Gifts you bring back from a trip abroad are considered to be for
your personal use. They must be declared, but you may include them
in your personal exemption. This includes gifts people gave you
while you were out of the country, such as wedding or birthday
presents, and gifts youíve brought back for others. Gifts intended
for business, promotional, or other commercial purposes may not be
included in your duty-free exemption.
Gifts worth up to $100 may be received, free of duty and tax, by
friends and relatives in the United States, as long as the same
person does not receive more than $100 worth of gifts in a single
day. If the gifts are mailed or shipped from an insular possession,
this amount is increased to $200. When you return to the United
States, you donít have to declare gifts you sent while you were on
your trip, since they wonít be accompanying you.
By federal law, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and
perfume containing alcohol and worth more than $5 retail may not be
included in the gift exemption.
Gifts for more than one person may be shipped in the same
package, called a consolidated gift package, if they are
individually wrapped and labeled with each recipientís name. Hereís
how to wrap and label a consolidated gift package:
Be sure to mark the outermost wrapper with
- the words "UNSOLICITED GIFT" and the words
"CONSOLIDATED GIFT PACKAGE";
- the total value of the consolidated package;
- the recipientsí names; and
- the nature and value of the gifts inside (for example, tennis
shoes, $50; shirt, $45; toy car, $15).
Packages marked in this way will clear Customs much more easily.
Hereís an example of how to mark a consolidated gift package:
Unsolicited gift - consolidated gift package - total value
To John Jones - one belt, $20; one box of candy, $5; one tie, $20
To Mary Smith - one skirt, $45; one belt, $15; one pair slacks,
If any item in the consolidated gift parcel is subject to duty
and tax or worth more than the $100 gift allowance, the entire
package will be dutiable.
You, as a traveler, cannot send a "gift" package to yourself, and
people traveling together cannot send "gifts" to each other. But
there would be no reason to do that anyway, because the personal
exemption for packages mailed from abroad is $200, which is twice as
much as the gift exemption. If a package is subject to duty, the
United States Postal Service will collect it from the addressee
along with any postage and handling charges. The sender cannot
prepay duty; it must be paid by the recipient when the package is
received in the United States. (Packages sent by courier services
are not eligible for this duty waiver.)
For more information about mailing packages to the United States,
please contact your nearest Customs office and ask for our pamphlet
International Mail Imports.
Duty-Free or Reduced Rates
Items from Certain Countries
The United States gives duty preferences-that is, free or reduced
rates-to certain developing countries under a trade agreement called
System of Preferences (GSP). Some products that would otherwise
be dutiable are not when they come from a GSP country. For details
on this program, as well as the complete list of GSP countries,
please ask your nearest Customs office for a copy of our pamphlet
GSP & The Traveler, or look for it on our Web site.
Similarly, many products of Caribbean and Andean countries are
exempt from duty under the Caribbean Basin Initiative and Andean
Trade Preference Act. Most products of Israel may also enter the
United States either free of duty or at a reduced rate. Check with
Customs for details.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect
in 1994. If you are returning from Canada or Mexico, your goods are
eligible for free or reduced duty rates if they were grown,
manufactured, or produced in Canada or Mexico, as defined by the
Act. Again, check with Customs for details.
Your personal belongings can be sent back to the United States
duty-free if they are of U.S. origin, and if they have not been
altered or repaired while abroad. Personal belongings like worn
clothing can be mailed home and will receive duty-free entry if you
write the words ďAmerican Goods Returned" on the outside of the
Household EffectsHousehold effects include furniture, carpets, paintings,
tableware, stereos, linens, and similar household furnishings. Tools
of trade, professional books, implements, and instruments that
youíve taken out of the United States will be duty-free when you
You may import household effects you acquired abroad duty-free if
You used them for at least one year while you were abroad.
They are not intended for anyone else or for sale.
Clothing, jewelry, photography equipment, portable radios, and
vehicles are considered personal effects and cannot be brought in
duty-free as household effects. However, the amount of duty
collected on them will be reduced according to the age of the item.
Paying DutyIf youíre bringing it back with you, you didnít have it when you
left, and its total value is more than your Customs exemption, it is
subject to duty.
The Customs inspector will place the items that have the highest
rate of duty under your exemption. After subtracting your exemptions
and the value of any duty-free items, the applicable flat rate of
duty will be charged on the next $1,000 worth of merchandise. Any
dollar amount beyond this $1,000 will be dutiable at whatever duty
rates apply. The flat rate of duty may only be used for items for
your own use or for gifts. As with your exemption, you may use the
flat-rate provision only once every 30 days. Special flat rates of
duty apply to items made and acquired in Canada, Mexico, and the
U.S. Insular Possessions. The flat rate would be applied to
purchases in the U.S. Insular Possessions, whether the items
accompany you or are shipped.
Here's an example of how different rates would apply if you
acquire goods valued at $2,500 from various places:
||Flat duty rate
||first $1,000 at 5
||first $1,000 at 5
|Other countries or
||first $1,000 at 5
The flat duty rate will be charged on items that are dutiable but
that cannot be included in your personal exemption, even if you have
not exceeded the exemption. The best example of this is liquor: Say
you return from Europe with $200 worth of items, including two
liters of liquor. One liter will be duty-free under your exemption;
the other will be dutiable at the appropriate flat rate of duty,
plus any Internal Revenue Service tax. Family members who live in
the same household and return to the United States together can
combine their items to take advantage of a combined flat duty rate,
no matter which family member owns a given item. The combined flat
duty rate for a family of four traveling together would be $4,000.
If you owe duty, you must pay it when you arrive in the United
States. You can pay it in any of the following ways:
- U.S. currency (foreign currency is not acceptable).
- Personal check in the exact amount, drawn on a U.S. bank, made
payable to the U.S. Customs Service. You must present
identification, such as a passport or driver's license. (The
Customs Service does not accept checks bearing second-party
- Government check, money order, or traveler's check if it does
not exceed the duty owed by more than $50.
- In some locations, you may pay duty with credit cards, either
MasterCard or VISA.
Sending Goods to the United States
Items mailed to the United States are subject to duty when they
arrive. They cannot be included in your Customs exemption, and duty
on them cannot be prepaid.
If you are mailing merchandise from the U.S. insular possessions
or from Caribbean Basin countries, you should follow different
procedures than if you were mailing packages from any other country.
These special procedures are described, under "Unaccompanied
In addition to duty and, at times, taxes, Customs collects a user
fee on dutiable packages. Those three fees are the only fees Customs
collects; any additional charges on shipments are for handling by
freight forwarders, Customs brokers, and couriers or for other
delivery services. Some carriers may add other clearance charges
that have nothing to do with Customs duties.
Note: Customs brokers are not U.S. Customs employees.
Brokers' fees are based on the amount of work they do, not on the
value of the items you ship, so travelers sometimes find the fee
high in relation to the value of the shipment. The most
cost-effective thing to do is to take your purchases with you if at
Unaccompanied BaggageUnaccompanied baggage is anything you do not bring back with you,
as opposed to goods in your possession-that accompany you-when you
return. These may be items that were with you when you left the
United States or items that you acquired (received by any means)
while outside the United States. In general, unaccompanied baggage
falls into the following three categories.
U.S. Mail Shipments
Shipping through the U.S. mail, including parcel post, is a
cost-efficient way to send things to the United States. The Postal
Service sends all foreign mail shipments to Customs for examination.
Customs then returns packages that donít require duty to the Postal
Service, which sends them to a local post office for delivery. The
local post office delivers them without charging any additional
postage, handling costs, or other fees.
If the package does require payment of duty, Customs attaches a
form called a mail entry (form CF-3419A), which shows how much duty
is owed, and charges a $5 processing fee as well. When the post
office delivers the package, it will also charge a handling fee.
Commercial goods-goods intended for resale-may have special entry
requirements. Such goods may require a formal entry in order to be
admitted into the United States. Formal entries are more complicated
and require more paperwork than informal entries. (Informal entries
are, generally speaking, personal packages worth less than $2,000.)
Customs employees may not prepare formal entries for you; only you
or a licensed customs broker may prepare one. For more information
on this subject, please request the Customs pamphlet U.S. Import
Requirements or contact your local Customs office.
If you believe you have been charged an incorrect amount of duty
on a package mailed from abroad, you may file a protest with
Customs. You can do this in one of two ways. You can accept the
package, pay the duty, and write a letter explaining why you think
the amount was incorrect. You should include with your letter the
yellow copy of the mail entry (CF-3419A). Send the letter and the
form to the Customs office that issued the mail entry, which youíll
find on the lower left-hand corner of the form.
The other way to protest duty is to refuse delivery of the
package and, within five days, send your protest letter to the post
office where the package is being held. The post office will forward
your letter to Customs and will hold your package until the protest
For additional information on international mailing, please ask
Customs for the pamphlet International Mail Imports.
Express ShipmentsPackages may be sent to the United States by private-sector
courier or delivery service from anywhere in the world. The express
company usually takes care of clearing your merchandise through
Customs and charges a fee for its service. Some travelers have found
this fee to be higher than they expected.
Freight ShipmentsCargo, whether duty is owed on it or not, must clear Customs at
the first port of arrival in the United States. If you choose, you
may have your freight sent, while it is still in Customs custody, to
another port for Customs clearance. This is called forwarding
freight in bond. You (or someone you appoint to act for you) are
responsible for arranging to clear your merchandise through Customs
or for having it forwarded to another port.
Frequently, a freight forwarder in a foreign country will take
care of these arrangements, including hiring a customs broker in the
United States to clear the merchandise through Customs. Whenever a
third party handles the clearing and forwarding of your merchandise,
that party charges a fee for its services. This fee is not a Customs
charge. When a foreign seller entrusts a shipment to a broker or
agent in the United States, that seller usually pays only enough
freight to have the shipment delivered to the first port of arrival
in the United States. This means that you, the buyer, will have to
pay additional inland transportation, or freight forwarding,
charges, plus brokers' fees, insurance, and possibly other charges.
If it is not possible for you to secure release of your goods
yourself, another person may act on your behalf to clear them
through Customs. You may do this as long as your merchandise
consists of a single, noncommercial shipment (not intended for
resale) that does not require a formal entryóin other words, if the
merchandise is worth less than $2,000. You must give the person a
letter that authorizes him or her to act as your unpaid agent. Once
you have done this, that person may fill out the Customs declaration
and complete the entry process for you. Your letter authorizing the
person to act in your behalf should be addressed to the "Officer in
Charge of Customs" at the port of entry, and the person should bring
it along when he or she comes to clear your package. Customs will
not notify you when your shipment arrives this is the responsibility
of your carrier, If your goods are not cleared within 15 days of
arrival you could incur storage fees.