Tourist Tip #303 / Caught by Customs? Don’t Make a Break for It

Bringing a brand-new, expensive phone into the country, even for one's own use, requires customs and tax duties to be paid on it, as one hapless chap learned.

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Today’s tip of the day might seem to be a no-brainer. But, apparently, some things do need spelling out.

Last week, it turns out, a British-Israeli citizen was apprehended at Ben-Gurion International Airport for trying to smuggle one – count ’em, one – smartphone into Israel and found himself in a world of trouble.

How does one get accused of smuggling a single phone, and how did the affair escalate to the point of the prosecution seeking to slap him behind bars?

Based on the indictment submitted by the Ben-Gurion Customs department to the Magistrates Court in Ramle (the city nearest the airport), it seems the passenger, 30, flew into Israel to visit family on July 25. Said family, Customs notes, lives in Kiryat Malakhi.

Inspection of his luggage uncovered the original box and accessories for a Samsung Galaxy S4, quite the latest wrinkle in the Samsung smartphone industry – but the phone wasn’t inside. The Customs official inquired where the phone was and the incoming tourist whipped it out of his pocket. So far so good.

Bringing a brand-new, expensive phone into the country, even for one’s own use (not to sell), requires customs and tax duties to be paid on it, a process that begins by declaring it, not sailing through the “nothing to declare” exit. How much tax?

As an import, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is worth about NIS 2,339, on which sales tax of NIS 351 and VAT of NIS 484 would be due, Customs evaluated. After deciding that, the officials issued the tourist with an administrative fine.

He then asked to speak with the supervisor on duty.

Fine. The supervisor agreed to see him. With the suspect before him, the supervisor told the Customs inspector to bring the phone to his office.

But while that was being done, the supervisor was called off to some other thing; the passenger took advantage of his absence, took the phone that had meanwhile arrived, and disappeared into bowels of the vast terminal, officials say. Three inspectors sent haring after him couldn’t find him.

Thing is, they knew who he was and contacted his family to warn that he should turn himself in, otherwise he’d be arrested.

He did turn himself in, was detained, and was released on his own recognizance -- plus an NIS 5,000 third-party guarantee plus an NIS 3,000 cash deposit. He was barred from leaving Israel until August 5 and his passport was deposited with the authorities.

Shoppers at Ben-Gurion International Airport. No, your smuggled phone isn't duty-free.Credit: David Bachar

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