At the Customs Department

For some people, it’s almost easier to give up a body part than have to deal with the bureaucracy of government. I’m one of them.

Before I left the U.S., I had shipped some personal items that I wanted to have when I arrived. The day after I was notified of their arrival, I went to the shipping company then to the customs department to pick them up.

At the shipping company, I picked up the shipping forms, paid them a handling fee and headed to the customs department. That took no more than 10-15 minutes. I was smiling until my cousin said the fun was about to begin.

We arrived at the customs office and joined a group of about 20 people who were sitting around casually. I tried to read their expressions to see who were the veterans and who were first-timers, like me but each wore the same look of resignation their eyes becoming alert only when their names were called.

Within thirty minutes, though, a customs officer was asking those who had just arrived to bring their shipping forms, passports and other identification to him. He noted our names and led us into another room where another person recorded our details in a log and gave us a customs identification badge. Since I was the addressee, I was allowed in. My cousin, who was with me, was not.

When it was his turn, each person in the group I was with walked up to a window, handed over his form to an officer and was told the amount to be paid. After paying, there was another office (downstairs) and another line to join. This time, however, there was no fee. (I still haven’t figured out why we couldn’t have completed both steps in that one office.)

Before I left the second office, I was told to wait in a designated area to be called. At this point, I went to get my cousin. (Looking back now, I can see why a second person wasn’t allowed in. There was just enough room for one person per consignment in both of the offices.)

About 15 minutes after we took our seats, I heard my name. I was shown into a cavernous warehouse, which was packed to the rafters with packages of all shapes and sizes.

Barrels being collected from the Jamaica Customs Department, Gleaner photo
Barrels being collected from the Customs Dept., Jamaica Gleaner photo

It buzzed with activity. Workers wheeling boxes and containers, talking at the top of their voices, people unpacking boxes and barrels for inspection and the beep, beep, beep of small front-end loaders as they drove a path through the crowd with barrels and packages and stuff. A set of floor to ceiling windows separated the warehouse from an open plan office where shippers, carrying sheaves of forms were being directed.

Once we unpacked everything I had in my barrel, a customs officer came to inspect them. This is where they determine the value of the goods I’m importing into the country and assess the tax to be levied. Since my items were used, I was charged a nominal amount. I paid a cashier who took my forms and gave me back a receipt and another form and directed me to a validating clerk.

The clerk, who was seated in a cubbyhole of an office a few steps from the warehouse area, stamped them, sent me to collect a gate pass and told me to return to him. When I did, he took the forms, stapled them and sent me back to the customs agent.

The agent pointed me to a security guard and said I should take the forms to him. The guard simply stamped the forms and sent me back to the customs agent who took them and said I could go. Hallelujah! All I needed now was someone to move the barrel from the warehouse to the loading dock and put it in the car.

I looked at my watch as we pulled out. It was a little past 3:00 p.m., three hours from start to finish. My cousin thought it was much quicker than the previous time she was there but to my mind, it could have been shorter. But honestly, I was just glad to get my things and be out of there.

6 comments on “At the Customs Department

  1. Why can’t these procedures be streamlined? (A silly question… That would be too easy!) I can’t work out why they would be charging you any duty at all on your personal things, in any case.

  2. So much back and forth, waiting in line and moving around does not sound fun at all. Like Andrew says. It should be a streamlined procedure. I guess sometimes you just have to stick it out though.

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