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Sunday, January 11, 2015

My Experience With Customs

Before moving to Germany, I contacted several International Moving Companies.   Their websites were sleek and informative, their salespeople were smooth and knowledgable...  But the reviews given by customers were absolutely horrible.  Only one company looked promising until I noticed that all of the positive reviews the company received came from residents of the same city as their headquarters. Thankfully, I'm just a little to savvy not to pick up on something like that.  And fortunately, I decided to sell or donate anything that was too large or not necessary to bring with me.  With time running out and with my list of reliable international moving companies narrowed down to zero, I decided that my best option was to send my belongings through the UPS.  Although on paper, I spent slightly more than was advertised b the moving companies, after reading the reviews it became clear that I would save money and aggravation in the long run!  Four days before my flight to Germany, I packed up my boxes and brought them to The UPS Store.  Twenty boxes were sent through UPS and actually arrived safely in Germany before I did.  Two additional boxes, both containing two guitars, were cheaper to send through the regular post. The German Customs Department only required a detailed list of the items from UPS before they were released to me a week after my arrival.   Fortunately, I numbered each box and had a list of their contents.  I highly recommend that you write a detailed list of contents before mailing anything internationally, but especially when sending items to Germany.   The other two boxes, however, were a little more interesting to obtain!

Two weeks after arriving, I received a letter notifying me that two packages had arrived and were waiting for me at the postal customs office.  To ensure that there would be no difficulties, I brought my, passport, proof of my new residence, marriage certificate (I'm married to a German National) and anything else I thought I might need!  My wife, a native and fluent German speaker, also went with me.  After our number was called (a process that takes forever... in Germany), we explained the move and received two boxes.   Each box only containing one guitar because the original boxes had been opened and checked by customs.  At the request of Customs, I opened the boxes to ensure that the contents were correct.  They even jokingly requested in English that I play a concert for them.   Despite aging 30 years in the waiting room, it was an enjoyable experience.

A week later, I received yet another letter notifying me that a package had arrived in customs.  Because the previous box had been repacked, I was keeping my fingers crossed that this box contained the remaining two guitars and I would finally have the move complete.  Because we both assumed that we knew what to expect, my wife and I packed our backpack full of survival essentials (food, water, reading materials, etc.) for the waiting room.  Once again, I was able to grow a full beard in the amount of time it took us to wait for our number to be called.  Once our number was called, my wife and I felt a sense or relief.  If both of the guitars were there, the move would be complete and there would be one less thing to worry about.  But upon arriving at the customs desk, we were informed that we needed a ton of paperwork including proof of my past residency in The United States, my 2014 tax returns (which are unobtainable until 2015) and other, seemingly impossible documents.  The further we humored their scavenger hut, the clearer it became that we were not going to win this battle.  Not wanting to pay the outlandish taxes they were being unjustly applied for the release of the final package, (by this time, I was able to note that the final two guitars were, indeed, located with the box) we decided to return a couple of days later with additional paperwork.

My wife and I gathered anything we assumed might be of any importance and loaded our backpack to the breaking point with everything including the kitchen sink and adult diapers for the waiting room.  This time, our number was called just moments after our arrival.  As we walked towards the customs desk, my wife whispered in my ear: "What are the odds we didn't need to bring any of this paperwork with us?"  We arrived at the customs desk, the customs officer noted that we were returning due to a lack of paperwork, we mentioned that we had brought it with us...  And, without bothering to check, he released the final package to us with a smile and welcoming me (in English) to Germany!

This has been my experience with other German Government Offices as well, the amount of  bureaucracy, red tape, paperwork and outright bull plops one must suffer through depends largely on who you talk with, what time of day it is, the direction the wind is blowing, the gravitational pull of the moon and the price of chocolate on the world market!  

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