Four Ways to Avoid a Schwarzenegger-Style Airport Grilling

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Traveling overseas should be an exciting experience, but you might be surprised to learn about local laws that could land you in big trouble at the airport.

International travel, with every country having its own set of rules and regulations, can be a stressful experience — even for celebrities. 

Earlier this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger was stopped by customs officers at Munich Airport for entering Germany with an unregistered luxury watch, according to the Associated Press. The Terminator actor and former California governor was held for routine questioning, a customs spokesperson told the AP. Schwarzenegger was able to leave a couple of hours later. 

The luxury watch at the center of the story was due to be auctioned at a charity event in Austria for the Schwarzenegger Climate Initiative, an organization the actor founded to raise awareness of climate change. 

Unfortunately for Arnie, goods worth over €430, or around $467, need to be declared, and when necessary, have duty paid on them. The EU also mandates that items used for charity need to be declared upon arrival, but travelers can avoid paying the fees if they can prove the item is being used for a good cause. 

German newspaper Bild reported that Schwarzenegger’s watch is worth around €20,000 ($21,761).

Avoid Awkward Airport Interrogations

The circumstances of the Schwarzenegger case feel detached from the experience of the average traveler, but there are lots of laws that even we mere mortals should be aware of. To avoid ‘doing an Arnie’ on your next trip, here are four ways to help you fly through airport border control:

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1. Double Check That Flu Medicine

When you’re on the road, it’s always a good idea to hope for the best but plan for the worst. With this in mind, many of us will pack our go-to personal care and wellness products to be on the safe side. However, what might be considered an everyday medicine in your home country can be strictly forbidden in another. 

Japan is one destination where travelers need to be extra careful. Certain over-the-counter products used to treat allergies and sinus conditions in the U.S. are banned. According to the Consulate-General of Japan in Miami, inbound visitors to Japan should be especially aware of products with stimulants such as Actifed, Sudafed, and even Vicks inhalers. Several popular prescription medications such as Adderall are also illegal, with only a handful of exceptions. If in doubt, consult the Japanese Government’s English language website here before you go.

2. Make Sure Your Paperwork Is In Order

The prospect of working overseas might sound attractive, but it usually comes with added formalities. Unlike visiting for a regular vacation, most countries will require you to have extra permissions and visas if you want to take up paid employment while you’re there. 

A high-profile example of this was Jennifer Lawrence, who was briefly detained at a London airport after lying to customs about her visa. The actress flew to the U.K. to audition for a film, but her passport was set to expire in six months.

After an awkward exchange with a customs officer, where she said she was visiting for “pleasure,” Lawrence said she cracked and eventually told them she was visiting the country for work, but didn’t have a visa.

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While the U.K. lets U.S. citizens visit the country with just a passport, Americans need to obtain a work visa if they plan to take on a job. Actors, for example, are eligible for nine different visas, depending on the nature of their employment. Lawrence described being held in a “tiny jail” for several hours as customs authorities tried to verify her correct status.

3. Avoid Sticky Situations

What could be more harmless than exploring a new city and enjoying some bubblegum? Authorities in Singapore disagree. The Asian city-state, famed for its squeaky clean streets, banned the sale, import, and manufacture of chewing gum in 1992. 

According to the National Library of Singapore, this followed a rise in the amount of gum-related litter and even metro trains being delayed due to gum getting stuck in doors – a big no-no for a society built on cleanliness and punctuality.

Visitors entering Singapore are required to declare chewing gum in their possession at immigration checkpoints. First-time offenders can expect a cash fine, while those found importing the chewy contraband commercially can face up to two years in prison. As a result, that humble packet of peppermint gum joins firecrackers, shisha, and rhinoceros horn on the list of prohibited items.

There is one exception to the rule. The total ban on chewing gum was partially lifted in 2004 following trade talks with the U.S. government. American diplomats made the sale of dental chewing gum one of their issues during negotiations for a free trade agreement between Singapore and the U.S. We’re delighted the sticking point was amicably resolved. 

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4. Declare Any Unusual Products

Shorts, sun cream, and beach sandals are unlikely to cause a fuss at border control but be careful when packing more exotic items. Many destinations have strict rules on what can be taken in and out of the country, and even if it is allowed, it could be subject to additional checks or restrictions. 

In 2014, Beyonce ran into a snag during the European stage of her “Mrs. Carter World Tour” when Portuguese authorities refused to let her bring a rather special one-legged jumpsuit into the country. According to the London Evening Standard, the unusual designer item was made from silver cobra skin.

It’s unclear exactly why Beyonce was temporarily barred from bringing in the item. Typically the EU will flag products at customs if there’s missing or incorrect paperwork, outstanding duties or taxes, or if the item is prohibited. Luckily, the pop star’s team was able to sort out the required customs documentation and Beyonce was able to wear the quirky jumpsuit for her Lisbon show. 

Keep all of this in mind to avoid any awkward moments at the airport. With a fault-free customs record, you’ll boost your chances of being warmly welcomed for future visits. As the Terminator himself might say, “I’ll be back!”

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