Further information on U.S. customs matters may be found at the website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which offers information on importing and exporting and a “Know Before You Go” guide for the international traveler.
Following is a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Customs and imports. You can also contact us for customs-related question ONLY!
What is the allowance for alcoholic beverages brought into the United States?
Adults may bring in, free of duty and internal revenue tax, not more than one liter of alcoholic beverages – beer, wine, liquor – for personal use. Quantities above the one-liter limitation are subject to duty and internal revenue tax.
Be aware, that in addition to federal laws, you must meet state alcoholic beverage laws which may be more restrictive than federal liquor laws. This means that if the state in which you arrive permits less liquor (wine, beer) than you have legally brought into the United States, that state’s laws apply to your importation of alcoholic beverages for personal use.
NOTE: Shipping of alcoholic beverages by mail is prohibited by U.S. Postal laws.
How do I bring my prescription medicine into the United States?
NOTE: Narcotics and dangerous drugs are prohibited entry into the U.S., and there are severe penalties if imported.
A traveler requiring medicines containing habit-forming drugs or narcotics (e.g. cough medicine, diuretics, heart drugs, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, depressants, stimulants, etc.) should:
- Have all drugs, medicines, and similar products properly identified;
- Carry only the quantity that might normally be used by an individual having a health problem requiring such drugs or medicine:
- Have either a prescription or written statement from your personal physician that the medicine is being used under a doctor’s direction and is necessary for your physical well-being while traveling.
Medication can be sent by post if the prescription or doctor’s letter is included. A notation should be placed on the outside of the parcel stating, for example, “DOCTOR’S LETTER ATTACHED.”
Can I bring my Persian carpet into the United States?
Imports of household goods and personal effects are allowed on or after September 29, 2010 provided they are imported in compliance with 31 CFR 560.201 and applicable CBP regulations.
For further information contact:
OFAC’s Compliance, Outreach & Implementation Division
Office of Foreign Assets Control (website)
Washington, D.C. 20220
What are the requirements for bringing my cat or dog into the United States?
To bring a dog or cat from the South Africa into the US you should have a health certificate from a veterinarian. There is no special form for this certificate. Such a certificate is usually required by the airlines, so you should check with the airlines shipping your pet for any time limitations or other details.
South Africa is a rabies-free area so your pet will not be quarantined and will not need a rabies vaccination unless required by the state or local authorities in the place of your final destination. We do not have information on any state and local regulations and laws. It is suggested, therefore, that if you have a contact in the area where you are going, they should call the city or county health department for local requirements.
Can I get a refund of the tax paid on merchandise and services purchased in the United States?
Sales taxes in the United States are assessed and collected by various State and local authorities, not by the Federal Government. According to information available to this office, only the State of Louisiana has any provisions to refund the sales tax to visiting tourists and business travelers. Therefore, unless purchases were made in Louisiana, no sales tax refund is possible.
Can I send personal food products by post?
The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, commonly known as the “Bioterrorism Act”, or BTA, was enacted on 12 December 2003, requiring that certain information be provided to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to the arrival of a food shipment.
This applies to any manufactured food for either humans or animals but does not apply to homemade or manufactured foods being sent as a personal gift to individual persons in the USA but you should clearly indicate this on the Customs Form if this is the case. If you don’t your parcels or packets containing food may be returned to you or even destroyed. This act also doesn’t apply to personal importation of food products carried by Air Passengers.
Note: Air passengers or postal shipments are still subject to the normal food restrictions as stated above.
Those sending food products commercially will need to go the FDA web site at www.access.fda.gov (Embassy personnel cannot enter this information for you).
Further information on the BTA can be found at www.fda.gov
Is there a duty-free allowance for merchandise shipments?
Yes – $200.00 for commercial shipments or for a personal shipment of merchandise sent to oneself such as ordering off a foreign web site addressed to yourself.
What is the duty-free allowance for sending gifts?
Gifts Sent By Mail
Persons in the U.S. may receive, free of duty, a gift mailed from a foreign country or a Caribbean Basin beneficiary country if the shipment does not exceed $100 based upon its retail value, or $200 if sent from the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam. You may send as many gifts as you wish, but the U.S. addressee will be required to pay duty if the gift parcels received in one day total more than $100 (or $200). Gifts that exceed these amounts will be subject to customs duty based on the entire value. There is no $100 (or $200) deduction.
Packages should be marked “Unsolicited Gift”, with the name of the donor, nature of the gift, and fair retail value of the package clearly written on the outside wrapper.
Alcoholic beverages, cigars, cigarettes, and perfumes containing alcohol may not be included within this gift privilege.
Gifts intended for more than one person may be consolidated in the same package provided they are individually wrapped and labeled with the name of the recipient.
Be sure that 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 customer clearance of your package.
Can I bring a car to the United States?
If the car will be in the U.S. for not more than one year, you are exempt from the emission control and safety standards. Just bring your registration documentation.
If more than one year, the car must be in compliance with the U.S. requirements.
Cars are duty-free for immigrants and visitors. Returning U.S. residents pay a duty of 2.5%.
Can I bring firearms and ammunition into the U.S.?
An approved ATF Form 6-Part I (5330.3A) is required to import all firearms, ammunition, and implements of war into the United States or any possession. The ATF Form 6 should be submitted approximately 60 days prior to the intended importation.
Fully automatic weapons and semi-automatic “assault” type weapons are prohibited.
For complete information, write:
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
Firearms and Explosives Import Branch
Washington, D.C. 20226
001-304-616-4550 (For expedited processing)
How much money can I bring into the United States?
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not collect duty on currency. However, travelers leaving or entering the U.S. are required to report negotiable monetary instruments (i.e. currency or endorsed checks) valued at $10,000 or more on a “Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments” form FinCEN 105.
You can obtain the form in advance and download it from here FinCEN 105, or a CBP Officer can give it to you upon your departure or return to the U.S.
Failure to declare currency in amounts of over $10,000 can result in its seizure.
Information on the FinCEN 105 is provided to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and they determine whether or not the importation of monies constitutes income subject to taxation.
The requirement to report currency on a FinCEN 105 does not apply to imports of gold bullion.
NOTE: Failure to file the required report or failure to report the total amount you are carrying may lead to the seizure of all the currency or instruments, and may subject you to civil penalties and/or criminal prosecution.
What items are prohibited from entry into the United States?
- Among articles prohibited are absinthe, liquor-filled candy, lottery tickets, narcotics and dangerous drugs, obscene articles and publications, seditious and treasonable materials, hazardous articles (e.g., fireworks, dangerous toys, toxic or poisonous substances), products made by convicts or forced labor, and switchblades (except for use by a one-armed traveler).
- “Piratical” copies of copyrighted articles-produced without the authorization of the copyright owner-are prohibited from importation into the United States.
- Foreign-made trademarked articles may be limited as to the quantity which may be brought into the United States if the American owner of the registered trademark has recorded it with U.S. Customs. The types of articles usually of interest to travelers are: 1) lenses, cameras, binoculars, optical goods; 2) tape recorders, musical instruments; 3) jewelry, precious metalware; 4) perfumery; 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. The article must be for your personal use and not for sale.
- Wildlife and fish are subject to certain import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits or certificates, and quarantine requirements. This includes:
- wild birds, mammals including marine mammals, reptiles, crustaceans, fish, and mollusks;
- any part or product, such as skins, feathers, eggs; and
- products and articles manufactured from wildlife and fish.
Endangered species of wildlife and products made from them are prohibited from being imported or exported. If you contemplate importing articles made from wildlife, such as tortoise shell jewelry, leather goods, articles made from whalebone, ivory, skins, or furs, please contact, prior to your departure to the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the following address:
U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C. 20240
- Unsterilized specimens of human and animal tissue (including blood, body discharges and excretions); cultures of living bacteria, viruses or similar organisms; animals suspected of being infected with a disease transmissible to humans; and insects, snails and bats may require an import permit from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please contact the CDC at the following address for further information:OFFICE OF HEALTH AND SAFETY
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (F-05)
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
- Meats, livestock, poultry and their by-products (such as sausage, pate’), are prohibited or restricted from entering the United States, depending upon the animal disease condition in the country of origin. Please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the following for further information:DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Imports-Exports Products Staff
6505 Belcrest Road
Hyattsville, MD 20782
What is the process for bringing ashes in urns? What paperwork is required?
(via help.cbp.gov) Human remains intended for interment or subsequent cremation after entry into the United States must be accompanied by a death certificate stating the cause of death. If the death certificate is in a language other than English, then it should be accompanied by an English language translation.
CBP Officers will examine the death certificate to determine the cause of death and ensure that the remains are shipped in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements. If CDC requirements are not met, CBP will hold the casket and contact the appropriate quarantine station for instructions.
If the remains/bodies are embalmed and the casket is hermetically sealed, the remains may be released under any conditions. Also, if the remains have been cremated they may be admitted into the United States without restriction, regardless of the cause of death.
Additional information on the public health requirements for importation of human remains is available at the CDC Web site.
Corpses, together with their coffins and accompanying flowers are exempt from duty. No formal entry is required. There may be Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) concerns regarding the accompanying flowers. CBP Officers will make a determination of Admissibility of any accompanying flowers on site.
If traveling on a connecting or domestic flight within the United States with cremated remains, the remains MUST be transported in a temporary container that can pass through TSA x-ray machines. This should be a container constructed of wood, plastic, cardboard or any non-lead based ceramic.
Note: In South Africa, the Consulate General’s American Citizen Service unit in Johannesburg has information relating to the death of an American citizen while abroad.