Economic crisis and foreign currency shortage mean tighter controls on the flow of goods and cash
Maged Moussa said during a phone-in to a popular TV talk show that the new rule would apply to Egyptian and foreign travellers.
He said customs officers are doing a patriotic job and are not there to be a nuisance to travellers.
Egypt’s customs operations have become stricter in recent weeks in light of a more pressing need to control the movement of foreign currency in and out of Egypt
The priority of officers is to ensure the stability of the country’s markets, Mr Moussa said.
On Sunday, a man arriving from Kuwait was detained at Cairo airport for trying to smuggle five gold bars, the customs authority said. The gold was concealed on his body.
Despite proving that he legally owned the gold, the bars were confiscated at the airport because they exceeded the allowed value of incoming goods, which was set by customs at 10,000 Egyptian pounds (about $404) in August.
Soon after, photos of customs officers posing with the confiscated gold bars began circulating on social media.
Some concerned Egyptians said customs regulations were too strict and questioned what they are allowed to bring in.
Gold prices in Egypt have soared to record highs this year because of a rise in demand from citizens wanting to secure their savings in something more stable than the Egyptian pound.
Mr Moussa said the new rules were in part because merchants have made a habit of travelling to countries where goods are cheaper than in Egypt with the intention of selling them at a profit when they return.
The rules apply to currency traders, who arrive with foreign currency to sell at a profit on the Egyptian black market, where US dollars are trading at 33 per cent above official exchange rates.
After two devaluations this year intended to make Egypt eligible for a new loan from the IMF, analysts say the currency is significantly overvalued and that the country’s central bank has not implemented an entirely market-determined exchange rate.
“We have travellers who go to Istanbul for instance and buy clothes at low prices,” Mr Moussa said.
“They intend to smuggle them into Egypt and resell them here. If the traveller discloses what they are carrying in an honest and direct way, they shouldn’t face any problems.”
Mr Moussa said that should travellers be carrying gold or jewellery clearly intended for ornamental use, they are allowed to enter or leave the country without fuss.
“If we have our doubts about a traveller’s claims, we conduct further investigations,” he said.
New rules to include electronics
The rule also applies to electronics carried by travellers. If someone is carrying a phone or a laptop whose value exceeds 10,000 Egyptian pounds, they will be asked to prove the item is not new.
A search of the device is conducted to determine how long it has been in use, after which the device is either confiscated or released.
No limits exist on cash coming into the country, he said, provided that if the amount exceeds $10,000, it is disclosed in its entirety upon arrival.
Incoming travellers are asked to fill out a form at passport control disclosing how much money they arrived with.
The form is then handed over to a money-laundering unit which monitors how much money that same traveller is leaving the country with. If there are discrepancies, legal action is taken, he said.
Should they have arrived with a sum of money exceeding $10,000, foreign travellers will be allowed to leave with the remainder of the sum provided they disclosed it upon arrival. However, Egyptians arriving with a sum exceeding $10,000 will not be allowed to leave the country with more than that.
“Of course we want people to bring all the gold and foreign money they can into Egypt as our primary concern is to put the country’s economy back on its feet. But disclosure is everything. They have to tell us exactly what they are coming and going with,” he said.
Mr Moussa said there was a culture among Egyptian travellers that makes them unwilling to hand over any money to customs.
“If a traveller has to pay 1,000 pounds to customs to clear a sum of money they are carrying, they sometimes leave and spend that money outside the airport so they don’t hand it over to us,” he said.
“We are not asking them to pay any extra money. It is all according to the law.”