Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2000/08/07

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Subject: Re: [Leica] U.S. Customs
From: "Jim Laurel" <>
Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2000 18:34:50 -0700
References: <>

Yes!  Whenever I travel overseas I dread going through the US Customs
gauntlet.  My recent experiences in just the last couple of years:

1) Returning from a trip to Iran/Syria/Jordan/Israel
I had 2 large Pelican cases containing 2 Toshiba laptops, Jaz drives, and
various accessories.  In separate camera bags, were 2 Canon Optura DV
cameras, 1 Pre-production Canon XL-1, a Canon EOS1n, Canon A2E, and a
Kodak/Nikon DCS 460 6 megapixel digital still camera, along with wireless
mics, tripods, lights, Motorola talkabouts, etc.  Upon returning to the US,
the customs officer went through every last bit of equipment and clothing
and confiscated it all.  Luck thing that most of it was owned by my employer
at the time, Microsoft!  He gave me a number to call and I gave him the
number of the Microsoft legal department.  I also called legal first thing
the next morning with the story and the guy's name.  I got a call by 10am
from Customs saying that everything was cool, and I could pick up the
equipment any time.

2) Returning from the Philippines
Minimal kit...2 Leica M bodies with 4 lenses total.  Customs officers
questioned me repeatedly about what I was doing there, for how long, how
often I go, etc.  They inspected my camera bag thoroghly, but didn't seem to
care about the cameras one bit.

3) Returning from Thailand and Myanmar
2 Leica M bodies, 6 M lenses, Canon EOS1n with Sigma 8mm for surrounds, Sony
PD100a camcorder with wireless and shotgun mics.  Sony Vaio notebook
computer with accessories.  The fun began when customs pulled me aside in
the jetway for questioning.  After passport control, I was questioned
randomly by four other customs officers, in addition to the two official
checkpoints.  At the final checkpoint, they proceeded to inspect each and
every item in my bags, asking questions about each thing, and asking all
sorts of questions about my employment status, my profession, how often I
travel to the region, etc.  When they got to the 100+ rolls of exposed film,
the inspector asked if she could x-ray the film outside the lead bags.  I
told her "no", and she didn't press the issue.  Lastly, she wanted to check
through my jacket pockets.

After the customs check, I had to re-check all the bags for the final flight
to Seattle from LA.  Alaska managed to misdirect the Porter case containing
Sony notebook, and it wound up in Vancouver.  I got a call from Alaska agent
requesting the combination to the lock.  When I expressed aprehension at
giving this out for fear of theft, she said that if I didn't, Customs'
policy was to simply break open the box forcefully, inspect it, then tape it
back together!  So, I had no choice.  Fortunately, nothing was missing from
the box when it finally arrived, but they didn't bother to lock it back up.

In general, the customs officials have been pleasant, but I find it
insulting that they seem to profile me all the time.  I am US-born of
Eurasian descent, and am clean-cut and dress in regular (khakis, cotton
shirts, etc) conservative clothes when traveling.  Why do these guys always
seem to pick me out?  I am a native-born American with no police record,
(not even a traffic ticket!), who pays his taxes on time and obeys the law.
What right do they have to ask me personal questions about what I do for a
living, etc?  Well, they have no specific right to do so.  Yet, if you
decline to answer, you may be subject to a body cavity search, and there
isn't a damn thing you can do about it afterwards.  If they don't find
anything, all you get is "you may go now".  US Customs is like the IRS in
that you are viewed as guilty and it is your responsibility to prove your

It's worth noting that I generally don't have any trouble when returning
from anyplace in Western Europe.

Back on topic, the customs agents I have encountered are never concerned
with Leicas.  Around the world, when cameras have been an issue, it's always
video cameras they're worried about.  Dunno why...

I tried to register my Leica gear at Customs once before leaving the
country, and they acted like it was a waste of time.

- --Jim

- ----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Satterfield" <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, August 07, 2000 1:09 PM
Subject: [Leica] U.S. Customs

> Have any of you had any trouble with customs when returning with the
> Leica equipment you took with you. I understand they have a form but my
> travel agent said she had never been questioned. She has been to Europe
> 4 times.

Replies: Reply from Mark Rabiner <> ([Leica] Substratus Woofers: Laika)
Reply from Nathan Wajsman <> (Re: [Leica] U.S. Customs)
In reply to: Message from Bill Satterfield <> ([Leica] U.S. Customs)