Customs are useful to make sure illegal or dangerous goods don’t reach customers, and they also “protect jobs” or “special interests” by applying tariffs to imports. If you’ve ever purchased goods out of your country or economic zone, the experience can range from flawless (no duties), to annoying (paying some taxes), up to really frustrating and depressing, if customs decide to have a closer look to your imported item. Most the time I don’t have any problems, especially since I try to be careful to stay below the limit (~$30 here) sometimes splitting my orders, a few times I have to pay custom duties and VAT, and once I got a call from UPS telling me my $100 mini PC was kept by customs (not sure why), and that the total cost to it get was unknown, but it will be at least $150 for handling and taxes, and sending it back to China would cost about the same… So finally, my customs office (not in the US) got a free mini PC to play with. I just exchanged a few emails with UPS, and never had to fill any forms during the whole process.
This happened a while ago, so why am I writing about this now? First, I’ve recently read some articles that UK authorities had raided TV box resellers running modified to stream illegal content, so let’s say it’s fair game. But I also got a comment from a US based reader who ordered 10 Wintel W8 Pro mini PCs:
Just an update on Geek’s Wintel W8 Pro. I ordered 10 more and they were seized by US Customs and Border Patrol. They could not find any illegal aliens so they are now checking all “TV BOXES” as declared on the shipping paperwork from China to US. 6 weeks later I got a 7 page letter from them saying they were seized not detained. The reason given was a trademark violation printed on the bottom of the box that is for Microsoft Windows 10. It is sworn to be an illegal trademark by Microsoft. They give you several options I gave the letter to my attorney. It sounds like I may still be fined some money on this side. The good thing is I paid with PayPal and got my money back. Geek offered to go Dutch on the loss and I said no. They are mad at me and won’t respond to me after I sent them a copy of the letter. The government determined the value to be 83.30 per unit and not a gift as packaged worth $50.00 per case. If you deal with Geek read the fine print, it talks about going Dutch when things go south. Customs said they are checking ALL boxes labeled “TV BOXES” many companies ship them like that. You may want to be more creative if you want them. No more Windows for me. After having trouble with one box with Kaspersky it said there was something bad in the Windows program I called and was told you cant run anti virus with that version of windows. I bought a different one. I believe in anti-virus’s reducing problems. Geek claims if the US sends the boxes back to China I will face shipping fees, importation fees, taxes and duties to the Chinese government. Maybe I can post the 7 page letter or email it to anyone who is thinking of buying these. I don’t know what the posting rules are on this. Delete any part that cant be printed. Just trying to save people time and money and having every package from China now being inspected 100% and taped back up with green US Customs and border patrol tape for routers and keyboards and things like that. This never happened until these 10 were seized. For the record Geek claims this has not happened to anyone else but I know a guy who bought 1 unit from a different reseller and his was also marked “TV BOX” and was seized.
So it took his word and asked for that document. So basically, once US customs decide to seize your goods you have 5 options (CBP = Customs and Border Protection):
- I request that CBP consider my petition administratively before forfeiture proceedings are initiated
- I request that CBP consider my offer in comprise administratively before forfeiture proceedings are initiated
- I abandon the property, and I request that CBP begin administrative proceedings to forfeit the property.
- I request that CBP send my case for court action
- I request that CBP begin administrative proceedings to forfeit the property
If you’re not a lawyer and have not dealt with customs before, yet clearly understand what the 5 options mean and their implications, I congratulate you. So unless you simply decide to abandon the property, most people might need a lawyer to handle the case.
But let’s clearly see why the mini PCs were seized by checking the appendix.
So the “Wintel Set-Top Boxes” running Microsoft Windows have been seized because Microsoft Windows logo was shown on the package, as well as Microsoft trademark…. Wintel name was OK apparently… That appears to be completely ludicrous, as they have not investigated whether the system had a proper Windows license, so even if you’ve bought a mini PC with a proper Windows license (~$25 on this type of computers), your property may still be seized because the package describes what’s been installed… Maybe it was just a matter of adding a line with “Microsoft is a trademark of Microsoft corporation” on the package or documentation (as they even opened it), but it’s still harsh, and may feel like they just found a pretext to confiscate the devices. So blank packages might not be that bad after all. I guess Android boxes with “Kodi” logo may also be looked suspiciously by customs whether banned add-ons are installed or not.
The person who released the document also share some other tidbits with his experience:
I have spoken to several different DHL warehouse workers and drivers and they say the Customs people are there everyday. Some they grab off the belt and put right on the trucks and others they open right there, look at them, tape them back up and allow them to continue on.
I spoke to Customs this morning …. I asked if it made a difference if the box was made from Android parts instead of Bill Gates and she said it makes no difference. I did not want to argue with her but she said these boxes are just for stealing cable TV.
Why can I buy a Zidoo X6 Pro on Amazon.com for $109.00 but I can’t buy it on a Chinese website for $70.00?>
So customs agents are apparently posted in couriers’ warehouses, at least some people working at the US Customs and Border Patrol believe that TV boxes (and any small computers) are made to steal content from cable providers, and the same exact product that can be bought on Amazon, can be seized for any reasons by customs if bought from outside the US…. Is that a war on TV boxes or an isolated incident? I don’t know, but that means if you’d like to be safe, you’d have to buy locally (likely at a higher price), and selecting TV boxes or mini PCs without trademarked logos or brands on the package may help going through customs…