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Travelers must pass through the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) whenever they wish to enter the United States after departing from a foreign country. During this time, they must pay a custom duty on any items that do not fall under their personal exemption, and they must provide the CBP with a declaration of any items that were purchased outside of the country. In some cases, travelers may also need a permit or special license if they wish to transport restricted items into the country. For instance, restricted items may include certain plants and seeds or hunting trophies.

As part of the CBP customs clearance process, the agency must also inspect travelers for compliance, as doing so helps to keep the United States secure. In some cases, CBP officers may question Global Entry enrollees or any other travelers about the nature of their trip, citizenship status and any items they wish to transport into the country. To learn more about these regulations, review the information below.

Which items does U.S. customs prohibit or restrict?

Under the US customs regulations, travelers may not enter the country with certain items that are restricted or prohibited under the law. For instance, prohibited items are those that are forbidden to enter the U.S. in any form, while restricted items require a special permit or license before they may enter the country. Restricted items often include certain types of animals or animal products and by-products, firearms, and fruits and vegetables. However, prohibited items generally include illegal substances, bush meat and dangerous toys. To ensure that an item meets these US custom rules, travelers must contact the CBP before they depart from the United States or attempt to transport the item into the country.

For instance, US customs food regulations allow for the entry of certain cheeses, condiments, bakery items, prepared foods, coffee, oils, packaged spices, tea, honey and vinegar.

However, travelers cannot transport the following items into the country, as doing so is illegal:

  • Dog and cat fur
  • Bush meat from African wildlife
  • Narcotics and non-prescribed drug paraphernalia
  • Fresh, dried or canned meats

While other items may not be illegal, travelers should avoid transporting them into the United States for health and safety reasons. These items include rice or prepared foods that contain meat, such as soup mixes or bouillon. Additionally, items purchased from Burma, Iran, Cuba and most of Sudan can generally not be transported into the U.S.

Learn more about prohibited items in our comprehensive guide.

When do I need to pay customs duty on imported goods?

Travelers must complete a customs declaration if they wish to bring newly acquired items into the country. For instance, travelers need to declare any gifts that were purchased outside of the U.S., or any additional purchases that were made during their stay in a foreign country. While travelers do not need to declare any items that they left the United States with (known as American Goods Returned) they may need to prove that these items were not purchased outside of the U.S.

Moreover, travelers must pay US customs tax (also known as a duty rate) on certain goods that are transported into the United States. However, the duty rate varies depending on several factors, including the item type and how it was acquired. The duty rate also varies depending on where the article was made, the types of materials used to construct it and its purchased value.

Get more information about various customs rules by downloading our in-depth guide .

U.S. Duty Free Limits and Exemptions

While travelers need to pay customs duty on many items that are purchased outside of the U.S., there are several exceptions to this rule. For instance, the duty-free exemption (also known as a personal exemption) allows travelers to enter the U.S. with their newly acquired merchandise without paying a tax on these items. In most cases, however, travelers must still declare these items to reduce the risk of forfeiture. Therefore, travelers should declare items even if they were purchased from a duty-free shop.

Moreover, a traveler?s US customs allowance varies depending on the foreign country he or she visited. In most cases, allowances will be $200, $800 or $1,600, with $800 being the most common limit. While a traveler may enter the U.S. with more than his or her personal exemption allows, the traveler will need to pay taxes. However, these allowances do not apply to restricted or prohibited items.

Additionally, these U.S. duty-free exemptions only apply to travelers who wish to import certain types of merchandise into the United States. For instance, items that fall under this personal exemption include:

  • Gifts.
  • Items intended for personal or household use.
  • Articles that are in the traveler?s possession.
  • Items that are not restricted or prohibited.

Note: To qualify for a United States customs allowance for an item, the item must be in the traveler?s possession when passing through the CBP. A traveler cannot include an article under his or her personal exemption if the traveler plans to ship the item at a later date. Additionally, a traveler may only qualify for this exemption if he or she is returning from an overseas stay of 48 hours or longer. As an exception, however, a traveler may qualify for the personal allowance if he or she is returning from a short stay in Mexico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Can I transport money through U.S. customs?

As part of the US customs rules, travelers may transport money in and out of the United States, including U.S. or foreign coins, money orders and travelers? checks. However, travelers must report amounts of more than $10,000 to the CBP to avoid paying a penalty fee.

Do these rules pertain to U.S. customs global entry members?

As part of these U.S. customs regulations, travelers must pay duties and complete a declaration form for any agricultural products or merchandise purchased outside of the United States. In most cases, travelers must declare these items using a paper form, or they may do so online using an Automated Passport Control kiosk. However, customs declarations may be made online using automated Global Entry kiosks if travelers are enrolled in the program and are at a Global Entry location with kiosks.

Global Entry is a useful program for travelers who take international trips. Global Entry membership can save passengers time, while making a trip's departure and arrival experience more pleasant. can help you understand how the Global Entry program works, so you can decide if membership is right for you. Additionally, you can download our guide for only . This convenient guide explains Global Entry eligibility requirements and walks you through the Global Entry enrollment process. Plus, we will let you know which airports offer Global Entry membership, so you can start enjoying hassle-free travel by your next trip.