Trip into Nica (via A. Sandino Airport, Managua) late July 2011 was a new experience for me… In the past (about 4 years ago since last visit), customs would simply press a random color generator button, and if the lucky color came up you would pass by without any open baggage search. You handed in the customs declaration form and be on your way to be greeted by throngs of tip mongering bag-handlers.
As part of the modernization of the country, customs actually had an X-ray scanner that all bags had to pass through. Any metal obviously showed up. On my July 2011 we didn’t have anything unusual – just the sundry personal care and household supplies. I also brought in a bag of apples. Nothing to be re-sold or for a business, so we passed by without a search.
In my August 2011 trip, we came heavily loaded with a pool pump, filter, chlorinator, some other tools, and more apples. I like to eat apples on the plane and at the airport, as they don’t feed you on the planes anymore and airport junk food is expensive. The pool equipment was declared at it’s monetary value on the declaration form, but alas the apples were not.
The x-ray tech at customs pulled the bags with the pump aside for an open bag inspection, and the wife had to explain what the pump was … they never saw one before. I was pulled aside to speak with an agricultural inspector, because of my undeclared apples. She started talking in Spanish, but later switched to English, as it was apparent to her that I didn’t understand her. At that point her back up came over to assist. I opened the carry- on bag, at customs’ request, and showed the 5-lb bag of apples, and explained that I bought these at a US supermarket. She pointed out that they were not on the form (in Spanish, which the wife filled out), at which point I just nodded in agreement and just gave her a dumb-founded look. She carefully grabbed each apple and inspected them… she didn’t find any terrible issues or diseases associated them, so customs let them into Nica, and I continued with the dumbfounded looks.
I was called over to the other table where the wife was trying to explain what all the heavy metals stuff in our bags was (i.e pool pump/filters…) to the customs guys who never saw such equipment before. Doesn’t everyone travel with a 52-lb pool pump in there checked baggage?
The pump on the other hand, had to have taxes paid on it… They asked for a receipt to verify the declared amount on the customs form. I didn’t have the receipt… who knew I had to bring it? When I bought the pump, I tossed it, because once it was in Nica, how was I going to take it back to the US store for a refund? Wife talked more in Spanish saying it was for our family house, more dumb-founded looks from me, and we had to pay taxes (8 -9%) on the pump/pool equipment.
We had to re-do the declaration form for some reason, then more forms, and lots of stamping. Then were issued a neat certificate showing taxes were paid, and we were on our way!
Next to us was a Nica, who had his dilapidated electric hand drill pulled out of his bag for inspection, and he was looking somewhat agitated about it. Customs even plugged it into the wall for a test – it worked! A Gringa was also getting her bag inspected for something.
Moral of the story; declare your items, because they will be spotted in the x-ray exam. The good old days of the green- light/red-light roulette are over. We declared everything, (doh!! except for the apples..!), and paid our taxes fair and square – no “bites” – just taxes. All in all the whole scenario was very polite and professionally handled.