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pmacbee Mar 19th, 2007 05:53 PM

Guidance on U.S. duties on Souvenirs and gifts?
We'll be heading back to the U.S. in a couple of weeks after about four months in Singapore and SE Asia. If I were to carry all the gifts for others and items we've bought for ourselves back with me, we would definitely be over the $800 duty free limit. Does anyone know where I can get information on how to calculate the duty we owe? I'm also trying to figure out whether it would be less expensive to send gifts directly to recipients -- might be able to avoid some duty, but would shipping costs for multiple packages outweigh the savings? So far the information on US duties that I've found is either too general ("Duty is chargeable on everything above $800", but no info as to rate), or way too specific (the entire 2700 page US Tariff schedule). I figured with the amount of travel experience in this forum, I should ask here before I go any further!

rhkkmk Mar 19th, 2007 06:52 PM

this is a complicated question....

there is a usa program called gsp, which allows unlimited purchases and import of many items from developing countries like thailand, india and others....i should not think singapore, but am not sure....probably malaysia, but again i am not sure of that...

you can read about this on the us government's site.....go to treasury department, then to customs and search there...or call the local embassy and ask them for a copy of this...

always use a wholesale price....make it up...i fudge....did i say that...

most customs guys will assist you upon arrival too, if you do not try to hide anything....they will pick the least expensive duty categories to charge you on....i make a long list and just wave it at them....often they ask for the most expensive item you have purchased and make judgements from there...

do not mail things, its way too expensive....

if you bought clothes for yourself wear them and bring them home dirty as things you brought with you....

they are not looking to gouge you...they are looking for the cheaters and for people who bring in illegal things or large quantities of things...

Kathie Mar 19th, 2007 07:09 PM

As Bob mentioned, it is very complicated. And my experience is that the interpretation of the rules varies from one customs agent to another.

In general, I have found the agents to be very helpful. They will group all of the high duty items under your duty-free allowance. When I have paid duty, some of the items have been in the 2-3% range, others as much as 10%. Antiques, works of art, and books are duty-free. Also, as Bob mentions, items form developing countries also come in duty free (and the definition of developing countries changes from year to year).

My recommendation is to bring everything back with you. You would pay more for shipping than for duty. I declare everything and have receipts for all of the expensive items.

rhkkmk Mar 19th, 2007 07:12 PM

on my return from thailand and india last december we had about $5000 worth of items....i declared them all....the agent did not blink an eye and just waved us through...

jenskar Mar 19th, 2007 08:26 PM

Hi Pam
You said "we" -- you know that each adult (I really don't know how this works for kids) gets their own $800 exemption, yes? My husband and I always pool everything on one form. Kathie and Bob are right -- duty isn't a fixed amount, certain things are free (fine art), others are varying percentages.
I keep receipts for really expensive things too - have never had a problem, as I'll tend to itemize to the nth (5 woven belts at the market at 12000 rupiah times 5 divided by 9000 -- does anyone really know how much I paid for those things?) They really are looking for the 5 rolex watches someone plans to resell, etc.
Can't wait to hear about your trip.

pmacbee Mar 20th, 2007 02:21 AM

I love this forum -- I knew you folks would have good information! Thank you all very much, your responses are extremely helpful. (I'm embarrassed to say that when I posted the message it hadn't registered with me that the $800 limit was per person -- but it did about a nano-second after I hit "post". Doh!)

Martinan Mar 20th, 2007 12:58 PM

Correct me if I am wrong but I don't think the limit is per person. When we came home from Asia last summer, it was one customs form for the whole family.

Guenmai Mar 20th, 2007 01:06 PM

One never knows what the customs agents will decide, but in my experience, coming home from S.E.Asia has been a LOT easier than coming home from Europe. I've been well over the limit and declared the items and the agent basically just took out his book and looked it all up...while apologizing for taking up my time...and then said,"Welcome home, have a nice day, and you don't have to pay're exempt". One agent on a trip asked why I had even declared the items and then signed off on the form and waved me through. Then there are coming from Paris...that have gone through everything. Once I even had an agent...about two decades ago...dump everything out...ask about every item...and then put my empty suitcase through the x-ray machine. Those were the days when they were awful and this kind of behavior was common. Things seem to have gotten better over the decades.It also depends on what airport you're coming into.

What I do is keep a few extra customs forms and then I write up the ENTIRE form the night before I leave for the airport...when I can think straight and am not all jetlagged...So, when I arrive home, my form is filled out. I keep a journal of all purchases. Happy Travels!

mrwunrfl Mar 20th, 2007 01:17 PM

Your one form for your family was a "joint declaration". Read the paragraph at the bottom of this page:

Mailed items are dutiable, and if there is a duty to be paid then there will also be a handling fee. I think that the mailed stuff can't be included as part of the $800 exemption. So if you mail something as a gift to somebody they may have to pay the duty and jump some hoops and wait a while to get it.

Martinan Mar 20th, 2007 01:38 PM

Thanks mrwunrfl!

rhkkmk Mar 20th, 2007 08:01 PM

lots of things we have mailed came in with not duty what so ever, from both asia and europe...

Hawaii is the only place i have ever had any trouble with the customs people...

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