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Should questions like Carrying two laptops to India - will I have to pay duty? or Can I take two laptops to India from United States? One bought in India and one in US or How much electronics and other valuables can I bring duty-free when going to India? or When travelling internationally with valuable personal effects, how do I avoid paying duty at each border crossing? or How many iPhone 6 devices can I bring into India? be considered on topic here?

There are actually several more questions which would be borderline considered re-phrase-able into "Will I get caught smuggling XXX into YYY?"

Of course, no one uses the word smuggling in their questions, but in almost all of the listed questions, when reading the facts of Indian customs regulations (for those asking specifically about India) the travellers would be considered smuggling and be at a minimum, fined.

It is almost always possible to not be flagged for inspection by customs, and even if you are inspected, sometimes it would be possible to talk your way through, but suggesting this could be considered as aiding in breaking the law.

Do we (should we) keep to the laws, as written? or help users by giving advice on how to avoid them?

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I think there's some fine nuances that need to be clarified:

While technically "smuggling", all those questions concern import of otherwise legally obtainable items in said countries. In all these questions, we're not talking about drugs, firearms, tobacco, alcohol, humans or some other form of import which is either heavily controlled or prohibited. What's the worst that can happen if you are caught bringing an extra electronics device into a country -- in most jurisdictions this will be deemed a civil wrong, with confiscation almost certain, a fine very likely -- and that's it. Importing larger quantities may be considered "smuggling" (since you are likely looking to sell the extra items as opposed to using them personally) and criminal charges might be brought. Trying to import illegal goods such as controlled substances puts you in another category entirely -- it's going to be classified as criminal offence, and jail time is all but certain.

Second, it's perfectly fine to ask about clarifications how many of certain items one can import into a country -- this is the same as asking your local tax authority what taxes you are required to pay by law. Asking about the rules is okay, asking how to go around them (illegally!) is not.

Third, asking how to reduce one's spending on duties and customs by legal means is also not related to smuggling -- the difference is similar to tax evasion and tax avoidance. While the former is illegal, the latter is seeking to reduce one's tax burden by legal means, and it's perfectly allowed anywhere in the world.

In light of all this, I think we should continue allowing questions how to avoid (not evade!) paying duties provided the following conditions are met:

  • The question concerns items not prohibitied to sell, own or purchase in the country of import.
  • Asking for clarification about the finer points of a country's customs and immigration laws is perfectly fine.
  • Imported quantities should be small enough to be reasonably considered "for personal use".
  • Seeking advice how to conceal imported goods (particularly controlled substances) from customs and immigration officials is strictly forbidden.
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    "Seeking advice how to conceal imported goods (particularly controlled substances) from customs and immigration officials is strictly forbidden." - except engagement rings, eh? eh? ;) – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Oct 2 '14 at 9:20
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    @MarkMayo: well, one presumably conceals engagement rings from their spouse-to-be, not from customs officials ;) – mindcorrosive Oct 2 '14 at 9:23
  • Why should there be a difference between asking how to bring an extra XYZ or some item with a value exceeding the allowed monetary duty free allowance into a country and asking how to bring an extra bottle of whisky or a carton of cigarettes? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 6 '14 at 21:57
  • @mindcorrosive What if the spouse-to-be IS the (lovely) custom official?? (I'm not sure how this engagement ring discussion started...) – augustin Oct 14 '14 at 2:32
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I really think every question should be regarded per default as someone with an innocent mind who simply wants to know an answer until the intent to circumvent the law is glaringly obvious. There are several reasons for this:

a) Different, sometimes even inscrutable laws. What in one country is really a completely innocent gesture is a felony in another country. Simple example: During the times the former Eastern bloc existed, taking even small change in the countries own currency with you over the border (simply a souvenir) was punished as felony. Adding insult to injury, the stuff was worthless anyway. Indian and Chinese people often use herbal medicine and could get convicted if they travel to the USA and the stuff they have as medicine is on the DEA list. So, as mindcorrosive already said: If they are not obviously illegal like weapons, strong drugs etc., assume that they may be legal in the home country.

b) Even if it seems straightforward as illegal, sometimes telling explicitly that it is illegal should be the right course of action. There are people who are not really asking for information, but for confirmation (of their own viewpoint). For example: Ivory should not be bought as souvenirs according to CITES and some people simply do not want to understand that they should not do this. If the read it in black and white, they cannot dodge it or pretend that they did not know what they do.

c) Sometimes even illegal things must be considered for the travellers best interest. We had this ugly "forced marriage" thread where the question was how to get her out of the situation by any probable means possible. Another ugly, but possible situation: What do you do as traveller if your bag is suddenly heavier and you find some neatly packed white powder inside your luggage and you are in a third-world country with capital punishments for drug possession ? You see, even "illegal" questions may have their place.

  • Great post, but just a note: not all countries have felonies (e.g. Canada). – Jim MacKenzie Jun 18 '18 at 22:26
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We already had a discussion about doing “illegal” things and the consensus seemed to be that they should be avoided, although we should evaluate them on case-by-case basis.

If that's still the consensus (and I don't see why not), it means that “How can I bring two laptops in India?” is perfectly fine, “In theory you shouldn't but in practice they don't care” is borderline and “I know I should pay some taxes but how can I conceal the item?” is not.

If we are OK to condone evading customs duties, why would we reject questions about crossing borders illegally or importing marijuana? Would we be OK with those?

IMO, debates on the semantics of “smuggling” or the morality of tax evasion are not really helpful and the answers to How should questions/answers on how to do something illegal be treated? fully apply to questions about customs duties.

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