Do I Have To Declare A Collection Of Gold Coins At The Airport Upon Arrival?
Friday, June 18 2010 @ 09:55 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Straight To The Source: What matters is not the "face value" of the coins but the actual value of the items. In this case, the collection is worth more than $50,000 just based on the value of the underlying gold itself, about 42 ounces at about $1,200 per ounce. In order to obtain clarification on this question I called the Customs Office at the Tocumen Airport, and spoke to the lawyer who works there whose job it is to decide these types of situations. As she explained, there are two things at play here. First of all, the $10,000 thing on the customs form is for cash, currency that you will be spending in Panama. If you have more than $10,000 in cash you have to declare it to customs upon arrival. Since the newly arriving expatriates will not be spending this gold coin collection on the streets of Panama as cash, then customs does not recognize his gold coin collection as cash, so therefore the whole $10,000 thing goes right out of the window, and we move to part B.
Importation of Merchandise: Anyone can bring in merchandise, up to $2,000 in value, tax free, in their luggage when they arrive. This is normally applied to things like digital cameras, laptop computers, bottles of liquor, cartons of cigarettes, or what have you. Customs officials at the airport will see this gold coin collection as valuable merchandise. And, since it's a collection of gold coins weighing in total more than 2.5 pounds, it obviously has a value of more than $2,000 dollars. The Customs lawyer was perfectly clear - this collection is worth more than $2,000 either as collectible coins or as raw gold, so therefore it must be declared upon arrival. Period - no wiggle room.
What Needs To Be Done? According to Panamanian Customs Law, the newly arriving expatriate should fill out the customs form on the airplane and declare the coins as merchandise. He should put down the actual value of what he thinks the collection is actually worth. From there, when he goes through the customs screening, they will see what he's put on the form, take him aside, and ask him to fill out an expanded customs declaration. The customs lawyer explained that the form used on the airplane is just a tool used to filter passengers, and when someone comes in with more than $10,000 in cash or merchandise worth more than $2,000 dollars, this is the standard procedure.
Customs Broker Required: In this case the newly arriving expatriates are actually "importing" the collection of gold coins into the Republic of Panama. They will have to hire a Customs Broker in order to legally import the coins. The customs broker will have to obtain an actual value for the collection, which will be used to assess taxes. There are no import taxes for gold coins, but he will have to pay the 5% ITBMS tax (or 7% after 1 July 2010). So, if his collection is worth $50,000 he will have to pay $2,500 in taxes in order to get them into the country legally. He will also have to pay whatever the customs broker charges. Also, it was explained to me that much of this can be coordinated in advance if the people contact a customs broker and provide him with the information he needs to do all of the paperwork ahead of time. If this is not done, then there is a good chance that customs will seize the merchandise at the airport and hold it until all of the proper paperwork is done and the taxes owed are paid, at which time they will be released.
Try To Smuggle Them In And Not Declare Anything? The newly arriving expatriates have apparently "spoken to other people" who have supposedly already flown into Panama with similar collections of coins that they did not declare at the airport. They are trying to convince themselves that they don't have to declare the coins, based on the "face value" argument. I hope by now it's perfectly clear that the "face value" argument does not apply, and that Customs will see the coin collection as merchandise. If the newly arriving expatriate fails to accurately declare the coins on his customs form, and if Customs inspectors finds the coins in their luggage, they will confiscate the coins and arrest the traveler. There is also the possibility that they could be charged under the new Law 30 as money launderers, if customs makes the determination that they were trying to smuggle the coins into the country for that purpose. In any case, the outcome will not be favorable to the travelers. This is exactly what the lawyer from Customs just explained to me.
Make Your Decisions, Live With The Consequences: People do stupid shit frequently. Sometimes they get away with it, and sometimes they get caught. The situation for these people has now been clarified. If they decide to try to smuggle the coins in anyway, maybe they will get away with it. Or, maybe they will get caught. In any case, as grown men and women and responsible adults, they will have to live with the results of whatever decisions they make. I just wanted to spread the word in case anyone else might have a similar question.
Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.