Bringing Back Your Bounty: Getting Through Customs
Those items are the big ones. Customs officials will also want to know if you purchased anything else on your trip. They want to know about clothes, jewelry, electronics, furniture, or anything else that may be dutiable. When you purchase goods outside of your own country, you are subject to a duty fee upon returning with those items. The cost of the duty fee will vary depending on the item and its worth. Be careful when buying expensive jewelry or electronics from certain countries because they can be subject to a 100% duty fee at border crossing. This means that you would pay the full amount of the item at the time of purchase and again at border crossing. Check with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website (http://www.customs.ustreas.gov/) if you plan on making any expensive purchases while traveling abroad.
The good news about duty fees is that each person is eligible for an exemption on goods costing up to a certain amount. The amount of the exemption is dependent upon the country you visited, but in most cases will be $800. For a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or Guam), the duty-free exemption is $1600. This exemption can be used toward anything purchased while abroad except alcohol and certain tobacco products. These products are excluded from your personal exemption and charged a flat rate of duty instead.
Some Points about Exemptions
For the standard $800 exemption, family members may pool their personal exemptions to bring a more expensive item back into the country. Family members may not pool a $200 personal exemption when traveling for less than 48 hours or more than once in a month.
Gifts for family and friends upon your return, as well as gifts given to you while abroad must be declared and are considered part of your personal exemption. Gifts worth up to $100 may be sent to family and friends in the U.S. free of duty and tax, but the same person may not receive more than $100 worth of gifts in a single day.
Duty Free Shops
The next time you travel abroad, you might want to think twice about that ivory necklace from Africa or the pricey video camera from Japan. You could end up paying double for it, or have the item confiscated altogether as you return to your home country. The bottom line: you may want to think twice about any unusual or highly expensive item when making your purchases.