Understanding Indian customs

If you are travelling from the U.S. to India, it is better to know your rights and custom clearance in India.


  • What is Indian customs?
  • What is Indian customs duty?
  • What are the customs regulations in India?
  • What are the allowable items in India?
  • What are the import regulations?
  • What are the rules if I am planning a casual trip to India?
  • What are the rules if I am planning to move permanently to India?

Familiarity with custom regulations and baggage rules can go a long way in saving money, time and energy during travel. First, you will not have to pay more than what you own in terms of customs duty. Second, you will save time and energy by quickly doing the right thing and avoiding hassles at the airports in India. Last, knowing about rules prepares you in advance.

For starters, check out the official Indian web site for custom baggage rules: Central Board of Excise and Customs website.

Arriving at the airport

When you arrive at the airport, you will have two options for clearing customs.

  • Passing through the Green Channel if you do not have any dutiable goods.
  • Passing through the Red Channel if you have any dutiable goods.

Customs Duty and the Green Channel

If you do not have any dutiable items,

  • Fill the declaration form on board. You will receive the Customs Declaration Form on board before landing in India.
  • Give the form to the custom official at the gate before leaving the terminal.
  • Make sure that you fill correct declaration of your baggage.
  • It is an offence to carry dutiable items and not declare customs.

Customs Duty and the Red Channel

If you have any dutiable items,

  • Fill the declaration form on board. You will receive the Customs Declaration Form on board before landing in India.
  • Give the form to the custom official at the gate before leaving the terminal.
  • Make sure that you fill correct declaration of your baggage.
  • Declare that you do not have value of foreign currency notes in excess of US $ 5000 or equivalent. You should also declare that you do not have more than US $10,000 aggregate value of foreign exchange including currency.

Tips: Customs Regulations

  • There are few things which you can carry duty free.

    • Any used personal effects
    • One Laptop
    • Foreign currency within the limits discussed above.

    The goods over and above the free allowances are admissible for customs duty @ 35% + an education cess of 2%. The total is approximately 35.7%.

  • Do not blindly pay the duty at the Airport. If you are not sure, you can always ask for the exact rules, and can estimate the customs duty you owe on your own.
  • If you think you don't have anything that must be declared at the custom counter, you can come out through the green channel.
  • If you do not pay the customs duty, you may be penalized in the following ways:
    • confiscation of goods that were eligible for customs duty
    • imposition of heavy fine in respect of the above goods if these are released
    • imposition of penalty for up to five times the value of goods or the duty involved
    • arrest and prosecution

How much money (in dollars) can I carry without declaration while going to India?

The total value of Foreign Currency brought in by a person, in the form of Currency Notes, Travelers Checks etc. should not exceed total of 10,000 US Dollars or it's equivalent.
And Foreign Currency Notes should not exceed 2,500 US Dollars or its equivalent. If it is above this limit, then you need to declare it at the customs, and need to fill up a CDF (Currency Declaration Form).

Customs Regulations while moving back to India

If you are returning to India for good, there are different rules that allow a person to carry his house hold stuff without paying any taxes or at minimum tax level. For details on articles allowed free of duty and the conditions thereof please visit http://www.cbec.gov.in/travellers.htm.

The rate of duty applicable to some items imported by passengers transferring their residence from the U.S. to India is 15% + educational cess @ 2% to a total of 15.3%. Remember that you have to show evidence of stay in the U.S. for more than 365 days in the past 2 years.
Some examples of items that are not duty free and are dutiable at the rates above are:

  • Digital Video Disc Player.
  • Color Television
  • Video Home Theatre System/ Music System
  • Air Conditioner.
  • Domestic refrigerators of capacity above 300 litres or its equivalent.
  • Dish Washer.

Check the complete list of items attracting customs duty when you are moving back to India http://www.cbec.gov.in/travellers.htm.

Items taken during travel from India to U.S.

If you are carrying items like camcorder, big music system, jewelry or any other expensive item that attracts custom duty, you can declare them at the custom counter in India. You can get these items endorsed in your passport. When you return back to India from U.S. you will not be charged any duty on these items.

Customs Regulations: The last word

It is better to be aware than sorry. Understanding your rights as a traveler to India will enable you to do the right thing. Indian customs regulations can be a bit confusing and knowing what is allowed duty free and what attracts customs duty will help you to travel wisely.