Help Visiting Countries
<To>This section is to pass on advice from the various team on how to visit various countries without difficulty in getting the optical kit and glasses into that country.
Below are the list of countries we have thus far. Just click on the country which interests you.
For the future, I think my general advice for groups traveling to the DR would be:
1. Avoid travel through Punta Cana airport. We have had much better success using Santo Domingo or Santiago.
2. Have the person carrying the optical equipment pass through customs separately from the person carrying the glasses. This way they are less likely to retain the equipment.
3. Do not wear clothing that would make you look like part of a mission group. This almost guarantees you will get stopped for inspection.
4. Once you get your glasses in to DR, find a place to store them so you do not need to bring the whole lot each year.
I have not returned to El Salvador since January 0f 2011. The first trip was the bad one. Their government regime had just changed and there was a lot of confusion. I could not get anyone to get paperwork. About 3 months after we left all the glasses were finally released. Custom agents held me in detention for about two hours right up until the plane was ready to close the door to depart. Thatís when they handed be the Retinomax Kit and let me on the plane. We just left all the glasses there for the 2011 trip. We just carried the equipment through and were blessed that it didnít get checked. But US customs were not happy I was bringing it back without papers. So, I wouldnít do it without the proper paperwork. Other than that, I do not have any suggestions or contacts. We did leave all the inventory there but I have no idea if they are still stored somewhere. I could check if that might help someone.
Chances are they are gone. The church still sends teams there for an orphanage mission but did not want to do eyeglass work anymore. I have since left that church but have friends that still go there. They may be able to track down the glasses if needed. It was a difficult trip both times but things could be different now. La Libertad is the location we went to and if the glasses still stored thatís where they would be.
We have a trip to Honduras scheduled in 2 weeks. This will be our 4th Eyeglasses trip. We go with a medical team so there are dentists and medical doctors.
We carry 6 black bags containing eyeglasses ( quantity =1920).
Also, in the black bags we pack small containers of readers and pouches for the eyeglasses the church has sewn.
In 2 separate large suitcases, we carry our spare prescription glasses (approximately 400-450 in the long slim KOM boxes), sunglasses, and anything the team needs help transporting. Most of the time our church ladies have made childrenís dresses and shorts that we pack in our 2 bags. We have weighed our bags before we arrive at the airport to make sure we are less than 50 pounds.
At our departure airport, bags are divided among the team and the leader pays whatever we have to. All our bags have same color ribbon tied to handle to make easy to spot. Make it distinctive Ė polka dots work well.
The three black hard cases from KOM are hand carried on board. If we have a small plane from Birmingham to Atlanta or Miami, then we may have to check them at the gate or plane door and retrieve them at the end of that leg to hand carry them on the international leg.
Arriving in Tegucigalpa, we hand carry the black hard cases all the time. At the baggage claim area, we collect our bags (personal bags and eyeglasses bags) off the turntable (or whatever) and the local baggage handlers stack them on their buggies and we head toward the door. This is where you must be careful to have all your bags and only your bags. You may have to caution the handlers to be gentile with the black bags, specially if boxes are cardboard. Things get a little hectic at this point, everyone is in a hurry and trying to get out of the airport. We may go through another checkpoint where bags are off-loaded and reloaded after checked. This is where you must be careful to have all your bags and only your bags. If Honduran inspectors want to open our bags, we accommodated whatever they asked. If they find the sunglasses, they will probably want a pair.
None of our team speaks Spanish but this has never been a problem we couldnít navigate.. Our missionary contacts are waiting just past this last checkpoint. They direct these baggage handlers where to take our bags. Always keep an eye on your bags.
We have not had any issues with customs in Honduras. We now have an inventory there of over 2500 glasses. We clearly mark the cases with laminated signs describing what is inside. We have been so many times now with the equipment and medical supplies that the customs people know us personally and no longer search any of our stuff. Leaving, however, is a different story. Due to the fact that you are checked 2 to 3 times before you board the plane you should allow extra time for security. At each check point, they usually go through the refractor carry on boxes. But so far, they have always let us pass (except this year when I forgot to remove the tool kit). But that was my fault. Every year we take around 500 prescription glasses and at least 200 readers, with no problem. I don't think you will have any issues. BTW. This is the airport in Tegucigalpa, I have never flown in to San Pedro Sula, so I can't speak to the customs there.
This is from a team who regularly travels to Honduras:
"We placed these letters in our luggage. Hope this helps."
Click this link to see the letter.
It may help to contact the ministry of health prior to entering the country. They will usually give you the permissions and paperwork to pass through customs. Some of them will even come to the airport to escort you through customs.
They usually think you are going to sell the glasses and make a profit, so they want you to pay an exorbitant amount of money.
Mexico Information #1.
Eyeglasses into Mexico:
Fly into Mexico City airport. I have received less pushback from customs there. The customs people at the smaller airports seem to be more difficult to get through.
You are allowed to import $500 USD into Mexico if you fly in, $300 if you drive in. I make up a receipt for each person on the team describing the glasses they are carrying and show the price such that the total value of the glasses they are bringing in is less than $500 USD. Example: if I have 200 glasses in my suitcase I may value them at $2 each which is $400 total.
I also make up a flyer in Spanish advertising the clinic we are doing. This is to show that we are not selling the glasses but are giving them away. The flyer shows the location and dates of the clinic, pastors name and phone number we are working with, name of the church we are working with. And it includes a statement that the glasses are all free of charge.
This has gotten me through customs for years until the last team this past July. The customs supervisor arbitrarily valued the glasses at $8 instead of the $1 I had put on the receipt. He would not budge and in the end he kept the glasses because we would not pay the $300 it would cost us. However, this was a very unusual case and I hope it was an isolated case.
Kit into Mexico:
There is a guaranteed method to get the kit into Mexico without difficulty. That is to purchase an ATA Carnet. This is a document that is described as a passport for equipment. Once you have it there is absolutely no hassle bringing the equipment through customs at any port in Mexico. However it does have a price with it. ATA Carnets are good for one year then they expire and have to be replaced. The cost is around $350 to $400.
Mexico Information #2.
Purchase a carnet document ahead of time listing all your equipment items. They are hassle free, they cost $400 and they are recognized in 82 countries. They work! Also, bring your invoice from Holland listing 36 cents per pair. Example, each person can bring $500 worth of merchandise into Mexico. 19 years and we always get in.
We have no trouble going into and out of Peru, we work with a Peruvian lawyer and the Peruvian consulate and have all the paperwork done prior to arriving so it is no problem. It has taken 16 trips to finally get all our ducks in a row and not have any hitches getting in and out.
Later this was added:
We go through the consulate in Chicago, not sure if there is just one in the USA for them or not, you can google it and see. I had a contact in Lima that new of the lawyer that we use, not sure if he would be available to help others or not, I can find out if he is interested in helping others or not, he only speaks Spanish though. There is a lot of red tape to go through especially with a group our size (40 USA volunteers).