Nightmare before Christmas – importing your holiday treasures

| 27/12/2016 | 42 Comments

Cayman News ServiceMM writes: Does it really have to take three hours to clear a package at customs? I simply cannot see the logic in not so much as considering a more efficient and expedited way to conduct this vital transaction. There is no particular excuse as to why people must sit half their entire day in the queue at customs.

You arrive after fasting and praying three days asking the universe to help you find parking After this task, and depending on your method of import, you attend either the cargo office or, well, customs. The sound of the word has me traumatized after my experience. Frustrated clerks, frustrated customers, frustrated cashiers and frustrated security — and all with very good reason! It is hard to imagine what the staff must go through wrestling with an antiquated system, increased customer flow and a busted ticketing machine two weeks before Christmas.

When you have finally made your way inside, you are greeted by an amiable security who attempts to assist with maintaining order and answering customer queries during a time of chaos as the ticketing machine has decided to go defunct again.

“Musical chairs again?” a customer chimes as she walks through the door to notice the ticket machine down and people moving from seat to seat as they progress through the seated crowd It is apparent that this woman had experienced the machine failure and crowded waiting area before.

Anyone who has had an experience with customs on one of these dreadful days must admit, there has got to be a better way for them to do this.

In today’s technological era there is no reason people should be forced to spend 3+ hours to clear a package. And two separate counters to calculate duty and then on to the other to pay it?

Pull a ticket, sit, wait, get called up (eventually), hand over paperwork, get duty calculated (and make sure you get your item code beforehand too), some stamping of documents, sent back to ticket machine (if and when it is working), pull another ticket for payment, sit, wait, get called up, pay, sigh of relief as you finally walk outside and the sunshine touches your face after spending all day at customs.

Why can’t more of this process be automated? Why can’t people simply forward their invoices to customs through a secure online portal, have their duty calculated, pay online, print barcoded  receipt, drive to customs, have barcode scanned and verified, grab package and go?

Sure, there may be a few more logistics to this process than that, but it takes less than a quarter of the steps and less than half the time, redirecting precious manpower to other vital tasks.

In a country that the livelihood of the entire population relies on importation, I would expect that automation of the customs payment process would have taken a step up the priority ladder. The place is chaos, there must be another way. Sure, you can hire a broker, or ship direct using a courier, which is my usual approach; but that still does not settle the fact that there is an enormous amount of wasted time, paper, labour and general resources as a result of not exploring more efficient and contemporary ways to service the public and collect customs revenue.

First of all, I have tried and tried to find logic behind the two-step process. I cannot understand why customers must go to the laptop on the wall to search for item codes only to be told (after having to sit and wait again) that they have selected the wrong one and sent back to search again. Obviously the random individual who decides to import a few gifts will not know which of the thousands of codes (many similar in description and duty) the Customs Department would prefer to have associated with the import in question.

Three hours is unreasonable, and yet if you get in and out in two it is cause for celebration. Other customers who frequent this department said they will tackle it as a two-day process, going in to finalize paperwork and have duty calculated on day one and then back to pay and collect their import on day two. Oh, how I sympathize with anyone who must go there more than once per year.

Now, it is not that I am impatient, or just wanting to complain, but the fact is — there must be a better way!

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Comments (42)

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  1. MM says:

    Sometimes I wonder if there is anyone within our Tourism Ministry (or the minister himself would be better) who takes the time to review comments on Trip Advisor – in relation to customs, he is a comment from a recent visitor – what a shame! I do believe that this commentor meant to say “Immigration” though; because they say “on to the baggage area” – but either way; our Government has to ensure they have adequate staff to deal with these matters! But; how can our politicians know what the casual visitor is going through when they are sitting in the Sir Turtle VIP lounge or being escorted through!

    First-class destination – we have to pay millions a year in marketing to maintain that title because word-of-mouth is failing us due to constant bad customer service and over-priced goods and accommodations.


    Airport customs… job action or understaffed?

    Dec 12, 2016, 4:33 AM

    Landed at Owen Roberts on Thursday Dec 8th at 3:00pm. Our Westjet 737 was nearly full which meant that approx 120 people needed to clear customs. There were TWO customs agents on duty to process our entry. In addition to a lack of agents, the two on duty appeared to be taking an extraordinary amount of time with each arriving guest. In fact, they took turns leaving their positions and leaving the area for great lengths of time. What was going on? The line of visitors was barely moving when another large plane landed and lined behind us and actually out the door. Now over 200 visitors are standing in a line that is barely moving and it is getting hot in the room. It took over an hour for my wife and I to finally get processed and get through to the bagage area. Is their some kind of labor dispute going on at customs or are they grossly understaffed? This is our first visit to Grand Cayman and after spending 4 hours flying to get here and then having to deal with that customs experience.. we were not impressed. Not a good first impresion.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for all the comments suggesting a broker to do it for you. Never thought of that DUH!!
    You’re just an advert for brokers. Customs is probably getting a kickback as well!! I’ll scratch your back you scratch mine. Those guys fly through the lines and get called up BEFORE those that have waited. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
    What a scam. Just another scam. Scamanians live here always lookin a free buck

  3. Anonymous says:

    Admittedly I only go through customs a couple of times a year but they are always helpful and efficient. It takes time, yes, but that’s their job. To check every line to make sure that we’re not scamming. Or have you never ‘heard’ of those stores in Miami that will give you a cash invoice that says what you want on it?

    I’d have to ask, are some of these complaints ‘you get what you bring in’? (Like impatience and incomplete forms meaning the whole thing takes longer.)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why, oh why, do we need a thousand flipping codes? All this does is slow down the process. There are only a handful of no duty codes, and another handful of odd (not 22%) duty codes. Everything else is just ‘goods’. The statistics these onerous codes are supposed to provide are going to be inaccurate anyways. I see the codes used by freight forwarders for my goods, and laugh. It is garbage data and will give garbage stats.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good one!

  6. Anonymous says:

    BTW government has a new function
    Called ego ernment or sumting like dat. I hear dat shud a suppose to fix all dem problems.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Probably another reason why more and more smaller retail places go out of business. Who can afford the time and stamina spent on dealing with customs on a regular basis.

  8. Anonymous says:

    People that are given a little power and authority who can’t handle it and display a stink attitude…couldn’t be successful anywhere else! That coupled with the unadulterated bureaucracy a recipe for disaster!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I bet some civil servants who have been around for umpteen years are putting up roadblock to changes – if the process has been done manual and on paper then that’s what they know and changes are likely not initiated from within to make things better. Ministers are being stone walled when they are trying to implement changes and we know civil servants don’t get fired.

    My hope is that Government starts privatizing more and more parts to put a stop to such nonsense……

    • Anonymous says:

      This is definitely an area that needs overhauling. Total waste of time.

      Here is a puzzle: when a package is mailed to me through the post office, it is handled expeditiously at the airport post office. I take my notification slip and the associated invoice, and the package is inspected, assessed, and the duty duly paid and I can be in and out within a half an hour or less, depending on number of persons waiting to clear packages. The whole process is simplified and expeditiously dispatched.

      When an item comes in by an airline, however, it is a horror story. First the collection of documents and payments at the airline. Then over to customs for the long wait.

      And God forbid if you got the code wrong and if there is a dispute over the classification. That usually ultimately requires that you are redirected to have the item inspected.

      Then back again to the counter to complete the paperwork and then to get a new number for payment, and the back to the counter to collect documents, and then back to the storage for collection.

      If you get out in three hours you are lucky! Although I was told that if you time your visit to around a half hour before closing you tend to get lucky. All of a sudden, staff efficiency is miraculously optimized.

      At the start of the day, not so much: I noticed on my last visit that one counter did not get opened until 9 am. Late staff arrival, I assumed. Then one counter was occupied by a staffer doing some back office work, it seemed. I wondered why she had to work at the sparsely served counters — and thereby present another source of irritation to the waiting public.

      Surely this sorry state of affairs is fixable, by the largest revenue earner of the Cayman Islands Government.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I wonder how much revenue is being lost with people like me who have instructed all family members to stop sending gifts and goods because the process of clearance is just too cumbersome and time wasting. Its much easier to send a voucher by email to download a movie or music or as someone else says to send to an Amazon pick up point to collect when we go to the USA and bring back under our allowance. This is not possible for everything of course but collectively it could have an impact on revenue. I have no problem paying duties, but customs just makes it too difficult to bother with.

    • Anonymous says:

      Certainly my Partner and I and I know of several of our friends have told families and friends to stop sending gifts for that exact reason. I suspect there are loads more people.

  11. Ridley says:

    Go there and I guarantee that you will see 50% of the staff on duty either stuffing there face with food or on cellphones. Importing anything through Customs these days is a waste of time and energy. Pay a customs broker the extra $75 and make them deal with the incompetence of the officers.

    • Anonymous says:

      There should be no need for a broker. This is a simple process in other countries without such frustration. This archaic complicated process appears to be designed to deter small businesses. The wasted time and effort to go into customs can cost a small business a lot of money. Cost which is passed on to the consumer.

  12. Anonymous says:

    chuckie should be called to the talk show and have this issue addressed

  13. M Wilson says:

    Collecting overseas mail from the post office is a fair o too, if you ever get the mail. Have spent 3 lunchtimes trying to clear one parcel, still have not made it to the front of the queue within my lunch hour. Terrible

  14. Anonymous says:

    Customs, Immigration, Planning and RCIPS are the worst CIG departments and take pride in frustrating clients. Customer service is a joke and nobody in charge cares who are you going to complain to a politician or Deputy Governor they don’t give a hoot and justify the madness.

  15. Anonymous says:

    There is a better way for sure and not just with Customs but DVL, Post Office, Immigration, Police Clearance etc.

    But.’s the kicker in my opinion. won’t see it until Govt decides that working for Civil Service is not just a glorified welfare system designed to keep as many people employed as possible despite the obvious waste. ..

    Think of it like the guys employed to blow leaves from one side of the road to the other every day instead of vacuuming them up.

  16. Anonymous says:

    In my experience, the most helpful guy in that department is the security guard, the rest of them don’t give a toss how long you have to wait, or be nice to you. They know any complaint is a waste of time, no accountabilty and no pride and if you review the security cameras it would probably appear as slow motion, but it is in fact real time. My last visit to clear one item was FOUR hours and that was with all the paperwork in order.

  17. Anonymous says:

    There is a better way, but of course there wont be as much kick back if they purchase good equipment. You see someone has expired or worn out equipment so instead of throwing it away they offer it to CIG and it is sold for a cheap price and everyone gets a kick back.. Well done!!!!!! Everyone is happy.

  18. KK says:

    THANK YOU!! And well said ..can you imagine persons or companies that bring in goods on a regular basis? And because we have no choice they honestly really don’t care. Admittingly management is very helpful in the event there is a concern/issue however it shouldn’t have to be taken to mgt. Most staff on the front line are useless and sometimes look as if they take pleasure in seeing people continuously come back. Yes !!There is a better way if someone cared enough..unfortunately for us they don’t . Slow, Incompetent and don’t really care that’s them. Btw your valuable time means nothing to them and don’t have enough time to go into the process , codes etc..backward totally backward .

  19. Anonymous says:

    Over the years it has gotten more difficult to clear goods thus my effective and efficient customs brokers xxxx I just send them my paperwork and they do the rest.

    • Anonymous says:

      There should be no need for brokers. Just fix the problem with the system and make it streamlined. Have the process more efficient and not so complicated, time consuming and an embarrassment.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Amen! Chuckie is still wrestling with this one..They need someone that has ran a business before to take the helm..Chuckie comes from the same old civil service mentality of “we going to get paid anyway, so who cares.” There is absolutely no incentive to provide good customer service or any service for that matter. A business culture most prevail if it is to get better but sending a civil servant who has never ran a business (and that’s what Customs is) to work out the issues is a complete waste of time..

  21. Peter Phillips. says:

    Good article. What Customs don’t realize is that in business time is money and if it takes 3 hours labor to import goods then that is an expense that is added to the cost of importing and so passed to the customer.

  22. Jotnar says:

    Having to go in person, and go through two different processes creates civil service jobs, pure and simple. Automating it would drastically reduce customs headcount.

  23. Anon says:

    You’ll find that those that go in over two days don’t do a lot of waiting. You can request a registered number (unfortunately this also requires waiting in line) so you can drop off your paperwork and come back for it the next day instead of waiting. The customs form and a copy of the legislation with relevant codes are available online so can be completed beforehand.

    Having said this I understand your frustration. The outside world (I refer to first world countries like Cayman) is now very automated and Cayman is way behind, not just in Customs, but in many departments. The DVDL for example, in other countries you can complete most of the necessary functions from your computer including vehicle registration and license renewal. And don’t get me started about having to line up in that ridiculous little office with people breathing down your neck for a police clearance certificate! Why on earth can’t you make the request and pay online, then present your passport when you pick it up? Even better yet, why can’t immigration access a central database so you don’t need to get it at all.

    Even in the private sector, half the time when buying gas the pay at the pump machines are out of order. I’m guessing its going to be a long time before we can self serve at the supermarket like so many others around the world. I love this country but efficiency is not a part of the language here. Cue the trolls telling me to go back to where I’m from then because I dare to have an opinion…

    • Anonymous says:

      Both customs and dvdl have online services which ive used and it has been very helpful and i must say NOT ALL of the people at customs collections office are lazy there are a few that help out customers with their forms and the codes and she is friendly

  24. Anonymous says:

    Pure Undulterated Bureaucracy within the Cayman Islands Government !!

  25. Anonymous says:

    In addition to the wasted resources, I think the CIG is losing an enormous amount of revenue from people that just don’t have anything shipped here because it’s such a pain to deal with. I used to order stuff online all the time but the customs process is so annoying that I usually do not bother anymore (or I have it shipped elsewhere so that I can pick it up off island).

  26. Anonymous says:

    Can you imagine how many wasted productive hours that companies spend waiting on this process. I have to do it around 2-3 a month and it is horrible. I don’t work for customs and it only takes me around 5-10 min per entry. why does it take the professionals at customs at least 20 min. One of the things I noticed is that they actually look up each item on amazon or something to see what the cost is there which again takes up more time and effort. The Traces website is a disaster and is using very old products…try looking up home automation or computer or smart phone (someone recently updated but it is still outdated)

  27. Anonymous says:

    There is a better way, which the poster obviously has no knowledge of. It is called a Customs Agency/ Broker to do it all for you, in a fraction of the time and at minimal cost. As well as minimal aggravation.

    • Anonymous says:

      But the process does not need to be so complicated to require a broker. In other countries you just give your invoice and pay and it takes maybe 15 mins. Not two days. MM is lucky whenever I have imported anything it takes two days because the line is through the door.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you ever needed to ship via cayman airways…you are on your own buddy.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Use a company that waits in the line for you xxxx. This isn’t going to change and customs and immigration have always been and always will be a complete mess.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree! There has to be a better way. And the response of this is how it has always been is ridiculous! We were talking about this at Christmas dinner as two people had each spent over 4 hour trying to clear their goods.

    Also fix the airport duty cashier at the same time. Let me pre populate my info is that I only have to pay when I get there. I bet more people would be honest about their overseas purchases if paying duty at the airport wasn’t so painful.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Well said!

  31. Anonymous says:

    I always use a broker, saves time and frustration.

  32. Anonymous says:

    It wont happen becuase the fat cat merchant families dont want it made easy. If that were to happen then they could not overcharge the living daylights out of you consumers. Remeber buy local!

  33. Anonymous says:

    considering how difficult it is I dont understand why we all dont all starve to death.

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