Marriage Laws » United States » Customs Information » Exemptions » Gifts

Gifts accompanying you are considered to be for your personal use and may be included in your exemption. This includes gifts given to you by others while abroad and those you intend to give to others after you return. Gifts intended for business, promotional or other commercial purposes may not be included.

Bona fide gifts of not more than $100 in fair retail value may be shipped and received by friends and relatives in the United States free of duty and tax, if the same person does not receive more than $100 in gift shipments in one day. The "day" in reference is the day in which the parcel(s) are received for Customs processing. This amount is increased to $200 if shipped from the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam. You do not declare these gifts upon your return to the United States.

Perfume containing alcohol and valued at more than $5 retail, tobacco products, and alcoholic beverages are excluded from the gift provision.

Gifts intended for more than one person may be shipped in the same package provided they are individually wrapped and labeled with the name of the recipient.

Be sure the outer wrapping of the package is marked: 1) unsolicited gift, 2) nature of the gift, and 3) its fair retail value. In addition, a consolidated gift parcel should be marked as such on the outside with the names of the recipients listed and the value of each gift. This will facilitate Customs clearance of your package.

If any article imported in the gift parcel is subject to duty and tax, or should any single gift within a consolidated package exceed the bona fide gift allowance, then that gift will be dutiable.

You, as a traveler, cannot send a "gift" parcel to yourself nor can persons traveling together send "gifts" to each other. Gifts ordered by mail from the United States do not qualify under this duty-free gift provision and are subject to duty.

If a parcel is subject to duty, the United States Postal Service will collect the duty plus handling charges. Duty cannot be prepaid.

Duty on articles not covered by your exemption

Duty preferences are granted to certain developing countries under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Some products from these countries have been exempted from duty which would otherwise be collected if imported from any other country. For details, obtain the leaflet GSP & The Traveler from your nearest Customs office. Many products of certain Caribbean and Andean countries are also exempt from duty under the Caribbean Basin Initiative and Andean Trade Preference Act. Most products of Israel may enter the United States either free of duty or at a reduced duty rate. Check with Customs.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented on January 1, 1994. U.S. residents returning directly or indirectly from Canada or Mexico are eligible for free or reduced duty rates as applicable, on goods originating in Canada or Mexico as defined in the Agreement.

Personal belongings of United States origin are entitled entry free of duty. Personal belongings taken abroad, such as worn clothing, etc., may be sent home by mail before you return and receive free entry provided they have not been altered or repaired while abroad. These packages should be marked "American Goods Returned." When a claim of United States origin is made, marking on the article to so indicate facilitates Customs processing.

Foreign-made personal articles taken abroad are dutiable each time they are brought into our country 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.

Items such as watches, cameras, tape recorders, or other articles which may be readily identified by serial number or permanently affixed markings, may be taken to the Customs office nearest you and registered before your departure. The Certificate of Registration (CF 4457) provided will expedite free entry of these items when you return. Keep the certificate as it is valid for any future trips as long as the information on it remains legible.

Registration cannot be accomplished by telephone nor can blank registration forms be given or mailed to you to be filled out at a later time.

Automobiles, Boats, and Planes

Vehicles, boats, planes, or other vehicles taken abroad for noncommercial use may be returned duty free by proving to the Customs officer that you took them out of the United States. This proof may be the state registration card for an automobile, the Federal Aviation Administration certificate for an aircraft, a yacht license or motorboat identification certificate for a pleasure boat, or a Customs certificate of registration obtained before departure.

Dutiable repairs or accessories acquired abroad for articles taken out of the United States must be declared on your return.

Warning: Catalytic-equipped vehicles (1976 or later model years) driven outside the United States, Canada, or Mexico will not, in most cases, meet EPA standards when brought back to the United States. As unleaded fuel generally is not available in other countries, the catalytic converter will become inoperative and must be replaced. Contact Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. 20460, for details and exceptions.

Your local Customs office has the following leaflets which will be of interest - "Importing a Car" and "Pleasure Boats." You may purchase Customs Guide for Private Flyers from your local Government Printing Office bookstore. Consult your local telephone book under "U.S. Government."

Household effects and tools of trade or occupation which you take out of the United States are duty free at the time you return if properly declared and entered.

All furniture, carpets, paintings, tableware, linens, and similar household furnishings acquired abroad may be imported free of duty, if:

Items such as wearing apparel, jewelry, photograph equipment, tape recorders, stereo components, and vehicles are considered personal articles and cannot be passed free of duty as household effects, although the duty rate on them will be assessed on. devalued basis according to age of the item.

Articles imported in excess of your Customs exemption will be subject to duty unless the items are entitled to free entry or prohibited.

The inspector will place the items having the highest rate of duty under your exemption, and duty will be assessed on the lower-rated items.

After deducting your exemptions and the value of any articles duty free, a flat 10 percent rate of duty will be applied to the next $1,000 worth (fair retail value) of merchandise. Any dollar amount of an article or articles over $1,000 will be dutiable at the various rates of duty applicable to the articles.

Articles to which the flat rate of duty is applied must be for your personal use or for use as gifts. You cannot receive this flat-rate provision more than once every 30 days, excluding the day of your last arrival.

There are special flate rates of duty for articles made in and acquired in either Canada or Mexico.

The flat rate of duty is 5% for articles purchased in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam, whether the articles accompany you or are shipped.

Example: You acquire goods valued at $2,500 from:

U.S. insular possessions:

Total Declared Value: $2,500
Personal Exemption up to: $1,200
Flat duty rate at 5%: next $1,000
Various rates of duty: remaining $300

Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act:

Total Declared Value: $2,500
Personal exemption (free of duty) up to: $ 600
Flat duty rate at 10%: next $1,000
Various rates of duty: remaining $ 900

Other countries or locations:

Total Declared Value: $2,500
Personal exemption (free of duty) up to: $ 400
Flat duty rate at 10%: next $1,000
Various rates of duty: remaining $1,100

The flat rate of duty will apply to any articles which are dutiable and cannot be included in your personal exemption, even if you have not exceeded the dollar amount of your exemption. Example: you are returning from Europe with $200 worth of articles which includes 2 liters of liquor. One liter will be free of duty under your exemption, the other dutiable at 10%, plus any Internal Revenue Tax.

Members of a family residing in one household traveling together on their return to the U.S. will group articles for application of the flat duty rate, no matter which family member may be the owner of the articles.

Rates of duty on imported goods are provided for in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States. There are two duty rates for each item, known as "column 1" and "column 2." Column 1 rates vary from free (prism binoculars, books, antiques) to 34.6% (man-made fiber wearing apparel) and are applicable to most favored nations. Column 2 rates are higher and apply to products from the following countries:

Afghanistan North Korea
Cuba Laos

Note: The tariff duty status accorded these countries is subject to change. Please check with Customs for updated information.

Products of the above-listed column 2 countries are dutiable at the column 2 rates of duty, even if purchased in or sent from another country. Example: A crystal vase made in Laos and purchased in Switzerland would be dutiable at the column 2 rate. If the article accompanies you, however, it may be entered under your duty-free personal exemption or the flat rate of duty allowance.

Payment of duty, required at the time of your arrival on articles accompanying you, may be made by any of the following ways:

Goods covered by an ATA Carnet: Residents returning to the U.S. with goods covered by an ATA Carnet are reminded to report to a Customs inspector upon their arrival. The inspector will examine the covered goods against the carnet and certify the appropriate reimportation counterfoil and voucher. The carnet will serve as the Customs control registration document and no entry or payment of duty will be necessary as long as the goods qualify as U.S. goods returned and are being brought back into the United States within the validity period of the carnet. (See Customs pamphlet “ATA Carnet”).

Prohibited & Restricted Articles

Because Customs inspectors are stationed at ports of entry and along our land and sea borders, they are often called upon to enforce laws and requirements of other Government agencies. This is done to protect community health, preserve domestic plant and animal life, and for other reasons.

Certain articles considered injurious or detrimental to the general welfare of the United States are prohibited entry by law. Among these are: lottery tickets, narcotics and dangerous drugs, obscene articles and publications, seditious and treasonable materials, hazardous articles (e.g., fire- works, dangerous toys, toxic or poisonous substances), and switchblade knives (however, a one-armed person may import a switchblade knife for personal use, if the blade is 3 inches in length or less.)

Other items must meet special requirements before they can be released. You will be given a receipt for any articles retained by Customs.

Artifacts & Cultural Property (Objects/Artifacts)

U.S. law prohibits the importation of pre-Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from certain countries in Central and South America without proper export permits. These importations are restricted no matter where the artifacts are shipped from, be it the country of origin or elsewhere.

Federal law and international treaties prohibit the importation of any articles of stolen cultural property from museums, religious, or secular public monuments. Would-be buyers of such property should be aware that, unlike purchases of customary tourist merchandise, purchases of cultural objects do not confer ownership should such an object be found to be stolen. Imports of certain archeological and ethnographic material (e.g., masks or textiles) from Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, and Mali are restricted and require export certificates from the country of origin. Purveyors of such merchandise have been known to offer phony export certificates, and again, prospective buyers should be aware that Customs inspectors are expert at spotting fraudulent export certificates that accompany cultural property. Additional restrictions are expected to be imposed on material from countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Central America. These restrictions are aimed at providing international access to cultural objects to all members of the public for legitimate scientific, cultural, and educational purposes. For more information, contact the United States Information Agency, Washington, D.C., (202) 619-6612.


Automobiles imported into the United States must conform to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission requirements and Department of Transportation (DOT) safety, bumper and theft prevention standards. See Customs pamphlet “Importing a Car" and "Pleasure Boats”.

Almost all automobiles purchased overseas do not comply with U.S. standards and will require modification. Vehicles imported conditionally for modification to U.S. specifications, and not modified, or are not modified acceptably, must either be exported or destroyed under Customs supervision.

Also, vehicles that were originally manufactured to meet EPA emission requirements may, depending upon what countries the car was driven in, be subject to additional EPA requirements or require a bond upon entry. You are advised to call the EPA for further assistance.

Information on importing vehicles may be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency, Attn: 6405J, Washington, D.C. 20460, telephone (202) 233-9660, and the Department of Transportation, Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (NEF 32), Washington, D.C. 20590. Copies of the Customs pamphlet Importing a Car and EPA's Automotive Imports Fact Manual may be obtained by writing, respectively, the U.S. Customs Service, P.O. Box 7407, Washington, D.C. 20044, or the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. 20460.

Biological Materials

Biological materials of public health or veterinary importance (disease organisms and vectors for research and educational purposes) require import permits. Write to the Foreign Quarantine Program, U.S. Public Health Service, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA. 30333.

Books, Video Tapes, Computer Programs and Cassettes

Pirated copies of copyrighted articles - unlawfully made articles produced without the authorization of the copyright owner - are prohibited from importation into the United States. Pirated copies may be seized and destroyed.

Trademarked Articles

Foreign-made trademarked articles may be limited as to the quantity which may be brought into the United States if the registered trademark has been recorded with Customs by an American trademark owner.

The types of articles usually of interest to tourists are 1) lenses, cameras, binoculars, optical goods; 2) tape recorders, musical instruments; 3) jewelry, precious metal-ware; 4) perfumes; 5) watches, clocks.

Persons arriving in the United States with a trademarked article are allowed an exemption, usually one article of a type bearing a protected trademark. An exempted trademark article must accompany you, and you can claim this exemption for the same type of article only once each 30 days. The article must be for your personal use and not for sale. If an exempted article is sold within one year following importation, the article or its value is subject to forfeiture.

If the trademark owner allows a quantity in excess of the aforementioned exemption for its particular trademarked article, the total of those trademarked articles authorized may be entered. Articles bearing counterfeit trademarks, if the amount of such articles exceeds the traveler's personal exemption, are subject to seizure and forfeiture.

Ceramic Tableware Some ceramic tableware sold abroad contains dangerous levels of lead in the glaze that can leach into certain foods and beverages served in them. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that ceramic tableware, especially when purchased in Mexico, China, Hong Kong or India, be tested for lead release on your return or be used for decorative purposes only.

Drug Paraphernalia

The importation, exportation, manufacture, sale, and transportation of drug paraphernalia are prohibited. Persons convicted of these offenses are subject to fines and imprisonment. As importations contrary to law, drug paraphernalia may be seized by U.S. Customs.

Firearms and Ammunition

Firearms and ammunition are subject to restrictions and import permits approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Applications to import may be made only by or through a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer. Weapons, ammunition, or other devices prohibited by the National Firearms Act will not be admitted into the United States unless specifically authorized by ATF.

No import permit is required when it is proven that the firearms or ammunition were previously taken out of the United States by the person who is returning with such firearms or ammunition. To facilitate reentry, persons may have them registered before departing from the United States at any Customs office or ATF field office. Exports are subject to the export licensing requirements of the Office of Defense Trade Controls, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520, (703) 875-6644.

For further information on imports, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. 20226, (202) 927-8320.

Residents of the United States carrying firearms or ammunition with them to other countries should consult in advance the Customs officials or the respective embassies of those countries as to their regulations.

Fish and Wildlife Fish and wildlife are subject to certain import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits or certificates, and quarantine requirements. This includes:

Endangered species of wildlife and products made from them are generally prohibited from being imported or exported. All ivory and ivory products made from elephant or marine mammal ivory are also generally prohibited from being imported. Antiques containing wildlife parts may be imported if accompanied by documentation proving that they are at least 100 years old. (Certain other requirements for antiques may apply.) If you contemplate purchasing articles made from wildlife, such as tortoise shell jewelry, leather goods, or other articles made from whalebone, ivory, skins, or fur, please contact - before you go - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 3247, Arlington, Va. 22203-3247. Information on the limit for migratory game birds for import and export can also be obtained from this office. Ask for their pamphlet "Facts About Federal Wildlife Laws."

If you plan to import fish or wildlife, or any product, article or part, check with Customs or the Fish and Wildlife Service first, as only certain ports are designated to handle these entries. Additional information is contained in our leaflet "Pets and Wildlife", U.S. Customs.

Federal regulations do not authorize the importation of any wildlife or fish into any state of the United States if the state's laws or regulations are more restrictive than any applicable Federal treatment. Wild animals taken, killed, sold, possessed, or exported to the United States in violation of any foreign laws are not allowed entry into the United States.

Hunting Trophies

If you plan to import a hunting trophy or game, check with the Fish and Wildlife Service first. Such items generally require a Fish and Wildlife license and only certain ports are designated to handle these entries. Trophies may also be subject to an inspection by APHIS for sanitary purposes. General guidelines for importing trophies may be found in their publication: “Traveler’s Tips.”

Warning: There are many different regulations governing the importation of animals and animal parts. Failure to comply could result in extensive and expensive delays in clearing your trophy through Customs.

In addition, federal regulations do not authorize the importation of any wildlife or fish into any state of the United States if the state’s laws or regulations are more restrictive than any applicable Federal treatment. Wild animals taken, killed, sold, possessed, or exported to the United States in violation of any foreign laws are not allowed entry into the United States.

Food Products

Bakery items and all cured cheeses are admissible. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service leaflet, “Traveler’s Tips,” provides detailed information on bringing food, plant, and animal products into the United States. Imported foods are also subject to requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.

Fruits and Vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables are either prohibited from entering the country or require an import permit. Every fruit or vegetable must be declared to the Customs officer and must be presented for inspection, no matter how free of pests it appears to be. Most canned or processed items are admissible.

Applications for import permits or requests for information should be addressed to Quarantines, USDA-APHIS-PPQ, Federal Bldg., Hyattsville, Md. 20782, or call (301) 734-8645.

Meats, Livestock, Poultry

Meats, livestock, poultry, and their by-products (such as ham, frankfurters, sausage, pate), are either prohibited or restricted from entering the United States, depending on the animal disease condition in country of origin. Fresh meat is generally prohibited from most countries. Canned meat is permitted if the inspector can determine that it is commercially canned, cooked in the container, hermetically sealed, and can be kept without refrigeration. Other canned, cured, or dried meat is severely restricted from most countries.

You should contact USDA-APHIS-VS, Federal Building, 6506 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville, Maryland 20782, for detailed requirements or call (301) 734-7830.


Plants, cuttings, seeds, unprocessed plant products and certain endangered species either require an import permit or are prohibited from entering the United States. Endangered or threatened species of plants and plant products, if importation is not prohibited, will require an export permit from the country of origin. Every single plant or plant product must be declared to the Customs officer and must be presented for inspection, no matter how free of pests it appears to be. Applications for import permits or requests for information should be addressed to: Quarantines, USDA-APHIS-PPQ, Federal Building, Room 632, 6505 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville, Md. 20782, (301) 734-8645.


Gold coins, medals, and bullion, formerly prohibited, may be brought into the United States. However, under regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, such items originating in or brought from Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea are prohibited entry. Copies of gold coins are prohibited if not properly marked by country of issuance.


Narcotics and dangerous drugs, including anabolic steroids, are prohibited entry and there are severe penalties if imported. A traveler requiring medicines containing habit-forming drugs or narcotics (e.g., cough medicines, diuretics, heart drugs, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, stimulants, etc.) should:


The Food and Drug Administration prohibits the importation, by mail or in person, of fraudulent prescription and non-prescription drugs and medical devices. These may include unorthodox "cures" for medical conditions including cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. While these drugs and devices may be completely legal elsewhere, they may not have been approved for use in the United States, even under a prescription issued by a foreign physician. They may not legally enter the United States and may be confiscated.

For additional information, contact your nearest FDA office or write:

Food and Drug Administration
Division of Import Operations and Policy
Room 12-8 (HFC-170)
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

Merchandise from Embargoed Countries

The importation of goods from the following countries is generally prohibited under regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control: Cuba, North Korea, Libya, Iraq and Iran.

These restrictions do not apply to informational materials such as pamphlets, books, tapes, films or recordings.

Specific licenses from the Office of Foreign Assets Control are required to bring prohibited merchandise into the United States, but they are rarely granted. Foreign visitors to the United States may be permitted to bring in small articles for personal use as accompanied baggage, depending upon the goods' country of origin.

Travelers should be aware of certain travel restrictions that may apply to these countries. Because of the strict enforcement of these prohibitions, those anticipating foreign travel to any of the countries listed above would do well to write in advance to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. 20220, U.S.A.

Money and Other Monetary Instruments

There is no limit on the total amount of monetary instruments which may be brought into or taken out of the United States nor is it illegal to do so. However, if you transport or cause to be transported (including by mail or other means) more than $10,000 in monetary instruments on any occasion into or out of the United States, or if you receive more than that amount, you must file a report (Customs Form 4790) with U.S. Customs (Currency & Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, 31 U.S.C. 1101, et seq.). Failure to comply can result in civil, criminal and/or forfeiture penalties. Monetary instruments include U.S. or foreign coin in current circulation, currency, traveler's checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form.


There are controls, restrictions, and prohibitions on entry of animals, birds, turtles, wildlife, and endangered species.

If you plan to take your pet abroad or import one on your return, obtain a copy of our leaflet, "Pets and Wildlife," U.S. Customs.

You should check with state, county and municipal authorities about any restrictions and prohibitions they may have before importing a pet.


Textile and apparel items which accompany you and which you have acquired abroad for personal use or as gifts are generally not subject to quantitative restrictions. However, unaccompanied textile and apparel items may be subject to certain quantitative restrictions (quotas) which require a document called a "visa" or "export license" or exempt certificate as appropriate from the country of production. Check with Customs before you depart on your trip.

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