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While we are planning to go abroad we usually feel excited to do duty-free shopping from those glamorous and glitzy duty-free shops at all international airports. Before you go splurging at the duty free shop on your return to the US, here are a few basic tips to know about how you can avail of duty-free exemption. Also known as personal exemption, duty free exemption is the amount of goods which you can bring back to your home country, without having to pay any customs duty. All values which exceed the value of this exemption is dutiable. This means that you can shop till you drop but will have to pay the relevant duty on all items which are beyond the duty-free limits. Mostly the duty free limit is up to $800, but in some cases there are exceptions. The amount of duty free exemption would depend on the countries you have visited and can be $200, $800, or $1,600. Alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products are duty free up to a certain limit. Here are some details:

Items which are eligible for duty free exemption should be for your personal or household use or to be given away as gifts.

The items must be on your person, i.e., you must personally carry these duty-free items when you return to the US.

If the items are to be re-sent to any place, then they are not part of the duty-free.

Items which you have already declared to CBP. In case you have forgotten to register it with CBP, the items might be forfeited by customs.

Duty free exemptions apply only if you have left the US for 48 hours. This time limit does not apply if you are returning from Mexico or from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

You can only get full value of the exemption if you have not used part or whole of it in the past 30 days. For example, if you have been to India and brought back goods worth $200, you have to wait for at least 30 days before you are eligible for getting allowed duty free exemption of $800 again.

Duty free exemption is not applicable to prohibited or restricted items.

Personal exemptions may be combined amongst family members who live in the same home and return to US together.

Children and infants are also allowed personal exemptions except for items like alcohol and cigarettes.

So you might want to talk to a CBP official prior to your departure for a foreign location, so that you are sure what items which you can bring in to pass through customs formalities smoothly and without any hassle or expenditure. Items which are prohibited or restricted call for unnecessary delays in your customs clearance – be it re-entering the US or entering any country. Prior knowledge about these details is therefore always helpful. For instance, prohibited items for re-entry to the US include: dangerous toys, cars that don’t protect their occupants in a crash, or illegal substances like absinthe and Rohypnol. Similarly the list also includes plants, processed foods and more. Examples of restricted items include firearms and certain fruits, vegetables, pets, and textiles.
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