians who do not wish to declare ALL that they are bringing in, whatever it is. Yet many Caymanians, like myself, do declare everything (down to the packs of toothbrushes I purchase at the flea market). I don’t agree that tourists who are coming to the island to get married should be HARRASSED in any way,not even those tourists who come to spend their vacation here and are bringing new swimsuits, towels, flip flops, etc. (and they too must declare this?) Samantha as an HR Expert you must LEARN TEACH values to your subordinates. It’s so obvious you are going for ‘the KILL’ regardless of harrasment, verbal abuse, agents who can’t even add, humiliation(you’re good at this), etc. etc. Try and be a bit more humble and PLEASANT.

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  4. So happy the treatment of visitors by Customs is being discussed in an open forum. I am a Caymanian living abroad and recently brought my boyfriend home for a visit – his first time on island. We were both treated well by Immigration (the officer at the desk even said welcome home!), but when we got to the Customs line, we were in for a rude awakening. The officer was not only interrogative, but flat out rude. I completely understand trying to capture cost, but if the result is a bad impression, what value are we retaining for tourism?

    For months I had been telling my boyfriend about how wonderful Cayman is, and that is was recently voted the 2nd friendliest country in the world. And what was his first impression? A rude customs officer that treated him like a 2nd class citizen. His offense? COMING TO VISIT OUR ISLAND. I was so embarrassed of his treatment by a fellow Caymanian.

    After trying to reach CITA, the airport PR department and Customs to no avail, I finally gave up. There are dark times ahead if this is what tourists and Caymanians alike have to face when coming to our island. Cayman is a beautiful place filled with some of the most wonderful people in the world. These Customs agents need some good old fashioned Caymanian manners and a reality check.

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  5. I can second Kim’s feelings I come through customs roughly 3-4 times a year and I have come to expect a bit a harassment from the officers there. Probably because of how frequently I’m on and off the island. The worst part is going through the whole process of proving where I’m staying and having to show bank statements proving that I can afford to be there. I also notice a lot of attitude when I explain that I’m staying in my own home which they seem to take offense t. On one occasion I was asked very rudely, where did I get the money to purchase a home in Cayman as they ushered me to the side to check through my baggage. It is sad that I’ve gotten used to this treatment but the whole Cayman Airport experience is a pain, I just suffer though it and head to rum point where it’s quickly forgotten. But I can see how this would discourage a lot of people from coming back I’ve brought a few family members and friends with me at different times and they always seem to remember and talk about the hassle of going thought the airport.

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  6. I have been back and forth to Cayman for many years now , most of the time i only leave for a week at a time , when approaching immig and customs Never have i been disrespected , matter of fact i receive more problems when going through customs and immig in my own country, If one goes into another country as a visitor with an attitude that just because you lived there for years you own the place then yes its going to be a problem. Kudos to all who have to put up with the public day in and day out you are doing a Great job , bottom line Give Respect and you get it right back .

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  7. I here you Robert, but that should go both ways. There are plenty of very respectful people in Cayman even in Immigration. However the subject of this conversation was about bad experiences which is why that what most of the comments are about, no one said they were all bad. The unfortunate but true thing is that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

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  8. The incident aside, it has not been questioned or answered yet why a wedding dress is not a PERSONAL ATTIRE OF A VISITOR and therefore not subject to a duty (and harassment).In this particular story a groom brought the dress, but he had no idea that it had to be declared, since it did not fall under the definition of the word IMPORT. In all other cases, which Customs Department encounters on a weekly basis (according to Ms.Bennett), why is it a NORMAL PROCESS? Are they interpreting the Tariff Law the way they see fit? Someone, superior to Ms.Bennett, must comment and clarify if the Law is being misinterpreted by the Customs agents and its definitions are ambiguous.
    One more note.
    When my son visited me for the first time, I asked him what was his first impression of Cayman Islands? He answered-nobody gives a sh..t if I am here. He compares it to Hawaii, where greeting starts on board with Hawaiian music and a welcome video.

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  9. Let Customs do their job…but do it well. Some of the agents are pleasant, yet remain firm, and do their job diligently. Others, are …hoggish, rude, bad attitude, etc. Some agents try, and succeed to charge MORE when a person is caught with non declaring of goods (probably think they will get a bonus). Customs…do your job in a diligent and professional manner. DO NOT let your envy get the better of you to give you the right to treat people by humiliating them. Charge your 22% and let people get on their way. That is enough of a lesson, but to just be there and argue and even make up the law is ridiculous.

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