The queue at the customs office was not as long as I had anticipated. There were only four people seated on the cool aluminium chairs awaiting their turn. The officials were seated behind a counter which had dividers between them, making them seem more like cubicles. Overall the tone was subdued. Each applicant was dealt with professionally and each of their documents was carefully considered, making the processing time an extended wait for those that were still awaiting their cue to be seated in front of an official.

After nearly an hour I finally had an opportunity to present my case. The documents were a carefully compiled dossier containing every possible bit of information that could be requested from me with regards to the application of import and export licenses. I was confident that the application would be submitted on the first attempt.

My conversation with the official was formal, although my attempt at a handshake was shrugged off in a disinterested manner, “We don’t shake hands here. Any form of physical contact is prohibited between us.” With little dampener to my cheery attitude, I tried to be as humble as I could muster. I was presenting myself on behalf of a client and I wanted to get the application submitted and accepted as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

My official pulled out her document checklist and began going through the requirements, ticking each off as she went along. Lo and behold there were three requirements for which the documents that I had presented were unacceptable. These documents aligned with the suggestions that were posted on the official customs website as being sufficient. I was rejected and told how to make amends for my folly and naivety.

I withheld my intense desire to argue and make the point of how insane and foolish it was that the documents that were presented were not acceptable and the new ones I was being asked to get prepared were of more value. It made no sense. Nevertheless, there was no breakthrough. I was leaving empty-handed and with more paperwork to put together somehow.

The above scenario is a typical experience with the customs office. It is not surprising that with all the patience and time required to make a successful import license application, most entrepreneurs and companies opt to outsource this process to service providers who are able to go through the motions returning to the offices a number of times if necessary. Of course, if you’re willing to go through the pains and have the time to do it, it is technically cheaper for a company or individual to make the application themselves. The time and productivity lost in traveling to the specific office have to be weighed up with the savings made. That calculation and the resulting decision is different for every applicant.