Al-Ahram Weekly Online   7 - 13 May 2009
Issue No. 946
Sky High
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Pass in peace

While departing or arriving through Cairo International, do not go straight towards the green gate unless you are totally clear of restricted items. Amirah Ibrahim discovers how to avoid customs troubles

To the untrained eye, the man looked like any other traveller as he was waiting to pick up his luggage at Cairo International Airport. But something about the way he was acting caught the attention of two customs officers. When he moved towards the green gate, he was stopped by a customs official who ordered his bags to be manually inspected.

"I don't have the keys. It seems that I lost them at Dubai airport as I was in a rush to take the flight," the passenger told security officers who questioned him for 10 minutes. When the bags were finally opened, the customs officers smiled as they seemed to find what they had been expecting. There were two thousand mobile phones, 1,500 mobile accessories, thousands of CD Rom and other computer accessories. The customs officer counted as the passenger looked stunned.

With regards cash, both the Money Laundry Law and Central Bank Law stipulate that travellers outside the country are not allowed to take more than LE5,000 as pocket money, but can take any amount of foreign currency provided they declare it in departure if it exceeds $10,000. "The laws aim to fight money laundering which is mainly directed to finance illegal activities; thus it is a focus of our work," stated Mohamed Sirag, Head of Cairo International Customs Department.

Medicines, supported by governmental subsidies, are smuggled from the country to the outside, mainly to Yemen and Libya, where smugglers make profits from selling them at high prices.

"Smuggling into the country usually happens through Dubai, Singapore, Syria and China flights, where smugglers tend to bring small and light but very expensive products in large quantities to sell them for high prices," explained Sirag. "They usually try to smuggle accessories for computers, MP3, wireless phones, expensive clothes, textiles and satellite equipments," he added.

Under Egyptian law, passengers are permitted an exemption of purchases that do not exceed LE1,500, for personal use. Sirag explains however that the LE1,500 is the factory price, not the purchased price; thus, the exemption granted to passengers would equal LE5,000.

An annual mandatory list issued by the Finance Ministry regulates the fees imposed for each category of products. Electronics are set as the highest category being taxed at 30 per cent of their price. "Used equipment is counted at 60 per cent of its original prices; thus, Egyptian workers who bring their used things when they return home would pay less of course," Sirag added.

How to detect smugglers? The airport has a "behavior detection" programme set up by the security department which boosted the abilities of customs officers. Secret detectives act as the unknown soldiers in the play. "It all starts with information by our detectives about merchants at local markets who sell expensive products; such as electronic sets, clothes, etc., at cheap prices," explains a security officer who preferred to remain anonymous. "When they investigate such information they usually discover smugglers coming through airports or harbours, and then we begin."

Secret detectives are key players inside the airport as they usually spread out in departure and arrival halls acting like passengers, luggage workers or maybe cleaning workers in bathrooms begging for tips.

How to go through the Egyptian Customs?

- If you have nothing more than the duty free allowance of $200, and no prohibited or restricted goods, go straight through the Green Channel unless asked to stop by an officer.

- If you have more than the duty free allowance or if you have prohibited or restricted goods, go into the RED channel and declare them to an officer in the customs declaration.

- Typewriters, calculators, radios, cassette recorders, video and tape players, video cameras, personal jewelry and ornaments, etc, which are usually brought by tourists or Egyptian immigrants for use during their tours, are exempt of taxes. Customs officers have to register these items in the owners' passports on arrival.

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