Travel Advice/Travel Tips - Some Facts You Need to Know About Clearing Customs
Buying goods and gifts is an important part of most journeys. When you are returning home from a U.S. based vacation with gifts for friends, you get off the plane and go home.
"Duty" and "dutiable" are two additional words you need to understand to prepare for clearing Customs.
If you are traveling by air or sea, you may be asked to fill out a Customs Declaration Form before disembarking the transport. The airline or cruise line usually provides this form. If the form is not available from your transportation provider, a form will be available when you arrive at the Customs Hall.
You will find it easier and faster to fill out the Declaration Form if you do the following:
Under U.S. law, Customs inspectors are authorized to examine luggage and cargo. Under the search authority granted to Customs by the U.S. government, every passenger who crosses a U.S. border may be searched.
What items do you need to declare on your Customs Declaration?
You are required to declare the following items:
1. Items you purchased abroad and are carrying with you upon return to the United States.
2. Items you received as gifts while outside of the US, such as wedding or birthday presents.
3. Items you inherited (and transferred to you while you were outside of the U.S.).
4. Items you bought in duty-free shops or on the ship or plane.
5. Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free of charge.
6. Items you brought home for someone else.
7. Items you intend to sell or use in your business.
You must state on the Customs Declaration Form, the cost, in United States dollars, you actually paid for each item. The price must include all foreign taxes.
If the item was 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 is still dutiable. You must declare the item at the price you paid or, if it was a gift, at its fair market value.
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.
The duty-free exemptions ($600 (24 Caribbean Basin countries), $1,200 (US Insular possessions), or $800 (ROW – Rest of the World)) apply if:
1. The items you are carrying are for your personal or household use.
2. The goods are in your possession (that is, they accompany you) when you return to the United States. Items mailed back home may not be included in your $800 duty-free exemption.
3. They are "declared" to Customs. If you do not declare something that should have been declared, you risk forfeiting the object if it is discovered during the Customs process. If in doubt, declare it.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. If you cannot claim other exemptions because you have been out of the country more than once in a 30-day period or because you have not 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.
7. The items are not prohibited or restricted. Visit the Customs Service Web site ( http://www.customs.gov/xp/cgov/travel/ ) to familiarize yourself with items on the restricted list.
Gifts you bring back from a trip abroad are considered by the Customs Service 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 have brought back for others.
Packages mailed home from abroad
Duty on items you mail home to yourself will be waived if the value is $200 or less. Antiques that are at least 100 years old and items of fine art may enter duty-free, but folk art and handicrafts are generally dutiable.
Passing Customs is serious business for the traveler. The Customs inspectors frequently “sample” travelers from flights or cruises to ensure that they have declared all of their goods and that they are not attempting to import and illegal goods or information.
I have been stopped, questioned and had my bags searched many times, as I must fit a profile. On one occasion, I was shunted to a special station and told by the Customs Agent that she was examining my bags to ensure that I had complied with currency rules and was not bringing more that $10,000 of U.S. currency into the country. After a short search of my luggage, the Agent gave me a clean bill of health. Obviously! If I had $10,000 in cash, I would have still been on vacation.
At times, the length of passing through customs is irritating. Take our recommendation and avoid attracting attention. Even if you have complied with all regulation, the extra time that you could spend in Customs examination far exceeds the amount of time you will spend if you just go with the flow. The inspectors are friendly, serious, hard working and have heard all of the jokes and all of the excuses a million times before. Make their job easier and comply with the regulations and their requests.
For the latest information about the changing world of the Customs Service, visit www.customs.gov to be sure you know your obligations under the laws the Customs enforces.
If you need to find information about Destinations or other Things Travelers Need To Know, try Googling ThereArePlaces.