Brooke and I flew to Puerto Vallarta with four suitcases, three carry-on pieces and four boxes. Our luggage had all of our clothing and toiletries, while our boxes contained all of the things that we brought down for the wedding. We made the decision to bring things with us on the plane versus shipping it because, well, everyone knows that things magically disappear when shipped to Mexico. After calling American Airlines, we found out that we could check additional boxes for a fee...Which basically came out to the same amount of money it would have cost to ship the boxes.
Our boxes each weighed between 50 and 75 pounds and were filled to the brim with items for our welcome bags, decorations for our welcome and rehearsal dinners, and wedding items for Caletas.
When we arrived at the airport and began to go through customs, the woman sitting at the screening machine asked us what was in our boxes. When we explained to her that we had brought items down to Mexico for our wedding, she asked us what the estimated value of the items were. We took a wild guess, she looked at us funny, and sent us straight over to the inspection table.
The luggage-helper guys (who you pay) brought our boxes over to the inspection table where there were quite a few people waiting for us. They put our boxes on the table and this gentleman (I use that term very loosely) pulled out a box cutter and began ripping open the tops of all of our boxes. Because we had packed them before we left, everything was packaged very nicely with packing peanuts and bubble wrap. With the blink of an eye, the boxes had been ripped open...There were packing peanuts all over the floor...And everything that had been nicely packed was being thrown onto the inspection tables in front of us.
The customs gentleman (again, term used very loosely) looked at us and asked us what the items were for. We explained to him that everything in the boxes were for our wedding which was taking place that Monday, and that the items were either for our gift bags or for table decorations. Now, because we happened to be two women, they didn't believe that we were getting married. It also didn't help that we didn't have our wedding dresses with us - a family member was flying them down for us because we had way too much stuff to begin with! The customs man accused Brooke and I of smuggling goods into Mexico to resell for profit. When we began to argue with him, he informed us that he was going to value the goods in the boxes based upon what they would sell for in Mexico and that we would have to pay tax on them.
Obviously, because we brought the items with us on the plane and were not reselling them, we asked why we needed to pay taxes. He informed us that unless we had receipts showing the value of everything in the boxes, we needed to pay the amount that he deemed appropriate. Right as I was about to completely lose my temper, he walked away from the inspection tables and called over his female counterpart to talk.
They came back and asked one of us to come with them. Brooke made the decision to go because she knew that I was going to end up getting myself arrested in the airport by throwing a total sh!t fit. After about 10 minutes of watching Brooke talking to the customs people through a glass window, she came out, followed by the customs man. He grabbed a roll of tape and taped the tops of our boxes shut, motioned for the luggage-helper guys to come over and waved us off.
As we were walking out of the customs area, Brooke told me that they brought her into the office and told her that she had two options. They said that she could either pay 300% tax on their value of our goods, which ended up coming out to $3,000 USD. If she paid them tax, they would provide her a receipt of payment and she would have to refill out our customs forms..OR...They told her that she could give them $120 USD in cash and we could leave with our boxes quietly. Brooke gave the girl $120, which the girl ended up putting in her pocket, and off we went...
For those of you who will be making the decision to bring everything with you versus shipping it, here are our tips:
- Don't pack things in boxes unless it is absolutely necessary. Pack everything in your luggage, mixed in with your clothes. They're less likely to bother you this way.
- Bring receipts for everything you're bringing just in case - especially if you have quite a bit of stuff. We had 70 guests, so you can only imagine the amount of stuff that we had with us.
- When you're going through customs, make sure that your soon-to-be husband is with you. If he's not, or if you have a soon-to-be wife like we did, try to have a male family member fly with you and walk you through customs. I know that it sounds ridiculous, but if we would've had a man/men with us, I don't think that our little problem would've happened in the way that it did. They very clearly took advantage of us because we were two young females, and the idea that we could possibly be marrying one another was totally foreign to them (pun intended).
Food for thought.