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IMPORTING A CONCERTIA FROM THE U.K TO THE U.S.


Jim Cush
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This post, although similar to an earlier posting, looks at the purchase of UK owned concertina from a U.S. buyers perspective.   I hope it is informative since I had no idea of what was involved when I decided to purchase a Wheatstone Aeola Tenor-Treble made around 1908.

 

I made an early decision that I would only purchase an instrument from a dealer in the UK. I made that decision because dealers have a vested interest in their ongoing reputation, dealers have expertise in international purchases and shipping,  no parent would ever admit to a homely child and you have no opportunity, except with a big airfare and stay over cost,  of assessing the instrument directly.   I was truly fortunate to make the purchase through Theo Gibb who owns The Box Place at www.theboxplace.co.uk .  Theo is an absolute delight to work with and, as you will see, was able to use his expertise to deal with the odd issues that popped up in the process. Theo also answered my endless questions & requests about the Aeola. Even though he must faithfully act as agent for the seller, it was a consignment sale, I felt that he would honestly answer my questions during the transaction. A dealer relies on the repeat business attracted by a reputation for honesty. A private seller does not count on repeat business. I found going through a dealer significantly increased my comfort level in such a long distance purchase.  Also, I would be remiss if I failed to include the name of Chris Algar of Barleycorn Concertinas who I had dealt  with earlier when looking at another Aeola.

 

The first step was going to my banker, Bank of America, to determine what was needed to wire transfer the money in British Pounds. Sellers do not want to incur the cost of using PayPal considering the high cost of vintage instruments nor do they want to incur the wire transfer and conversion rate charges of an international sale. I was told there was a flat fee of$45 and was given the specific UK bank information needed to complete the transfer.   I relayed the bank information needs to Theo and promptly returned to the bank, information in hand, to execute the transfer.  FIRST SURPRISE!  I was told the flat fee was actually only $35 to send the money in foreign currency. The $45 fee applied if I wired US currency,  Alarm bells went off.  I asked what exchange rate they were using. It was 5% more than that reported on the Internet for that day. Your options here are very limited. Choices are do it with your bank where you can actually grab a person or hope you can find somewhere else on the faceless Internet  to save a fraction of a percent. The wire transfer was sent on Friday morning July 9th.  SECOND SURPRISE! By Monday  morning the 12th the money  still had not arrived. A follow up by my bank revealed that on the transfer form where  asked to supply either of two pieces of information: the bank name and address, recipients name and account number as well as SWIFT code OR the ISBN and SORT CODE, the UK bank wanted both . Failure to provide it in 24 hours would have resulted in the wire transfer being negated. Theo had the additional info emailed to me in minutes, I passed it on and next day the money was in Theo's account.  Theo already  had the concertina packed, very well I must add, and it was picked up by the courier for UPS.  It is now Friday the 13th.  The UPS delivery was set for Monday, the 16th.  Monday came, there was no concertina delivery. I emailed Theo who said he just had a call from UPS asking for a further clarification of Theo's VAT status which he provided immediately.  UPS reset the delivery date to the next morning when it was delivered at last. It appears these types of delays are common. 

 

Now for the last part. US Customs.  To determine what the potential duty might be,  Theo ran the information through a web site www.customscalculator.com which computed the duty as 5.4%. The mystery entries are: Description "accordion" (yes I know) and the category and code are "Keyboards - Hand-held  (9207100060)".  In typical government contradiction,  according in help.cbp.gov a U.S. Customs web site it states,  "Antique instruments over 100 years old are exempt from duty".  I decided I like the "... exempt from duty" answer since the Aeola is over a hundred  Younger instruments will, it appears, have to pay the 5.4% duty.

 

Recommendations: use a dealer, be prepared for an inflated exchange rate, expect bureaucratic delays, consider an older concertina or be prepared to pay a 5.4% duty.

 

I apologize for the length but I didn't want to leave anything of importance to you out

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Jim,

I'm glad your concertina made the trip safely and qualified for antique status regarding duries. Some carriers will neither ship nor insure "antiques".

 

With all due respect I believe the correct harmonized tariff code for U.S. customs is 92005.90.1800 under "accodions; others" and the correct duty is 2.6 % http://hts.usitc.gov/

 

UPS Supply Chain and other carriers' in house beaucracies often misapply the codes and overcharge for customs duties.

 

Greg

Edited by Greg Jowaisas
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I went through something like this some years ago, also with a reputable dealer. It did not strike me as noteworthy; I guess I had already learned that American banks were very unsophisticated when it came to international transactions. Sort of like buying a house (at least in the U.S.) - if you want to bad enough you will jump through the hoops, which are many and endless. Back to the concertina!

 

Ken

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The easiest and cheapest way I've found to do foreign transfers from the USA is XOOM:

 

https://www.xoom.com

 

Much better exchange rates than even the large US Banks offer. Last time I compared, the exchange rate was slightly better than PayPal, and they're usually pretty fair.

 

They do limit the amount new customers can send. There's a daily limit which is easy to bypass if you just break it into two or more transactions, and then there's a monthly limit. The monthly limit can be increased if you provide them with some basic information like a photocopy of a photo ID (I think that's a Government regulation, not Xoom's policy). I think the limits increase over time, so if you think you might be sending money in the future it's a good idea to sign up now rather than wait till the last minute.

 

In the UK they use Barclays, so if the person you're sending it to has a Barclays account it can post to their account the same day (if you're lucky and time it just right). Their online tracking is also good, and you know where the money is every step of the way.

 

I'll stop now, because this is sounding like a commercial, and you'll think I'm on their payroll.

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I have sent quite a few instruments to the USA, but I get the impression that US Customs have got a good deal more picky in recent times. In the past few weeks, I sent a baritone Wheatstone and a tenor/treble Aeola, and on both occasions, the instruments were held up by Customs in Memphis while they sought further information from me. I was asked for a complete list of materials involved in the construction of a concertina, and, so help me, a more detailed description of the end use. I suggested that although I couldn't be absolutely certain he wouldn't use it as a doorstop, I suspected the buyer would probably want to play tunes on it.

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The easiest and cheapest way I've found to do foreign transfers from the USA is XOOM:

 

https://www.xoom.com

 

Much better exchange rates than even the large US Banks offer. Last time I compared, the exchange rate was slightly better than PayPal, and they're usually pretty fair.

 

They do limit the amount new customers can send. There's a daily limit which is easy to bypass if you just break it into two or more transactions, and then there's a monthly limit. The monthly limit can be increased if you provide them with some basic information like a photocopy of a photo ID (I think that's a Government regulation, not Xoom's policy). I think the limits increase over time, so if you think you might be sending money in the future it's a good idea to sign up now rather than wait till the last minute.

 

In the UK they use Barclays, so if the person you're sending it to has a Barclays account it can post to their account the same day (if you're lucky and time it just right). Their online tracking is also good, and you know where the money is every step of the way.

 

I'll stop now, because this is sounding like a commercial, and you'll think I'm on their payroll.

I have had good luck with xetrade, a similar service.

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I was asked for a complete list of materials involved in the construction of a concertina...

 

I wonder whether CITES may be an issue here. Old concertinas may be made out of bits of various endangered species. There's some useful guidance on this here (aimed at antique dealers) :

 

http://animalhealth.defra.gov.uk/about/publications/cites/Antiques.pdf

 

 

‘Antiques’ which are exempt are specimens significantly altered from their natural

state for jewellery, adornment, art, utility or musical instruments, before 1st June

1947

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The proper HTS codes are vitally important if you don't want the item to be stuck in customs. The proper codes for concertinas are:

 

9205.90.18 - Accordions, other - 2.6%

9706.00.60 - Antiques over 100 years old - other - Free.

 

Be advised as well that many carriers will not insure antiques.

And don't forget the punctuation. Customs agents are extremely literal minded.

Further, be prepared to prove that the concertina is over 100 years old if you go that route.

Best - Ed

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on both occasions, the instruments were held up by Customs in Memphis while they sought further information from me.

 

 

Memphis makes me think you sent them FedEx since that's their hub.

 

I buy a lot of antique auto parts in the UK and Germany, and the only times I've ever had problems with US Customs has been when I used FedEx or UPS. I had something stuck at UPS for weeks because they couldn't determine the type of wood the packing crate was made of, and both companies are famous for sending you mystery invoices days after the package arrives billing you for customs charges and other fees with no explanation. I think it's because they do their own inspections as licensees of the Government and take their job seriously--give me bored Government employees over zealous private contractors any day.

 

I've never had a problem with the post or Parcel Force. Things sail right through with them, and they're just as fast or faster than the private companies.

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The proper HTS codes are vitally important if you don't want the item to be stuck in customs. The proper codes for concertinas are:

 

9205.90.18 - Accordions, other - 2.6%

9706.00.60 - Antiques over 100 years old - other - Free.

 

Be advised as well that many carriers will not insure antiques.

And don't forget the punctuation. Customs agents are extremely literal minded.

Further, be prepared to prove that the concertina is over 100 years old if you go that route.

Best - Ed

 

Ed,

Apparently there are also two zeros at the end of the code. I recently had some customs trouble with an instrument until changing 9205.90.18 to 9205.90.1800

 

I think Coad is correct in that some bureaucrats take everything quite literally and see their mission as dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" as well as noting every zero.

 

Greg

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...Alarm bells went off.  I asked what exchange rate they were using. It was 5% more than that reported on the Internet for that day.

You should never expect to get even close to the internet-posted rates in an actual bank transaction, unless you're referring to the relevant rates posted by the bank itself on its own web site.

 

I believe that the exchange rates posted on internet exchange-rate sites are generally the "interbank" rates, which are the rates actually realized in trades on the currency market... between banks and other entities that exchange large (huge, compared to your transaction or my budget) sums. Even that description needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since what is reported is a kind of average of the recorded trades for the most recently completed business day. I.e., it's a measure of what has happened, not a prescription for what banks must or even should charge. There is no agency setting rates which others are required to abide by. On any given day, some banks may have succeeded in getting a better rate than the interbank average in their own particular trades, others a less favorable rate. Whether they pass this difference on to their customers is, as far as I know, purely up to the individual bank.

 

But I don't know of any bank that charges its customers a single rate for trades in both directions (e.g., dollars to pounds vs. pounds to dollars). They always have separate "buy" and "sell" rates, and while they may say that there is no percentage "commission" charge, the buy-sell difference is just that; the difference in the rates gives them a profit proportional to the size of the transaction. Like other charges, the buy and sell rates are set by each bank (but not each bank branch) individually. For whatever reason, my experience is that the buy-sell spread of my Danish bank tends to be about half that of the American banks I've dealt with, so no matter which direction I'm sending money, I always have the conversion done at the Danish end. In fact, my Danish bank quotes a separate set of rates for each of cash, personal checks, traveler's checks, and electronic transfers (the latter being the most advantageous for the customers).

 

Also note that it seems to be common practice for banks to reset their customer rates at 11:00 am local time, whether they are in North America or Europe (and probably elsewhere, I would guess). In principle, that may be irrelevant in terms of rates, since they could go either up or down from day to day, but it will affect the timing of your transfer. A transfer request posted before 11:00 can be sent immediately, but if posted after 11:00 it will wait until the bank resets its rates the following business day.

 

One more point: The banks are making their profit -- the (approximate) difference between their quoted rates and the interbank rate -- on every transaction, yet in most cases, the actual amount they have to trade on the currency markets is much less than the sum of their day's transactions. E.g., if on a given day they sold a total of a million pounds for 1.645 million dollars (today's interbank rate plus 5%) and bought a total of a million dollars for 670 thousand pounds (the 5% working the other way), they would only need to trade -- and thereby put at risk to rate fluctuations -- the difference... 330 thousand pounds. Another way of looking at it is that if (using the same exchange rates just mentioned) you sold the bank $100 for pounds, you would get £60.81, and if someone else (or you) the next day sold the same amount of pounds (back) to the bank, they would get $90.70. For double conversion of those 60+ pounds the bank will have received $9.30, which translates to £5.94 using the interbank conversion rate, or more than 9.76% for what looks like a one-day loan. Converting that to an APR gives a frighteningly large number.

 

Of course, not all exchange transactions balance in that way, but this shows that the margin for banks -- at least the big ones -- is likely significantly more than 5% on their exchange transactions in major currencies. Nice work if you can get it. ;)

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If you import use ups. They have their own clearing agents. Also, if you explain to them that the item is totally hand made and not mass produced, you will get the 5% vat rate instead of 22%. I have used them twice when importing high value banjos made by Doug Unger in 2005 and in both cases I had the vat set by ups at 5%.

Doug unger only makes a handful of banjos a year and specialises in stunning mother of pearl inlay.

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  • 5 months later...

What about bringing a concertina from the UK to the USA in my personal carry-on luggage?

 

1) Does this need to be declared at customs?

1a) Does anyone know the threshold value for US citizens bringing personal items into the USA before duty is required?

1a) I think it has bone buttons. Any reason that would cause a concern at customs? If so, what documentation should I obtain before I travel?

1b) I think it is an antique, which might influence the answers to 1a and 1b. What documentation should I obtain before I travel?

 

2) Any reason that airport security might be concerned about it as carry-on luggage? I would not want to be forced to check it because of a misunderstanding on the day of travel, or worse yet while changing planes mid-trip.

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2) Any reason that airport security might be concerned about it as carry-on luggage? I would not want to be forced to check it because of a misunderstanding on the day of travel, or worse yet while changing planes mid-trip.

I have seen these warnings posted elsewhere, and I don't know whether to take them seriously, but here they are:

 

  • If they ask you what it is, don't use the word "concertina." Call it a musical instrument or a squeezebox or an accordion. The word "concertina" is on the list of items that must be confiscated because it is used as a contraction of "concertina wire," a weapon.
     
  • When you put it down on the conveyor belt for the x-ray scanner, make sure that the axis of the bellows is horizontal, not vertical (in other words, don't put it down on one of its ends). The radial pattern of the levers makes it look like a cluster bomb.

Another suggestion: When flying with a concertina (or shipping it by air) rig up a mechanism to hold the air button down so the pressure inside the bellows equilibrates with the ambient pressure (which will likely not be the standard sea-level pressure that's in there now).

 

Edited to add:

 

I have flown with my concertina as carry-on several times without problem, including last year from London.

Edited by David Barnert
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Interesting stuff Mr Cush.

 

As to air travel; every year I fly from NZ to England and back with at least one concertina. The first year I got a receipt from my local customs office to prove that I had owned the 'box here in NZ in case I was challenged on return and asked to pay duty. I have never botheered since. No one ever bats an eyelid. (I'm pretty sure they simply have no idea what they are worth) If asked what it is I say 'It's a concertina'. Sometimes I have to explain further; once I was asked to play something, but I think we'd passed the inspection by then and they were just curious.

 

(Even an 81 key aeola in its box will go in the overhead locker by the way, and it gives you something to do while they refuel the 'plane.)

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Whenever I'm flying with with concertina I tell the security guys its a 'small accordion'. Occasionally it has been recognised as a concertina. On a couple of occasions I've had to give an impromtu concert too. I always pack my 'tina in its box, with that box inside of a bag that meets the airline's maximum carry-on bag size.

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Interesting stuff Mr Cush.

 

As to air travel; every year I fly from NZ to England and back with at least one concertina. The first year I got a receipt from my local customs office to prove that I had owned the 'box here in NZ in case I was challenged on return and asked to pay duty. I have never botheered since. No one ever bats an eyelid. (I'm pretty sure they simply have no idea what they are worth) If asked what it is I say 'It's a concertina'. Sometimes I have to explain further; once I was asked to play something, but I think we'd passed the inspection by then and they were just curious.

 

(Even an 81 key aeola in its box will go in the overhead locker by the way, and it gives you something to do while they refuel the 'plane.)

 

 

I've passed through airport security many times now, usually with two anglos in a double case. It usually provokes a secondary inspection of some sort (e.g. being asked to open the case, concertinas being swabbed, etc.) Only once did I get taken into a side room for a more thorough look-see. Ultimately though, it's never been a problem as carry on luggage.

 

However, crossing back into Canada from the concertina weekend at the Button Box in Massachusetts with 3 concertinas in the boot, and no customs receipt, I very nearly had them all confiscated. I applied for the proper certificates as soon as I got home.

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