Wednesday, March 7

Package Police

It's not like it hasn't happened before.
Early on in our living in Leiden experience my sister sent me a box of jeans. Three pair of Gloria Vanderbilt stretch jeans to be exact. They are my favorite jeans in the whole world, soft, easy, and moldable. They are comfortable enough to wear all day and can be considered a perfect complement to the ever exotic, super fancy t-shirts I wear as part of my mommy uniform. These are jeans which can withstand the constant bending, stretching, diapering, chasing, hand-wiping, abuse I dish out every day. It quickly became clear after arriving here that it would be hard to clothe my rather short, moderately squatty, somewhat broad across the beam frame with the jeans that are manufactured and marketed for the extremely tall, exceptionally thin, slightly gangly Dutch. So, I asked my sister if she would send me some new jeans. She agreed. She purchased the jeans (on sale) for $20 per pair, put them in a box, added an address label to the front and took the box over to the UPS store. On the shipping tag she marked the contents as a "gift" and filled in the value as $60. The box was then marked for international shipping and was expedited to me. No problem. Then, my sister sent an email to tell me that the jeans were on the way. Not long after I got, not a box of jeans on my doorstep, but a delivery note from the customs office stating that I could have my box for a fee of Euro 50,00. Ack! We had been snagged by the package police. Not all packages and shipments that come in to the country are subjected to customs fees, but some are. Apparently there are a few "red flags" that will tip off the customs office that a package should be looked at closely. I asked around and this is what I learned:

1. Never ship EXPEDITED. This is a big flag to say "Hey! Look at this box, it's REALLY important and REALLY valuable. You could make a lot of money taxing this box!"

2. A total value over $25 could make an inspector look more than once. The risk here is that if the package contents cost the sender more than that, there will be no reciprocation if the box is lost. This is the chance you take.

3. Marking a shipment as a "gift" can set up a red flag on the box. Not always, but sometimes. I guess the idea behind that is "if you want a gift, well, you've got to pay for it!"

So, let's review and spot the mistakes in that first shipment from my sister. Count 'em with me: 1-2-3! Yes, we covered them all. Ugh. There didn't appear to be much option so I just bit the bullet, paid the fees, and got my box of new jeans. I quickly took to calling them my hundred-dollar jeans because after you factor in the shipping and customs charges, my wallet friendly purchase suddenly got very pricey.
But what is that they say? You live and you learn. I did. And I passed on what I learned and we have happily been receiving boxes and packages without a hitch ever since.

That is until now.

Flash forward to this week. My mom sent two boxes to me a few weeks ago. In one was a gift for me (thanks Mom and Dad!) and in the other was a Grandma-spotted-it-and-simply-had-to-buy-it gift for Andrew. The first box arrived quickly and without a problem. The second box took it's own sweet time coming across the ocean; we even wondered for a time if it had actually gotten lost. But lo and behold, late last week I received a delivery notice for the box, along with a memo from the customs office announcing that it was going to cost me EURO 50,00. to pick it up. Ack! Again? What had happened? What went wrong this time? On Monday afternoon, I paid the postal carrier the fees, signed off on the delivery and brought the box inside for closer inspection. I can't claim that I solved the mystery on my own, but give full credit to my super-sleuth husband who spotted the problem within seconds of examining the customs declaration tag.
Can you see it?

When my mother presented the box at the post office counter she had filled in the customs tag marking it appropriately (diminishing chances of red flag waving) with a value of $25. And somehow by the time the postal worker filled in the TOTAL VALUE slot, the contents of the box had magically increased in value ten times. He wrote in a $250.00 value! Oh, the brains on this one. But again, what is it they say? You live and you learn. And so we have something new to add to the shipping rules: Check the tag. Check the tag. CHECK THE TAG!

There isn't a whole lot of remedy on our end. Don spoke with the customs people today who were quite keen to dismiss his claim even after acknowledging that the error occurred. We can write a letter of complaint, which will take months to review before they deny us and refuse reimbursement. It's good to know we could pursue this exercise in futility. We may just get right on that just as soon as we do all the other equally useless things we have scheduled.

Now then, as to the contents of the box of misery with it's radical customs charge? I have only this to say: it was worth every last euro cent.


  1. Worth it? Oh yes, absolutely. Every penny. Just for that photo, if nothing else.

  2. hmm this confuses me: why would some packages get taxed and others don't? And how is the value then determined? Do they open the package?

    Weird. Annoying!