Sensible people have always recognized the benefits of understanding the rules & regulations of travel. If you are travelling to the U.S. it is important to understand the process of customs inspection. Every time you enter U.S., or for that matter any country, you will need to clear customs. Customs officials check if you are in possession of anything illegal or harmful. This includes, but is not limited to possession of plants, edible items, fruits and vegetables, meats, alcohol, automobiles, and animals.

If you are familiar with the customs and baggage rules, you will not be charged any excess fee/customs duty. This article explains what to expect during a customs inspection.

Process of Customs Inspection

Step 1 Preparing for customs inspection

As an international traveler you must know the customs rules and regulations. You must also know what you are allowed to get to the country before hand.

You are expected to know the following in advance:

  • What is allowed to be taken to U.S.? What are the restricted items?
  • What is the maximum allowable limit for certain items and currency?
  • Why do these rules apply to you?
  • What are the rules if you are travelling to India on vacation?
  • What are the rules if you are moving back to India?
  • I am carrying some items that will require paying a customs duty. How should I calculate the approximate duty and where should I pay the customs duty?

Step 2 Questions & inspection of baggage

As part of your inspection, you may be asked questions on:

  • Your travel itinerary & the nature of your trip
  • Your citizenship
  • Anything you are bringing back to the United States that you did not have with you when you left.
  • For first time travelers to U.S. you will be asked if you are bringing any restricted items.

The customs officer may examine your baggage, including electronic equipment that you are bringing into the country, including your car (if that implies).

If you are asked to open your bags here is what happens:

  • You will need to place your bag on the exam station and open it.
  • You must allow the officer to examine the contents of your bag.
  • After the exam is completed, you will be asked to pack your bags and fasten the locks.

The customs officer will treat you courteously. However, if at any point you are not happy with the way you are being treated, you must ask to speak to a supervisor.

Step 3 Paying the customs duty

Theoretically your bag contains two types of items:

  • Duty free items
  • Dutiable items

If you know that you are the dutiable items you must pack them separately to expedite the customs inspection. That way you can quickly pay the customs duty and be on your way. Most items have specific duty rates, which are determined by a number of factors. Some of these factors include where you purchased the item, where it was made and what it is made of. You have to declare all such items on a 'declaration form'. You will receive this form on board. If you do not get this form, ask the flight attendant to give it to you so that you can fill it out correctly. This will save time later.

Tips

  • You must know what items do not attract any duty.
  • Do not blindly pay the duty amount at the Airport. If you are not sure ask the officer for the exact rules and specific duty rates.
  • If you do not have anything to be declared at the customs counter, you can come out through the green channel.
  • If you are carrying items like electronics, camcorder, music systems, jewelry or other expensive items that attract custom duty you should declare these at the customs counter.
  • After you declare these items, get them endorsed in your passport. You will not be charged any duty on your return journey.
  • The total value of Foreign Currency in the form of Currency Notes, Travelers Checks should not exceed a total of 10,000 US Dollars or its equivalent. Foreign Currency Notes should not exceed 2,500 US Dollars or its equivalent. If you are carrying foreign currency above the maximum allowable limit, you must declare it at the customs. You are required to fill a CDF (Currency Declaration Form).
  • Remember that anything that must be declared should not be hidden from the customs officer. If you do not declare something that should have been declared, you risk forfeiting it. If you are in doubt about an item, declare it.
  • Items that do not attract any customs duty: household items like linens, furniture, carpets, paintings, stereos, tableware, and other household furnishings; books, tools of the trade, implements, and instruments.