Why is importing goods & customs such a pain in the ass?

no-LEDs

This is how it “usually” goes:

1) I order stuff I can’t get elsewhere for a reasonable price (or at all) on ebay, aliexpress, … just to name a few.

2) If the order is small in size and value it gets to me after some time without undue customs interference, well except for the horrible delay.

3) Sometimes I get a friendly letter from German Postal Service that they rerouted a shipment to my local customs office: “Go there, pay import tax & pick it up”. I’m not terribly happy about this, but paying taxes is part of the game. I don’t go there unprepared! I’ve made it a habit to search for the most suitable “TARIC-code” & write it down, so the people there can satisfy the state’s desire for import/export statistics. FINE!

However, just recently, this didn’t go as smoothly:

I had ordered a bunch of WS2812B RGB LED pixels on aliexpress, to go onto my recent re-spin of the IKEA-Samtid mood light (now with options for Bluetooth [HC-05] or WiFi [ESP8266-1]).

After having driven about 5km or so & getting to the customs building, the “officer” unfortunately did NOT send me off to the paying office to extract import tax from my purse, no he was almost violently pointing to a small sticker on the small letter containing a couple of meters of rolled-up feeder tape with the LEDs.

Rough translation: “Product safety concern” – whatever that means.

I do know that they don’t like LiPo batteries shipped by airmail, they also don’t like grey-imports of pharmaceuticals & they probably don’t fancy stuff like primacord (an explosive cord/string) being sent via the mail in letters. I understand that – fully.

So I opened the letter to make the customs officer happy & I gave him my note with the TARIC-code for LEDs: 85414010.

When I pulled out the black roll of WS2812Bs, looking like a black rolled-up snake of licorice of roughly 6cm diameter, the customs-guy became visibly nervous, as if I were actually handling aforementioned “Primacord”. I’m exaggerating a bit for sake of suspense, but there were certainly “bad vibes” in the air. I was wondering what the f*ck he was fussing about, was he afraid someone would get strangled by the feeder tape, was he afraid a small child would swallow the individual LED chips? I sure as hell don’t know.

Then the officer told me my LEDs might be sent to the main customs office (several 100km away, costs tax-payer money…) for evaluation.

I left them my phone number and was told to expect a call. Some other customs “officer” is supposedly checking if >>MY<< roll of WS2812Bs is "eligible for import". I have a very bad feeling about this. I fear this shipment will end up in the incinerator. If that should be the case I do however expect to get an official piece of paper stating EXACTLY why my shipment was destroyed, who ordered it, how much it was worth & most importantly: which EU law / regulation was involved. Otherwise this would just be an arbitrarily imposed punishment "just because". I can only hope the person tasked with this "evaluation" is knowledgeable enough, or at least capable of making the necessary inquiries to find out that "just a bunch of LEDs" are quite harmless. Hey, why not ask >> ME << - I've got the datasheets!

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