Foreign Made Personal Articles Taken Abroad
Register Items Before You Leave The United StatesIf your
laptop computer was made in Japan, for instance, you might have to
pay duty on it each time you brought 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 youíre departing. Keep the certificate for future trips.
Duty Free Exemption
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 $400, but there are some exceptions to this
rule, which are explained below.
Depending on the countries you have visited, your
personal exemption will be $400, $600, 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
The duty-free exemptions ($400, $600, 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 $400 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 below on the $200
- 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 $400 exemption.
(However, see the section on the $200 exemption.)
- The items are not prohibited or restricted.
$200 ExemptionIf you canít claim other exemptions because youíve been out of
the country more than once in a 30-day period or because you havenít
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. Letís 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.
$400 ExemptionIf 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 $400 worth of items duty-free,
as long as you bring them with you (this is called accompanied
Duty on items you mail home to yourself will be waived if the
value is $200 or less. (Please see the sections on "Gifts" and
"Sending Goods to the United States.") Fine art and antiques that
are at least 100 years old may enter duty-free, but folk art and
handicrafts are generally dutiable.
This means that, depending on what items youíre bringing back
from your trip, you could come home with more than $400 worth of
gifts or purchases and still not be charged duty. For instance, say
you received a $300 bracelet as a gift, and you bought a $40 hat and
a $60 color print. Since these items total $400, 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 $900 worth of merchandise home without having to pay
duty, because fine art is duty-free.