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US Customs

We just returned from a life-altering week in Italy with our three children. It was like a family honeymoon--we all fell in love with each other all over again!

My question concerns returning from Italy and going through customs. We very carefully and truthfully filled out the entry form, listing in detail everything we purchased and how many euros we were bringing into the country. The form is pretty scary, stating severe penalties for not reporting to the penny how many euros you are bringing in. Although we did carry-on on the way to Italy, we put all our Italian treasures, including a big ole hunk of parmesan and some of the best $1.42 boxed wine we ever tasted into a checked bag.
We were surprised by the response of the customs agents. They seemed entertained by our detailed listing and just waived us off.
Is this usual? What kinds of experiences have others had with customs? Does one ususally not list everything purchased?
We have every intention of returning to Italy (we told our kids this trip was just the "anti-pasti") and would like to be a bit more savvy (and less nervous) about going through customs.

Posted by
365 posts

Susan, our family had the same experience as yours returning from France three times and Australia once. We dutifully declare all the wine and gee-gaws we bring back, but the US Customs officials could clearly not care less about this stuff. They don't even ask any questions. I'm guessing the additional duty charge would be so small it's not worth bothering with for them. Though I have zero evidence to support this theory, I'm also allowing for the possibility that a family with kids does not fit the profile of people who commonly smuggle items in with the intent of avoiding duty charges. (Especially the way WE look at the end of a trip.) I don't track the cost of stuff we buy very closely as a result, and am usually very cryptic with descriptions. Like, Wine..$300. I would be interested in hearing stories from others whose experiences have been different, but haven't heard any myself. My advice is to travel to Italy, and everywhere else, as often as possible.

Posted by
6898 posts

We also had the same experience. We carefully listed our treasures from Murano and other items. When the customs agent saw that we lived next to Sacramento he said "isn't that where Rio Linda is?" an obvious reference to Rush Limbaugh. He didn't even turn the form over to see the detail. Next.

Posted by
147 posts

You only fill out the detailed listing when it's over the amount allowed which is now $1500 or so I think. I never pay attention to it as I just always write $500 on the form.

Posted by
2092 posts

"US Resident--must declare all articles that you have acquire abroad and are bringing into the United States"
"Duty--CBP officers will determine duty. US residents are normally entitled to a duty-free exemption of $800 on items accompanying them."
This info is from one of the US CBP forms from April 2004 so, of course, it may have changed but probably not.

Posted by
7659 posts

I usually am pretty general since my wife and I are under the exemption amount always. They are really only concerned with very large $ value items requiring significant duty, the stuff most of us bring back is not a concern. However, I do answer the food question honestly, and more than a couple bottles of wine or liquor I declare. The food the USDA can get real touchy about, and an obvious non-declaration of alcohol could lead to problems. As for the Euros, I think it would only be a large amount ($10,000 and up) that would need to be reported.

Posted by
689 posts

I too honestly complete the form. Coming back from Italy I have never been checked.

The only time I have ever had my bags opened was returning from Nepal. They opened every bag that came off that plane. That entire return was entertaining - we were escorted through a gauntlet of drug dogs, followed by USDA dogs, followed by customs inspectors. I had a box of cut orchids which I purchased in the Bankok airport which I assumed would be taken from me. (I bought them to enjoy on the 18 hour flight) But the USDA inspector looked at them with a microscope, deemed them ok and let me keep them!!!

I assume the full check was due to the fact we were coming in from Nepal via Tailand and they were looking for drugs.

Posted by
32 posts

We just listed "Gifts", "personal", and "food" and put a general amount. We were not specific at all. Our daughter and her husband had to turn in something for some earrings they bought, but they had no problems in customs. It was a breeze at JFK. But in Atlanta, we happened to have some food items, and we went through a seperate line and it was quicker. so I bought some food back this time thinking the same, but JFK didn't have that option. They did take a small bottle of olive oil from me because it was more than 3 ounces. No big deal. We did not try to bring wine or alcohol back. Don't be frightened by customs.