How to Make Customs Painless: What International Travelers Need to Know

Planning a trip to Europe or a visit to any destination outside the U.S.? Or maybe you’ll be flying to America – either way, we’ve got information and international travel tips regarding customs, duty charges and more that can help make your journey smoother – and maybe even save you some money.

International Travel Necessities

International Travel – For U.S. Citizens

The first stop for all U.S. travelers should be a visit to the State Department website. This useful site is a treasure trove of tips where you can learn the following:

  • What travel documents you’ll need, and how to get a U.S. passport
  • Which countries require visas
  • Where have travel alerts/warnings been issued and safety tips for travelers
  • Information on Customs regulations

That last one includes important information you need to know both before you start your travels and upon your return. For example, if you’re planning to bring along your brand new laptop or those dazzling earrings you got for Christmas, do yourself a favor: carry receipts for these items. It may be hard to prove such merchandise was purchased back home, and you don’t want to pay duty charges or additional taxes or fees on anything you don’t have to.

Exchange Rates 101

Entering the U.S. – Customs Regulations

Upon entry to the U.S., all travelers must declare anything that was purchased during their trip that they are bringing into the country with them. This includes:

  • Gifts received by the traveler including wedding presents
  • Items that were inherited
  • Items purchased in duty-free shops – in airports, planes or ships
  • Repairs or alterations to items taken abroad and then brought back
  • Items brought home for someone else

The good news is, in most cases travelers receive a personal exemption of $800 worth of items that they don’t have to pay duty on, if the items are for personal use or gifts.

If you’re not certain, declare the items and the customs officers will help you sort it out. The duty on most items ranges between 1.3 percent and 3 percent of the item’s value. Remember, paying the duty can be far less costly than the fines incurred for breaking the law.

Regulations vary from country to country on what you can and cannot bring with you. In the U.S., for example, you can generally enter with some alcoholic beverages, but not (in most cases) any bottle labeled absinthe which will be confiscated. In Mexico, you can be subject to arrest for bringing in firearms or ammunition.

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International Travel Resources

For more information on traveling out of or into the U.S., please see the following:

Learn more about FareCompare and the cheapest days to fly and best times to buy airline tickets for year-round savings.


Updated: November 11, 2015