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 Please check the related US Customs web site for the latest updates !

  1. Know Before You Go

  2. When You Return to the United States

  3. What You Must Declare

  4. Duty-Free Exemption

  5. Duty-Free or Reduced Rates

  6. Personal Belongings or Household Effects

  7. Paying Duty

  8. Sending Goods to the United States

  9. Unaccompanied Purchases from Insular Possessions and Caribbean Countries

  10. Duty-Free Shops

  11. Prohibited and Restricted Items

  12. Money and Other Monetary Instruments

  13. Traveling Back and Forth Across the Border

  14. Photographic Film

  15. Customer Service Programs and Other Travel-related Information

  16. Frequently Asked Questions from U.S. Residents Who Travel Abroad



Know Before You Go

As an international traveler, you should be aware of the rules for bringing items back from your trip. For instance, did you know that the duty-free personal exemption was recently raised to $800?


When You Return to the United States :

illustration of suitcases with the U.S. Flag in the background

When you come back, you'll need to declare everything you brought back that you did not take with you when you left the United States. If you are traveling by air or sea, you may be asked to fill out a Customs declaration form. This form is almost always provided by the airline or cruise ship. You will probably find it easier and faster to fill out your declaration form and clear Customs if you do the following:

  • Keep your sales slips! As you read this brochure, you'll understand why this is especially important for international travelers.

  • Try to pack the things you'll need to declare separately.

  • Read the signs in the Customs area. They contain helpful information about how to clear Customs.

Be aware that under U.S. law, Customs inspectors are authorized to examine luggage, cargo, and travelers. Under the search authority granted to Customs by the U.S. Congress, every passenger who crosses a U.S. border may be searched. To stop the flow of illegal drugs and other contraband into our country, we need your cooperation. If you are one of the very few travelers selected for a search, you will be treated in a courteous, professional, and dignified manner. If you are searched and you believe that you were not treated in such a manner, or if you have any concerns about the search for any reason whatsoever, we want to hear from you. Please contact the Executive Director, Passenger Programs.


What You Must Declare :

You Must Declare

  • Items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return to the United States.

  • Items you received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday presents.

  • Items you inherited.

  • Items you bought in duty-free shops or on the ship or plane.

  • Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free of charge.

  • Items you brought home for someone else.

  • Items you intend to sell or use in your business.

  • Items you acquired (whether purchased or received as gifts) in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or in a Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act country (please see section on $600 exemption for a list of these countries) that are not in your possession when you return. In other words, if you acquired things in any of these island nations and asked the merchant to send them to you, you must still declare them when you go through Customs. (This differs from the usual procedure for mailed items, which is discussed in the section on Sending Goods to the United States.



You must state on the Customs declaration, in United States currency, what you actually paid for each item. The price must include all taxes. If you did not buy the item yourself - for example, if it is a gift - get an estimate of its fair retail value in the country where you received it. If you bought something on your trip and wore or used it on the trip, it's still dutiable. You must declare the item at the price you paid or, if it was a gift, at its fair market value.

Joint Declaration
Family members who live in the same home and return together to the United States may combine their personal exemptions. This is called a joint declaration. For example, if Mr. and Mrs. Smith travel overseas and Mrs. Smith brings home a $600 piece of glassware, and Mr. Smith buys $200 worth of clothing, they can combine their $400 exemptions on a joint declaration and not have to pay duty.

Children and infants are allowed the same exemption as adults, except for alcoholic beverages.

Register Items Before You Leave the United States
If your laptop computer was made in Japan - for instance - you might have to pay duty on it each time you bring it back into the United States, unless you could prove that you owned it before you left on your trip. Documents that fully describe the item - for example, sales receipts, insurance policies, or jeweler's appraisals - are acceptable forms of proof. To make things easier, you can register certain items with Customs before you depart - including watches, cameras, laptop computers, firearms, and tape recorders - as long as they have serial numbers or other unique, permanent markings. Take the items to the nearest Customs Office and request a Certificate of Registration (Customs Form 4457). It shows Customs that you had the items with you before leaving the U.S. and all items listed on it will be allowed duty-free entry. Customs inspectors must see the item you are registering in order to certify the certificate of registration. You can register items with Customs at the international airport from which you're departing. Keep the certificate for future trips.


Duty-free Exemption :

$200 Exemption | $600 Exemption | $800 Exemption | Travel to More Than One Country | $1200 Exemption | Gifts

The duty-free exemption, also called the personal exemption, is the total value of merchandise you may bring back to the United States without having to pay duty. You may bring back more than your exemption, but you will have to pay duty on it. In most cases, the personal exemption is $800, but there are some exceptions to this rule, which are explained below.

Depending on the countries you have visited, your personal exemption will be $600, $800, or $1,200. (The differences are explained in the following section.) There are also limits on the amount of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products you may include in your duty-free personal exemption.

The duty-free exemptions ($600, $800, or $1,200) apply if:

  • The items are for your personal or household use.

  • They are in your possession (that is, they accompany you) when you return to the United States. Items to be sent later may not be included in your $800 duty-free exemption.

  • They are declared to Customs. If you do not declare something that should have been declared, you risk forfeiting it. If in doubt, declare it.

  • You are returning from an overseas stay of at least 48 hours. For example, if you leave the United States at 1:30 p.m. on June 1, you would complete the 48-hour period at 1:30 p.m. on June 3. This time limit does not apply if you are returning from Mexico or from the U.S. Virgin Islands. (See the section on the $200 exemption.)

  • You have not used your exemption, or any part of it, in the past 30 days. If you use part of your exemption - for example, if you go to England and bring back $150 worth of items - you must wait another 30 days before you are allowed another $800 exemption. (However, see the section on the $200 exemption.)

  • The items are not prohibited or restricted as discussed in the section on Prohibited and Restricted Items. Note the embargo prohibitions on products of Cuba.



$200 Exemption
If you can't claim other exemptions because you've been out of the country more than once in a 30-day period or because you haven't been out of the country for at least 48 hours, you may still bring back $200 worth of items free of duty and tax. As with the exemptions discussed earlier, these items must be for your personal or household use.

Each traveler is allowed this $200 exemption, but, unlike the other exemptions, family members may not group their exemptions. Thus, if Mr. and Mrs. Smith spend a night in Canada, each may bring back up to $200 worth of goods, but they would not be allowed a collective family exemption of $400.

Also, if you bring back more than $200 worth of dutiable items, or if any item is subject to duty or tax, the entire amount will be dutiable. Let's say you were out of the country for 36 hours and came back with a $300 piece of pottery. You could not deduct $200 from its value and pay duty on $100. The pottery would be dutiable for the full value of $300. You may include with the $200 exemption your choice of the following: 50 cigarettes and 10 cigars and 150 milliliters (5 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages or 150 milliliters (5 fl. oz.) of perfume containing alcohol.

$800 Exemption
If you are returning from anywhere other than a Caribbean Basin country or a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam), you may bring back $800 worth of items duty-free, as long as you bring them with you (this is called accompanied baggage). Duty on items you mail home to yourself will be waived if the value is $200 or less. (See sections on "Gifts" and "Sending Goods to the United States.") Antiques that are at least 100 years old and fine art may enter duty-free, but folk art and handicrafts are generally dutiable. This means that, depending on what items you're bringing back from your trip, you could come home with more than $800 worth of gifts or purchases and still not be charged duty. For instance, say you received a $700 bracelet as a gift, and you bought a $40 hat and a $60 color print. Because these items total $800, you would not be charged duty, because you have not exceeded your duty-free exemption. If you had also bought a $500 painting on that trip, you could bring all $1300 worth of merchandise home without having to pay duty, because fine art is duty-free.

Tobacco Products: 

Travelers may import previously exported tobacco products only in quantities not exceeding the amounts
specified in exemptions for which the traveler qualifies. Any quantities of previously exported tobacco products not permitted by an exemption will be seized and destroyed. These items are typically purchased in duty-free stores, on carriers operating internationally, or in foreign stores. These items are usually marked “Tax Exempt. For Use Outside the United States,” or “U.S. Tax Exempt For Use Outside the United States.”

For example, a returning resident is eligible for the $800 exemption, which includes not more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars:
• If the resident declares 400 previously exported cigarettes, the resident would be permitted 200 cigarettes, tax-free under the exemption and the remaining 200 previously exported cigarettes would be confiscated.
• If the resident declares 400 cigarettes, of which 200 are previously exported and 200 not previously exported, the resident would be permitted to import the 200 previously exported cigarettes tax free under the exemption and the resident would be charged duty and tax on the remaining 200 foreign-made cigarettes. The tobacco exemption is available to each adult. Except for information and informational materials, no traveler (whether traveling legally under an Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) license or traveling illegally without an OFAC license) may import Cuban-made goods, including Cuban cigars, unless authorized to do so by a specific license issued by OFAC.



Alcoholic Beverages: 
One liter (33.8 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages may be included in your exemption if:


  • You are 21 years old.

  • It is for your own use or as a gift.

  • It does not violate the laws of the state in which you arrive.

Federal regulations allow you to bring back more than one liter of alcoholic beverage for personal use, but, as with extra tobacco, you will have to pay duty and Internal Revenue Service tax.

While federal regulations do not specify a limit on the amount of alcohol you may bring back for personal use, unusual quantities are liable to raise suspicions that you are importing the alcohol for other purposes, such as for resale. Customs officers are authorized by Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) make on-the-spot determinations that an importation is for commercial purposes, and may require you to obtain a permit to import the alcohol before leasing to you. If you intend to bring back a substantial quantity of alcohol for your personal use you should contact the Customs port you will be re-entering the country through, and make prior arrangements for entering the alcohol into the U.S.

Having said that, you should be aware that State laws may limit the amount of alcohol you can bring in without a license. If you arrive in a state that has limitations on the amount of alcohol you may bring in without a license, that state law will be enforced by Customs, even though it may be more restrictive then Federal regulations. We recommend that you check with the state government before you go abroad about their limitations on quantities allowed for personal importation and additional state taxes that might apply.

In brief, for both alcohol and tobacco, the quantities discussed in this booklet as being eligible for duty-free treatment may be included in your $800 (or $600 or $1,200) exemption, just as any other purchase would be. But unlike other kinds of merchandise, amounts beyond those discussed here as being duty-free are taxed, even if you have not exceeded, or even met, your personal exemption. For example, if your exemption is $800 and you bring back three liters of wine and nothing else, two of those liters will be dutiable. Federal law prohibits shipping alcoholic beverages by mail within the United States.



$600 Exemption
If you are returning directly from any one of the following 24 Caribbean Basin countries, your customs exemption is $600:

Antigua and Barbuda
British Virgin Islands
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Guyana Honduras
Jamaica Montserrat
Netherlands, Antilles
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago


You may include two liters of alcoholic beverages with this $600 exemption, as long as one of the liters was produced in one of the countries listed above (see section on Unaccompanied Purchases from Insular Possessions and Caribbean Basin Countries).

Travel to More Than One Country :

If you travel to a U.S. possession and to one or more of the Caribbean countries listed above (for example, on a Caribbean cruise), you may bring back $1,200 worth of items without paying duty. But only $600 worth of these items may come from the Caribbean country (ies); any amount beyond $600 will be dutiable unless you acquired it in one of the insular possessions.

For example, if you were to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Jamaica, you would be allowed to bring back $1,200 worth of merchandise duty-free, as long as only $600 worth was acquired in Jamaica. (Keeping track of where your purchases occurred and having the receipts ready to show the Customs inspectors will help speed your clearing Customs.)

If you travel to any of the Caribbean countries listed above and to countries where the standard personal exemption of $800 applies - for example, a South American or European country - up to $800 worth of merchandise may come from the non-Caribbean country. For instance, if you travel to Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, your exemption is $600, only $200 of which may have been acquired in Venezuela.

$1,200 Exemption
If you return directly or indirectly from a U.S. Insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam), you are allowed a $1,200 duty-free exemption. You may include 1,000 cigarettes as part of this exemption, but at least 800 of them must have been acquired in an insular possession. Only 200 cigarettes may have been acquired elsewhere. For example, if you were touring the South Pacific and you stopped in Tahiti, American Samoa, and other ports of call, you could bring back five cartons of cigarettes, but four of them would have to have been bought in American Samoa.

Similarly, you may include five liters of alcoholic beverages in your duty-free exemption, but one of them must be a product of an insular possession. Four may be products of other countries (see section on Unaccompanied Purchases from Insular Possessions and Caribbean Basin Countries).

Gifts you bring back from a trip abroad are considered to be for your personal use. They must be declared, but you may include them in your personal exemption. This includes gifts people gave you while you were out of the country, such as wedding or birthday presents, and gifts you've brought back for others.

Gifts intended for business, promotional, or other commercial purposes may not be included in your duty-free exemption.

Gifts worth up to $100 may be received, free of duty and tax, by friends and relatives in the United States, as long as the same person does not receive more than $100 worth of gifts in a single day. If the gifts are mailed or shipped from an insular possession, this amount is increased to $200. When you return to the United States, you don't have to declare gifts you sent while you were on your trip, since they won't be accompanying you.

By federal law, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and perfume containing alcohol and worth more than $5 retail may not be included in the gift exemption.

Gifts for more than one person may be shipped in the same package, called a consolidated gift package, if they are individually wrapped and labeled with each recipient's name. Here's how to wrap and label a consolidated gift package:

Be sure to mark the outermost wrapper with:


  • the total value of the consolidated package;

  • the recipients' names; and

  • the nature and value of the gifts inside (for example, tennis shoes, $50; shirt, $45; toy car, $15).

Packages marked in this way will clear Customs much more easily. Here's an example of how to mark a consolidated gift package:

Unsolicited gift-consolidated gift package- total value $135
To John Jones-one belt, $20; one box of candy, $5; one tie, $20
To Mary Smith-one skirt, $45; one belt, $15; one pair slacks, $30.

If any item in the consolidated gift parcel is subject to duty and tax or worth more than the $100 gift allowance, the entire package will be dutiable.

You, as a traveler, cannot send a "gift" package to yourself, and people traveling together cannot send "gifts" to each other. But there would be no reason to do that anyway, because the personal exemption for packages mailed from abroad is $200, which is twice as much as the gift exemption. If a package is subject to duty, the United States Postal Service will collect it from the addressee along with any postage and handling charges. The sender cannot prepay duty; it must be paid by the recipient when the package is received in the United States. (Packages sent by courier services are not eligible for this duty waiver.)


Duty-free or Reduced Rates :

Items from Certain Countries
The United States gives duty preferences - that is, free or reduced rates - to certain developing countries under a trade program called the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Some products that would otherwise be dutiable are not when they come from a GSP country. For details on this program, as well as the complete list of GSP countries, please ask your nearest Customs office for a copy of our pamphlet Gsp & The Traveler.

Similarly, many products of Caribbean and Andean countries are exempt from duty under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, and Andean Trade Preference Act. Most products of certain sub-Saharan African countries are exempt from duty under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Most products of Israel may also enter the United States either free of duty or at a reduced rate. Check with Customs for details on these programs.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994. If you are returning from Canada or Mexico, your goods are eligible for free or reduced duty rates if they were grown, manufactured, or produced in Canada or Mexico, as defined by the Act. Again, check with Customs for details.


Personal Belongings and Household Effects :

What Items are Duty-free?

Personal Belongings
Your personal belongings can be sent back to the United States duty-free if they are of U.S. origin and if they have not been altered or repaired while abroad. Personal belongings like worn clothing can be mailed home and will receive duty-free entry if you write the words "American Goods Returned" on the outside of the package.

Household Effects
Household effects include furniture, carpets, paintings, tableware, stereos, linens, and similar household furnishings. Tools of trade, professional books, implements, and instruments that you've taken out of the United States will be duty-free when you return.

You may import household effects you acquired abroad duty-free if:

  • You used them for at least one year while you were abroad.

  • They are not intended for anyone else or for sale.

Clothing, jewelry, photography equipment, portable radios, and vehicles are considered personal effects and cannot be brought in duty-free as household effects. However, the amount of duty collected on them will be reduced according to the age of the item.


Paying Duty :

If you're bringing it back with you, you didn't have it when you left, and its total value is more than your Customs exemption, it is subject to duty.

The Customs inspector will place the items that have the highest rate of duty under your exemption. Then, after subtracting your exemptions and the value of any duty-free items, a flat rate of duty will be charged on the next $1,000 worth of merchandise. Any dollar amount beyond this $1,000 will be dutiable at whatever duty rates apply. The flat rate of duty may only be used for items for your own use or for gifts. As with your exemption, you may use the flat-rate provision only once every 30 days. Special flat rates of duty apply to items made and acquired in Canada or Mexico. The flat rate of duty applies to purchases whether the items accompany you or are shipped.

Here's an example of the different rates if you acquire goods valued at $2,500 from various different places:


Total declared

Personal exemption

Flat duty rate


U.S. insular possessions



$1,000 at 1.5 percent


Caribbean Basin countries



$1,000 at 3 percent


Other countries or locations



$1,000 at 3 percent



The flat duty rate will be charged on items that are dutiable but that cannot be included in your personal exemption, even if you have not exceeded the exemption. The best example of this is liquor: Say you return from Europe with $200 worth of items, including two liters of liquor. One liter will be duty-free under your exemption; the other will be dutiable at 4 percent, plus any Internal Revenue Service tax.

Family members who live in the same household and return to the United States together can combine their items to take advantage of a combined flat duty rate, no matter which family member owns a given item. The combined flat duty rate for a family of four traveling together would be $4,000.

If you owe duty, you must pay it when you arrive in the United States. You can pay it in any of the following ways:

  • U.S. currency (foreign currency is not acceptable).

  • Personal check in the exact amount, drawn on a U.S. bank, made payable to the U.S. Customs Service. You must present identification, such as a passport or driver's license. (The Customs Service does not accept checks bearing second-party endorsements.)

  • Government check, money order, or traveler's check if it does not exceed the duty owed by more than $50.

  • In some locations, you may pay duty with credit cards, either MasterCard or VISA.


Sending Goods to the United States :

Items mailed to the United States are subject to duty when they arrive. They cannot be included in your Customs exemption, and duty on them cannot be prepaid. 

If you are mailing merchandise from the U.S. insular possessions or from Caribbean Basin countries, you should follow different procedures than if you were mailing packages from any other country. These special procedures are described, in the section on " Unaccompanied Purchases ". 

In addition to duty and, at times, taxes, Customs collects a user fee on dutiable packages. Those three fees are the only fees Customs collects; any additional charges on shipments are for handling by freight forwarders, Customs brokers, and couriers or for other delivery services. Some carriers may add other clearance charges that have nothing to do with Customs duties. 

Note: Customs brokers are not U.S. Customs employees. Brokers' fees are based on the amount of work they do, not on the value of the items you ship, so travelers sometimes find the fee high in relation to the value of the shipment. The most cost-effective thing to do is to take your purchases with you if at all possible. 

Unaccompanied Luggage 
Unaccompanied baggage is anything you do not bring back with you, as opposed to goods in your possession - that accompany you - when you return. These may be items that were with you when you left the United States or items that you acquired (received by any means) while outside the United States. In general, unaccompanied baggage falls into the following three categories. 

U.S. Mail Shipments 
Shipping through the U.S. mail, including parcel post, is a cost-efficient way to send things to the United States. The Postal Service sends all foreign mail shipments to Customs for examination. Customs then returns packages that don't require duty to the Postal Service, which sends them to a local post office for delivery. The local post office delivers them without charging any additional postage, handling costs, or other fees. 

If the package does require payment of duty, Customs attaches a form called a mail entry (form CF-3419A), which shows how much duty is owed, and charges a $5 processing fee as well. When the post office delivers the package, it will also charge a handling fee. 

Commercial goods - goods intended for resale - may have special entry requirements. Such goods may require a formal entry in order to be admitted into the United States. Formal entries are more complicated and require more paperwork than informal entries. (Informal entries are, generally speaking, personal packages worth less than $2,000.) Customs employees may not prepare formal entries for you; only you or a licensed customs broker may prepare one. For more information on this subject, please request the Customs pamphlet U.S. Import Requirements or contact your local Customs office. 

If you believe you have been charged an incorrect amount of duty on a package mailed from abroad, you may file a protest with Customs. You can do this in one of two ways. You can accept the package, pay the duty, and write a letter explaining why you think the amount was incorrect. You should include with your letter the yellow copy of the mail entry (CF-3419A). Send the letter and the form to the Customs office that issued the mail entry, which you'll find on the lower left-hand corner of the form. 

The other way to protest duty is to refuse delivery of the package and, within five days, send your protest letter to the post office where the package is being held. The post office will forward your letter to Customs and will hold your package until the protest is resolved. 

For additional information on international mailing, please ask Customs for the pamphlet International Mail Imports . 

Express Shipments 
Packages may be sent to the United States by private-sector courier or delivery service from anywhere in the world. The express company usually takes care of clearing your merchandise through Customs and charges a fee for its service. Some travelers have found this fee to be higher than they expected. 

Freight Shipments 
Cargo, whether duty is owed on it or not, must clear Customs at the first port of arrival in the United States. If you choose, you may have your freight sent, while it is still in Customs custody, to another port for Customs clearance. This is called forwarding freight in bond. You (or someone you appoint to act for you) are responsible for arranging to clear your merchandise through Customs or for having it forwarded to another port. 

Frequently, a freight forwarder in a foreign country will take care of these arrangements, including hiring a customs broker in the United States to clear the merchandise through Customs. Whenever a third party handles the clearing and forwarding of your merchandise, that party charges a fee for its services. This fee is not a Customs charge. When a foreign seller entrusts a shipment to a broker or agent in the United States, that seller usually pays only enough freight to have the shipment delivered to the first port of arrival in the United States. This means that you, the buyer, will have to pay additional inland transportation, or freight forwarding charges, plus brokers' fees, insurance, and possibly other charges. 

If it is not possible for you to secure release of your goods yourself, another person may act on your behalf to clear them through Customs. You may do this as long as your merchandise consists of a single, noncommercial shipment (not intended for resale) that does not require a formal entry-in other words, if the merchandise is worth less than $2,000. You must give the person a letter that authorizes him or her to act as your unpaid agent. Once you have done this, that person may fill out the Customs declaration and complete the entry process for you. Your letter authorizing the person to act in your behalf should be addressed to the "Officer in Charge of Customs" at the port of entry, and the person should bring it along when he or she comes to clear your package. Customs will not notify you when your shipment arrives, as this is the responsibility of your carrier, If your goods are not cleared within 15 days of arrival you could incur storage fees. 


Unaccompanied Purchases from Insular Possessions and Caribbean Countries :

Unaccompanied purchases are goods you bought on a trip that are being mailed or shipped to you in the United States. In other words, you're not carrying them with you when you return. If your unaccompanied purchases are from an insular possession or a Caribbean Basin country and are being sent directly from those locations to the United States, you may enter them as follows:
Up to $1,200 worth will be duty-free under your personal exemption if the merchandise is from an insular possession.
Up to $600 worth will be duty-free if it is from a Caribbean Basin country. 
Of these amounts ($1,200 or $600), up to $400 worth will be duty-free if the merchandise was acquired elsewhere than the insular possessions or the Caribbean Basin. However, merchandise that qualifies for the $400 exemption must be in your possession when you return (must accompany you) in order for you to claim the duty-free exemption. The duty-free exemptions for unaccompanied baggage apply only to goods from the insular possessions and the Caribbean Basin countries listed earlier.
An additional $1,000 worth of goods will be dutiable at a flat rate if they are from an insular possession, or from a Caribbean Basin country. (See chart under Paying Duty.)
If you are sending back more than $2,200 from an insular possession or more than $1,600 from a Caribbean Basin country, the duty rates in the Harmonized Tariff Schedules of the United States will apply. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule describes different rates of duty for different commodities; linen tablecloths, for example, will not have the same duty rates as handicrafts or plastic toy trucks.

Here's how you can take advantage of the duty-free exemption for unaccompanied tourist purchases from an insular possession or a Caribbean country:

Step 1. At place and time of purchase, ask your merchant to hold your item until you send him or her a copy of Customs Form CF-255 (Declaration of Unaccompanied Articles), which must be affixed to the package when it is sent.

Step 2. (a) On your Customs declaration (form CF-6059B), list everything you acquired on your trip, except the things you already sent home as gifts. (b) Check off on the declaration those items you are not bringing with you--that is, the unaccompanied items. (c) Fill out a separate Declaration of Unaccompanied Articles (form CF-255) for each package or container that will be sent to you after you arrive in the United States. You can often get this form where you make your purchase, but if not, ask a Customs officer for one when you clear Customs.

Step 3. When you return to the United States, the Customs officer will: (a) collect duty and tax, if any is owed, on the goods you've brought with you; (b) check to see that your list of unaccompanied articles, which you indicated on the Customs declaration, agrees with your sales slips, invoices, and so on; and (c) validate the CF-255 as to whether your purchases are duty-free under your personal exemption ($1,200 or $600) or whether they are subject to a flat rate of duty. Two copies of this three-part form will be returned to you.

Step 4. Send the yellow copy of the CF-255 to the foreign shopkeeper or vendor holding your purchase, and keep the other copy for your records. (When you make your purchase, it is very important to tell the merchant not to send your package to the United States until he or she gets the copy of form CF-255.)

Step 5. When the merchant gets your CF-255, he or she will put it in an envelope and attach the envelope securely to the outside wrapping of the package or container. The merchant must also mark each package "Unaccompanied Purchase." Please remember that each package or container must have its own CF-255 attached. This is the most important step to follow in order to gain the benefits allowed under this procedure.

Step 6. If your package has been mailed, the Postal Service will deliver it after it has cleared Customs. If you owe duty, the Postal Service will collect the duty along with a postal handling fee. If your package is delivered by a commercial courier, the delivery service will notify you of its arrival so you can go to the Customs office holding the shipment and complete the entry procedure. If you owe duty or tax, you can pay it at that time. Alternatively, you may hire a customs broker to do this for you, but be aware that brokers are not U.S. Customs employees, and they charge fees for their services.

Storage Charges
If freight or express packages from your trip are delivered before you return and you have not made arrangements to pick them up, Customs will place them in storage after 15 days. This storage will be at your risk and expense. If they are not claimed within six months, the items will be sold at auction.

Packages sent by mail and not claimed within 30 days will be returned to the sender unless the amount of duty is being protested.


Duty-Free Shops :

Many travelers are confused by the term "duty-free" shops. Travelers often think that what they buy in duty-free shops won't be dutiable when they return home and clear Customs. But this is not true: Articles sold in a duty-free shop are free of duty and taxes only for the country in which that shop is located. So if your purchases exceed your personal exemption, items you bought in a duty-free shop, whether in the United States or abroad, will almost certainly be subject to duty.

Articles sold in foreign duty-free shops are subject to U.S. Customs duty and other restrictions (for example, only one liter of liquor is duty-free), but you may include these items in your personal exemption. Articles sold in duty-free shops are meant to be taken out of the country; they are not meant to be used, worn, eaten, drunk, etc., in the country where you purchased them. Articles purchased in American duty-free shops are also subject to U.S. Customs duty if you bring them into the United States. For example, if you buy liquor in a duty-free shop in New York before entering Canada and then bring it back into the United States, it may be subject to duty and Internal Revenue Service tax.


Prohibited and Restricted Items :

Art/Artifacts | Absinthe | Automobiles | Trademarked and Copyrighted Articles | Ceramic Tableware | Dog and Cat Fur | Drug Paraphernalia | Firearms | Fish and Wildlife | Game and Hunting Trophies | Food Products | Meats, Livestock, and Poultry | Fruits and Vegetables | Plants | Gold | Medication | Merchandise from Embargoed Countries | Pets | Textiles and Clothing

The Customs Service has been entrusted with enforcing some 400 laws for 40 other government agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture. These other agencies have great interest in what people bring into the country, but they are not always at ports of entry, guarding our borders. Customs is always at ports of entry - guarding the nation's borders is what we do.

The products we want to keep out of the United States are those that would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children, or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national political interests. Sometimes the products that cause injury, or have the potential to do so, may seem fairly innocent. But, as you will see from the material that follows, appearances can be deceiving.

Before you leave for your trip abroad, you might want to talk to Customs about the items you plan to bring back to be sure they're not prohibited or restricted. Prohibited means the item is forbidden by law to enter the United States, period. Examples are dangerous toys, cars that don't protect their occupants in a crash, or illegal substances like absinthe and Rohypnol. Restricted means that special licenses or permits are required from a federal agency before the item is allowed to enter the United States. Examples are firearms and certain fruits, vegetables, pets, and textiles.

Cultural Artifacts and Cultural Property (Art/Artifacts)

Most countries have laws that protect their cultural property (art/artifacts/antiquities; archaeological and ethnological material are also terms that are used). Such laws include export controls and/or national ownership of cultural property. Even if purchased from a business in the country of origin or in another country, legal ownership of such artifacts may be in question if brought into the U.S. Make certain you have documents such as export permits and receipts, although these do not necessarily confer ownership. While foreign laws may not be enforceable in the U.S., they can cause certain U.S. law to be invoked. For example, as a general rule, under the U.S. National Stolen Property Act, one cannot have legal title to art/artifacts/antiquities that were stolen, no matter how many times such items may have changed hands. Articles of stolen cultural property (from museums or from religious or secular public monuments) originating in any of the countries party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention specifically may not be imported into the U.S.


In addition, U.S. law may restrict importation into the U.S. of specific categories of art/artifacts/antiquities:

U.S. law restricts the import of any Pre-Colombian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from Central and South American countries.
U.S. law specifically restricts the importation of Native American artifacts from Canada; Maya Pre-Colombian archaeological objects from Guatemala; Pre-Colombian archaeological objects from El Salvador and Peru; archaeological objects (such as terra-cotta statues) from Mali; Colonial period objects such as paintings and ritual objects from Peru; Byzantine period ritual and ecclesiastic objects (such as icons) from Cyprus; Khmer stone archaeological sculpture from Cambodia.

Importation of items such as those above is permitted only when the items are accompanied by an export permit issued by the country of origin (where such items were first found). Purveyors of such items have been known to offer phony export certificates. As additional U.S. import restrictions may be imposed in response to requests from other countries, it is wise for the prospective purchaser to visit the State Department's cultural property Web site. This Web site also has images representative of the categories of cultural property for which there are specific U.S. import restrictions.

The importation of Absinthe and any other liquors or liqueurs that contain an excess of Artemisia absinthium is prohibited.

Automobiles imported into the United States must meet the fuel-emission requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the safety, bumper, and theft-prevention standards of the Department of Transportation (DOT). (Please see Customs pamphlets Importing a Car and Pleasure Boats.) Trying to import a car that doesn't meet all the requirements can be a vexing experience. Here's why:

Almost all cars, vans, sport utility vehicles, and so on that are bought in foreign countries must be modified to meet American standards. Passenger vehicles that are imported on the condition that they be modified must be exported or destroyed if they are not modified acceptably.

And even if the car does meet all federal standards, it might be subject to additional EPA requirements, depending on what countries you drove it in. Or it could require a bond upon entry until the conditions for admission have been met. So before you even think about importing a car, you should call EPA and DOT for more information.

Information on importing vehicles can be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency, Attn.: 6405J, Washington, DC 20460, telephone (202) 564-9660, and the Department of Transportation, Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (NEF 32) NHTSA, Washington, DC 20590.

Copies of the Customs Service's pamphlet Importing or Exporting a Car, can be obtained by writing to the U.S. Customs Service, P.O. Box 7407, Washington, DC 20044. EPA's Automotive Imports Fact Manual can be obtained by writing to the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC 20460. Cars being brought into the United States temporarily (for less than one year) are exempt from these restrictions.

Trademarked and Copyrighted Articles
U.S. Customs enforces laws relating to the protection of trademarks and copyrights. Articles that infringe a federally registered trademark or copyright, i.e., that use the protected right without the authorization of the trademark or copyright owner, are subject to detention and seizure.

Articles bearing marks that are counterfeit of a federally registered trademark are subject to seizure and forfeiture. Additionally, the importation of articles bearing counterfeit marks may subject an individual to a civil monetary penalty if the registered trademark has also been recorded with Customs. Articles bearing marks that are confusingly similar to a registered trademark, and gray market articles (goods bearing genuine marks not intended for importation into the United States) may be subject to detention and seizure.

However, passengers arriving into the United States are permitted to import one article, which must accompany the person, bearing a counterfeit, confusingly similar or restricted gray market trademark, provided that the article is for personal use and is not for sale. This exception may be granted not more than once every thirty days. The arriving passenger may retain one article of each type accompanying the person. For example, an arriving person who has three purses, whether each bears a different infringing trademark, or whether all three bear the same infringing trademark, is permitted one purse. If the article imported under the personal exemption provision is sold within one year after the date of importation, the article or its value is subject to forfeiture.

In regard to copyright infringement, articles that are determined to be clearly piratical of a federally register copyright, i.e., unauthorized articles that are substantially similar to a material protected part of a copyright, are subject to seizure. Articles that are determined to be possibly piratical may be subject to detention and possible seizure. A personal use exemption similar to that described above also applies in respect of copyrighted articles.

You may bring back genuine trademarked and copyrighted articles (subject to duties). The copyrighted products most commonly imported include CD-ROMs, tape cassettes, toys, stuffed animals, clothing with cartoon characters, videotapes, videocassettes, music CDs, and books.

Ceramic Tableware
Although ceramic tableware is not prohibited or restricted, you should know that such tableware made in foreign countries may contain dangerous levels of lead in the glaze; this lead can seep into foods and beverages. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that if you buy ceramic tableware abroad - especially in Mexico, China, Hong Kong, or India - you have it tested for lead release when you return, or use it for decorative purposes only.

Dog and Cat Fur
It is illegal in the United States to import, export, distribute, transport, manufacture, or sell products containing dog or cat fur in the United States. As of November 9, 2000, the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000 calls for the seizure and forfeiture of each item containing dog or cat fur.

The Act provides that any person who violates any provision may be assessed a civil penalty of not more that $10,000 for each separate knowing and intentional violation, $5,000 for each separate gross negligent violation, or $3,000 for each separate negligent violation.

Drug Paraphernalia
It is illegal to bring drug paraphernalia into the United States unless they have been prescribed for authentic medical conditions - diabetes, for example. Customs will seize any illegal paraphernalia. The importation, exportation, manufacture, sale, or transportation of drug paraphernalia is prohibited by law. If you're convicted of any of these offenses, you will be subject to fines and imprisonment.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) regulates and restricts firearms and ammunition; it also approves all import transactions involving weapons and ammunition. If you want to import (or export) either of them, you must do so through a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer. Also, if the National Firearms Act prohibits certain weapons, ammunition, or similar devices from coming into the country, you won't be able to import them unless the ATF specifically authorizes you, in writing, to do so.

You don't need an ATF permit if you can demonstrate that you are returning with the same firearms or ammunition that you took out of the United States. The best way is to register your firearms and related equipment by taking them to any Customs office before you leave the United States. The Customs officer will register them on the same form CF-4457 used to register cameras or computers (see "Register Items Before You Leave the United States").

For further information about importing weapons, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Washington, DC 20226; or call (202) 927-8320.

Many countries will not allow you to enter with a firearm even if you are only traveling through the country on the way to your final destination. If you plan to take your firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy to learn about its regulations. And please visit your nearest Customs office before your departure to learn the latest requirements for weapons and ammunition registration.

Fish and Wildlife
Fish, wildlife, and products made from them are subject to import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits or certificates, and quarantine requirements. We recommend that you contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before you depart if you plan to import or export any of the following:

Wild birds, land or marine mammals, reptiles, fish, shellfish, mollusks, or invertebrates.
Any part or product of the above, such as skins, tusks, bone, feathers, or eggs.
Products or articles manufactured from wildlife or fish.

Endangered species of wildlife, and products made from them, generally may not be imported or exported. You'll need a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service to import virtually all types of ivory, unless it's from a warthog. The Fish and Wildlife Service has so many restrictions and prohibitions on various kinds of ivory - Asian elephant, African elephant, whale, rhinoceros, seal, pre-Endangered Species Act, post-CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), and many others - that they urge you to contact them before you even think of acquiring ivory in a foreign country. They can be reached at (800) 358-2104.

But you may import an object made of ivory if it's an antique; that is, if it's at least 100 years old. You will need documentation that authenticates the age of the ivory. You may import other antiques containing wildlife parts with the same condition: they must be accompanied by documentation proving they are at least 100 years old. (Certain other requirements for antiques may apply.)

For example: If you plan to buy such things as tortoiseshell jewelry, leather goods, or articles made from whalebone, ivory, skins, or fur, please, before you go, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 3247, Arlington, VA 22203-3247, or call (800) 358-2104. Hunters can get information on the limitations for importing and exporting migratory game birds from this office as well. Ask for the pamphlet Facts About Federal Wildlife Laws.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has designated specific ports of entry to handle fish and wildlife entries. If you plan to import anything discussed in this section, please also contact the Customs Service. We'll tell you about designated ports and send you the brochure Pets and Wildlife, which describes the regulations we enforce for all agencies that oversee the importation of animals.

Some states have fish and wildlife laws and regulations that are stricter than federal laws and regulations. If you're returning to such a state, be aware that the stricter state laws and regulations have priority. Similarly, the federal government does not allow you to import into the United States wild animals that were taken, killed, sold, possessed, or exported from another country if any of these acts violated foreign laws.



Game and Hunting Trophies
If you plan to import game or a hunting trophy, please contact the Fish and Wildlife Service before you leave at (800) 358-2104. Currently, 14 Customs ports of entry are designated to handle game and trophies; other Customs ports must get approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service to clear your entry.

Depending on the species you bring back, you might need a permit from the country where the animal was harvested. Regardless of the species, you'll have to fill out a Fish and Wildlife form 3-177, Declaration for Importation or Exportation.

Trophies may also be subject to inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for sanitary purposes. General guidelines for importing trophies can be found in APHIS's publication Traveler's Tips. Contact USDA-APHIS-PPQ, Permit Unit, 4700 River Road, Unit 133, Riverdale, MD 20737, or call(301) 734-8645.

Also, federal regulations do not allow the importation of any species into a state with fish or wildlife laws that are more restrictive than federal laws. And if foreign laws were violated in the taking, sale, possession, or export to the United States of wild animals, those animals will not be allowed entry into the United States.

There are many regulations, enforced by various agencies, governing the importation of animals and animal parts. Failure to comply with them could result in time-consuming delays in clearing your trophy through Customs. You should always call for guidance before you depart.

Food Products
You may bring bakery items and certain cheeses into the United States. APHIS publishes a booklet, Traveler's Tips, that offers extensive information about bringing food products into the country. For more information, or for a copy of Traveler's Tips, contact USDA-APHIS (see the section on "Game and Hunting Trophies" section).

Some imported foods are also subject to requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.

Meats, Livestock, and Poultry
The regulations governing meat and meat products are very strict: you may not bring back fresh, dried, or canned meats or meat products from most foreign countries. Also, you may not bring in food products that have been prepared with meat.

The regulations on importing meat and meat products change frequently because they are based on disease outbreaks in different areas of the world. APHIS, which regulates meats and meat products as well as fruits and vegetables, invites you to call for more information on importing meats. Contact USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services, National Center for Import/Export (NCIE), 4700 River Road, Unit 40, Riverdale, MD 20737-1231; call(301) 734-7830.

Fruits and Vegetables
Bringing home fruits and vegetables can be quite troublesome. That apple you bought in the foreign airport just before boarding and then didn't eat? Whether Customs will allow it into the United States depends on where you got it and where you're going after you arrive in the United States. The same is true for those magnificent Mediterranean tomatoes. Fresh fruits and vegetables can carry plant pests or diseases into the United States.

You may remember the Med fly hysteria of the late 1980s: Stories about crop damage caused by the Mediterranean fruit fly were in the papers for months. The state of California and the federal government together spent some $100 million to get rid of this pest. And the source of the outbreak? One traveler who brought home one contaminated piece of fruit.

It's best not to bring fresh fruits or vegetables into the United States. But if you plan to, call APHIS and get a copy of Traveler's Tips, which lists what you can and can't bring, and also items for which you'll need a permit. For more information, visit or

The plants, cuttings, seeds, unprocessed plant products, and certain endangered species that are allowed into the United States require import permits; some are prohibited entirely. Threatened or endangered species that are permitted must have export permits from the country of origin.

Every single plant or plant product must be declared to the Customs officer and must be presented for USDA inspection, no matter how free of pests it appears to be. Address requests for information to USDA-APHIS-PPQ, 4700 River Road, Unit 139, Riverdale, MD 20737-1236; phone (301) 734-8295; or visit

Gold coins, medals, and bullion, formerly prohibited, may be brought into the United States. However, under regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, such items originating in or brought from Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, and Sudan are prohibited entry. Copies of gold coins are prohibited if not properly marked by country of issuance.

Rule of thumb: When you go abroad, take the medicines you'll need, no more, no less.

Narcotics and certain other drugs with a high potential for abuse - Rohypnol, GHB, and Fen-Phen, to name a few - may not be brought into the United States, and there are severe penalties for trying to bring them in. If you need medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics (e.g., some cough medicines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, or stimulants), do the following:

Declare all drugs, medicinals, and similar products to the appropriate Customs official.
Carry all drugs, medicinals, and similar products in their original containers.
Carry only the quantity of such substances that a person with that condition(e.g., chronic pain) would normally carry for his/her use.
Carry a prescription or written statement from your physician that the substances are being used under a doctor's supervision and that they are necessary for your physical well-being while traveling. 

U.S. residents entering the United States at international land borders, who are carrying a validly obtained controlled substance (except narcotics such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or LSD), are subject to certain additional requirements. If a U.S. resident wants to bring in a controlled substance other than narcotics such as marijuana, cocaine, heroine, or LSD, but does not have a prescription for the substance issued by a U.S.-licensed practitioner (e.g., physician, dentist, etc.) registered with and authorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prescribe the mediation, the individual may not import more than 50 dosage units of the medication. if the U.S. Resident has a prescription for the controlled substance issued by a DEA registrant, more than 50 dosage units may be imported by that person, provided all other legal requirements are met.

Please note that only medications that can be legally prescribed in the United States may be imported for personal use. Be aware that possession of certain substances may also violate state laws.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the importation, by mail or in person, of fraudulent prescription and nonprescription drugs and medical devices. These include unorthodox "cures" for such medical conditions as cancer, AIDS, arthritis, or multiple sclerosis. Although such drugs or devices may be legal elsewhere, if the FDA has not approved them for use in the United States, they may not legally enter the country and will be confiscated if found, even if they were obtained under a foreign physician's prescription.

For specifics about importing controlled substances call (202) 307-2414. For additional information about traveling with medication, contact your nearest FDA office or write Food and Drug Administration, Division of Import Operations and Policy, Room 12-8 (HFC-170), 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857, or read the FDA's Subchapter on Coverage of Personal Importations.

Merchandise from Embargoed Countries
Generally, you may not bring in any goods from the following countries: Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran*, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, and Sudan. The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department enforces this ban.

You may, however, bring in informational materials - pamphlets, books, tapes, films or recordings - from these countries, except for Iraq.

If you want to import merchandise from any of these countries, you will first need a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Such licenses are rarely granted.

There are restrictions on travel to these countries. The restrictions are strictly enforced, so if you're thinking about going to any of the countries on this list, write to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of the Treasury, Washington, DC 20220, before you make your plans.

*The embargo on Iranian goods is being revised to allow the importation of carpets and foods for human consumption such as caviar and pistachios. Please check with your local port to find out when the new regulations are scheduled to take effect. Until the new regulations are published, the complete embargo is still in force.



If you plan to take your pet abroad or import one on your return, please get a copy of Customs booklet, Pets & Wildlife. You should also check with state, county, and local authorities to learn if their restrictions and prohibitions on pets are more strict than federal requirements.

Importing animals is closely regulated for public health reasons and also for the well-being of the animals. There are restrictions and prohibitions on bringing many species into the United States.

Cats must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to humans when they are examined at the port of entry. If the cat does not seem to be in good health, the owner may have to pay for an additional examination by a licensed veterinarian.

Dogs, too, must be free of evidence of diseases that could be communicable to humans. Puppies must be confined at a place of the owner's choosing until they are three months old; then they must be vaccinated against rabies. The puppy will then have to stay in confinement for another 30 days.

Dogs older than three months must get a rabies vaccination at least 30 days before they come to the United States and must be accompanied by a valid rabies vaccination certificate if coming from a country that is not rabies-free. This certificate should identify the dog, show the date of vaccination and the date it expires (there are one-year and three-year vaccinations), and be signed by a licensed veterinarian. If the certificate does not have an expiration date, Customs will accept it as long as the dog was vaccinated 12 months or less before coming to the United States. Dogs coming from rabies-free countries do not have to be vaccinated.

You may import birds as pets as long as you comply with APHIS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife requirements. These requirements may include quarantining the birds at one of APHIS' three Animal Import Centers at your expense. You must make advance reservations at the quarantine facility. If you intend to import a bird, call APHIS' National Center for Import and Export at (301) 734-8364 for more information. In any case, birds may only be imported through ports of entry where a USDA port veterinarian is on duty, any you must make arrangements in advance to have the bird examined by a USDA port veterinarian at the first U.S. port of entry. There is a user fee for this service of a minimum of $23.00 based on an hourly rate of $76/hour. For more information, you may contact the USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Center for Import and Export (NCIE), 4700 River Road, Unit 40, Riverdale, MD 20737-1231; phone number (301) 734-8364.

Textiles and Clothing
In general, there is no limit to how much fabric and clothing you can bring back as long as it is for your personal use, that is, for you or as gifts. (You may have to pay duty on it if you've exceeded your personal exemption, but the amount you may bring in is not limited.)

Unaccompanied shipments (packages that are mailed or shipped), however, may be subject to limitations on amount. The quantity limitations on clothing and textiles are called "quotas." In order to enter the United States, clothing and textiles may need to be accompanied by a document - you could think of it as a passport for fabrics - called a "visa." Sometimes, instead of a visa, an export license or certificate is required from the country that produced the clothing. A formal entry must be filed for all made-to-order suits from Hong Kong, no matter what their value, unless they accompany you and an export license issued by Hong Kong is presented with this entry. If you plan to get clothing or fabric on your trip and have it sent to you by mail or courier, check with Customs about quota and visa requirements before you travel.


Money and Other Monetary Instruments :

You may bring into or take out of the country, including by mail, as much money as you wish. But if it's more than $10,000, you'll need to report it to Customs. Ask the Customs officer for the Currency Reporting Form (CF 4790). The penalties for not complying can be quite severe. 

"Money" means monetary instruments and includes U.S. or foreign coin currently in circulation, currency, traveler's checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form. 


Traveling Back and Forth Across the Border :

If you cross the U.S. border into a foreign country and reenter the United States more than once in a short time, you might not want to use your personal exemption ($800 in this example) until you've returned to the United States for the last time. Here's why: 

When you leave the United States, come back, leave again, and then come back again, all on the same trip, you can lose your Customs exemption, since you've technically violated the "once every 30 days" rule. So if you know that your trip will involve these so-called "swing-backs," you can choose to save your personal exemption until the end of your trip. 

For example, say you go to Canada, buy a liter of liquor, reenter the United States, then go back to Canada and buy $500 worth of merchandise and more liquor. You would probably want to save your $800 exemption for those final purchases and not use it for that first liter of liquor. In this case, on your first swing-back, simply tell the Customs inspector that you want to pay duty on the liquor, even though you could bring it in duty-free. (If you did, you would lose the $800 exemption, since it's only available to you once every 30 days.) In other words, all you have to do is tell the inspector that you want to pay duty the first (or second or third) time you come back to the United States if you know that you'll be leaving again soon, buying goods or getting them as gifts, and then reentering before the 30 days are up. In such a case, you're better off saving your exemption until the last time you reenter the United States. 


Photographic Film :

Customs will not examine film you bought abroad and are bringing back unless the Customs officer has reason to believe it contains prohibited material, such as child pornography. 

You won't be charged duty on film bought in the United States and exposed abroad, whether it's developed or not. But film you bought and developed abroad counts as a dutiable item. 


Customer Service Programs and Other Travel-related Information :

Customer Service Programs
The Customs Service is expanding its methods of improving customer service to international travelers at major U.S. travel hubs. One method is having supervisory Customs inspectors, called passenger service representatives, available to travelers on a full-time basis at more than 20 international airports and some seaports and land border ports of entry. The representatives' major purpose is to help travelers clear Customs.

Photos of the passenger service reps are posted wherever the program is operating, so you can find them if you need assistance. If you have a concern or need help understanding Customs regulations and procedures, ask to speak with the passenger service rep on duty.

The second initiative involves kiosks, the sort of automated booths you see in malls, banks, department stores, and airports. Customs Service kiosks are located at international airports.

Think of them as automated passenger service reps: They're self-service computers with a touch-screen display. All you have to do is type in your country of destination and the computer will print the information for you. The screen displays a telephone number to call for more information. The kiosks also have pockets with Customs pamphlets on a variety of topics of interest to travelers: regulations on transporting currency, agriculture and food items, medicines, and pets, to name just a few.

Customs kiosks are located in the outbound passenger lounges at the following international airports: Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Detroit; Houston; JFK, New York; Los Angeles; Miami; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; San Francisco; San Juan; and Washington/Dulles. More kiosks are planned.

If you have any questions about Customs procedures, requirements, or policies regarding travelers, or if you have any complaints about treatment you have received from Customs inspectors or about your Customs processing, please contact:

Executive Director, Passenger Programs
U.S. Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Room 5.4D
Washington, DC 20229 

Allegations of criminal or serious misconduct may be reported to the Office of Internal Affairs at 1-877-IA CALLS. You may also write them at P.O. Box 14475, Washington, D.C. 20044.

Other Travel-related Information
Frequently, we are asked questions that are not customs matters. If you want to know about:

Immigration- The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is responsible for the movement of people in and out of the United States. Please contact the Department of Justice, INS, for questions concerning resident alien and nonresident visa and passport information at 800-375-5283

Passports are issued by the U.S. Department of State's Passport Agency. Please contact the passport agency nearest you for more information. Postal clerks also accept passport application.

Baggage allowance- Ask the airline or steamship line you are traveling for more information.

Currency of other Nations- Your local bank can be of assistance.

Foreign countries- For information about the country you will visit or about what articles may be taken into that country, contact its embassy, consular office, or tourist information office


Frequently Asked Questions from U.S. Residents Who Travel Abroad :

Q: What documents do I need to travel to another country or be readmitted into the United States? 

A: You must check with your designation country's embassy or consulate to find out which documents are required to enter their country. To reenter the United States you generally must have a passport or proof of residency. Please contact the Immigration and Naturalization Service for specific information.

Q: How do I apply for a passport? 

A: Passports are issued by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State. 

Q: I am here on a Visa. Can I leave and come back into the United States? 

A: There are many types of visas issued to visitors to the United States. Each visa has certain restrictions placed on it. The Office of Consular Affairs has general information about travel restrictions associated with each visa. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is the agency that enforces those restrictions. If you believe you have a situation that is not covered by the general guidelines, you should contact them for more information. 

Q: What can I take into France, China, etc.? 

A: Each country's laws are different. Check with the nearest consulate office for information on a particular country that you will be visiting. The airlines that fly to the country you are interested in may also be of assistance. 

Q: How can I get my VAT refunded? 

A: As a general rule, you must obtain your VAT (value added tax) refund as you are leaving the country where you paid VAT as part of the purchase price of an item. Most countries will not refund the tax after you have departed their country. In some cases, embassies in the United States will assist you in applying for a refund from the country they represent, although they will require proof that the item you purchased in their country was exported to the United States. If you want a VAT refund, you should plan on extra time at the airport or land border departure point to have the refund paperwork processed. The United States does not have a VAT or other federal tax on goods and services. Many travelers to the United States mistake state taxes for VAT, and wrongly assume they can be refunded. There is no refund for taxes on goods and services purchased in the United States. Many countries have a sales tax which they term Value Added Tax (VAT). Visitors to these countries can obtain refunds by mail for the VAT they pay in the stores if they have the proper form stamped by Customs at the airport. Many American tourists understand this requirement to mean that U.S. Customs Service is the validating agency. This is not true. The only agency that can validate a VAT form is an agency of the country where the purchase was made. The visitor must allow extra time before departing to have their form stamped. Some countries have kiosks in the airport for this purpose. In others, the visitor must seek out the Customs office. If a traveler has returned to the U.S. without having their form stamped, some countries, like Ireland, have a procedure to assist them in obtaining a refund. Others, such as Italy, have no alternative but to return to their country within a specific time frame with both the form and the purchase. Travelers with additional questions should contact the tourism office of the country they visited. These offices can be found by contacting the appropriate embassy in Washington, or the consular office that some countries have in major cities.

Q: Why Was I Charged Duty on My Duty-free Purchases? 

A: Many travelers are confused by the term "duty-free" as it relates to merchandise they buy in duty-free shops. Buying an item in a duty-free shop does not mean that you will not have to pay duty on the item when you take it into your destination country. It only means that the item you are buying does not reflect the cost of duty or taxes that would have been added to the item if it had been formally imported into the country where the duty-free shop is located. Duty-free shops are shops where taxes on commercial goods are neither collected by a government, nor paid by an importer. An English-made wool sweater purchased in a clothing store in Germany may cost you $250.00, a price that includes the duty and taxes that the importer paid to import it. The same sweater purchased in a duty-free shop may only cost $225.00. That's because as long as the sweater stays in the duty-free shop, or exits the country with the purchaser, it has not been formally imported into the country. There has been no duty charged on the sweater, and the duty-free shop owner has been able to pass that savings on to you. Its price is free of duty, or "duty-free". Now, when you bring that same sweater back home with you to the U.S., you may have to pay duty on the sweater if you exceed your personal exemption.


Q: Why Did U.S. Customs Take My Food? 

A: Because Customs inspectors are stationed at ports of entry and along our land and sea borders, they are often called upon to enforce laws and requirements of other Government agencies. This is done to protect community health, preserve domestic plant and animal life, etc. Most fruits and vegetables are either prohibited from entering the United States or require an import permit. Every fruit or vegetable must be declared to the Customs officer and must be presented for inspection, no matter how free of pests it appears to be. Failure to declare all food products can result in civil penalties. Meats, livestock, poultry, and their by-products are either prohibited or restricted from entering the United States, depending on the animal disease condition in the country of origin. Fresh meat is generally prohibited from most countries. Canned, cured, or dried meat is severely restricted from most countries. Bakery items and all cured cheeses are generally admissible. You should contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Services for more detailed information.

Q: How Can I Prove I Didn't Buy My Watch/Camera During My Trip Outside the United States? 

A: Foreign-made personal articles taken abroad are subject to duty each time they are brought back into the United States unless you have acceptable proof of prior possession. Documents which fully describe the article, such as a bill of sale, insurance policy, jeweler's appraisal, or receipt for purchase, may be considered reasonable proof of prior possession. Items such as watches, cameras, compact disc players, or other articles which may be readily identified by a permanently affixed serial number or marking, may be taken to the Customs office nearest you and registered before your departure. The Certificate of Registration (CF 4457) that you will be given will expedite the free entry of these items when you return. Keep the certificate as it is valid for as long as you own the article(s).


Source : US Customs Office


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