A lot of so-called Black Friday ideas on the Web promise to deliver Stateside products, mostly electronics, cheaply and painlessly to Costa Rican residents.
But the customs procedures continue to amaze.
For example, a recent mailing of a doll and a game from the United States to a sick Costa Rican child cost 19,220 colons to liberate from the aduana or customs agency. That’s about $38.
The package came through a mail delivery service. The sender paid just $10 to have the package delivered to Miami, Florida.
In Costa Rica, customs workers were waiting with their adding machine. The doll drew an amazing 30 percent tax, presumably 13 percent sales tax and the rest customs duty. The total was a big 3,860 colons or about $7.65.
For some reason customs workers only charged an estimated 13 percent sales tax on the electronic game. Perhaps because many electronic products are duty free. But the tax still was 3,360 colons more. Ring up $6.66.
The doll obvious had luxury accommodations at Hotel Aduana because agents charged 3,000 colons more for storage or nearly $6.
Of course customs workers have to get paid, so they added 9,000 colons or about $17.85 for assessing the charges against a sick child.
So the total came to about $38.
Monday the Contraloría de la República praised the Ministero de Hacienda for more efficient collection of sales tax, including customs duty. It is easy to see that charges can sometimes reach the value of products being shipped into the county, free trade treaties notwithstanding.
The $26 that air travelers pay as an exit tax is designed partly to pay the estimated tax on items those returning may bring in within their suitcases.
Anything obvious is sure to attract customs agent attentions at the arrival lounge. But more than one expat leaves the country with empty suitcases packed within each other.
The Contraloría never really explained how it evaluated the aduana tax collections. After all, items smuggled in are not reported to anyone.
One Central Valley high roller successfully beat the customs agency for years. He created a company in Florida with a name that resembled closely a well-known U.S. firm. He imported thousands of dollars of items by creating false invoices in the name of the fake company and cheated customs collectors with the low-ball prices.
Perhaps that is why the government employees are so aggressive these days with dolls for sick children.
Many expats continually remind family members elsewhere to avoid sending anything to Costa Rica because of the hassle and expense of clearing customs.