Everybody who enters the United States has to pass through a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) checkpoint. Among other things, that will involve completing a Custom Declaration Form 6059B. This form will be distributed to incoming passengers by an attendant on the plane, ship, or bus with which you are entering the country. Otherwise, you can just pick up one upon arrival and fill it out.
Once you’ve filled out the form and handed it to a CBP officer, he or she will review the details and stamp it. You could also be requested to show your luggage so it can be checked against what you entered on the form. Only then will you be allowed to bring those items into the United States.
Why do I have to fill out a US customs form?
It is a way to inform the United States government of what you are bringing into the country. To prevent unnecessary issues, is it crucial that the information you give is correct. You should not neglect anything you are bringing into the United States, even if it’s an apple you bought from a stewardess.
Although it might like an irritation when you are in a hurry, the customs form also serves another important purpose: the collection of customs duties from individuals who bring in products with a value that is more than their personal allowance (normally $800. It will also alert officials when someone is trying to bring in items that are forbidden, for example, products made from foreign wood and foreign foods that could be infected with harmful bacteria, or dangerous items such as knives or firearms.
Who are exempted from completing a customs form?
The only people who do not have to fill out this form are citizens of the United States, those who use the APC (Automated Passport Control Process), green card holders, and individuals who have an ESTA or D Visa.
What should be declared on the customs form?
All food items must be declared – even if you bought it on the plane or at the airport. This includes vegetables, fruits, seeds, plants, and even insects you plan to eat.
According to the rules, this literally includes every food item, even if you bought an apple on the airplane, ship, or bus. The reason is that, if you bring a pest into the United States, it could cause major damage and even loss of life.
You might be allowed to keep prepacked foods or snacks, but vegetables and fruits will most likely be confiscated. Don’t take chances here: according to a CNN report, a woman was fined $500 by a CBP agent a few years ago for not declaring an apple she brought into the US. Still, things can get worse: the maximum fine for failing to declare food products is $10,000.
Please also note that all items that you bought abroad should be declared, whether they will stay in the US or you will be taking them back to your home country.
Although the previously mentioned duty exemption applies to all travelers, you nevertheless have to declare everything you purchased abroad, including artwork, stationery, clothes, and gifts.
The customs form asks you to list everything you bought abroad and to give their monetary value. That’s why it’s a great idea to bring receipts, particularly for more expensive products. In the absence of that, you will have to provide an estimated value and hope the official agrees with you.
Items you purchased in a duty-free retail outlet must also be declared
Simply because you quickly bought a nice gift for your family in the US at the airport’s duty-free shop before the flight departed does not mean you don’t have to declare it on the customs form or that you will not be required to pay customs duty on them, even if they are tax- and duty-free in the country where you bought them. According to the CBP website, you will have to pay a fee if the total value of whatever you purchased at the duty-free shop is more than your personal exemption.
You might have to discuss the items you are bringing into the US with a customs officer
Whenever you are bringing items such as food into the United States from overseas, you might have to go through one or more additional procedures before being allowed to enter the country. The customs officials could, for example, ask you a number of follow-up questions.
If you want to bring commercial merchandise valued at more than the exemption you qualify for into the country, you will most likely be asked to go to a cashier to fill out a declaration and pay the necessary duties. Forbidden items, including vegetables, fruits, and seeds, will, however, most likely be confiscated.
Although these additional procedures could take up quite a bit of your time, it does not typically mean that you will be kept at the airport for several hours – unless you are bringing in commercial products or expensive items.
The customs officer will as a rule not be petty. If your individual limit is, for example, $500 and you declare goods worth $520, chances are that he or she will just allow you to proceed without any further ado. You should, nevertheless, always be ready to do what has to be done and pay the relevant fees.
Lying can lead to huge penalties
Although you will have to pay a (relatively small) fee on items you have declared if their combined value is more than the exemption you qualify for, the whole thing can get much more expensive if you are caught not declaring everything you have to. Apart from the possibility that the items could be confiscated, you could also have to pay a significant fine.
Even worse than that, if you are a member of a trusted traveler program such as Global Entry, a single lie could put your membership at risk. It is a requirement of these programs that the traveler is 100% truthful and accurate when making customs declarations. Even the smallest violation could result in your membership being revoked.
If something which you neglected to declare on the customs form is confiscated, you have the legal right to try and get it back by approaching the court. Your best option is to be honest when you fill out a customs declaration. Customs officers have quite literally ‘seen it all before’ so they will not be easily fooled.
If you are asked by a Customs official whether you purchased that expensive piece of jewelry overseas, and you falsely answer ‘no’, you might not only end up losing the jewelry, but you have also made yourself guilty of a crime by making a false statement. While officers might be understanding if someone is confused about his or her obligations as far as customs declarations are concerned, they will be much less forgiving of an open lie.
Tips for correctly completing the US customs form
Filling out the form is not really very complicated, provided you first make sure you understand how to correctly complete every section. Carefully reach each requirement and double-check before writing anything.
Do not forget that this form has both a front and a back side and that both must be completed. If you have any doubts about something, it’s easy to find a sample of the form and how to fill it out on the Internet.
The CBP official will interview you, and then he or she will check everything you entered on the form. Next, it will be stamped with your arrival date. If they scribble anything on the form, don’t be alarmed – it is standard practice.