The ”Teabag” Incident

I got back to Santiago just two weeks ago, and my hands have been quite full since then. Nevertheless, here is my first experience on Chilean soil; the ‘’Teabag Incident’’:
Before I get to the tea-bagging, I must brag that I had successfully packed my life into two suitcases (one expandable carry on and one large suitcase). It took a couple weeks of purging to accomplish this task, but it was also a necessity since I also had to empty out my room and closet at my parents’ house because they’re selling their home. I reduced all of my belongings into two suitcases and a couple boxes that I left at home for safekeeping.

This is what is left of my life in the US. 

Being that I limited myself to just two suitcases for Chile, I also limited myself to clothes, shoes and purses. No gifts, no extra luxuries, nothing. What else would I really need that I can’t purchase in Chile? Nothing comes to mind other than maple syrup…but you can get it here if you really want American style pancakes and waffles and you are willing to $30 at Jumbo! No lie.

I thought I was on a roll with packing and having my whole life planned out for a whole year until the Chilean customs’ authorities at the Santiago airport decided to bring me back to Earth. Remember that customs’ video that tells you about all of the items that you can’t bring into the country, like fruits and vegetables, livestock, wood, toxic chemicals, etc.? If you do happen to be carrying any of these items, you must declare them. I’ve heard this announcement so many times that I usually tune it out, but I do remember it scaring the bajeezus out of me because there is a fine of TEN THOUSAND US DOLLARS in the case that you are carrying any of these items and you do not declare them.

Well amid all of my packing, I had forgotten that I slipped in some of my favorite loose leaf teas from the Herb Shop from Lancaster’s Central Market. When I was pulled aside at the customs checkpoint, I was told that the tea I had was considered fruits and vegetables since it also had ‘’seeds and dried fruit’’ in it. They also pointed out that since they were in small Ziploc bags, and not in conventional packaging, this was also unacceptable even if I had declared it. Either way I was SOL, and I was sent off to pay that fine and sign a statement.

As I sat in customs waiting to hear my name called, all I could think of was that I was going to be fined US$10,000 for two bags of tea. Absurd! I found out that they adjust the fine depending on your ‘’intentions’’ and the item(s) that you did not declare.
Fortunately, I had no fine since it was my first offence and my intentions were not malicious. I got away with signing a citation stating my intentions with a description of the tea, which is as follows:
  • Transporting a vegetable product in her suitcase without declaring it.
  • Product: Herbal tea; Units: Two bags; Weight: 0.145 kg; Origin: USA
My new rule of thumb: when in doubt, declare it!
At the same time, I was so relieved and thankful that this was not the first time that I have not had to pay fees. I paid $0 for my residency visa (as do all Amurricans), and I paid $0 for the sanction I received for not complying with an obligation to obtain my Chilean ID within 30 days….it took me about 11 months to get one (supposed to be a fee of roughly US$90).
Thank you, Chile for being so lenient on oblivious, first offenders. I would say that I learned my lesson, but I lost my International Police Registration Card and ID receipt. Thankfully they still handed me my ID after I looked completely lost and unaware of what they were talking about. It’s one of the overlooked perks of being an American, pretending you don’t speak Spanish very well to get out of unwanted situations. 🙂

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