Can I Bring That Back Home How to Get Through Customs
Cuban cigars and hand-carved ivory! What precious treasures these are. Smoke the cigars while you’re there, and get a good look at the ivory before you leave, because you’re not going to take these back home with you. On your travels throughout Asia, you may encounter wonderful and bizarre treasures. You may be offered a tiger skin while visiting the border market in Burma, and you may come across rare antiquities on your travels that are perhaps over a thousand years old. Yes, you can probably find an authentic Samurai sword to purchase, but can you take it on the plane with you? Not likely. Before you break out the bubble wrap and stuff that Buddha image from the Ayutthaya period into your suitcase, check on customs regulations, both for bringing it into your own country, and taking it out of the one you’re in.
Antiquities and religious artifacts
Customs on the American side may be unconcerned about some items, but officers at the airport in Asia may have something to say about it. Taking a Buddha image out of Thailand for example, requires a permit, even for replicas. No permit is required for small souvenir images of under five inches. A legitimate shop will be able to arrange for the permit for you-but without the permit, it is likely that it will be seized at the airport by customs officials. Chinese antiquities have also become quite popular and there is a brisk trade for them, although this too, is heavily regulated, and imports of any Chinese artifact from the Paleolithic period to the end of the Tang dynasty are prohibited.
Keep a list
There are two lists of goods you need to make; items you’re bringing with you, and items you bought there and are bringing home. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Bangkok are all truly shoppers’ paradises, and it’s easy to go overboard and lose track of what you’re buying and how much you’ve spent. Bring a small notebook with you wherever you go and keep all of your receipts-when you get back to the U.S., you’ll need it when you go through Customs.
Another benefit to keeping all those receipts is that in some countries that assess a value-added tax, you may be able to get a refund on that VAT on your way out, if you still have the receipt. To avoid confusion when you return though, make a list, along with photos if possible, of any expensive items you are bringing from home, such as camera equipment or jewelry. Otherwise, customs agents may believe you bought them in Asia, and will assess a duty fee to them.
Your duty-free exemption
You have a personal exemption that applies to merchandise brought back into the United States. In most cases, you are allowed to bring in up to $800 worth of goods without having to pay an import duty. That’s more than enough souvenirs for most people, but if it does go over, Uncle Sam will have his hand out. The good news is, if you’re traveling as a family, you get a family exemption of $800 per person, so a married couple can bring in $1,600 in goods without paying tax. Also, if you’re making a quick return trip, there’s another rule to worry about-if you’ve come through within the past 30 days, whatever you previously brought in counts towards a single total of $800 per person. You must wait another 30 days before getting another $800 exemption. There are also limits on certain items, such as tobacco and alcohol.
What about the “duty-free shops” you see in the airports? That name is a little deceiving. Goods you buy there are free from duty, or taxes, from the country you’re in, not the country you’re going to. The items you buy at the airport duty-free shop will still apply to your personal exemption limit.