Customs Information

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

United States residents must declare all articles acquired abroad and in their possession at the time of their return. In addition, articles acquired in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam and not accompanying you must be declared at the time of your return. The wearing or use of an article acquired abroad does not exempt it from duty. Customs declaration forms are distributed on vessels and planes, and should be prepared in advance of arrival for presentation to the customs inspectors.

If you have not exceeded the duty-free exemption allowed, you may make an oral declaration to the customs inspector. However, the inspector can request a written declaration and may do so. A written declaration is necessary when (1) the total fair retail value of articles exceeds the personal exemption of $400; (2) over 1 liter of liquor, 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigars are included; (3) items are not intended for your personal or household use, or articles brought home for another person; (4) when a customs duty or internal revenue tax is collectible on any article in your possession; and (5) if your personal exemption was used in the last 30 days.

An exception to the above are regulations applicable to articles purchased in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam where you may receive a customs exemption of $1,200. Not more than $400 of this exemption may be applied to merchandise obtained elsewhere than in these islands or $600 if acquired in a Caribbean Basin beneficiary country. Five liters of alcoholic beverages and 1000 cigarettes may be included provided not more than one liter and 200 cigarettes were acquired elsewhere than in these islands. Articles acquired in and sent from these islands to the United States may be claimed under your duty-free personal exemption if properly declared at the time of your return. For information on rules applying to beneficiary countries and a list of them check with your local Customs office or write for the pamphlet “GSP and the Traveler” from the U.S. Customs Services, P.O. Box 7407, Washington, DC 20044. Since rules change it is always wise to check with customs before leaving, to get information pertinent to the areas you will be visiting.

Articles accompanying you, in excess of your personal exemption, up to $1000 will be assessed at a flat rate of duty of 10% based on fair retail value in country of acquisition. (If articles were acquired in the insular possessions, the flat rate of duty is 5% and these goods may accompany you or be shipped home.) These articles must be for your personal use or for use as gifts and not for sale. This provision may be used every 30 days, excluding the day of your last arrival. Any items which have a “free” duty rate will be excluded before duty is calculated.

You may mail articles bought for your personal use back to the U.S. at a duty free rate of $200 per day (excluding restricted items such as liquor).

Other exemptions include in part: automobiles, boats, planes, or other vehicles taken abroad for noncommercial use. Foreign-made personal articles (e.g., watches, cameras, etc.) taken abroad should be registered with Customs before departure. Customs will register anything with a serial number or identifying marks. Sales receipt or insurance document are sufficient Customs identification. Registration of articles for which you have documented proof of purchase is redundant and is not necessary. Gifts of not more than $100 can be shipped back to the United States tax and duty free ($200 if mailed from the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam). Household effects and tools of trade which you take out of the United States are duty free at time of return.

Prohibited and restricted articles include in part: absinthe, narcotics and dangerous drugs, obscene articles and publications, seditious and treasonable materials, hazardous articles (e.g., fireworks, dangerous toys, toxic and poisonous substances, and switchblade knives), biological materials of public health or veterinary importance, fruit, vegetables and plants, meats, poultry and products thereof, birds, monkeys, and turtles. You can get additional information on this subject from the publication Pets, Wildlife, U.S. Customs. For a free copy write to the U.S. Customs Service, P.O. Box 7407, Washington, DC 20044.

If you understate the value of an article you declare, or if you otherwise misrepresent an article in your declaration, you may have to pay a penalty in addition to payment of duty. Under certain circumstances, the article could be seized and forfeited if the penalty is not paid.

If you fail to declare an article acquired abroad, not only is the article subject to seizure and forfeiture, but you will be liable for a personal penalty in an amount equal to the value of the article in the United States. In addition, you may also be liable to criminal prosecution.

If you carry more than $10,000 into or out of the United States in currency (either United States or foreign money), negotiable instruments in bearer form, or travelers checks, a report must be filed with United States Customs at the time you arrive or depart with such amounts.

For more information about Customs regulations for travelers, write the U.S. Customs Service, P.O. Box 7407, Washington, DC 20044 for a copy of “Know Before You Go.”

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