8 Tips to Get Through Airport Customs
When you return from holiday, you may not be as excited as you are at the time of going. Moreover, you come back brimming with the stories, bags full of goodies, and cameras full of memories.
However, if you are not careful about the things in your carry-on items that you bring back from your trip through any of the main airport points of entry such as San Francisco SFO, Philadelphia PHL, Miami MIA, or LAX airport, it might lead to ending your holiday on a sour note. Most of the passengers are unaware of what they can carry abroad or bring back.
If you breach the law by mistakenly bringing a prohibited item to airport security of customs, you cannot claim that you are not aware of the customs rules. Rather, a customs official has the right to impose a hefty duty on all the items that you are carrying with you.
So the first thing you must go through is to review the latest news on airport customs. What you can and cannot take with you across the borders, and how much it can cost, as it can play an important role in your purchases made abroad.
1. Know What Items are Allowed to Bring In
Customs duty is an indirect tax that is levied on all the goods that are imported into the country and exported from the country. To make it easier to understand, it is a tax that is levied on goods across national borders.
The duty which is levied on the goods completely depends on the value of the goods, dimensions of the goods, and weight along with some other criteria. The duty which depends on the value of the goods is called Valorem duty; quantity-based duties are known as specific duties. In the US, there is a long list of items prohibited from entry, such as drugs, weapons, etc. Check with the CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) to see the full list.
2. Double Check what You've Bought
Customs officials may ask for the other items as well that you have purchased on your trip. These items can be clothes, jewelry, electronics, furniture, or anything else that may be dutiable.
When you purchase any goods outside of your own country, you are subject to pay the duty fee upon returning with those items. The cost of the duty fee can vary depending on the item and its worth.
You have to be very careful when you buy any expensive jewelry or electronics from certain countries because they can be subject to a 100% duty fee at the border crossing.
This means that again you need to pay the full amount of the item at the time of purchase and again at the 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.
4. Know what's Exempted from Duty
The good news about the duty fees is that each person is eligible for an exemption on goods costing up to a certain amount. The amount of custom exemption depends on the country in which you have visited.
In most cases, you can carry the custom free goods that cost up to $800. For a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam), the duty-free exemption is $1600.
You can use this exemption limit on all the goods that you have purchased from another country. But, this exemption is not applicable to alcohol and certain tobacco-based products, and you have to pay a flat rate of duty on it.
5. Pick the Correct Customs Lane
Every time when you enter a new country or return to your own country, you have to clear a number of customs. The main mission of customs is to ensure that nothing harmful, potentially harmful or any illegal good is brought into the country.
When passengers arrive at the customs clearance area, there typically are two areas or lanes, usually (in the US) called the Red channel and Green channel:
- Green Channel is for those passengers who do not have any dutiable goods
- Red Channel is for those passengers who have duties.
However, if you are not sure whether the goods that you have are to be declared or not, you have to report at the Red Channel counters.
6. Know their Rules when Traveling Abroad
If you are traveling into another country, customs officials can ask whether you are traveling with anything dangerous or illegal goods. This can include plants, vegetables, fruits, meats, alcohol, automobiles, and animals.
Traveling with these items can be prohibited or heavily restricted. For example, an automobile that is purchased in another country must meet all the fuel-emission as well as safety requirements of the U.S. vehicles if you want to import it in the United States.
All items must be declared when crossing the borders and must comply with the country’s regulations; otherwise, they will be confiscated.
If you are planning a trip abroad, make a note of what you pack. Any expensive jewelry, camera equipment, or foreign-made electronics can be questioned upon your return.
If you leave the country with these items, you have to be sure to bring the receipts or register of the items before leaving the country. Otherwise, they can be subject to duty fees again on your return.
It is important here to note that if you travel out of the country more than once in a month and declare $400 on your first trip, you have used your entire exemption allowance for 30 days. When you return back from your second trip in that month, you are subject to duty fees on all the purchases that you made regardless of their cost.
Another consideration is the length of time you were in another country. If you travel for less than 48 hours, you are not eligible for your standard exemption. In both instances, you may bring back $200 worth of items without being charged duty fees.
READ MORE: Rules to Know When Traveling to the European Union
For the standard exemption of $800, all the family members may pool their personal exemptions to bring a more expensive item back into the country. Family members may not pool a $200 personal exemption when traveling for less than 48 hours or more than once in a month.
Gifts for family and friends upon your return, as well as gifts given to you, must be declared as part of your personal exemption. Further, gifts with the value of up to 100$ may be sent to your 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.
7. Save $$ on Foreign Sales Tax: Duty-Free Shops
When you purchase the goods from a duty-free shop, you must pay duty fees on these goods before returning to your country. The goods sold in a duty-free shop are free from duty and taxes only for the country in which that shop is located. But at least you save on the taxes that you would normally pay at a shop in say Paris. In Europe, the VAT tax is 22%, so its not insignificant.
On the other hand, if your purchases exceed your personal exemption, you have to pay the duty on it—irrespective of whether you are in the United States or abroad.
READ MORE: Avoid these Common Mistakes at Security Checkpoints
8. Get your VAT Refund
If you have purchased any goods from other countries, they may also charge a VAT (value added tax) at the time of purchase. If you pay the VAT on that particular good, then you may get a refund of the VAT amount as you leave the country. Further, you have to apply for your VAT refund as soon as you leave the country; otherwise you are not eligible for availing the refund.
So for the next time when you travel abroad, you might want to think twice about that ivory necklace from Africa or the pricey video camera from Japan. You can end up paying double for it or have the goods confiscated altogether as you return to your home country.
You must think twice before buying any unusual or highly expensive items as it may lead to extra duty for that and make it even more costly.