Customs Guide

When you are about to relocate to a foreign country, one of the most exciting thoughts is that you can then access the various cultural and historical artifacts of that country and bring them home. All of us love to carry back memoirs of a foreign and exotic land and spend a substantial amount of money buying typical objects of art and culture not just for our homes but also for friends and family. The renewed excitement of getting back home is often marred right at the airport, when we are caught in the US customs booth, for bringing in goods which are either not permitted in this country or we have to pay heavy duty for such items. Both ways, we cut a sorry figure as all these incidents take most of us by surprise. As an American citizen there are various rules which you must be aware of before you leave the country as well as rules which are applicable when you bring back goods from a foreign country.

One of the first things that you must remember before leaving the country is to register many of the items that you are likely to carry on your trip abroad. This will help you a lot with customs officials when you return to the country. For instance, your constant companion the laptop, made in Japan, may attract heavy customs duty every time you re-enter the US, unless you can give the customs authorities adequate proof that you owned it even before you left the United States. Documents which are needed as proof of ownership include sales receipts, insurance documents, etc. In fact, it is a good idea to register many of the items with CBP (short form for Customs and Border Protection). The US CBP is a body within the Department of Homeland Security which is responsible for keeping America’s borders safe. Items which you could register with CBP could include, watches, cameras, CD or DVD players, ipods, firearms etc which ought to have their serial numbers or any other unique markings intact. All you have to do is to take these items to your nearest CBP office and request for a Certificate of Registration (CBP Form 4457). This will be a proof that you had these items before you left the country and provide duty-free re-entry. Remember that the CBP officials need to physically see the items in order to provide the Certificate of Registration. Facilities of registration with CBP are also available at all the international airports of the country. You can keep this Certificate for all future trips.

Few of the things which you must declare with US customs on re-entry include:

  • Items you purchased during your stay abroad and are carrying with you.
  • Items you received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday presents.
  • Items you inherited.
  • Items you bought in duty-free shops, on the ship, or on the 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 as gifts for someone else.
  • Items you intend to sell or use in your business.

The CBP declaration which you have to provide must mention how much you paid for each item, in US currency. In case you are not too sure about the price, at least make a guesstimate. If you are asked to value a gift which you received in a foreign country, try and estimate its retail value in the country where you received the gift. The important thing to remember is that even if you have used the item while abroad, it can still attract duty.