Customs declarations, Form 6059B, are distributed on vessels and planes and are available in the following languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. Fill out your declaration before you arrive so you can speed your customs and immigration clearance. You must complete the information requested on the front of the declaration. You need not itemize things you brought with you for personal use--for example, clothing, toiletries, portable radios--if they are within the exemptions allowed for arriving nonresidents. You must, however, declare the value of any gifts, business articles, or items not for your own use that you have brought with you to the United States.
You may declare these articles orally at the time of your customs inspection; the Customs inspector may, however, ask you to list them on the back of your declaration form. Persons arriving by land transportation will make an oral declaration if all the articles they brought are within the allowed exemptions.
When making your written declaration, you must list all goods accompanying you other than your personal effects, along with their price or value. This includes gifts for other people, articles carried for someone else, articles for sale, and commercial samples. You need not list wearing apparel, articles of personal adornment, toiletries, and similar personal effects that you owned abroad and have brought for your own use.
The purchase price of articles you declare must be stated in U.S. dollars. If you don't know the price, say so. If the article was a gift, state the fair value, in U.S. dollars, in the country where it was acquired. Misinformation can result in delays and even penalties.
The head of a family may make a joint declaration for all members residing in the same household and traveling together to the United States.
In clearing U.S. Customs, a traveler is considered either a returning resident of the United States or a nonresident. In addition to visitors, nonresident status also applies to:
- persons emigrating to the United States;
- children born abroad who have never resided in the United States; and
- persons who left the United States after establishing residency with no intention of reestablishing U.S. residency.
U.S. residents stationed or working abroad may also claim nonresident status when returning to the United States for a short visit, provided all articles (except gifts and items consumed during their visit) are exported upon leaving the United States.
Articles brought into the United States are subject to duty and internal revenue tax unless they are prohibited entry, but as a visitor or nonresident, you are allowed certain exemptions and privileges. These include:
Wearing apparel, jewelry, toiletries, hunting and fishing equipment, cameras, portable radios, and similar personal effects are exempt from duty if: they are for personal use; they belong to you; and they accompany you into and out of the United States.
If you are emigrating to the United States, jewelry or similar articles of personal adornment valued at $300 or more and passed free of duty under your personal customs exemption cannot be sold within three years unless duty is paid. If duty is not paid before the sale is completed, the articles will become subject to seizure.
Nonresidents who are at least 21 years old may bring in, free of duty and internal revenue tax, up to one liter of alcoholic beverage--beer, wine, liquor--for personal use. Quantities above the one-liter limitation are subject to duty and internal revenue tax.
In addition to federal laws, you must also meet state alcoholic beverage laws, which may be more restrictive than federal laws. This means that if the state in which you arrive permits less liquor, wine, or beer than you have legally brought into the United States, that state's laws apply to your importation of alcoholic beverages for personal use.
Shipping of alcoholic beverages by mail is prohibited by United States postal laws.
You may include in your personal exemption not more than 200 cigarettes (one carton) or 50 cigars or two kilograms (4.4 lbs.) of smoking tobacco, or proportionate amounts of each. An additional 100 cigars may be brought in under your gift exemption.
Cigars of Cuban origin are generally prohibited entry, even for personal use. Please check with the Customs attache at the American Embassy if you have any questions on this subject.
You may temporarily import an automobile, trailer, airplane, motorcycle, boat, or similar vehicle for the transportation of yourself, your family, and your guests.
Motor vehicles and motor-vehicle equipment for personal use may be imported for up to one year. The vehicle must be imported in connection with your arrival, and it must be owned by you or on order before you depart from abroad.
A vehicle cannot be sold in the United States unless it complies with U.S. laws governing motor vehicles. The laws governing motor-vehicle safety apply to all vehicles other than motorcycles if their date of entry in the U.S. is less than 25 years after the date of manufacture. Motor vehicle safety laws also apply to motorcycles manufactured after January 1, 1969. Federal law also requires that motor vehicles beginning with the 1969 model year, and motorcycles manufactured after December 31, 1977, meet all air-pollution control standards. Finally, federal cost savings standards relating to imported vehicles must also be complied with. Nonresident visitors to the United States are exempt from the foregoing standards provided that the vehicle is imported for a period not to exceed one year and the vehicle is for personal use.
If you plan to emigrate to the United States and import your car permanently, or if you intend to sell your vehicle, please request a copy of Customs' pamphlet Importing or Exporting a Car.
You may import furniture, dishes, linens, libraries, artwork, and similar household furnishings free of duty. To be eligible for the duty-free exemption, the articles must have either been available for your use, or used in a household where you were a resident member, for one year. The year of use need not be continuous, nor does it need to be the year immediately preceding the date of importation. Household effects from the country where these effects were used and meeting the above criteria may be entered into the United States within 10 years after your last arrival in the United States.
Household effects may not be entered under your duty-free exemption if they are for another person or for sale.
A person emigrating to the United States may enter professional equipment free of duty if it was owned and used abroad; this includes professional books and tools of trade, occupation, or employment. Theatrical scenery, properties, or apparel and articles for use in any manufacturing establishment are not eligible for this exemption.
As a nonresident, you are allowed up to $100 worth of merchandise, free of duty and internal revenue tax, as gifts for other people. To claim this exemption, you must remain in the United States for at least 72 hours, and the gifts must accompany you.
This $100 gift exemption, or any part of it, can be claimed only once every six months. You may include 100 cigars within the gift exemption, but alcoholic beverages may not be included.
Family members may not group their gift exemptions. For example, say a husband and wife are bringing a $200 gift to a friend in the United States. Only one family member would be allowed to claim the $100 gift exemption. The remaining $100 would be dutiable at the flat rate of duty. However, the husband and wife could each bring in a $100 gift, and each would be granted the gift exemption as long as other Customs requirements are met.
If you've used your gift exemption and then return to the United States before the six-month period has ended, you may still bring in up to $200 worth of merchandise free of duty for your personal or household use. Any of the following may be included in this $200 exemption: 50 cigarettes, 100 cigars, 150 milliliters of alcoholic beverages, 150 milliliters of perfume containing alcohol, or equivalent amounts of each. If you exceed any of these limitations, however, or if the total value of all dutiable articles exceeds $200, no exemption can be applied.
Do not gift-wrap your articles because they must be available for Customs inspection.
No specific duty exemption for wedding gifts is granted to nonresidents. If a U.S. resident goes abroad to marry a person of another country, that person will be granted resident status when the couple returns to the U.S. to reside (see Customs' pamphlet for returning residents, Know Before You Go).
Gifts Sent by Mail
Persons in the United States may receive free of duty a gift mailed from a foreign country or from a Caribbean Basin beneficiary country, if the shipment does not exceed $100 in fair retail value. If the gift is sent from the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam, the duty-free gift exemption rises to $200. You may send as many gifts as you wish, but the U.S. recipient will have to pay duty if the gift parcels received in one day total more than $100 (or $200) in fair retail value. Gifts that exceed these amounts will be subject to duty based upon their entire value; there is no $100 (or $200) deduction for gifts sent from abroad.
Packages should be marked "Unsolicited Gift," with the donor's name, nature of the gift, and the package's fair retail value clearly written on the outside wrapper. When you arrive in the United States, you do not need to declare to Customs any gifts you have sent from abroad.
Alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and perfumes containing alcohol may not be included under the provision for gifts mailed from abroad.
Articles purchased in duty-free shops, or on a plane or ship, are subject to customs duty and other applicable restrictions, but may be included in your duty-free exemption. Articles bought in American duty-free shops are also subject to customs duty and internal revenue tax if reentered into the United States.
Other Exemptions/Duty Calculation In Transit through the United States
A nonresident transiting through the United States may have in his or her possession dutiable articles not exceeding $200 in value, which can include up to four liters of alcoholic beverages, without having to pay duty, if the nonresident is taking these articles to a place outside the Customs territory of the United States.
Articles Free of Duty Under Trade Agreements
The United States has trade agreements with some nations that affect the duty status of certain goods from those nations, sometimes allowing the goods to be entered duty-free. One such agreement of special interest to travelers is the Generalized System of Preferences, under which certain items from developing countries are eligible for duty-free treatment. An advisory list of the most popular tourist items accorded this special duty-free status is contained in the pamphlet GSP and the Traveler, which may be obtained from the U.S. Customs Service or from Customs attaches at American embassies abroad.
The GSP program first went into effect in 1976, although its provisions have expired several times since then. It has been extended through June 30, 1998; beyond that date, you should contact a Customs port of entry or the Customs attache at American embassies abroad to verify the status of these provisions.
Articles Subject to Duty
Imported articles that cannot be claimed under the exemptions discussed above are subject to duty and tax. After deducting your exemptions and the value of any duty-free articles, a flat rate of duty of 10 percent will be applied to the next $1,000 (fair retail value in the country of acquisition) worth of merchandise. Any dollar amounts or articles above $1,000 will be dutiable at whatever duty rate(s) apply to the merchandise.
Articles to which the flat rate of duty is applied must accompany you and must be for your personal use or for use as gifts. You can receive this flat-rate provision only once every 30 days, excluding the day of your last arrival.
U.S. Insular Possessions
For articles acquired in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam, the flat rate of duty is five percent, whether the articles accompany you or are shipped directly from these islands to the U.S. (There are special procedures that must be followed for goods shipped from these islands to qualify under this provision. These procedures are described in Customs' pamphlet International Mail Imports.)
Members of a family residing in the same household and traveling together may group articles for application of the $1,000 flat rate, regardless of which family member actually own the articles.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the flat rate of duty decreases annually for qualifying merchandise from Canada and Mexico.
Shipping Household Goods to the United States
Personal and household effects entitled to duty-free entry need not accompany you to the United States; you may have them shipped to your U.S. address at a later time if you choose.
A shipment of personal and/or household effects arriving in the United States must be cleared through Customs at its first port of arrival. If this is inconvenient, you may make arrangements with a foreign freight-forwarder to have the effects sent in Customs custody (called an in-bond shipment) from the port of arrival to a more convenient port of entry for clearance. (Ask your moving company if they offer this service.)
You must complete Customs Form 3299, Declaration for Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles, to give the Customs officer when the shipment is cleared through Customs.
It is not necessary to employ a customs broker to clear your shipment through Customs. You may do it yourself after you arrive in the United States, or you may designate a relative or friend to represent you in Customs matters. If you choose a broker, friend, or relative, you must give that person a letter addressed to "Officer in Charge of Customs" authorizing that individual to represent you as your agent on a one-time basis to clear your shipment through Customs.
All shipments must be cleared within five working days after they arrive in the United States. If a shipment is not cleared within that time, it will be sent, at the owner's risk and expense, to a warehouse for storage until Customs clearance can be made. Articles may be auctioned off if not claimed within six months.
Prohibited and Restricted Articles
Because Customs inspectors are stationed at ports of entry and along our land and sea borders, they are often called upon to enforce laws and requirements of other U.S. government agencies. This is done to protect public health and safety and to preserve domestic plant and animal life.
Should you attempt to bring in merchandise that is prohibited by law, it will be seized and you may be liable for a personal penalty. Restricted merchandise must be inspected by the agency that imposed the restrictions--for example, the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and others. Only then will it be released; it may be detained, however, until conditions attached to the restrictions are complied with--for example, making automotive modifications required to meet U.S. safety standards or obtaining certain inoculations for pets. You will be given a receipt for any articles that Customs detains.
Prohibited articles include: lottery tickets, narcotics and dangerous drugs, obscene articles and publications, seditious and treasonable materials, hazardous articles (e.g., fireworks, dangerous toys, toxic or poisonous substances), products made by prison convicts or forced labor, and switchblade knives (the only exception is for a one-armed traveler, in which case the blade must be no longer than three inches).
Unsterilized specimens of human and animal tissue (including blood, bodily discharges and excretions); cultures of living bacteria, viruses or similar organisms; animals suspected of being infected with a disease transmissible to humans; and insects, snails, and bats may require an import permit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Write to the Office of Health and Safety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (F-05), 1600 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.
Biological materials produced from animals or animal products may require an additional permit from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service(APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Please write to USDA'S Import-Export Products Staff, APHIS, Federal Building, 6505 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville, MD 20782, USA, for further information and an application for an import permit.
Books, Video Tapes, Computer Programs and Cassettes
Pirated copies of copyrighted articles--that is, unlawfully made reproductions; articles produced without the copyright owner's authorization--are prohibited from importation into the United States. Pirated copies will be seized and destroyed.
An export certificate is required by most Latin American countries to export pre-Columbian artifacts, monumental and architectural sculpture, or murals, whether they are shipped directly or indirectly from the country of origin into the United States.
Firearms and Ammunition
If your travel to the U.S. is primarily for the purpose of hunting or lawful sporting activities, your firearms and ammunition may be brought into the United States provided you take the firearms and any remaining unfired ammunition out of the United States when you depart.
If hunting or a sporting event is a secondary reason for coming the the U.S., ie. you are moving here temporarily or permanently, your firearms and ammunition are subject to restrictions and import permits. Fully automatic weapons and semi-automatic assault-type weapons are prohibited. For complete information, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Department of the Treasury, Firearms and Explosives Import Branch, Washington, D.C. 20226, USA.
Bakery items and all cured cheeses are admissible. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) publishes a pamphlet called Travelers Tips, which offers detailed information on bringing food, plant, and animal products into this country. Imported foods are also subject to requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.
Fruits, Vegetables, Plants
Many fruits, vegetables, plants, cuttings, seeds, unprocessed plant products, and certain endangered plant species are either prohibited from entering the country or require an import permit. Endangered or threatened species of plants and plant products, if not prohibited from importation, will require an export permit from the country of origin. Every single plant, plant product, 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. Most canned or processed items are admissible.
Applications for import permits or requests for information should be addressed to: Permit Unit, USDA-APHIS-PPQ, 4700 River Rd., Unit 136, Riverdale, MD 20737-1236, USA.
Meats, Livestock, Poultry
Meats, livestock, poultry and their by-products (e.g., sausage, patti) are either prohibited or restricted from entering the United States, depending upon 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 severely restricted.
You should contact the USDA's Import-Export Products Staff, APHIS-VS, 4700 River Rd., Unit 40, Riverdale, MD 20737-1231, USA, for detailed requirements.
If you plan to import game or a hunting trophy, check with the Fish and Wildlife Service first. Such items generally require a license, and only certain ports are designated to handle them. Hunting trophies and hides must be shipped to a USDA-approved taxidermy service for processing. Trophies may also be subject to an APHIS inspection for sanitary purposes. General guidelines for importing game and trophies may be found in APHIS's publication
Warning: Many different regulations govern the importation of animals and animal parts. Failure to comply with them can result in extensive or expensive delays in clearing your trophy through Customs. In addition, federal regulations do not authorize the importation of any wildlife or fish into any state of the United States if that state's laws or regulations are more restrictive than any applicable federal treatment. Wild animals taken, killed, sold, possessed, or exported to the United States in violation of any foreign laws are also not allowed entry into the United States.
Narcotics and dangerous drugs are prohibited entry. There are severe civil and/or criminal penalties if imported.
A traveler requiring medicines containing habit-forming drugs or narcotics (e.g., cough medicine, diuretics, heart drugs, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, stimulants, etc.) should:
- have all drugs, medicines, and similar products properly identified;
- carry only such quantity as would normally be used by an individual having the health problem requiring the drugs or medicines in your possession;
- have either a prescription or written statement from your personal physician that the medicine is being used under a doctor's direction and that it is necessary for your physical well-being while traveling.
- declare such drugs or medications to the Customs officer.
Merchandise from Embargoed Countries
The importation of merchandise or goods that contain components from the following countries is generally prohibited under regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC): Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Sudan. This list is subject to change depending upon the international political climate and foreign-policy concerns.
These restrictions do not apply to informational materials such as pamphlets, books, tapes, films, or recordings, except those from Iraq.
Foreign visitors to the United States are advised to contact OFAC regarding the importation of goods for their personal use that are not imported for resale and are not in commercial quantities; bringing in goods that originate in any of the countries listed above may require authorization from OFAC. This authorization must be obtained before the traveler arrives in the United States.
For more information, visitors to the United States may write to OFAC at: Office of Foreign Assets Control; U.S. Department of the Treasury; 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW; Washington, DC 20220, USA, or contact the American Embassy in their home country.
There is no limit on the total amount of monetary instruments that 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 by mail or 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 and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, 31 U.S.C. 1101, et. seq.). Failure to comply can result in civil and criminal penalties, including seizure of the currency or monetary instruments. Monetary instruments include U.S. or foreign coin, currency, traveler's checks, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form.
There are controls, restrictions, and prohibitions on bringing animals, birds, turtles, wildlife, and endangered species into the United States.
Cats must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to man when examined at the port of entry. If the animal is not in apparent good health, further examination by a licensed veterinarian may be required at the owner's expense.
Dogs must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to man and must be vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to arrival. (This requirement does not apply to puppies less than three months of age; puppies up to three months must be confined at the owner's expense, then immunized and confined for an additional 30 days.)
A valid rabies vaccination certificate must accompany the animal. This certificate should identify the animal, the dates of vaccination and expiration, and bear the signature of a licensed veterinarian. If no expiration date is specified, the certificate is acceptable if the date of vaccination is no more than 12 months prior to arrival in the United States. Vaccination against rabies is not required for dogs arriving from rabies-free countries.
Personally-owned pet birds may be entered, but only two may be entered from the psittacine family. APHIS and Public Health Service requirements must be met, which may include quarantine at the owner's expense at an APHIS facility at specified locations. Advance reservations are required for quarantines.
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 and Wildlife, U.S. Customs.
You should check with state and local authorities about any restrictions and prohibitions they may have before importing a pet. Hawaii, in particular has strict quarantine requirements for pets.
Trademark owners often register their trademarks with the Customs Service, even when the trademarked merchandise is foreign-made, in order to control the importation of counterfeits. Customs imposes restrictions on the importation of articles whose trademarks have been registered, and these restrictions apply to purchases that accompany nonresident visitors.
Visitors are allowed an exemption, usually one article of each type bearing a protected trademark. "One of each type" means one pair of shoes, one scarf, one coat, one handbag, one camera, one watch, or one bottle of perfume, for example, regardless of whose trademark. the articles bear and regardless of whether the products are genuine, gray market, or counterfeit.
Gray-market merchandise is genuine, legitimately manufactured, noncounterfeit merchandise whose importation is restricted to a certain number or quantity. Items that are new, intended as gifts, or imported in such quantity as to be construed a commercial importation, may likely be gray-market items, so travelers are advised to restrict themselves to one of each type. Items that are clearly personal effects--one's clothing, for example--have no such restrictions.
As a visitor, you may claim this exemption for the same type of article once every 30 days. If the exempted article is sold within the year following importation, it is subject to forfeiture, and you may be assessed a financial penalty based upon its value.
Fish and Wildlife
Wildlife and fish are subject to import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits, certificates, and quarantine requirements that cover:
- wild birds, mammals, marine mammals, reptiles, crustaceans, fish, and mollusks;
- any part or product thereof, such as skins, feathers, eggs; and
- products and articles manufactured from wildlife and fish.
Endangered species of wildlife and products made from them are prohibited from importation and exportation. All ivory and ivory products made from elephant or marine ivory are generally prohibited. Antiques containing wildlife parts may be imported provided they can be documented as being at least 100 years old.
Federal regulations do not authorize the importation of any wildlife or fish into any state of the United States if the state's laws or regulations are more restrictive than any applicable federal treatment. Wild mammals or birds taken, killed, sold, possessed, or exported to the United States in violation of any foreign laws are also not allowed entry into the United States.
If you contemplate importing articles made from wildlife such as tortoise-shell jewelry, leather goods, articles made from whalebone, ivory, skins, or furs, please contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 3247, Arlington, VA 22203-3247, USA, before you leave for the States. Ask for their pamphlet Fish and Wildlife. (Publications from the Unit are available to all Service employees as well as to the general public. For publications call 304-876-7203, or fax a request to 304-876-7689. )
Foreign citizens who wish to stay in the United States temporarily, whether for tourism, business, study, or medical reasons, must generally have a visa issued by the U.S. Department of State.
To obtain a visa, or more information on this topic, contact the American Embassy or American Consulate in your country of residence.
Questions About Sales Tax
Foreign visitors to the United States frequently confuse the state sales tax with the value-added tax (VAT). The state sales tax is a small tax on purchases or services, calculated at the time of purchase, which individual states assess and which the U.S. federal government neither determines nor receives. The VAT, on the other hand, is a national tax commonly applied in foreign countries that is included in the actual sales price rather than at the time of purchase. The United States does not have a VAT, and the federal government cannot refund state sales taxes.
State taxes are generally not charged to diplomats or employees of some international organizations who have been issued a tax-exemption card. This card must be presented at the time of purchase in order for sales taxes to be waived.
Also, many states do not charge tax on items shipped out of state. Ask about state sales-tax policies in the state where you make your purchases.
A Final Word
We at Customs have made every effort to indicate essential requirements. All regulations of Customs and other agencies cannot be covered in full, however, and regulations and requirements are subject to change. If you have questions before you depart for the United States, please contact the American Embassy or consulate in your city or country, or write to any of the agencies listed earlier in this pamphlet.
*article courtesy of the U.S. Customs Service.