U.S. Customs Info

One of the question topics frequently addressed on various message boards revolves around the process of bringing wine back into the United States.  This page is designed to answer as many of these questions as possible.  The text is quoted directly from the U.S. Custom Services' Know Before You Go pamphlet.  If you have further questions, you can visit their website at www.customs.gov

Introduction

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The U.S. Customs Service is America's frontline against the smuggling of drugs and other prohibited goods. Customs has discovered large amounts of drugs in baggage, vehicles, and on passengers themselves.

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When you return to the United States, we will treat you in a courteous, professional manner. We realize that very few travelers actually violate the law, but we may still need to examine your baggage or your vehicle, which, by law, we are allowed to do. We may ask you about your citizenship, your trip, and about anything you are bringing back to the United States that you did not have with you when you left.

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If you need help clearing Customs, please do not hesitate to ask the Customs inspector for assistance.

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"Duty" and "dutiable" are words you will find frequently throughout this brochure: 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. Most items have specific duty rates, which are determined by a number of factors, including where you got the item, where it was made, and what it is made of.

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To "declare" means to tell the Customs officer about anything you're bringing back that you did not have when you left the United States. For example, you would declare alterations made in a foreign country to a suit you already owned, and you would declare any gifts you acquired overseas.

When You Return to the United States

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When you come back, you'll need to declare everything you brought back that you did not take with you when you left the United States. If you are traveling by air or sea, you may be asked to fill out a Customs declaration form. This form is almost always provided by the airline or cruise ship. You will probably find it easier and faster to fill out your declaration form and clear Customs if you do the following:

- Keep your sales slips! As you read this brochure, you'll understand why this is especially important for international travelers.
- Try to pack the things you'll need to declare separately.
- Read the signs in the Customs area. They contain helpful information about how to clear Customs.

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Be aware that under U.S. law, Customs inspectors are authorized to examine luggage, cargo, and travelers. Under the search authority granted to Customs by the U.S. Congress, every passenger who crosses a U.S. border may be searched. To stop the flow of illegal drugs and other contraband into our country, we need your cooperation. If you are one of the very few travelers selected for a search, you will be treated in a courteous, professional, and dignified manner. If you are searched and you believe that you were not treated in such a manner, or if you have any concerns about the search for any reason whatsoever, we want to hear from you. Please contact the Executive Director, Passenger Programs.

What You Must Declare

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Items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return to the United States.

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Items you received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday presents.

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Items you inherited.

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Items you bought in duty-free shops or on the ship or plane.

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Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free of charge.

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Items you brought home for someone else.

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Items you intend to sell or use in your business.

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Items you acquired (whether purchased or received as gifts) in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or in a Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act country (please see section on $600 exemption for a list of these countries) that are not in your possession when you return. In other words, if you acquired things in any of these island nations and asked the merchant to send them to you, you must still declare them when you go through Customs. (This differs from the usual procedure for mailed items, which is discussed in the section on Sending Goods to the United States.

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You must state on the Customs declaration, in United States currency, what you actually paid for each item. The price must include all taxes. If you did not buy the item yourself - for example, if it is a gift - get an estimate of its fair retail value in the country where you received it. If you bought something on your trip and wore or used it on the trip, it's still dutiable. You must declare the item at the price you paid or, if it was a gift, at its fair market value.

Duty-free Exemption

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Alcoholic Beverages:
One liter (33.8 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages may be included in your exemption if:
You are 21 years old.
It is for your own use or as a gift.
It does not violate the laws of the state in which you arrive.

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Federal regulations allow you to bring back more than one liter of alcoholic beverage for personal use, but, as with extra tobacco, you will have to pay duty and Internal Revenue Service tax.

While federal regulations do not specify a limit on the amount of alcohol you may bring back for personal use, unusual quantities are liable to raise suspicions that you are importing the alcohol for other purposes, such as for resale. Customs officers are authorized by Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) make on-the-spot determinations that an importation is for commercial purposes, and may require you to obtain a permit to import the alcohol before leasing to you. If you intend to bring back a substantial quantity of alcohol for your personal use you should contact the Customs port you will be re-entering the country through, and make prior arrangements for entering the alcohol into the U.S.

Having said that, you should be aware that State laws may limit the amount of alcohol you can bring in without a license. If you arrive in a state that has limitations on the amount of alcohol you may bring in without a license, that state law will be enforced by Customs, even though it may be more restrictive then Federal regulations. We recommend that you check with the state government before you go abroad about their limitations on quantities allowed for personal importation and additional state taxes that might apply.

In brief, for both alcohol and tobacco, the quantities discussed in this booklet as being eligible for duty-free treatment may be included in your $800 (or $600 or $1,200) exemption, just as any other purchase would be. But unlike other kinds of merchandise, amounts beyond those discussed here as being duty-free are taxed, even if you have not exceeded, or even met, your personal exemption. For example, if your exemption is $800 and you bring back three liters of wine and nothing else, two of those liters will be dutiable. Federal law prohibits shipping alcoholic beverages by mail within the United States.

Duty-Free Shops

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Many travelers are confused by the term "duty-free" shops. Travelers often think that what they buy in duty-free shops won't be dutiable when they return home and clear Customs. But this is not true: Articles sold in a duty-free shop are free of duty and taxes only for the country in which that shop is located. So if your purchases exceed your personal exemption, items you bought in a duty-free shop, whether in the United States or abroad, will almost certainly be subject to duty.

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Articles sold in foreign duty-free shops are subject to U.S. Customs duty and other restrictions (for example, only one liter of liquor is duty-free), but you may include these items in your personal exemption. Articles sold in duty-free shops are meant to be taken out of the country; they are not meant to be used, worn, eaten, drunk, etc., in the country where you purchased them. Articles purchased in American duty-free shops are also subject to U.S. Customs duty if you bring them into the United States. For example, if you buy liquor in a duty-free shop in New York before entering Canada and then bring it back into the United States, it may be subject to duty and Internal Revenue Service tax.


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