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Travel 101: How To Fill Out a U.S. Customs Form

The first time I filled out a customs form, I was super nervous I was going to fill it out wrong and end up in jail forever. (I was 18.) It’s a really straightforward process but it’s so official.

Even though it might seem intense and detailed, the practice is really just meant to keep people from bringing in goods to sell without paying taxes on them or accidentally bring in some agricultural disease. Here’s how to whip right through that form and hopefully! get through customs quickly.

Before Getting Started

It’s worth noting it’s one form per family. The form defines “family” as members of a family residing in the same household related by blood, marriage, adoption, or by a stretch of the imagination, domestic relationship. So living with a mom, aunt, significant other, etc. requires only one form.

Also know that estimating is fine. No one is going to split hairs over whether I’ve purchased $50 or $60 worth of souvenirs on a week-long trip to London.

The customs form is broken down into 15 sections to be filled out before signing and handing over to a customs agent.

Filling Out the Form

Box 1 Your name, just like every other form ever. Your last name is “Family Name.”
Box 2 Your birthday in MMDDYY format.
Box 3 Number of family members with you on the flight (not including yourself).
Box 4 For American residents, use your home address obviously.
For visitors, use the address of where you’ll be staying (hotel, friend’s house, etc.).
Box 5 The country that gave you your passport.
Box 6 Passport number.
Box 7 Current country of residence (where you live).
Box 8 All countries visited before entering the U.S.
Box 9 Airline and flight number of the plane/vessel you’re currently on.
Box 10 Did you go for business?
Box 11 Are you bringing any of these?
a.            fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, food, insects
b.            any animal products (including meats and actual animals)
c.            disease agents, cells cultures, snails
d.            soil (visited a farm?)Note: It’s best to declare EVERYTHING, even if you’re just bringing granola bars through.
Box 12 Has anyone (you or anyone in your crew) touched and handles livestock in another country?
Box 13 Are you carrying more than US $10,000 or the equivalent in a foreign currency? (It’s ok if you do but it has to be declared.)
Box 14 Is there commercial merchandise with you? These would be things to sell, solicit or give out as samples.
Box 15 For U.S. residents, the total value of things purchased abroad and have been brought back with. The limit is $800 in goods before duty taxes kick in. (Hope you got your VAT refund.)For visitors, total value of things you’re bringing and will be leaving in the U.S. There is a $100 tax-free allowance in terms of this rule. These limits are good to keep in mind since, realistically, no one’s going to know how much those cheesy souvenir magnets cost.

The backside of the form leaves space to list each item coming into the country with you. Some people suggest keeping receipts for each item. That seems unnecessarily tedious but maybe it’s best to be prepared.

 

I’m always a proponent of being honest on these forms because, even though I’m sure the chances are slim, I’d rather be covered if I get checked by an agent.





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