A crafty, nommy, occassionally geeky blog-thing.

Customs & Commercial Imports

Late monday night, C got the call that we’d be driving to Dallas to deliver a half dozen compute nodes and miscellany.

Road trip!!

All a-frenzy, we organized, postponed, and packed, ready to be on the road first thing Tuesday. No small feat, considering we’d just gotten back from Summerfolk, hours before.

Turns out we needn’t have frenzied. Since we were importing computers for commercial use, crossing the border was no longer a simple matter of hopping into a car, and heading for the bridge. Commercial import requires hoops, paperwork, and lots of patience it turns out. Everything gets cleared through a broker, rather than through customs, which is nice, and is not.

Brokers are far more pleasant to deal with. But the process takes, well, over a day it turns out. Commercial invoice filled out and faxed to the broker, and its time to hurry up and wait. We’re told that once the invoice has been processed, we’ll need to wait 3 hours before crossing. I’m still not clear on what those 3 hours are for, as nothing was verified at the border itself. But those 3 hours weren’t an issue. It would take that long to drive to the border anyway. No, the real antsy waiting comes from waiting to hear that the invoice has indeed been processed. How long will that take? “No chance today”, is the answer. But tomorrow? First thing? Maybe. Connie did all she could to light a fire under them, and it was still mid-afternoon the following day before we got the go-ahead.

Leave town at 4, reach the border shortly after 6, and find out at customs that we have to go through the trucker’s secondary inspection. After a bit of confusion regarding how to get there, we find ourselves in a quiet office, where 2 customs agents are sitting, drinking coffee and casually rearranging office supplies on their desk. Its a quiet day — this should go fast!

We walked up to the first agent, and explained that we had been instructed to come here by the border patrol. We were carrying in some goods for commercial import, and here was the paper work from our broker.

He looks confused.

“What is it you are trying to do?”

Bring some computers down to our U.S. office. Everything should already be taken care of by our broker. Here’s the paperwork we were given.

He flips through the paperwork like he has no idea what he’s looking at. He twists in his chair, to look behind him, a vaguely panicked look on his face. I’m beginning to think we’re in the wrong place.

“Have you seen your broker yet?”

We weren’t aware that we actually needed to physically visit the broker, but we certainly can if that would help.

He frowns, then says not to bother. He reached for another form, and says that we were supposed to have filled this out before coming to him. Its a manifest, no big deal. We just need to reiterate the information that’s on our invoice, although I’m not sure where we were supposed to get one, before seeing him. We take the form, and step to the side in order to fill it. He changes his mind, and tells us that he really would prefer if we did go see our broker before coming back.

Where’s the broker?

He points towards a second door. We step through the second door into a long narrow hallway, that’s lined with maybe 30 offices, each one marked with a faux-iron, overhanging sign. Livingston, our broker is to the end of the hall, and up a floor.

The folks at Livingston are friendly, and much more helpful. No, we didn’t need to see them at all. In fact, there was absolutely nothing they could do for us other than assure us that we had done everything we needed to do, yes we were filling out the manifest directly, and no they don’t know what’s up with the customs agents either, but they are always like “that”.

Back down to the first floor, and up the hallway. Since we are now coming back to the custom’s office through the second doorway, we have to go through the line-up of truckers who are also waiting to clear. This line-up is maybe a half-dozen long, and disgruntled. The customs office is not actually any busier now than they were when we were last there. In fact, there are now three agents at the desk. We watch through the door window as one of the agents picks up his stapler, and squares it on top of his post-its pad. Once its just so, he pushes it straight back, to line up against the edge of his desk. He glances up, almost making eye contact with the first trucker in line, pauses a moment, and then goes back to adjusting his stapler. He stands up, stretches, and walks off stage. He returns with a piece of paper, looks at it for a while, then taps at his keyboard a couple of times, stands up, and returns the piece of paper. He gets a fresh cup of coffee. The truckers explain that these guys are ass holes, that this border crossing in particular is hell to get through. They explain that we’re not actually waiting for the agents to do anything. They don’t have to make any decisions, figure anything out, or anything so complicated as that. Our brokers have all ready got everything in line. All the agent needs to do is compare the manifest to the invoice, and make sure everything’s been signed. If anything looks like a problem, they don’t deal with it; they just send it back to the broker. If everything looks good, they just stamp the invoice, and away you go. It should take 30 seconds tops per load. But because they have the power, they make you wait.

Eventually one of the agents signals that the first fellow in line can come in. Sure enough, he’s stamped and cleared in no time at all. Another 15 minutes of fidgeting before the next one. And so on.

Although everything was in order before we left, it was over an hour before we were through customs. What’s especially ironic about this, however, was how lax the whole process was. No one cared who we were, not our names nor our citizenships nor our passports. They didn’t particularly care what we were bringing over either. All they cared about was that we had filled out the appropriate forms, and jumped through their pointless hoops. We could have been anyone. We could have been smuggling anything in. How’s that for heightened security?