Airport Customs

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.

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My experience at the airport

My experience at the airport (7 or so flights in the past 6 years) is that they are busy people who don`t sweat the small stuff. If you happen to have abunch of little stuff theat exceeds the 500 limit they will probably not know or not care. If they itemized every thing for every person who had more than one bag it would take 10 hours to get thru customs.

If you are worried, make everything used by washing it or removing labels. Some Nicas remove packaging and labels and ship them separately for resale items or for bragging rights that the gifts they bring are, in fact, new. For your own stuff you don`t need to fool with this.

I shipped some stuff down by boat, but it was all used. It was addresses to the (NIca) family member who was at the house with a cedula to receive it, so I have no idea whose cedula it was charged to. Since it was all used household stuff, it all may have been exempt anyway. Next time I ship a box I will ask the shipper for details.

Also, I have found that with Sinsa, Maxipali and some of the better pacas here that every year I have less reason to haul stuff down. Shopping here is an annoiyance, but much stuff is available even if it`s on an erratic basis. I buy the simple stuff here and only haul down quality stuff like footwear, cutlery, and consumer electronics.

"You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality." Ayn Rand

Duties and Exemptions

A foreign resident of Nicaragua is entitled to an exoneration waving duties on $500 worth of goods upon return to the country. Logically (LOL) I would think that if I had $900 of imported goods, I would get an exemption on $500 and pay duty on the remaining $400. Can anybody confirm or deny this?

I was also told by a company called Compras y Entregas (a postal/package delivery service between Miami and Managua) that I could claim $500 on my cedula and $500 on my passport every 6 months. Has anybody ever tried this at the airport, in effect providing a $1000 exoneration?

I was told that I could only claim $500 on "this cedula"

every six months, implying that if I had access to other cedulas that people weren't using to bring in their own $500 every six months, that would probably pass. My passport has a residency stamp in back; some people who got their residency several years earlier don't have that.

You're allowed to bring in certain personal items like cameras, a computer, personal sporting equipment, and assorted other things listed on the declaration form. I came in with well over $500 worth of those things when I flew in. I brought in cooking knives, hiking poles, various highish end kitchen pots, and a computer, monitor, keyboard, and separate external hard drive. All those things seemed to be on the duty-waived list, along with clothes and household furnishings like sheets and towels. If you ship things, you have to give an exact inventory, but if those things are exempt, there's no duty.

Correos and Aduano customs warehouse do keep records of what you're importing on a given cedula. I don't get the impression that the airport does.

Correos asks me to open my packages in their presence to make sure that what I was bringing in was actually exempt and undamaged, and I had to pay duty and IVA when there was a question about shipping weight (box weight was different from the listed weight. If I'd been willing to go to Managua to pick it up, supposedly "no pago," but I paid to avoid half a day at customs or the central post office. So far, camera for personal use can be extended to several lenses. is what you can officially bring in without paying duty. The listing for sporting goods and household goods was on the back of the declaration form, if I'm remembering correctly.

Rebecca Brown

Nicaraguan Officialdom Seems

eager to help in most instances.

Actually, the only bad experiences I've had with has been with the traffic police. Everyone else has been more than helpful.

Does anyone know of a package delivery service that operates out of the LA area?

Your mileage may vary

Just like all too many things in Nicragua, your experience may not be the same as that of others. I know someone who came in about the same time. Her bags did get X-rayed (and had some funny stuff in them which would have actually required a TELCOR permit. No inspection/no problem.

As for invoices, it is always a good idea to have an invoice for anything. Armed with a laser printer, you can produce the ones which are more desirable than the original.

The apple story reminded me of a trip I took with my parents. Arizona and California both had agricultural inspections at the time. When we got the the Arizona checkpoint the guy asked if we had any fresh fruit. There was a banana on the front seat. My dad picked it up, peeled it, stuck the banana in his mouth and handed the inspector the peel.

Seems Like A

fair and reasonable experience. Your positive attitude probably went a long way towards the good outcome.

Mirrors my experiences with Nicaraguan officials (except for the traffic police, of course), I've always found the people helpful and willing to take the time to explain the rules.

The duties they assessed on your stuff also seem very reasonable.

Try and bring ANY fruit or veggies through a US checkpoint, declared or not. :)

GREAT to have positive news like this from Nicaragua.

Looks like

Looks like they found out they have to pay for their new machine! I went thru it earlier in the year without incident.

Since your pool pump probably busted you out of the $500 limit, they were probably in the right unless it fell under your pensionado status, which would have taken paperwork on your part. I once crossed the line into CR behind a long line of Nicas having to dump their fruit.

I will make a mental note to bring receipts for any big ticket items or anything that may look like a big ticket item.

``The government is clearly Marxist. The question is whether it is Karl or Groucho``