Most anyone who has ever left his country knows that customs officers can be a pain in the neck. But you don't even need to leave your homeland to learn that. "We record a lot of ridiculous stories when dealing with customs," said Miroslav Krivda, commercial manager of Federal Express, one of several courier services based in Bratislava. "For example, a grandson sends his grandfather a big package of tea and in his custom declaration states its value to be $400. The old man cannot then take the delivery of a damn can of tea unless he pays customs duty worth two months of his pension," Krivda said.
Here's another one. An entrepreneur sends a parcel to his business partner. He declares it as textiles, but forgets to record it only as a sample. "That's where the officer starts causing troubles," Krivda said. "He asks, 'What if the recipient sews a shirt out of this stuff? The shirt is liable to a different duty!'" The consignee must then pay, although he could never sew a shirt out of a 0.5m x 0.5m piece of fabric.
There's an easy, legal way to avoid these troubles and dodge customs entirely - let a courier company do it for you. There are about ten of them in Slovakia. "All of them do the same thing and deal with the same problems," said Ján Bohm, TNT Express Worldwide's country manager. "Filling in customs declarations is included in our total price," Bohm added. "The customs declaration of parcels our company delivers is automatic," said Pavel Žarnovičan, marketing manager for Slovak Parcel Service, a UPS affiliate.
Of course, this automation is not free. Although the part of the overall price taken by this service differs by courier company and by the type of goods, it is not low in any case. Actually, the whole service is pretty expensive. But customers know they're paying for problem-free, quick, door-to-door delivery to destinations all over the world.
Today, the courier services act as a guarantee for the customs office that a consignee will pay duty on his goods. "All the paperwork is taken care of by us, but the client must pay his duty within ten days of delivery," Žarnovičan said, and then continued, "thanks to our automated software, not only can we trace a shipment through its entire route, but also prepare the paperwork before it reaches the addressee. This way we are able to tell him the sum he must pay for duty the very moment we deliver the shipment to his door," Žarnovičan said. "Since we are the ones to handle this dirty bureaucratic job, we all suffer headaches caused by customs officers," Krivda said.
"Anytime a courier service employee hears the word 'customs officer,' he gets sick. It is the same as when a driver hears the word 'policeman.'" But doing this 'dirty' job is profitable. "Try to send a parcel outside the country yourself. After two or three days of bouncing between various bureaucrats you will realize it would have been smarter to pay for a courier service," Krivda concluded.