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Travelling Back And Forth Across the Border

If you cross the U.S. border into a foreign country and reenter the United States more than once in a short time, you might not want to use your personal exemption ($400 in this example) until you’ve returned to the United States for the last time. Here’s why:

When you leave the United States, come back, leave again, and then come back again, all on the same trip, you can lose your Customs exemption, since you’ve technically violated the “once every 30 days” rule. So if you know that your trip will involve these so-called “swing-backs,” you can choose to save your personal exemption until the end of your trip.

For example, say you go to Canada, buy a liter of liquor, reenter the United States, then go back to Canada and buy $500 worth of merchandise and more liquor. You would probably want to save your $400 exemption for those final purchases and not use it for that first liter of liquor. In this case, on your first swing-back, simply tell the Customs inspector that you want to pay duty on the liquor, even though you could bring it in duty-free. (If you did, you would lose the $400 exemption, since it’s only available to you once every 30 days.) In other words, all you have to do is tell the inspector that you want to pay duty the first (or second or third) time you come back to the United States if you know that you’ll be leaving again soon, buying goods or getting them as gifts, and then reentering before the 30 days are up. In such a case, you’re better off saving your exemption until the last time you reenter the United States.

Photographic Film

Customs will not examine film you bought abroad and are bringing back unless the Customs officer has reason to believe it contains prohibited material, such as child pornography.

You won’t be charged duty on film bought in the United States and exposed abroad, whether it’s developed or not. But film you bought and developed abroad counts as a dutiable item.

Customer Service Programs

The Customs Service is expanding its methods of improving customer service to international travelers at major U.S. travel hubs. One method is having supervisory Customs inspectors, called passenger service representatives, available to travelers on a full-time basis at more than 20 international airports and some seaports that handle cruise ships. The representatives’ major purpose is to help travelers clear Customs.

Photos of the passenger service reps are posted wherever the program is operating, so you can find them if you need assistance. If you have a concern or need help understanding Customs regulations and procedures, ask to speak with the passenger service rep on duty.

The second initiative involves kiosks, the sort of automated booths you see in malls, banks, department stores, and airports. Customs Service kiosks are located at international airports.

Think of them as automated passenger service reps: They’re self-service computers with a touch-screen display. All you have to do is type in your country of destination and the computer will print the information for you. The screen displays a telephone number to call for more information. The kiosks also have pockets with Customs pamphlets on a variety of topics of interest to travelers: regulations on transporting currency, agriculture and food items, medicines, and pets, to name just a few.

Customs kiosks are located in the outbound passenger lounges at the following international airports: Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Detroit; Houston; JFK, New York; Los Angeles; Miami; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; San Francisco; San Juan; and Washington/Dulles. More are planned.

If you have any questions about Customs procedures, requirements, or policies regarding travelers, or if you have any complaints about treatment you have received from Customs inspectors or about your Customs processing, please contact

Director, Passenger Programs
U.S. Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Room 5.4D
Washington, DC 20229

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