Sunday, March 9, 2014

Roast Chicken Tales of Collisions with Sri Lanka Customs

You cannot say you've received the "full Lankan" experience as an expat unless you've had a run-in with Sri Lanka customs officials and a juicy story to share. Well, I have more than a couple of those, so it's a good time to start sharing. And while I'm doing that, I have some funny stories from friends to add to the mix too lol

When I first moved to Sri Lanka I shipped quite a few boxes containing my belongings from the UK. At that stage I wasn't sure how long I really wanted to stay, but in my mind I thought I'd give it a year to see how living and working in Sri Lanka would pan out. With this in mind I decided to ship over more of my personal belongings to give myself the best opportunity to settle in and make it feel like home. I had previously done expat stints in other countries, so shipping boxes filled with my belongings was not a new thing for me. I'd had very little difficulty (other than maybe a broken item in one shipment when I moved to Australia from the UK) and had little to no dealings with customs officials in these countries (other than filling out customs forms). Mostly, my belongings arrived safely to my doorstep. So, it came as a huge shock to navigate my way around clearing my boxes through customs in Sri Lanka the very first time!

I had shipped my boxes via a mainstream UK shipment company and when my boxes arrived into Colombo Port and had been unloaded, I was instructed to go to the shipping company's local warehouse located in some dodgy area. I can't remember the actual borough now, but its reputation was not a smidgeon close to that of Colombo 7 standing.

That first time I spent almost all day waiting to clear my boxes. There was paperwork to complete, photocopies of my passport and visa documents to provide and then plenty of waiting around...

** Please note, the full blog post has been removed as parts of the blog content will be edited for inclusion in an upcoming publication by the author. More information will be made available on the Adventures in a Tuk-Tuk Blog in due course **


Dushy Large said...

Hello Eva,
I would be very grateful for your advice again. I think I have a real dilemma. I want to ship my belongings at the same time as we leave for Sri Lanka. But I won't get my visa until I have lived in Sri Lanka for three months (as an ex-Sri Lankan). What I don't understand is that my belogings are supposed to land within three months of my arrival but I won't have a residence visa to claim them from customs. How does it work? Can things arrive after three months and we can still claim them? Does this have to do with duty free allowances?

Also, what do they mean by commercial quantities? I have several thousand books, all second hand, that I want to bring and also many CDs - again all used. Do you know if we might have to pay taxes on these?

Sorry to bother you, but you seem to be the only person giving clear and useful advice. All the Sri Lankan documents, visa requirements, etc I have read are as clear as mud!

My husband wanted me to ask you about exporting cars, but I will keep that for another day!

All the best.

Eva Stone said...

Hi Dushy,
Thanks for your question. Happy to assist where I can.
Yes, you are in a tricky situation. However, I think there are a few things I can help to clarify. It will give you something to consider when making your decisions about shipping belongings over.
From what I know it is important to receive your belongings with the residence visa, particularly if you have items that could be construed as for commercial sale (note - it is possible your second hand books MAY fall into this category, given the quantity, by a customs official). Plus, if you are bringing in items on a tourist visa (?) it may land you in a predicament with customs.
Rather than have your boxes arrive while you are on a temporary visa, I would either send them on a later ship to arrive subsequent to you having changed to a residence visa (I have sent boxes on a ship after I've left that country - I had to sign a declaration that I packed and sent these items on collection); or get someone to help send them later??
The definition of commercial quantities is defined by Sri Lankan customs and is given in value of goods (Rs). A customs official can impose a tax of 20% and upwards depending on their assessment. They hone in on electrical goods, IT equipment, larger quantities of items they consider you might re-sell rather than for personal use.
The duty free allowance is a bit of a red herring in that it applies to brand new items you might send over. It doesn't apply if your belongings are all pre-owned or used. When I packed my kitchen and furniture stuff from the UK I made sure they weren't in packaging that made them look new (some were newish); when asked by customs officials when I went to collect my boxes, I confirmed my books, clothes, furnishings were all used and for personal use only. They made a fuss over my printer, but when they opened it up it was clear it was old. You shouldn't have to pay any taxes on your personal belongings. I paid only a small handling fee to pick up my boxes (the last time was Rs300 only, though I could see a few other hands looking a bit like they wanted some greasing!). If you've read the above article the very first time I shipped boxes I had to pay a little bit more than that!
Previously, SL residents (inc expat resident) would try to make the most of duty free allowances to bring in/purchase on arrival at the airport white goods (i.e. new fridge, washing machine etc.). However, the government has significantly clamped down on this now. The state import duties on white goods and electrical items tend to be high (though I've seen them change +/- since I've lived here). Hence, it is a good idea to bring back/over your white goods, electrical items if they are in good working order. That kind of stuff can be expensive here.

Check out for more information as they do provide some information on allowances for entry as a tourist, resident, the commercial quantities table and duty free allowances.

Feel free to ask me about bringing over your car.

Best wishes

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