Know Before You Go!

U.S. Customs Information for Travelers

The U.S. Customs Service is happy to provide the following information for U.S. residents returning from travels abroad.


Your Declaration

You must declare all articles acquired abroad and in your possession at the time of your return. This includes:

In addition, you must declare any articles acquired in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam and not accompanying you at the time of your return.

The price actually paid for each article must be stated on your declaration in U.S. currency or its equivalent in country of acquisition. If not purchased, obtain an estimate of the article's fair market value in the country in which it was acquired.

NOTE: The wearing or use of an article acquired abroad does not exempt it from duty. It must be declared at the price you paid for it. the Customs officer will make an appropriate reduction in its value for significant wear and tear.


If you understate the value of an article or otherwise misrepresent an article in your declaration, you may have to pay a penalty in addition to payment of duty. Under certain circumstance 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 for criminal prosecution.

Your Exemptions

In clearing U.S. Customs, a traveler is considered either a "returning resident of the united states" or a "nonresident".

Generally speaking, if you leave the United States for purposes of traveling, working or studying abroad and return to resume residency in the United States, you are considered a returning resident by Customs.

However, U.S. residents living abroad temporarily are entitled to be classified as nonresidents, and thus receive more liberal Customs exemptions, on short visit to the United States, provided they export any foreign-acquired items at the completion of their visit.

Articles acquired abroad and brought into the United States are subject to applicable duty and internal revenue tax, but as returning resident you are allowed certain exemptions from paying duty on items obtained while abroad.

$400 Exemption

Articles totaling $400 (based on the fair retail value of each item in the country where acquired) may be entered free of duty, subject to the limitations on liquor, cigarettes, and cigars, if:

Cigars and Cigarettes:

Not more than 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes (one carton) may be included in your exemption. This exemption is available to each person regardless of age.  Your cigarettes, however, may be subject to a tax imposed by state and local authorities.


One liter (33.8 fl oz) of alcoholic beverage may be included in this exemption if:

NOTE: In states where state and federal laws differ, state law prevails. Alcoholic beverages in excess of the one-liter limitation are subject to duty and internal revenue tax.

$600 and $1200 exemptions

If you return directly or indirectly from a U.S. insular possession-American Samoa, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands- you may receive a customs exemption of $1200 (based upon the transaction value of the articles in country where acquired). You may also bring in 1,000 cigarettes, but only 200 of them may have been acquired elsewhere.

If you return from any of the following beneficiary countries, your customs exemption is $600, based upon fair market value:

Antigua and Barbuda Grenada Panama
Aruba Guatemala Saint Christopher/Kitts and Nevis
Bahamas Haiti Saint Lucia
Barbados Honduras Saint Vincent nad the Grenadines
Costa Rica Montserrat Trinidad and Tobago
Dominica Netherlands Virgin Islands, British
Dominican Republic Antilles Belize
El Salvador Nicaragua Jamaica

In the case of the $1200 exemption, up to $600 worth of the merchandise may have been obtained in any of the beneficiary countries listed above, or up to $400 in any other country.

For example, if you traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Jamaica and then returned home you would be entitled to bring in $1200 worth of merchandise duty-free. Of this amount, $600 worth may have been acquired in Jamaica.

In the case of the $600 exemption, up to $400 worth of merchandise may have been acquired in other foreign countries. For instance, if you travel to England and the Bahamas, and then return home, your exemption is $600, $400 of which may have been acquired in England.

$25 Exemption

If you cannot clam the $400,$600, or $1200 exemptions because of the 30-day or 48-hour minimum limitations, you may bring in free of duty and tax articles acquired abroad for your personal or household use if the total fair retail value does not exceed $25. This is an individual exemption and may not be grouped with other members of a family on one customs declaration.

You may include any of the following: 50 cigarettes, 10 cigars, 150 milliliters (4 fl. oz) of alcoholic beverages, or 150 milliliters (4 fl. oz) of perfume containing alcohol.

If any article brought with you is subject to duty or tax, or if the total value of all dutiable articles exceeds $25, no article may be exempted from duty or tax.


Bona fide gifts of not more than $200 in fair retail value where shipped can be received by friends and relatives in the United States free of duty and tax, if the same person does not receive more than $200 in gift shipments in one day. The "day" in reference is the day in which the parcel(s) are received for customs processing.

Gifts accompanying you are considered to be for personal use and may be included in your exemption. Gifts intended for business, promotional or other commercial purposes may not be included.

Perfume containing alcohol and valued at more than $5 retail, tobacco products, and alcoholic beverages are excluded from the gift provision.

Gifts intended for more than one person may be consolidated in the same package provided they are individually wrapped and labeled with the name of the recipient.

Be sure the outer wrapping of the package is marked:

1) unsolicited gift,
2) nature of the gift, and
3) its fair retail value.
In addition, a consolidated gift parcel should be marked as such on the outside with the names of the recipients listed and the value of each gift.

If any article imported in the gift parcel is subject to duty or tax, or if the total value oaf all the articles exceeds the bona fide gift allowance, no article may be exempted from duty or tax.

If a parcel is subject to duty, the United States Postal Service will collect the duty plus a handling charge in the form of "Postage Due" stamps. Duty cannot be prepaid.

Other Articles: free of duty or dutiable

Duty preferences are granted to certain developing countries, and other nations based on trade initiatives and acts. Check with your nearest Customs District Office for more information.

The North American free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented on January 1, 1994. U.S. residents returning directly or indirectly from Canada or Mexico are eligible for free or reduced duty rates as applicable, on goods originating in Canada or Mexico as defined in the Agreement.

Personal belongings:

Personal belongings of United States origin are entitled to entry free of duty.

Foreign made personal belongings:

These articles are dutiable each time they are brought into our country unless you have acceptable proof of prior possession. Documents that fully describe the article, such as bill of sale, insurance policy, jeweler's appraisal, or receipt of purchase, may be considered reasonable proof of prior possession.

Items that can be readily identified by serial number or other permanently affixed markings, may be taken to the Customs office nearest you and registered before your departure. The Certificate of Registration provided will expedite free entry of these items when you return. Keep the certificate as it is valid for any future trips as long as the information on it remains legible.

Registration cannot be accomplished by telephone nor can blank registration forms be given or mailed to you to be filled out at a later time.

Automobiles, Boats, and Airplanes

These or other vehicles taken abroad for noncommercial use may be returned duty free by proving to the Customs officer that you took them out of the United States.

Dutiable repairs or accessories acquired abroad for articles taken out of the United States must be declared on your return.

Household effects and tools of trade or occupation which you take out of the United States are duty free at the time you return if properly declared and entered.

All furniture, carpets, paintings, tableware, linens, and similar household furnishings acquired abroad may be imported free of duty, If:

Items such as wearing apparel, jewelry, photograph equipment, tape recorders, stereo components, and vehicles are considered personal articles and connot be passed free of duty as household effects.

Rates of Duty

Flat rates of duty will apply to any articles which are dutiable and cannot be included in your personal exemption. After deducting your exemptions and the value of any articles duty free, a flat duty rate will be applied to the next $1000 worth of merchandise. Any dollar amount of an article or articles over $1000 will be dutiable at the various rates of duty applicable to the article. These duty rates are subject to change without prior notice by statute. For current duty information on a particular article contact your nearest Customs District office.

The flat rate of duty is 5% for articles purchased in the U.S Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam. The flat duty rate for other countries or locations is 10%.

Payment of Duty

Payment of duty is required at the time of your arrival on articles accompanying you and may be made by any of the following ways:

Prohibited and Restricted Articles Automobiles

Information on importing vehicles and  complying with all EPA and DOT regulations may be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency, Attn:6405j, Washington, D.C. 20460, (202)233-9660 and the Department of Transportation, Office of vehicle safety and compliance (NEF32), Washington, D.C. 20590.

Biological Materials

Biological materials of public health or veterinary importance require import permits. Write to the Foreign Quarantine Program,U.S. Public Health Service, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA. 30333.

Books, records, computer Programs, and cassettes

Pirated copies of copyrighted articles-unlawfully made articles produced without the authorization of the copyrighted owner-are prohibited from importation into the United States. Pirated copies will be seized and destroyed unless the importer can demonstrate that he had no reasonable grounds for believing his actions violated the law. Then, they may only be returned to the country of export.

Ceramic Tableware

Some ceramic tableware sold abroad contains dangerous levels of lead in the glaze that can leach into certain foods and beverages served in them. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that ceramic tableware, especially when purchased in Mexico,China, Hong Kong, or India, be tested for lead release on your return or be used for decoration purposes only.

Cultural Property (Objects/Artifacts)

U.S. Law prohibits the importation of pre-Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from Mexico and from certain countries in Central and South America. These importations are prohibited no matter where the articles are shipped from, be it the country of origin or elsewhere.

Federal law and international treaties prohibit the importation of any article of stolen cultural property from museums, religious, or secular public monuments.

Imports of certain archeological and ethnographic material (e.g.,masks or textiles) from Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, and Mali are restricted and require export certificates from the country of origin. Purveyors of such merchandise have been known to offer phony exports certificates, and again, prospective buyers should be aware that Customs inspectors are experts at spotting fraudulent export certificates that accompany cultural property. Additional restrictions are expected to be imposed on material from countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central America. These restrictions are aimed at providing international access to cultural objects to all members of the public for legitimate scientific, cultural, and educational purposes. For more information, contact the United States Information Agency, Washington, D.C., (202) 619-6612.

Drug Paraphernalia

The importation, exportation, manufacture, sale, and transportation of drug paraphernalia are prohibited. Persons convicted of these offenses are subject to fines and imprisonment. As importations contrary to law, drug paraphernalia may be seized by U.S. Customs.

Firearms and Ammunition

Firearms and ammunition are subject to restrictions and import permits approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Applications to import may be made only by or through a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer. Weapons, ammunition, or other devices prohibited by the National Firearms Act will not be admitted into the United States unless specifically authorized by the ATF.

No import permit is required when it is proven that the firearms or ammunition were previously taken out of the United States by the person who is returning with such firearms or ammunition. To facilitate reentry, persons may have them registered before departing from the United States at any Customs office or ATF field office. Exports are subject to the export licensing requirements of the Defense Trade Controls, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520, (703) 875-6644.

For further information on imports, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. 20226, (202)927-8320.

Residents of the United States carrying firearms or ammunition with them to other countries should consult in advance the customs officials or the respective embassies of these countries as to their regulations.

Food Products

Bakery items and all cured cheeses are admissible. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service leaflet, Travelers' Tip, provides detailed information on bringing food, plant, and animal products into the U.S. Imported foods are also subject to requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.

Fruits and Vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables are either prohibited from entering the country 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.

Applications for import permits or requests for information should be addressed to Quarantines, USDA-APHIS-PPQ, Federal Bldg.,Hyattsville, Md. 20782, or call (301) 436-8645.


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 certain countries such as Iraq and Cuba are prohibited entry. Check with your nearest Customs District Office for information on the restrictions for the country in question. Copies of gold coins are prohibited if not properly marked by the country of issuance.

Meats, Livestock, Poultry

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 meat is permitted if the inspector can determine that it is commercially canned, cooked in the container, hermetically sealed, and can be kept without refrigeration. Other canned, cured, or dried meat is severly restricted from most countries.

All prohibited importations will be seized and destroyed unless the importer returns them immediatley to their country of origin.

You should contact USDA-APHIS-VS,Federal Building, 6506 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville, Maryland 20782 for detailed requirements or call (301) 436-7885.


Narcotics and dangerous drugs, including anabolic steroids, are prohibited entry and there are severe penalties if imported. A traveler requiring medicines containing habit-forming drugs or narcotics (e.g., cough medicines, antidepressants, stimulants, etc.) should:

Have either a prescription or written statement from your personal physician that the medicinals are being used under a doctor's direction and are necessary for your physical well-being while traveling.

WARNING: The Food and Drug Administration prohibits the importation, by mail or in person, of fraudulent prescription and non-prescription drugs and medical devices. While these drugs and devices may be completely legal elsewhere, they may not have been approved for use in the United States, even under a prescription issued by a foreign physician. They may not legally enter the United States and may be confiscated should they be sent through the mail.

For additional information, contact your nearest FDA office or write:

Food Drug Administration
Division of Import Operations and Policy
Room 12-8 (HFC-170)
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 2085


The importation of goods from several countries including Cuba, Libya, Iraq, North Korea,and Iran, is generally prohibited.

Travelers considering traveling to these countries should be aware of severe restrictions in travel and transactions with these countries. Similarly certain restrictions may apply to imports from countries that were once part of the former Yugoslavia. Anyone contemplating travel to any of the above countries should contact the Office of Foreign Asset control, Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20220 or call (202)622-2500.

Money and Other Monetary Instruments

There is no limit in terms of total amount of monetary instruments which may be brought into or taken out of the United States nor is it illegal to do so. However, if you transport or cause to be transported (including mail or by other means) more than $10,000 in monetary instruments on any occasion into or out of the United States, or if you receive more than that amount, you must file a report(Customs Form 4790) with U.S. Customs (Currency & Foreign Transactions Reporting Act,31 U.S.C. 1101, et seq.) Failure to do so will result in civil and criminal penalties. Monetary instruments include U.S. or foreign coin in current circulation, currency, traveler's checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form.


There are controls, restrictions, and prohibitions on entry of animals, birds, turtles, wildlife, and endangered species. Cats and dogs must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to man. Non-human primates such as monkeys, apes and similar animals may not be imported. If you plan to take your pet abroad or import one on your return, obtain a copy of our leaflet, Pets, Wildlife, U.S. Customs. Call your nearest U.S. Customs District Office for additional information.


Plants, cuttings, seeds, unprocessed plant products and certain endangered species either require an import permit or are prohibited from entering the United States. Endangered or threatened species of plants and plant products, if importation is not prohibited, will require an export permit from the country of origin. Every single plant or plant product must be declared to the Customs officer and must be presented for inspection, no matter how free of pests it appears to be. Applications for import permits or requests for information should be addressed to: Quarantines, USDA-APHIS-PPQ, Federal Building, Room 632, 6505 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville, Md. 20782, (303) 436-8645.


Textiles and apparel items which accompany you and which you have acquired abroad for personal use or as gifts are generally not subject to quantitative restrictions. However, unaccompanied textile and apparel items may be subject to certain quantitative restrictions (quotas) which require a document called a "visa" or "export license" or exempt certificate as appropriate from the country of production. Check with Customs before you depart on your trip.

Trademarked Articles

Foreign-made trademarked articles may be limited as to the quantity which may be brought into the United States if the registered trademark has been recorded with Customs by an American trademark owner.

Persons arriving with trademarked articles are allowed an exemption, usually one article of a type bearing a protected trademark. An exempted trademark article must accompany you, and can claim this exemption for the same type of article only once each 30 days. The article must be for your personal use and not for sale. If an exempted article is sold within one year following importation, the article or an amount equal to its value is subject to forfeiture.

Articles bearing counterfeit trademarks, if the amount of such articles exceeds the traveler's personal exemption, are subject to seizure and forfeiture.

Wildlife and Fish

Wildlife and fiah are subject to certain import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits or certificates, and quarentine requirements. This includes:

Endangered species of wildlife and products made from them are generally prohibited from being imported or exported. All ivory and ivory products made from elephant or marine mammal ivory are also generally prohibited from being imported. Antiques containing wildlife parts may be imported if accompanied by documentation proving they are at least 100 years old. (Certain other requirements may apply).If you contemplate purchasing articles made from wildlife please contact -before you go-the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 3247, Arlington, VA. 22203-3247. Ask for their pamphlet "Facts about Federal Wildlife Laws."

If the state laws are more restrictive than federal laws concerning wildlife imports where entry is made, the state laws prevail. Wild animals taken, killed, sold, possessed, or exported to the United States in violation of any foreign laws are not allowed entry into the United States.

For Further Information

In the above, efforts have been made to include essential information and requirements; however, all regulations of Customs and other agencies cannot be covered in full.

Travelers needing or wanting more or the most recent information should contact their nearest U.S. Customs Office.

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