Saturday, December 1, 2012

Give me my Scooter!

Customs—The word strikes fear into everyone who lives in St. Kitts and Nevis. The customs department collects a duty on almost everything that comes into the country and recently we were given the opportunity to deal with the department when we cleared our two scooters that had arrived in our shipping container from the United States.

The Scooters made it!

Julie and I had decided before we arrived that scooters might be the best form of transportation on the island for several reasons. First, the gas here is expensive, around $ 5.50 to $6.00 U.S. per gallon. Secondly, the speed limit on the island is a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour. Thirdly, the roads in St. Kitts won't allow most people to go much faster than 40 mph anyways.

Since our scooters get around 80 miles per gallon or more and their maximum speed is about the speed limit we thought they'd be perfect for St. Kitts. So far we've been right but we had to wait for them to arrive. I wish I could say that clearing the scooters from customs was easy, but I'd be telling you a fib. It was a process.

Once the scooters arrived with all our other belongings the movers unloaded them and the customs agent wrote down the VIN numbers and wanted us to give him a bill of sale, which we intelligently already had with the shipping documents.

After he was finished writing down the VIN and glanced at a few of our other belongings he told us it would take him about a week to do the "calculations" to figure out how much customs duty we'd have to pay. He told us he would only charge us a rate of 25 percent of the value and warned us not to drive the scooters until we had all the documents we needed to get them insured and licensed.

We were happy to hear we'd only have to pay 25 percent duty instead of the 45 percent duty for passenger vehicles.

So the wait was on and Julie and I don't wait very well. It's especially difficult when you're waiting for a fun "toy" like a scooter. Every day you pass it and just want to ride it, but there it sits.

Waiting :(    photo courtesy:

As a way to streamline the process of clearing items we were given a moving company here that would deal with the customs agent as a sort of liaison between customs and ourselves. Cool, well sort of. I waited until Thursday and our scooters had arrived on a Saturday. I then decided to stop by the moving companies office to find out if they had heard anything from the customs agent yet.

Nope, nothing, The moving company did have a list of what the duty should be but it was only an estimate until the agent did his calculations. I wasn't sure how much calculating he really had to do. He had the bills of sale, copies of the titles, all the information he needed. Oh well.

I stopped into the office nearly every day for the next week. I'm sure the guys got tired of seeing me and I had some questions on how much the estimated costs would be. Well, I didn't want to argue with them too much because they stood between us getting our scooters licensed.

Finally, after two weeks I received a call that the customs agent had filled out the paper work and I was to head to the shipping office. Once I arrived one of the younger employees rode with me to the dreaded customs office. 

We arrived with paper work in hand and money, lots of cash in my pocket. 

The only way I can describe Customs is organized chaos. It appears to be a learned trait here in St. Kitts—Waiting. It reminded me of the days back in the 1980s back home when my father had to go to the unemployment office after being laid-off from his railroad car manufacturing job, but this is 2012.

I also think I understand why they call the first room the Long Room, because you will be waiting a long time.

In all seriousness, the moving company employee knew almost everyone in the office and his mother worked there in the past so it wasn't that bad. He put a smile on the young lady's face stamping my paperwork and that is always a plus here.

As a side note, In St. Kitts the children are taught very early to give people the greeting of the day, afternoon, or evening, therefore if you approach a Kittitian and don't say good morning or good afternoon, chances are you'll get no smile. Simple enough, I make it a personal challenge to make random clerks smile anyways. Who wants to go through an entire work day without a smile, not me.

 You can't see behind the glass but there is an army of at least 20 customs workers milling around trying to help each other. You also can't see the long bench to the right where people are sitting before they get in line. If you end up waiting too long you can buy yourself a drink too.

Yes, I did buy a drink too.

So after The customs agent stamped every page and signed every single stamp on about 20 pages of contents I paid my duty fees plus the 17 percent VAT or Value-Added-Tax on top of that amount, and a shipping fee. All in all we paid around 2,000 U.S. dollars for one scooter that we paid 900 U.S. for and the other that we paid 1,200 U.S. for. After lightening up my wallet we finally entered the next room where I think I figured out why the process takes so much time!

Wow! Every single shipping container that arrives in the federation has a list of contents and those lists are kept in this office. Yikes! These poor ladies had to look through the stack to find our shipment list.

You can see there is a computer mouse in the picture but apparently they don't have the software to keep track of the paperwork. In this room the ladies filled out official paperwork for me to take to the Traffic Police Department where I had to get the St. Kitt's version of a title made.

After leaving I headed straight to the Traffic Police Department on the other side of town. I was determined to get these scooters on the road.

Once you arrive at Traffic you hand fill out a "title" paper that has carbon paper under it for a duplicate. I haven't seen carbon paper in years. Traffic assigns you a license plate number and off you head to a private license plate manufacturer on the other side of town.

I dropped off the two numbers and then headed to the insurance company to insure the scooters. After way too long of an office visit there I then had to take the scooters to a mechanic for a mechanic's inspection. By the time that is done you hope your license plates are finished or if not you head to your final stop —Internal Revenue. 

It just so happened that the worker at the license plate maker had a doctor's appointment and they weren't finished, so that's what I did.

At Internal Revenue you present the mechanics inspection paper, your "title" from traffic and pay your wheel tax, which I compare to an inspection sticker in Pennsylvania. Whew! Tired yet?

The whole process took me an entire day from morning until evening, but it was well worth it. I have taken my scooter all over the entire island and love it. I believe the drivers here are more aware of motorcycles and scooters than they were back in Pennsylvania.

I even run domestic commander errands with my scooter. I built my own rack on the back after dumping a load of groceries once (Don't worry I plan on a separate blog about this fiasco). In the photo below I show how I picked up a 50 pound bag of rice for Julie to make animal models with at Ross.

And here is my customized rear rack

Now that's custom!

Well Julie and I have been scooting around everywhere and even though we have about 2,000 U.S. in each scooter it was worth every penny and less than what you'd have to pay for a used rental Yamaha Zuma here.

If you have a scooter in St. Kitts or plan on buying one make sure you keep it locked up, join the Ross U Scoot Club on Facebook, where we occasionally get together for rides, and I hope to see you scootin!