An Aussie traveller has detailed the “stressful” moment she nearly copped a $2000 fine, after being interrogated over a little-known customs rule at Brisbane Airport.
Traci Chen, who works as a migration lawyer in Melbourne, returned from a mother-and-daughter holiday in Dubai in late December.
She declared “yes” on questions seven and eight on her incoming passenger form – questions about possible plant and animal products in a traveller’s luggage – knowing she was carrying saffron and honey.
Ms Chen’s bags were put through the luggage scanner, kicking off a confusing 30-minute saga with a customs agent.
“She says, ‘Right, I’m going to give you one last chance to declare to me everything you have brought through, because I can see on the scanners what you brought through,’” Ms Chen told her 168,000 TikTok followers.
“At this point I already told her I had saffron and the honey, and I had showed her. I kept asking my mum, ‘Do you have anything else?’ and she said, ‘No I don’t have anything.’”
It was then that Ms Chen was informed she could cop a fine of anywhere from $500 to more than $2000 for “not declaring things properly”.
“But I was totally confused. I had no idea what she was on about but she kept saying, ‘Think carefully. What else could it be? Now, think carefully,’” the Aussie said, adding that her mum was “almost in tears”.
Finally, Ms Chen’s mum had a breakthrough, confirming the offending item with the customs agent – a floppy straw hat.
“I bought it in Australia! Something I had no idea about. I declared food, I declared everything else, but a straw hat – really?” Ms Chen said.
The accessory wasn’t the only item that proved suspicious. Security informed the lawyer that her “organic” make-up wipes, also bought in Australia, could be considered organic produce.
In Australia, travellers are typically not penalised for travelling through an airport with a restricted item – as long as they declare it. The on-the-spot fine for failing to do so increased to more than $4000 at the start of this year.
Ms Chen confirmed to news.com.au that, bizarrely, she was allowed to enter with both items and without being fined, prompting confusion over why she was stopped at all.
“The customs lady told me, if you’re in doubt, declare everything. But the problem was that she wanted me to be able to identify it,” Ms Chen said.
“I would happily declare everything in my luggage and let them take a look, but there’s clearly no way I could tell them exactly which items they might be concerned by.”
Ms Chen said the incident was particularly distressing for her mum, for whom English is a second language. Viewers were quick to console the pair over the saga.
“Why on earth wouldn’t they just tell you. They knew you didn’t know what was going on. What a power trip,” one commented.
Another pointed out inconsistencies in Australia’s stringent border control measures, saying they were “yelled at” for declaring their own straw hat and “wasting their time”.
“Hugs to your mum,” another wrote. “Border security anywhere can be very interesting.”