Clearing U.S. Customs After Traveling Abroad

Coming home to the United Sates means clearing U.S. Immigration and Customs. This simple two-step process can turn into a time-consuming ordeal for the unprepared or for those not taking the process seriously. To prevent headaches and unnecessary delays, know a few simple U.S. Immigration and Customs rules for re-entry into the United States.

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Your first step in re-entering the country will be to prove your U.S. citizenship. This formality generally consists of a simple electronic or visual scan of your passport or other identification. You will need a passport to re-enter the United States from most foreign countries. It must be an original with a raised seal, or a certified copy with a raised seal.

In addition, children may no longer be included on their parent’s passport. Each traveler, even a newborn infant, must have his or her own passport. If this is your first trip abroad, getting a passport is easy. Forms are available from many post offices; federal, state and probate courts; county and municipal offices; as well as online. Passports are usually issued within six weeks from receipt of the completed application. It’s best to apply several months before your trip.

On your return to the United States, you must declare and make a written statement of everything you brought back that you did not have in your possession when you left the United States. A customs declaration form for this purpose is almost always provided if you travel by commercial airline or cruise ship. To put it simply: If you didn’t start with it, you must declare it. You must even declare film bought and/or developed abroad. Failure to declare an item may result in its forfeiture. Just because you declare an item does not mean you’ll have to pay a duty, or import tax, on the item. The reason? Each traveler is allowed a personal exemption ranging from $400 to $1,200 depending on the country visited, with separate limitations on liquor, cigarettes and cigars.

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