Break out those advent calendars… the Christmas season is upon us! Christmas is typically associated with the sound of jingle bells, ugly sweaters, and Jack Frost nipping at your nose in the northern hemisphere (to say nothing of the annual Starbucks holiday cup controversy), here in Buenos Aires, you might as well be spending the holidays on another planet altogether…
But why? After all, you might argue, Argentina is a predominantly Catholic country, and there is no shortage of evidence of Christmas in this part of the world. And while you would be right, you would also still have to keep in mind a few important variables.
First, there is the insufferable heat and humidity that tends to hit the city by late November. And yes, it’s true that in Argentina, Navidad is actually celebrated at the stroke of midnight, not in the wee hours of the morning on the 25th. But as much as some people in the US of A tend to complain that commercialism have overpowered the Christmas spirit, in Argentina, it truly takes the cake.
Over-the-top prices on a shotty quality and severely limited variety of… pretty much everything lead many Argentines who can afford it to travel abroad to spend the holidays. I mean, the prices here are sick and do not correspond to the third-world salaries. Case in point: The last generation of iPhone, the 32GB iPhone 7 is currently listed on my cell phone carrier’s website for AR$26,999 pesos with a service plan (in other words, more than U$1550 dollars), while it is listed on Apple’s website for U$549. I mean… c’mon! That’s f***ing crazy!
Anyways, while spending time in other countries to shop, Argies stock up on necessities and/or goodies that are generally otherwise inaccessible (anything from clothes and beauty products, to toys and electronics, and absolutely everything in between).
Chile is a popular shopping destination for Argentines, as is Uruguay… and then there is the United States of America. A country synonymous with consumerist culture, indeed, but also for deals upon deals, clearances and super sales, and seeming to have merchandise that you never even knew that you needed.. like carlashes!
While most Argentines who can opt to take an overnight flight to Miami for a no-holds-barred shopping spree, there are obviously still many more who cannot. These aforementioned circumstances, compounded by the infamously corrupt and unreliable mail system, my friends, create the perfect recipe for the art of muling.
Ah, muling. Sometimes compensated, sometimes voluntary, and sometimes done very reluctantly. At one point, there was even a formal website geared for those living here, known as the Mule Pool, which (for reasons still unbeknownst to me) no longer exists. Via the website, people traveling back and forth to the country offered to bring back foreign acquired goodies (for a sweet fee of course, not to mention the 20% commision that the website was charging).
But since you can’t order hardly anything via the Correo Argentino, can’t buy them here, and if you can’t go overseas yourself in quest of these necessities, what’s a person to do?
Spryly be the first one to pounce on a friend or relative who *is* traveling who is to bring something back for you, that’s what.
I, myself, am #blessed enough to have purchased a ticket back home to Ohio for the holiday season. As much as I am looking forward to seeing my mom and my sister in December, I would be a bold-faced liar if I didn’t admit that I am equally excited to do my part to boost America’s economy by shopping ‘til I drop.
The thing is, I already let it be known that I am traveling this holiday season, thus opening the floodgates to some for making some requests for stuff to schlep back here.
Case in point: I have already received (and admittedly accepted) some requests for a video game console, an Apple computer, a cell phone, and various tablets. For *this* trip.
This is quite a pickle for me, indeed.
The main problem that this presents is that it puts me in a very uncomfortable predicament. According to Argentina’s IRS (known as AFIP), each person traveling has an allowance of no more than U$300 worth of new merchandise. Anything that aduanas (customs) detects and discovers is subject to a 50% duty tax of the appraised value of the item(s). This is NOT limited to just electronics, nor is it limited to what may have actually been purchased abroad, but legally, pretty much anything that is deemed to be “new” or intended for “commercial purposes.”
Your mileage may vary.
Sorry, I have to be honest here. As much as I *do* have love for my adopted country, blah blah blah, this rule is complete and utter B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T. What resident of this country would bring back less than U$300 worth of stuff from abroad without exceeding the allowance?
Let’s take a classic example of a new $700 computer purchased during your trip. After having paid the said amount when buying it abroad, you would also be expected to pay an additional U$200 (700 – 300 = 400. 50% of 400 = 200). And what if you also bought and brought back a $300 iPad while traveling? If you do everything on the square, be prepared to shell out an ADDITIONAL U$150, as you have already exceeded your U$300 limit with your computer. Yes, on something that is supposedly yours, that you have already legally bought. You get to pay for it all over again.
And believe it or not, in supposed attempt to promote and protect the national industry, customs here in Ezeiza airport really does make a point of searching for incoming drugs electronics. The final step in getting out of the airport includes placing all your luggage on a belt for a giant X-ray machine, where airport staff complete one final search for those who might be bringing back electronics. Not drugs. Not human body parts. Electronics.
Once again, I reiterate: BULL. SHIT.
So back to my predicament: As much as I truly dislike saying “no,” I had to draw the line at the request to bring back anything beyond a third tablet (not to mention that expensive Apple computer).
And as terrible and soulless as I feel deep down inside, I have to remind myself that these acquaintances are not just asking for some little favor. If, on the off chance, customs caught a whiff of the contents of my luggage, I’d be out more than an additional U$1,000 at the very least.
Of course, there are several informal websites that give advice regarding how to get past aduanas without having to pay the extortion (err… duty) fee (for instance, this blog).
The fact is that due to these exorbitant prices and insane economic circumstances, it would make perfect sense that those who traveled abroad opt to purchase their phones or what have you while overseas. However, it was recently published in the news that, in light of Argentines, residents, and tourists alike secretly bringing in so many undeclared goods, once again, a ri-goddamn-diclous policy is underway as of the start of 2018.
In short, the word is that any undeclared phones brought into Argentina will be blacklisted. As a result, they will not be able to get service while in the country, and therefore be unusable.
No, seriously. What kind of Big Brother f*ckery is this?!?
Normally I play the part of the ditzy, non-Spanish speaking clueless tourist when I arrive at the international airport, but now, I just don’t know. Getting through customs this time around will prove to be interesting indeed. Stay tuned!