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The 411 on International Duty on Gifts and Souvenirs


Did you forget to buy souvenirs for your friends and family on your last business trip and promised everyone you wouldn't forget THIS time...only to forget again?  Well don't worry.  As long as you haven't boarded your aircraft, you can still keep your promise.  Airports all over the world have what are known as  duty free stores, which indicates that you do not pay sales tax on any of your purchases.   You can stock up on anything from specialty food items to liquor, high brand cosmetics, clothing, shoes, electronics and more.  However, before you go on a shopping spree, be advised of what items you can and cannot bring into the country.  The duty free shops will sell you whatever you want to buy.  After all, they are in the business of making money.  Therefore it is your responsibility to know what items will be barred entry into the United States by US Customs.

Meats of any kind and fresh fruits and vegetables are strictly prohibited, although canned fruits and veggies like those  bought from a grocery store may be allowed.  Cigarettes are allowed but one person cannot bring in more than 2 cartons.

Each person is allowed to bring in gifts, souvenirs, and other items totaling $800.  A family of 3 is allowed $2,400 worth of items purchased abroad.  Items that total more than $800 per individual will be subject to a small tax which must be paid before exiting customs.

Sometimes the airport agents will hand you a blue customs form along with your boarding pass at check-in.  They are also handed out by flight attendants about an hour prior to landing.  It is very important that you answer the questions on this form honestly and that you claim and put a dollar value on items purchased abroad that you are bringing into the US.  If for some reason you or your entire flight is randomly selected for  additional screening and customs officials find items (prohibited or not) that you did not claim on your form, the US government will kindly relieve you of $500, plus any additional taxes if they think your items are worth more than $800.  In addition, a red flag will pop up next to your name so that every time your passport is scanned upon your arrival into the US from abroad, you will automatically be the recipient of an invasive and closely scrutinized screening process.  You will also be disqualified from participating in any of the Trusted Traveler Programs.

The dogs you see sniffing around the luggage area  or being walked past passengers in line are not simply checking for illegal drugs or bomb making materials.  They are trained to sniff out food items and they are very good at it.  To avoid any hassles, just claim everything.  If you have claimed something that turns out to be a prohibited item, the only thing the officials can do is throw it away.  When dealing with governmental agencies, honesty is always the best policy.

For a complete list of prohibited items, visit

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Posted on Jul 16 2014

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