Chamber slams customs electronics policy

The Chamber of Commerce has spoken out against a customs policy that requires passengers to register their electronic goods prior to travel, saying it “frustrates travelers and adds another layer of bureaucracy.”

The Cayman Compass reported on the 30-year-old policy last month that requires passengers carrying iPads, laptops and any other electronic devices to register them with customs prior to leaving the island or risk paying duty on such electronics when they re-enter.

Collector of Customs Samantha Bennett said at the time that the process, which involves filling out a form and submitting it to customs before traveling off island, is one of verification and not for tracking or recording purposes. But Chamber President Johann Moxam said the process is unnecessary in the “information age.”

“Registering electronic devices is a waste of time and money and falls into the category of absurdity. We should be trying to simplify the travel experience rather than complicating it with policies that should have been abolished years ago,” Mr. Moxam said in a statement released by the Chamber on Tuesday.

“The Chamber supports lower duty rates for retailers which would encourage more residents to purchase these items locally rather than abroad. Policy makers and customs officials are placing the emphasis in the wrong area.”

Mr. Moxam advised the Customs Department to focus on enforcement instead.

He commended recent customs and police efforts for Operation Spearfish, in which officers recently recovered and seized shipping containers in which stolen goods were hidden, saying it was an example of where “resources and energies should be expended.”

“Stolen goods and contraband distort the local marketplace and harm both businesses and the consumers who purchase the stolen and illegal items,” Mr. Moxam said.

“The Chamber encourages customs to focus more energy in this area so that persons who are involved in this illegal activity are brought to justice, not on wedding dresses and registering electronic goods.”

Ms. Bennett said customs did not have any comment to make on the Chamber’s statement as of press time.

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  1. While I agree that the registration of electronic devices is a waste of time it is also wishful thinking to believe that lower duty rates for retailers would result in them reducing the price of their goods.

    Most people these days travel with their smartphones so I can only assume that things are going to be somewhat chaotic over the next few months.

  2. I support Ms. Samantha Bennett in this move, and I would like to stress my reason for being supportive of this.
    I have heard of persons whom have illegally taken away other persons laptop and expensive cell phones and I pads from here and left it in there country not bringing them back.
    Also persons have been in the past, bringing new items to the Islands, evading customs and selling them on public beaches. I do not see the registering of your personal equipment on leaving the Island is a waste of time. We have plenty time waiting on our airline; However I do not agree that there should be a fee attached to this.
    I would also suggest that a special booth be set up by customs whereby these forms can be completed and filed. We have sufficient time waiting at the airport to do this, as I have said, before, nothing to hide, nothing to worry about.

  3. I agree with Johan Moxam. Customs electronics policy IS absurd, stupid, and a waste of time. Twice I’ve asked at the airport that I wish to register my laptop and phone only to be completely ignored. Set up a proper booth inside the airport lounge with the forms for people to fill out. At least that way it will be easier for the travellers. We can’t blame Samantha Bennett about everything regarding Customs. It’s not her OWN decision to implement these policies. This is agreed amongst the Customs Executive Committee. Good job, Samantha!

  4. This is really fundamentally wrong! I totally agree with the Chamber of Commerce. CIG is undermanned on enforcement, and now they are focusing their efforts on enforcing this! It is not even easy to enforce because what if some people forget to register their phones and ipads, you will charge them? Or you will use subjective decision leaving it to the officers who can then abuse their authority – another distraction, another topic we don’t have time for. Bennet having an MBA degree should know how to compare a stupid enforcement plan versus the most practical way to divert enforcement efforts into what is for the good of the Cayman people. Because she decided to put emphasis on this electronic registration, she is only opening up new struggles – long lines waiting, definitely more fees incurred for those who forget to register, therefore more lines in customs, more financial burden to people who forget to register, adding hassle to the travel process, more control monitoring for abuse by officers who can easily decide to let go or punish those who clearly forgot to register their phones (example even if the phone is 80 years old, he can still charge him because it wasnt registered). Just another headache we do not need at this time, when we are rationalizing and right sizing the government so that it is doing the most optimum work that is beneficial to the people of cayman, not adding hassle, fees, and burden to them affecting the tourists in the end.

    And by the way Twyla Vargas – This has nothing to do with those who steal your electronics and bring it abroad. It will not solve that because no one will inspect your registration upon leaving, it is only inspected upon entering, so bye bye stolen items. This will not resolve your situation. In addition, you cannot expect me to believe that people travel abroad to buy multiple electronic items to sell on the beach upon return and tell the customs officer that all of these are not new. For them to sell these, they have to be sealed, and they have to look brand new, before anyone on the beach will believe they are new. And because they have to preserve that brand new look, you cannot fool the customs officer that what you are bringing is a 20 year old phone. These ideas are so dumb. And for you to travel and bring only 1 phone to fool the customs officer that it is your phone, you think you will profit with that upon return? No, you have to alteast buy a couple of these things to off set your fare, and that in itself makes it obvious that you bought multiple electronics to the officer and pay for it. All your issues are so irrelevant to the enforcement issue.

    This is not about nothing to hide nothing to worry about. Say if I want you to undress everything before you leave the airport including your fake teeth, your contact lenses, and fake brows, and then put it back after inspection – causing a nonesense hassle to the already embarassing airport capacity we have, would you still say nothing to hide nothing to worry? You have to use your mind a little bit, and see that there is something bigger here than simply nothing to hide nothing to worry. You have to think about the bigger picture. Government has already been criticized a lot about spending the wrong effort at the wrong things (I dont even want to mention wedding gowns anymore its so embarassing!), now headed by someone with an MBA, this is still what we get?

    I am not giving up with Ms Bennett yet though because she is still intelligent. No one is perfect, just like the wedding gown issue, she could still dissuade public outcry by assuring them that they do not have to register their devices and they will work on changing that policy into something that makes more sense (if not abolishing it altogether). Please Ms. Bennett, we are waiting for your comment on this, do not let us down, the same we way you did not let us down when rectifying the wedding gown issue. I still believe in you!

  5. Ms. Twyla Varga’s comment below completely misses the point. If someone takes items off island and leaves them in another country, there is no problem with that.

    As far as having plenty of time at the airports, two points to make. First, you cannot currently register your electronics at the airport on your way out (customs is only on the arrival side of the airport, not on the departure side. You need to make a separate trip to a customs office, a day or two in advance, and you need to bring your electronics with you. That is both time-consuming and inefficient.

    Second, even if you were to set up a booth at the airport as Ms Vargas suggests, there is not plenty of time for this process. I’ve been through this process at the customs office before. The forms require that the serial numbers be stated, and the customs officer has to check the serial numbers, make copies of the form, stamp them, etc. The process took 7-10 minutes. Imagine on a Saturday or Sunday when there are thousands of people leaving the island, having to wait in yet another massive line to register property which you’ve already purchased and had on island with you. It would be chaos. Even on a slow day at the airport, it only takes 6-7 people in front of you for the process to take an hour.

    Ms Vargas likes to say nothing to hide, nothing to worry about. That makes no sense. You may have nothing to hide, but that doesn’t mean it’s right that you have to make a separate trip to the customs office and wait in line for over an hour so that you can travel with electronics that you’ve already purchased and owned on island. You may have nothing to hide, but this ridiculous process is what you have to worry about.

  6. In many cases a lap tap is a necessity and not a luxury.Mine is 7 years old one which i have been travelling with for the same period. The registering at the airport plus arriving 2 hours before your flight is due to leave,unnecessarily complicates the process of travelling and add more stress to the travelling public. One must look to the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Are you looking to raise more revenue for the country and simply being more draconian and punitive? If its the former the method being used is wrong. Should I be asked to pay % amount on my old computer? If its the latter it has no place. I agree with Mr Moxam.

  7. I agree with Mr. Moxam!

    While some people may try to avoid paying duty on items when returning home, there are some of us who follow guidelines and laws and try to ensure that we are honest and declare everything down to a new t-shirt. Having to join a line and fill out a form to list electronics which you will take along with you when travelling, I strongly think is unnecessary and causes undue frustration and inconvenience to the public. In this day and age, taking your smartphone or your dumb phone, along with a laptop and an IPad is almost a given.

    I think that a few areas need to be re-visited in this regard, including the duty allowance per family for returning residents which is US350.00 and has been for many years, doesn’t matter if your family consists of two or eight people. The cost of living has risen to an all-time high. It is very expensive to shop on-island due to businesses trying to re-coop fees of the cost of their trip overseas to purchase items to sell when they return home and then… it’s the added expense of duty costs, so in order for a profit to be made, ridiculous prices are displayed. It is unfortunate that on any given day, it is cheaper to hop on a morning flight to Miami, take a taxi to a Shopping Mall and shop for a family and fly home the same night, than it is to go to George Town and shop for clothing for your entire family. I think most people would rather shop on island if items were reasonably priced. It is shocking to see how prices vary in some of the stores here. One may be asking 45 for a dress when another will ask 75 for the identical dress. We are one people and we need to have a live conscience. Be realistic and treat each person fairly.

    I certainly understand and agree that government need to generate revenue, however I do not think it is necessary to inconvenience everyone to do so. Re-visit the duty percentage being asked on items, whether it is food, clothing, vehicles, hardware etc., and make a concerted effort to make a positive change which will result in taking some of the financial strain off of each household.

    As a Caymanian, I pray for positive change for our beloved islands soon, as elevated costs will only lend to increased crime and burglary because people are hurting. It tears me apart to think that there are people in our little islands who are going to bed hungry, adults and children, and I believe that it is time for our MLA’s to each do their part to drive prices down instead of looking for more ways to generate revenue which is taking the bread out of our people mouths.

  8. It’s so frustrating when some people blindly applies the existing flawed laws. If you will insist of registering items, well then let’s do it all the way. Let’s register your old clothes, your neck ties, your wedding rings, your belts, all the way down to your string bikinis. Let’s register them all and if coming back something is not registered, say your filthy socks, then let customs charge you for those socks!

  9. How will this effect visitors to the Island, when I come on island I usually travel with two Laptops, one for Work and my personal one. I also have a tablet and a smart phone. In addition to this I have 2 digital Cameras one for regular photos and the other for underwater. My Wife will have a Laptop, tablet and smart phone as well. When we arrive at customs will we now be required to pay a deposit for these item if we don’t have a receipt. I mean really who travel with receipts for their personal belongings. What’s next will we be required to pay a deposit for the chain I have on my neck Nike’s on my feet or for her wedding rings. After dealing with these added cost to an already expensive trip you can best believe that a lot of people won’t bother to come back.

    Traveling with these types of things nowadays is not unusual, And I don’t believe for a moment that there’s a huge market for people selling electronics on the beach. You would never make a dime if you fly to the US to by a laptop and bring it to Cayman to sell on the beach.

  10. Someone joked that if you get burgled, Customs makes more money than the Thief!

    If you buy a new flat screen TV to replace one that was stolen and spend a around a grand, with shipping and duty CIG gets around 300 dollars, the used (e.g. 2 years old) TV which was stolen is worth maybe only 400-600 but the thief wants to move it quickly and takes pennies on the dollar – it may have started as a joke but it’s not funny. Talk about irony.

    The priority is keeping the Islands free from Drugs and illegal arms.

    After that a smooth and efficient transit for visitors through customs has got to be high on the list – the potential lost revenue from tourists who bring in items for friends and relatives is way less than the average tourist contributes to the economy – bureaucratic and heavy handed enforcement is not worth the bad-will and delays when weighed against revenue generated.

    Initiatives like spearfish are a perfect example of good use of resources;-
    But in the US once one item in a container has been shown to be stolen – the entire shipment is forfeit.
    That generates revenue as if the original owners can’t be traced goods are sold at a public auction.

    Finally remember that if customs procedures become so onerous that businesses are forced to hire agents – those costs are ultimately borne by the customers.

  11. Up until very very recently it was legal to kill a Scotsman carrying a bow in York England, but as far as I am aware no one was taking advantage of that law. My point being that many laws these days are simply impractical to enforce and so they are not. Perhaps many years ago when electronics were expensive and only a minority had cellphones and computers it would not have been too inconvenient. Nowadays a very high percentage of the western population travel with multiple electronic devices and it would be just plain stupid to enforce this archaic law. Moreover the point at which residual value on these devices seems to be exponentially ephemeral there is little to be gained by anyone let alone Customs. Ms Bennet seems to have lost site of more important issues (remember the wedding dress fiasco?) Staff would be better employed going after the more harmful items both to the government revenue and general public.

  12. Not exaggerating Twyla, more like questioning the reasons behind all the emphasis recent put on collecting duties and if it’s something new. I for one in all the years I’ve been coming and back and forth to Cayman have never been questioned about my personal belongings by Customs. All this talk and recent incidents just concerns me about what to expect with future visits.

  13. Get it right guys the policy does not require you to register it is optional and its not just for electronics it is for any item of value you wish to take abroad for repair replacement etc.

    I don’t think Customs is stopping every person at the airport and asking about their electronics. However if you do get spot checked you can confirm that the item is old or used, they just remind you of the option of registering the item.

    This happened to my father last week and he has since registered the item this week without issue.

    Get over it Chamber… start getting your merchants to hire Caymanians for jobs…. lets talk about that!