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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

High Time For Customs To Get Real

Russian customs has embarked on a laudable experiment: making those time-consuming and generally useless currency declarations optional for people carrying less than $500.


It's not quite clear why it's an experiment; Russia should just move ahead and do away with this silly business of making people declare how much money they have in their pockets at the border.


Of course, travelers weary of the lines at Sheremetyevo should not hold their breath. The customs service is implementing the experiment with noticeable reluctance. They haven't provided any notice to the airlines or the public, other than a typed sheet of office paper stuck to a pillar in the departures area. Better signs are coming, they say.


Almost everything to do with the declarations is a ridiculous hangover from Soviet times. Travelers are even asked if they are carrying Soviet rubles out of the country. Another question concerns the export of icons and other historical items. But checking on this is better done with X-rays and random bag searches than with bizarre forms.


The supposed objective of the currency declarations is to prevent the flight of capital from Russia's troubled economy. People must declare how much they have on the way in, and then are permitted to take out no more than that amount, recorded on their stamped declaration.


But this has not stopped tens of billions of dollars fleeing the country through Cyprus and other financial schemes.


Halting capital flight and strengthening the ruble are important but harassing students, tourists and businessmen carrying pathetic sums is not the way to go about it.


If the government really wants to halt capital flight, it should create the kind of economy where people aren't so fearful that they immediately try to get their wealth offshore as soon as they make it. In fact, in one obvious way, the chaos travelers encounter when they pass through Russian customs is actually hurting the economy. It deters tourists who would spend their valuable foreign exchange on hotels and restaurants; to foreign business travelers, considering investing here, it provides a glaring example of Soviet bureaucratic inertia.


The customs forms are just one of the absurdities at Russia's borders that need fixing.


As well as ending the absurd customs declarations for people leaving the country, Russia should also overhaul the whole system that greets travelers. The silly bureaucratic process that creates long lines at immigration counters on the way in could be easily reformed. And for that matter, someone should improve the dingy decor at Sheremetyevo, supposedly Russia's gateway to the rest of the world.