Caribbean Basin Countries
If you are returning directly from any one of the following countries, your duty-free exemption is a little more -- $600 -- and includes two liters of alcoholic beverages, if one of them was made in these countries:
- El Salvador
- Saint Kitts, Nevis and St. Lucia (in the British West Indies)
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- British Virgin Islands
- Trinidad and Tobago (in the West Indies)
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- Netherlands Antilles
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
What Do I Need to Know Before I Travel Abroad?
Before you leave for vacation -- or even before you pack your bags -- you should know about some of the laws that will affect you when you return to the U.S. from a foreign country. First of all, it's a good idea to take only the amount of personal medications that you will need during your trip. In order to avoid customs problems, experts say you should leave each medication in its original container so that the drug name, dosage and physician's name are available for checking. Very large amounts of medications may raise "red flags" with Customs officers; if you must carry these, also take along a letter from your doctor and copies of your prescriptions.
Also, when you're packing, take a look at any electronics or expensive camera equipment you might be taking along. If that laptop was made in Asia, you should register your ownership of it (complete with serial number or some other distinguishing mark) before you leave the U.S. (Customs provides special forms, Form 4457, for this purpose and you must show the item you're registering to an official). This certificate can be used on future trips. Without proof of ownership, you could be asked to pay duty on it again when you return home. Other acceptable proofs of ownership include insurance documents, sales receipts and jewelry appraisals.
Mann, who is based in the Miami Customs office, emphasizes the importance of keeping your bags with you at all times when traveling and of refusing to accept bags or packages from strangers. There are reasons why airline agents ask if you've packed your own bags and kept them with you, and why airport announcements continually remind you that bags left unattended will be confiscated by airport security, he says. "Whether you're traveling outside the United States or inside, you don't want to carry or take someone else's bags or luggage or leave your own bags unattended. When you leave your bag unattended, this allows the opportunity for someone to put drugs inside it," he adds.
For a complete list of what you should know before you travel, check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Know Before You Go list. (Another important bit of information: If you observe suspicious activity or have information about smuggling or other fraudulent activities, call the Customs Service to report it, 1-800-Be-Alert.)
What Must I Declare?
It's very important to know what you must declare or reveal on an official U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Declaration Form before re-entering the country by plane or ship. You may bring foreign currency back into the United States, but if you have more than $10,000, you must report it to CBP on your Declaration Form. Otherwise, anything that you did not have when you left the country must be declared, icnluding:
- Anything you bought (including from duty-free shops or on a ship or airplane)
- Anything you inherited or received as a gift (you'll have to estimate the fair market price of the gift)
- Anything you brought home for a friend
- Anything you plan to use (or sell) in your business
- Alterations or repairs to anything you took abroad and brought back (for example, tailoring of a suit in Hong Kong)
- Anything you bought (or received as a gift) in America Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands or any Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act country (see the list at right) and that is being shipped directly to your home (this is different from the usual procedure for mailed items)
All this means that you should save your sales receipts (no matter what language or currency!) in case you're asked to produce them and that you should pack the items you're declaring separately (perhaps in a carry-on bag) in case officials want to see them.
You declare these items by filling out the U.S. Customs form you will receive on the airplane or in the airport before you arrive at the Customs area. The form, which also asks for basic information related to your trip, requires that you list each item in the above list and how much it cost. If you're traveling with your immediate family, personal exemptions may be combined on one form.