How seriously do people take customs forms?
December 11, 2004 7:21 PM   Subscribe

How seriously do people take customs forms? When coming back to the US from Europe this summer, my SO and I argued extensively on how important it was that we follow the written instructions on the customs cards handed out on the plane. I started diligently trying to recall everything we were bringing back, including foodstuffs, but she thought that wasn't necessary at all and in the end we just went through the "nothing to declare" line. How much trouble could we have got in, if we only had a few knicknacks and some Turkish Delight? What is supposed to happen, really?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total)
I wouldn't worry about it. And if you get caught, make sure you put it on your blog so we can all feel sorry for you.
posted by Doohickie at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2004

Seriously, though: It's been a while since I traveled overseas, but I seem to remember that personal purchases of less than $400 per family are excempt from reporting. Read the whole form carefully; I think it says that if you have less than that amount, you can declare nothing. I think processed foods may be okay, but fruits, veggies and plants are not.
posted by Doohickie at 8:14 PM on December 11, 2004

Meats probably questionable as well.
posted by kenko at 10:15 PM on December 11, 2004

I usually write down everything, including things that won't matter, for example chocolate, a slight excess in the amount of liquor allowed, and so on.

If it looks like you've been overly careful in filling out your form, you're likely to get through with no problems, and you won't have any hassles if they do inspect your luggage (for not declaring *everything*)
posted by tomble at 10:16 PM on December 11, 2004

Unless you bought more than $800 worth of trinkets, you were safe, anonymous. From here (which, incidentally, has the most boring photo gallery I've ever seen):
Your duty-free exemption is $800 if you are a returning U.S. resident and the items you acquired abroad accompany you. The duty-free exemption is $600 if you are returning directly from a Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act country. The exemption is $1,200 if you are returning from American Samoa, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Although apparently things can get pretty dicey if you're carrying tuna [pdf].

I did not, however, know this:
Foreign-made personal articles taken abroad are subject to duty each time they are brought back into the United States unless you have acceptable proof of prior possession. Documents which fully describe the article, such as a bill of sale, insurance policy, jeweler's appraisal, or receipt for purchase, may be considered reasonable proof of prior possession.
posted by ontic at 10:22 PM on December 11, 2004

You can get pretty hefty fines if you lie about foodstuffs on your forms. I've brought tea and honey into the US from Australia a few years ago, delcared it on my form and had no problem.

Bringing certain foods can bring especially stiff fines. Frest fruits, because of the risk of blights. Raw, unpasturized dairy products.

If it's inexpensive souvenirs, you're not required to declare it. In the back pags of any airplane magazine you will find detailed instructions about how to fill out your customs form, written in a number of different languages.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:27 AM on December 12, 2004

My rule of thumb has always been that the only stuff to worry about are fruits and meats (and raw cheeses.) I saw a woman get pulled out of line and grilled because she had a banana in her purse that she had meant to eat on the plane. One of the sniffer beagles found it. I've smuggled the odd sausage in (pre 911) but never worried about how much I spent on clothes or souvenirs. Then again, I'm not buying mink stoles or anything.
The last few times I went through customs at JFK, there wasn't even anyone there to check my form, just some traffic cop type waving everyone through.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:35 AM on December 12, 2004

As ontic has stated, you can spend up to $800 without worrying about duty. If customs searches your bags, they will look for contraband (food, etc) and items that still have price tags attached. I have a friend who exceeds the $800 limit with one item of clothing. She removes the tags before returning to the States. Never has a problem with it. Though I don't recommend that as a legal, ethical, or moral option.
posted by Juicylicious at 9:51 AM on December 12, 2004

I've smuggled the odd sausage

Is that what kids are calling it these days?
posted by Doohickie at 12:04 PM on December 12, 2004

I wouldn't worry about it. I wrote down everything I brought back from a trip last year, and I think the agent was surprised at the detailed list of cheap-ish items that I handed to her, so I don't think they view it as a big deal.
posted by lychee at 6:02 PM on December 12, 2004

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