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U.S. Customs: Making a Declaration

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If you are returning to the U.S. by air or sea, you will be asked to complete a Customs Declaration form. 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. In addition to declaring items, you will be asked to tell what you paid for each item (in U.S. currency, including any taxes) and may be required to pay a “duty” (tax on imported goods) on them.

The following is a list of all items that must be declared on this form:

  • Items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return to the United States (Customs Service suggests keeping sales slips on hand).
  • Items you received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday presents (if you are not sure of the value, Customs Service suggests finding out the fair market value in the country in which you received it).
  • Items you inherited.
  • Items you bought in duty-free shops or on the ship or plane.
  • Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free of charge.
  • Items you brought home for someone else.
  • Items you intend to sell or use in your business.

Keep in mind that if you leave the country with a foreign item, and do not have proof that you left with it, you may be required to pay a duty on it when you return. Sales receipts, appraisals and insurance policies serve as proof of prior ownership, or you may wish to register the piece before you leave. Registration needs to be done in person, before you leave the country, at a Customs office. Once you have received a Certificate of Registration (Form 4457) for a particular piece, it can be used over and over again in the future; you do not need to re-register the item each time you travel.

U.S Customs > Making a Declaration > Duty-Free Exemption > Duty-Free Shops > Paying a Duty > Prohibited and Restricted Items

This is only a guide. For more information, please visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

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