Review the World/Know Before You Go
Travel Forum
Postal Cards
Contact Us

Foreign Made Personal Articles Taken Abroad

Register Items Before You Leave The United States

If 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 exemption.

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 exemption.)
  • 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 Exemption

If 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 Exemption

If 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 baggage).

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.

  Home  |  Travel Forum Postal Cards Resources Contact Us