Jordanian Customs Beuracracies At The Airport

Flying in from Cairo the other day I had a bit of a run in with the Jordanian Customs on my way out. After a friend asked me to purchase cigarettes from the newly-expanded Duty Free Shop, I was pulled over by customs but in the most abrasive of manners. To begin with, I have actually never purchased cigarettes in my entire life, and my Duty Free shopping has been historically limited to colognes and chocolates in singular quantities. On instructions, I bought four boxes of cigarettes and walked about three meters past the Duty Free shop towards the final x-ray machine.

A rather brusque Customs officer was busy rifling through people’s bags as they exited the machine and those ahead of me were already dividing their purchases amongst their friends and family in order to avoid getting taxed, as is customary. The officer was in fact slowing down the line, which was a strange sight, or at least one I wasn’t used to seeing at the Queen Alia Airport, so I commented out loud that “this must be some sort of new system.”

To which he sharply responded “!…شكلو مش عجبك”, “it seems you don’t like it…!”

Prompting me to assure him that I didn’t mean to be sarcastic.

He of course quickly grabbed on to my bags amongst the flurry of other yellow Duty Free bags and asked if the cigarettes were mine, to which I answered yes. And of course, he asked me to follow him to the counter where he would then proceed to tax me.

Now, I have no problem being taxed if it is within a consistent law that applies to everyone, but I did feel at the time that I was being picked out of a crowd for daring to issue a comment, be it actually sarcastic or not. Especially when the act of taxing me specifically meant that this Customs officer would have to leave his post at the x-ray machine unattended as travelers continued to leave with their own “duty-free” items, unchecked and untaxed.

Since I was guilty of alleged-sarcasm anyway, I noted, out loud of course, the irony of buying something tax free at the airport only to be taxed on it several-meters-away later. This of course did not impress him as he started to take my purchases out of the bag and then open up my suitcase to discover nothing more than dirty laundry from a four day trip.

He then told me that I was only allowed to bring in one box of cigarettes, as he waved one of them scoldingly in my face and saying how I should know this was the law. Alright. Fine. If that’s the law then I’ll take the other three back. At this point I was reciprocating his stubbornness, and if he was prepared to tax me according to a law then I was well within my right to return my purchases and avoid taxation, keeping in mind that eventually, it would be my friend who would be paying for them anyway.

At the Duty Free shop the person “in charge” refused to take back any of my purchases. At first I thought there was a no-return policy but apparently the manager wasn’t available and he’s the only one who approves returned goods. The employee also asked if the cashier had told me that I would be taxed to which I responded no. He also took the time to point out that I was only allowed to cartons. I told him that customs said I was only allowed one, and of course he disagreed.

So I headed back to the Customs table where a supervisor was standing next to the officer who was filling him in on my shenanigans. At this point the supervisor said, once again, that I was only allowed a single cartons. I told him that the Duty Free shop just told me that I was allowed two, to which he said “…ما ترد عليهم”, “don’t listen to them…”

At this point I’m thinking how cigarettes can really kill you, even if you don’t smoke them.

He then asked the officer, in a condescendingly “pleading” tone, to tax only two cartons instead of three, as if he was doing me a favor, while the officer, with a giant frown on his face, insisted on taxing the three. It was like a terrible good cop-bad cop routine that was designed to either provoke me or to waste my time, both of which they managed to do, at least enough for me to tell them not to do me any favors and to tax me for the whole damn thing.

The Aldeassa Duty Free shops operate within the Customs law (chapter 4, article 132), however, there are no signs or indicators detailing the tax-free quantity one is allowed to actually purchase at a Duty Free shop. As was pointed out to me by this particular Customs officer, you are simply expected to know. Especially if you’re a smoker, which I am not.

The Customs department is notorious for its excessive bureaucracy that have made the lives of many people miserable, and fortunately enough, my run-ins with them have been few over the years. Nevertheless, it would be appreciated if someone put up a clear sign somewhere that informed customers and travelers at these Duty Free shops of the Customs law. But more importantly, it would be more appreciated if Customs officers were trained to a bit friendlier and not abandon their posts simply to fulfill a person grudge against someone.

I actually gave Aldeassa a call and it turns out that they do have signs placed by the door of their shops, but not where they should be, by the cash register where you’re actually going to go to make your purchases. Moreover, apparently the shop that I had visited didn’t have a sign anywhere due to its recent expansion.

Putting it back up would be a good start.


  • Well i have had many bad encounters with them at the airport and bridge! Last month they confiscated a small remote control helicopter which you can buy in Amman, the reason was national security! I wonder who is playing with it now
    Last week, they didn’t allow in CDs sent from Abu Dhabi, they were sent to me from a media company there and just includes normal content. I’m supposed to get them today i hope after paying charges (dont ask me why).
    I also faced a big problem 2 years back when i received a secure online transfer bank token (calculator size), which they couldnt understand what it is. After two visits to the airport, they decided that i own a bank or something and need to import it properly! I managed to get it after paying taxes and fees.

  • 2 months ago I came back with two laptops: one was personal with which I left the country and the other was work laptop given to me at my destination. I got pulled by the Jordanian customs of course and as I was approaching the customs table with my bags, five customs employees demonstrated around me shouting that I should be paying taxes on one. The fact that both laptops were used and one of them was to stay in Jordan for only 3 days – as I was leaving again – didn’t not reason with them. They decided to assess my macbook as it looked newer despite that it was their first encounter with it. After negotiations among the five, they decided with bewilderment that I should be paying 100 JDs. When I told them I didn’t have that amount at the moment, they decided to hold the laptop at the customs until I come back with the money. Forgetting that there is an ATM machine beyond customs, I had no choice but to leave the laptop there and come back for it at another day. The tip of the iceberg was not all of that yet, but the fact that I had to pay 1JD on a disposable metal lock that kept the laptop safe. So I walked out to find an ATM machine and was able to withdraw the 80jds and went back with the money to get my laptop which was laying in front of my eyes back. The guy disgustingly looked at me and ordered me to come back tomorrow because the laptop is already locked and it needed the man at the warehouse to unlock it , and this man already left. I lost what was left of temper and senses after this long flight. When they realized that that they could lose me too, they decided to give me the laptop however assuring me that its my responsibility to unlock it by going to a blacksmith. I settled with that as I knew an extra minute could have meant a heart attack! While waiting for the paper work to finish, they were frequently approached by people loaded with duty free bags who wanted to expresses their gratitude for allowing them inside. One approached me to say that they could have given me a discount if I didn’t lose my tempter

  • I am so sorry, what an ordeal. My kids’ BB guns now belong to the kids of some customs official. I had to cry to get our Christmas presents out of customs. Good thing this happened AFTER the article in JB, for their sake.

    “At this point I’m thinking how cigarettes can really kill you, even if you don’t smoke them.” That made me laugh so hard. Next time, tell your friend you won’t be a part of cutting his life short 🙂

  • since we’re sharing…those imbeciles confiscated a pair of sponge bob square pants walkie talkies I had brought in for my little siblings. The idiots actually put batteries in and walked away from each other using them as if I was planning the Sponge Bob Revolution in Jordan.

  • I brought a plastic light saber back from the States as a Christmas present for my son one year. They saw it on the x-ray machine and determined that it looked suspicious. They searched through my bag and asked me to pull it out. I guess it did look a bit like a pipe bomb. They asked me if it was a weapon, to which I replied, “Only if you’re a Jedi.” They didn’t understand the reply, so I pressed the button and the colorful, lighted part of the light saber shot out with an elegant swoosh and hum. Their eyes got really big for a moment and then they realized it was just a toy. I walked out with only a mild time inconvenience and no taxation.

    What they failed to realize is that I was also carrying 3 cameras and all sorts new equipment back into the country. Yuk, yuk. 😀

  • hmm ,, the interesting thing that just in the area between the duty free shop and the customs path, there is a BIG banner with whats is to be allowed, to be be charged and to be confiscated … wonder how you didnt notice you aint allowed with more than 200 cigarettes / person 🙂

    As for me, i never had jordanian customs doing me trouble, and me and my family are “heavy travelers” by both land and air for over 20 years now 🙂

  • I think the Customs Dept at Queen Alia operate in the most random and chaotic manner, I order sometimes through ARAMEX’s SHOP&SHIP and every time I wait for their unjustified decisions taxing personal merchandise that arrive with clear receipts showing their actual prices, and still the tax they set is usually unrealistic and unfair, for example i ordered a $32 pair of shoes from Amazon, the customs dept. made me pay JD 35 in taxes!!!!
    and when you object they tell you that these are the rules!!!
    and this is one of so many encounters with them!

  • See, this is the way we will become a “center” for e-commerce..Along with sahel majali’s 5 billion railroad and logistics project..But as long as the customs bureau produce songs praising the king we are A-OK..

  • You know what’s really bizarre? The Customs Department is probably the only public sector bureau that uses the “these are the rules” tone. Makes you wonder when did we become a country that actually abides by the rule of the law.

  • This post and the comments just made me sit here and guffaw. Has anything changed around here? Tax-free and duty-free should mean just that. Funny how they are willing to enforce the law on that one but not on multitudes of other issues. Whatever.

    I just ordered some sorghum flour from the US. I wonder what kind of hell they will put me thru to get that from them when it arrives! The last non-wheat flour that came in by plane had been opened and was spilled all in the clothes. It was a white powder and perhaps they figured that I was trying to import cocaine in flour labeled sacks! InshAllah khair.

  • I have been through Queen Alia airport 14 times in the last 2 years. Coming into the country is no problem, but leaving is such a hassle and getting progressively worse! I thought that it was just because I was an American, but I guess they give everyone a hard time. There is always someone that wants me to pay more money for this or that. Usually, I can talk my way out of it (so to speak, since I really don’t speak much Arabic), but last April, I ended up paying for extra baggage even though it was the same bags that I have brought every other time. They were quite rude about it. I really dread having to do it again.

  • My biggest frustration is the fact that they don’t apply the rules to everyone…i was coming back from a trip with 4 cartons of cigarettes i had bought in Beirut – someone actually picked them up from the plane as we were debarking thinking they belonged to them, even though they were carrying a bag with their cigarettes in their other hand!?!?! – Moving on…got to the xray machine and the guy told me he was going to have to tax me for 3…I told him that I was allowed to bring in 2 so I will pay for 2 cartons only…at which point I saw the person who had “accidently” picked up my cigarettes from the plane, who was about to walk through without having to pay any taxes on his 4 cartons…so I added a new condition…I informed the customs guy that I would gladly pay the taxes on my 2 cartons, as long as he made everyone else do the same – rules are rules after all…apparently he wasn’t in the mood to work that hard…he ended up deciding it was best just to let me through without paying anything, and wait for a less argumentative traveller to con…the fact is – they make up the rules as they go along – I doubt any of them have ever actually read or are aware of the official rules..which actually works to our advantage most of the time.

  • How ridiculous. Especially considering every time I went back and forth between Syria and Jordan everyone was smuggling cigarettes left and right.

    Although I actually find the QA airport to be refreshingly organized compared to other Middle Eastern airports, particularly Cairo’s and Damascus’s.

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