China is now taking a bite out of Apples -- and it doesn't care if it's yours or not.
That's because customs officials are now slapping a tax on anyone bringing any Apple products in to the mainland, whether brand new or used.
There have been reports from people stopped at border checkpoints carrying iPhones or iPads who have had to pay a customs duty even though they were only bringing in one device, and even had evidence to prove it was for their own personal use.
A Shenzhen customs official confirmed this. "It's a common misconception that you can get a tax exemption if the device you are carrying is for self-use," she said, refusing to be named (as is the common practice in China). "In fact, iPhones and iPads are among the 20 products that are excluded from tax exemption. You need to make a declaration and pay the tax even if you are bringing in only one [device]."
While it's understandable most of the Apple products coming into China are still in their boxes, why is customs being petty and slapping duties on those people who are bringing in their own iPhones or iPads for their own personal use?
An American-Chinese was forced to pay the duty before he could leave the Lowu border. "I showed them the documents and photos I stored in my iPad but they wouldn't listen. In the end I had to pay 1,000RMB ($150.30) before I could leave," the man told the National Business Daily.
Apparently the General Administration of Customs in Beijing issued a directive on August 19, clarifying the regulations on what visitors and mainland residents can bring into the country without paying duty. But it did not specifically mention Apple products.
Nevertheless, the Shenzhen customs official said, "We started to notice a lot of people carrying [boxed] iPads and iPhones across the border since April," she said. The numbers increased in July when iPhones and iPads were on sale in Hong Kong.
A 64G version of the iPad cost about 6,500RMB ($977) in China, but it's HK$6,500 ($837.30) in Hong Kong.
That has led to a huge secondary market buying and selling Apple products on the mainland.
Perhaps the best reaction to this latest development in China comes from Yardley Luk Wai-kit, a 25-year-old working in the advertising industry.
"My iPad is for personal use. I am not importing any iPad. Why do the Chinese customs impose tax on me? It just does not make sense. It is no different from provincial officials collecting heavy taxes from poor people in the past, or triad members collecting protection fees," he said.