Monday, March 09, 2009

The lengthy process of paying duty in Cyprus...

Richard has been away for the past three-and-a-half weeks. Mostly in Australia, at various meetings. Then he was able to spend a couple of days with Daniel in Manila on the way back.

He arrived in at 2.30am this morning. I am very happy to have him home again.

He slept pretty well, then this morning we went out... to the airport. No, we weren't meeting anybody. Nor had he lost any luggage. But when he was in Australia, he saw a rather posh camera that he had been going to buy for the office, significantly less expensive than it would be in the UK. So, after discussion with his colleagues, he went ahead and bought it.

On the way out of Australia, he was able to claim back the 10% duty that he paid on it. And, on the way into Cyprus, he declared the camera, expecting to pay 15% duty on his way in. Since it was the middle of the night he could probably have walked straight through the green channel without question, but he likes to do things ethically and honestly.

In the past, it was reasonably straightforward to pay duty on equipment brought into Cyprus. An estimate by the guy on duty after looking through the paperwork, a deduction depending on what we were allowed to take in, a rounding down because it's for a registered charity... and a handing over of the relevant cash.

But now we're in Europe, and things are much more complicated. In Cyprus, they seem to have complicated considerably further than anywhere else in Europe. And it was totally impossible to deal with duty in the middle of the night. So they took the camera from Richard, wrote him a receipt, and told him to come back this morning. They said he would need to pay 14% duty.

'It'll be pretty quick,' he assured me, as we went out.

I was dubious. Nothing ever seems to be quick, in Cyprus.

We got to the airport at 11am. We went to the place where he was told to go last night, only to be informed that the camera had been sent over to the customs office, and that we needed to go there. The man on duty explained where to go - not far - and drew a little diagram. We could have walked, but he said it was better to take the car, as there was free parking outside the customs building.

So I suppose it was quick at the airport. We were under 20 minutes in the car park, so didn't have to pay for parking.

we got to the customs office by about quarter past eleven. We went into the first office, to be told that we MUST have a customs clearing agent. Why? Well, we can't possibly fill in all the forms ourselves. There's no other way. The girl shrugged and held out her hands. If we wanted the camera, we must have a customs clearing agent, and pay him as well as paying the duty.

Where can we find a clearing agent? Ah, she told us, just speak to Mr C..., who is out there.

We spoke to Mr C. He wasn't a typical laid-back cheery Cypriot. Rather the reverse. He insisted we needed to pay duty on the gross amount, not the net. He said it was 15% duty, not 14%. When we queried anything, he became quite belligerent. We had no choice but to accept all he said, which was punctuated by calls on his mobile phone, which he answered abruptly, and then - mostly - started shouting at the person at the other end.

After much filling-in of forms, we were instructed to follow Mr C upstairs, to another office. Richard signed a piece of paper, photocopies were made, and there was considerable discussion in Greek. Then to another room, where a complex computer page was filled in, and then back downstairs, where we were told to wait thirty minutes while the information went through the system.

By then it was ten past twelve. We had been there nearly an hour, and had still not even seen the camera. The outer office was very smoky, so we went and sat in the car for twenty minutes. When we got back, we hung around waiting, wondering if we would get the camera at all, since the customs office closes at 2pm.

We got chatting to a woman sitting there, also waiting. She does this regularly, importing equipment to Cyprus, and says it's unbelievably slow, but there's nothing anyone can do. We just have to accept what we're told.

We watched as a FedEx van drew up outside the customs shed, and men started throwing boxes from it onto the ground. Including some clearly marked FRAGILE. So much for the guarantee of safe delivery from FedEx!

Around one o'clock, Mr C returned. Our documents were now ready, he said, and we had to pay €500. That was €150 more than Richard had expected to pay, but it included his fee, and I suppose it could have been worse.

He took us upstairs again, to sign more paperwork. He tried to give Richard a photocopy of the original invoice. Richard insisted it must be the original, since it's for a UK registered charity, and the UK tax office needs to see the originals. Mr C wasn't happy about that, but fortunately one of the girls in the office told him to give us the originals. I've no idea why he wanted them....

Then we were given a receipt for the duty, and a piece of paper that would enable us to retrieve the camera.

We went into the customs shed, a large airport hanger kind of building with random piles of boxes and bags all over the ground. I wondered if the camera had been chucked around like the FedEx boxes. We spoke to three different men before we found someone who seemed to know what he was doing. And it took a while before he handed us over to a man who actually knew where it was.

To our surprise - and some relief - the camera had actually been locked away in a large safe. So, at last, we had it in our hands.

By the time we left, it was quarter past one. We had spent two hours of tedium and considerable expense (albeit not our own personal expense), in order to be legal.

I can quite see that someone with fewer ethical considerations would not want to bother to declare something like this. It hardly inspires honesty.

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