For the last couple of weeks, Ministry of Cigars has been writing about duty-free allowances. And here’s why, this is what inspired us to do all the research, to sort everything out and publish the articles.
After launching the website during the Intertabac trade show, I moved to Singapore. My wife is Singaporean, and that’s why I left good ol’ Europe behind and relocated to the far east. In my suitcase, I carried around 270 cigars, mostly singles that I had gotten at the events and the trade show late September. I brought them for review purposes, and I brought some cigars just to share with friends and smoke. I had my suitcase scanned before, at other airports, and even when I carried cigars, I never had issues. And I figured that if they would scan me, I’d play ignorant and get away with paying taxes. Well, not in Singapore.
When I walked to customs, a customs officer approached me and asked if I had goods to be declared. I said “I don’t know”, because saying no and being caught would get me into trouble for sure. And honestly, I did not know the duty-free allowance for Singapore. My bags were scanned, officers were called in. After an hour I was escorted to an office, where the cigars were weight and registered. Then I was brought to another office where I was questioned and held for in total six hours. After that, I was transported to customs headquarter, which is off the airport. There I was questioned again for another three hours. It took me nine hours to be finally allowed to go to my family.
My three months valid tourist visa by then was changed to a one-week special pass. After a week I had to return to the customs headquarters, the investigating officers took me to the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) to get my special pass renewed for another month. After that, they took me home and searched the place to see if there were more duty unpaid cigars, which there were not. I was taken back to the customs headquarters for further investigations and questioning.
The day of my flight, I shipped a large, heavy box full of items to my new address. I filled in the customs form, and the box was about 15 kilogram. The clerk at the post office said that I could fill the box up to 20 kilograms for the same amount of postage. So I took the box home, threw some more stuff in, including a box of cheap short-filler dry-cured cigars. I don’t smoke those, but I planned on giving them away to someone who likes them. I was in a hurry, so it slipped my mind that I had to change the customs form. I shipped the box and it arrived on October 15th. Within a couple of minutes after accepting the box, six customs officers showed up at my doorstep. The box was scanned by customs, the cigars were seen but the box was allowed through to simply arrest me. And they did, I got arrested over a not even full box of David & Goliath senoritas, fixed sale price of €9,95. The house was searched again, my laptop and phone were confiscated.
At the customs headquarters, I was officially booked. My laptop was searched. It turned out that customs officers joined closed cigar groups that I was a member from to see conversations, as they showed me screen prints. I was put in a holding cell, with handcuffs on. The embassy was notified and after about eight hours my wife was called. She was allowed to pick up my medication and my laptop from the customs office, then proceed to the nearest police station where she was allowed to bail me out. I was processed at the police station, where I was cuffed to a bench for the longest time. And I was then released on a 5000 Singapore dollar bail.
That bail had to be renewed every single week, my wife had to take a day off from work every single time, we had to travel to the police station to renew the paperwork. That only took a few minutes each time, but the traveling didn’t. By that time, the embassy had advised me to hire a lawyer. That didn’t sit well with the investigating officers, so they forwarded my case to the prosecutor, they claimed, after I asked them if the planned family vacation could still take place. Much to my surprise, I was called in two weeks later to give a final statement before my case was turned over.
The moment my passport got confiscated, I stated my concern about the family vacation we had planned. We had bought tickets to fly to The Netherlands on December 2nd, me, my wife and my two stepchildren. Without my passport I was not allowed to leave the country, so that was a big concern. Especially since I had to be in The Netherlands to close the sale of my house. My lawyer kept calling to get at least a travel clearance for me, but the investigating officers kept replying that it’s in the prosecutor’s hands and that he was aware of my travel request. I urged my lawyer to contact the prosecutor’s office directly a few days before my flight, as I suspected that the travel request wasn’t communicated by the investigating officers. That was indeed the case. My lawyer kept pushing and resulted in the return of my passport and a fine for both offenses, a total of 5000 Singapore dollar, just in time for me to get my flight. On Friday, November 30th, I was able to pick up my passport, phone, cigar cases and pay my fine so I could fly to The Netherlands with my family.
Now for the cigars, that included a box of original release Feral Flying Pigs, Liga Privada #9 Flying Pigs, La Aroma de Cuba lanceros and some rare other cigars, it’s not clear if I can get those back. I need a permit to import them, but I have high hopes that with the help of a local distributor the cigars will be reunited with me soon, after paying duty that is.
Would I have ever imagined that a relatively low number of cigars, for personal consumption, would get me into so much trouble? That I would get arrested for a box of cigars with a retail price of €9,95 in The Netherlands? Not in my wildest dreams. But I always say that you got to take responsibility for your actions, so I am not blaming Singapore customs, they didn’t try to bring in cigars, I did. I was wrong, it has cost me dearly, instead of about 1500 Singapore dollar in taxes, I now paid 8000 Singapore dollar in fine and legal fees, and probably 1500 Singapore dollar tax as well. On top of that, my long-term visitor pass application has been denied, so we have to go through that process again and I might have to skip Singapore for a few weeks every three months. All things considered, it was a very big mistake.
I learned my lesson, and I am publishing this on ministry of cigars so that others don’t make the same mistake as I made. Let my story be your warning. Before you travel, check our list on duty-free allowances, declare your tobacco products and other goods to prevent a situation like mine. I can tell you, being handcuffed over cigars isn’t worth it.
Now if you have your own customs story, please share it with us on facebook, messenger, mail or comment below. If we have enough feedback we will combine those stories (anonymously on request) into a follow-up story.