From Iceland — Ólafur Arnalds: "Customs Essentially Telling Us To Fake A Receipt"

Ólafur Arnalds: “Customs Essentially Telling Us To Fake A Receipt”

Published December 17, 2014

Nanna Árnadóttir
Photo by
Marino Thorlacius

Musician Ólafur Arnalds has been unable to pick up a painting, gifted by a friend and sent to Iceland via mail, from the customs office , because an official receipt for the work does not exist, reports Vísir.

As the painting was made by Ólafur’s friend as a gift to the young composer, it has  never been ascribed monetary value. Besides, presenting someone you’ve given a gift to with a document specifying its fiscal value is generally considered bad form.

After a recent exchange with the Directorate of Customs, Ólafur posted the following on his personal Facebook .

Ólafur’s Facebook Post Translated:

Is there a hotline for people who need to deal with customs regularly and are beginning to consider some kind of self harm?
Customs Officer: Where is the receipt or invoice for this painting?
Óli: My friend painted it and sent it to me as a gift. So, there is no receipt.
Customs Officer: Yeah but we need a receipt in order to process it..
Óli: But a receipt doesn’t exist, it was a gift…
Customs Officer: We’re going to need a written confirmation from the sender that this was a gift then. And gifts aren’t allowed to be worth more than 13.500 ISK so we’ll need to see a receipt for the gift itself.
Óli: This is a painting… its value is in and of itself abstract.
Customs Officer: Huh?
Óli: Paintings have no value until they are sold. Until then their value is entirely abstract and entirely subjective. How are you going to assign a taxable value to something when its value is constructed subjectively, dear Customs Officer? Can it be in Euros?
Customs Officer: Huh?
Óli: Never mind… can I have my painting?
Customs Officer: No.

“I was mostly just pointing out that abstract things like art don’t really fit into an Excel sheet when you have to declare a price at Customs,” Ólafur told Vísir. “How do you measure the fiscal value of a gift when it’s a painting that’s never been sold? Is it just paint on a canvas?”

Customs will not release the painting unless they are officially informed of what it costs, this in part is due to the fact that a gift sent to Iceland is not allowed to cost more than 13,.500 ISK before it is taxed.

When asked whether he had a receipt for the painting yet Ólafur said he’d had no luck.

“I can’t reach my friend, he’s on holiday, so I’m just waiting for him to write some kind of letter that states clearly that this is definitely a gift,” said Ólafur. “In some way I suppose it’s not unusual, it’s just a bit funny to try and pin a value on something that has never been sold. Customs is essentially telling us to fake a receipt, that it’s simply the only way to get the painting.”

Ólafur deals with customs regularly, for example when he receives samplers of his own music from his label, but even then he is asked to provide the Directorate of Customs with official receipts citing the CDs monetary value.

“These exchanges with Customs are usually just kind of funny,” said Ólafur. “For example, once I spent half an hour on the phone with an official trying to explain to her how a preamp works. She had no idea what toll category to file it under, and was asking me how the cables were plugged into it and such.”

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