U.S. Customs information

When returning to the U.S., you are required to declare everything you brought back that you did not take with you when departing the United States. You will need to complete a Customs Declaration Form 6059B that identifies these items and the amount you paid or the fair market value in the case of any gifts you received.

Definitions as used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP):

  • Duty is the amount of money you pay on items coming from another country. It is similar to a tax, except that duty is collected only on imported goods.
  • Dutiable describes items on which duty may have to be paid

According to the CBP website, you must declare the following:

  • Items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return to the United States.
  • Items you inherited.
  • Items you bought in duty-free shops, on the ship, or on the plane.
  • Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free of charge.
  • Items you brought home for someone else.
  • Items you intend to sell or use in your business, including business merchandise that you took out of the United States on your trip.

You must identify the amount paid, including taxes, for the above declared items on Form 6059B. For any gifts, identify the fair market value.

Each U.S. citizen is entitled to a duty-free exemption (a.k.a. the personal exemption). In other words, you can bring back goods up to the amount of the personal exemption without paying any duty to the U.S. Government. Any excess amount above the personal exemption, you need to pay duty on.

Personal exemption amounts:

  • $800 exemption – if you are arriving from anywhere other than a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or Guam) you may bring back $800 worth of items duty free. This is called accompanied baggage. Family members, who live in the same household, and travel together, may combine their personal $800 exemptions. This is called a joint declaration. Children and infants are allowed the same exemption as adults except for alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. The personal exemption can only be used once every 30 days.
  • $1,600 exemption – if you return directly or indirectly from a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or Guam), you are allowed a $1,600 duty-free exemption.
  • $200 exemption – if you cannot claim other exemptions because 1) you have been out of the country more than once in a 30-day period and have already used your $800 exemption during that time or 2) you have not been out of the country for at least 48 hours, you are still allowed a $200 exemption.
  • See the CBP website for more details and special circumstances.

The above duty-free (or personal) exemptions apply if:

  • The items are for your personal or household use, or are intended to be given as gifts.
  • They are in your possession when you enter the U.S (except for packages mailed from an IP or CBI or Andean country as noted previously).
  • They are declared to the CBP. If you do not declare something that should have been declared, you risk forfeiting it.
  • You are returning from an overseas stay of at least 48 hours (excludes Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). If not, see the above $200 exemption.
  • You have not used your exemption allowance within the past 30 days
  • The items are not prohibited or restricted.

Mail or packages sent to the U.S. from a foreign country must clear customs (CBP) before being delivered to the addressee.

  • If mailed at a post office in a foreign country, the U.S. Postal Service will send the package to the CBP for examination. If no duty is required, the CBP returns the mail to the Postal Service for delivery. If the package does require payment of duty, CBP attaches a form called a mail entry, CBP Form 3419Alt, which indicates 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 small handling fee.
  • If sent by a private sector courier or delivery service while in a foreign country, 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.
  • If you believe you have been charged an incorrect amount of duty on a package mailed from abroad, you may file a protest with the CBP. See the CBP website for more information.
  • Note: if your packages are mailed from an insular possession (IP), Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) country or an Andean country, there is a way to include them as part of your personal exemption and possibly reduce the amount of duty you would otherwise have to pay. See the CBP website for more information about this.
  • For additional information on international mailing, please see the brochure International Mail Imports, or visit CBP.gov.

Duty rates:

  • All products have a specific duty rate.
  • Duty-Free or Reduced Rates – some products are defined to be duty-free or have reduced duty rates. This might be because they come from developing countries or because of free-trade agreements between the U.S. and the other country. This includes many products from the Caribbean, Andean countries, Israel, Jordan, Chile, Singapore, sub-Saharan African countries as an example.
  • Increased Duty Rates – some products have an increased duty rate of up to 100% of the price or value of the product. The U.S. has imposed a 100% rate of duty (meaning the duty is equal to the price paid for the product) on certain products of Austria, Belgium, Denmark and other European countries.

Determining the Duty Amount Owed:

  • The CBP officer will place the products that have the highest duty rate under your personal exemption.
  • If there is a balance after subtracting your exemptions and the value of any duty-free items, the CBP officer will charge a flat rate of duty on the next $1,000 worth of merchandise. Similar to the personal exemption, the flat duty rate can be combined for immediate family members from the same household who are traveling together. For a family of four, the flat duty rate can be applied to the next $4,000 worth of merchandise. You may use the flat rate provision only once every 30 days.
  • The balance of any remaining products will be dutiable at whatever duty rates apply to those products.

Other Notes:

  • If you purchased anything recently before your trip, such as a camera, laptop or jewelry, and you don’t want the Customs Officer to think it might be dutiable, you can register the item with the CBP before leaving on your trip. Or you can take proof of purchase information (e.g. the original receipt) with you when traveling.
  • The above customs summary is meant only as a guideline. The U.S. Customs policy has many exceptions and special circumstances that need to be considered. For specifics regarding Customs, see the CBP website.