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How does duty-free exemption work when traveling into the United States?

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Quick Answer

Duty-free exemption works differently in the United States based on factors including the traveler's residency status, length of time in the previous country, items purchased and where they were made, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The price of the purchased items also has an impact on whether or not a traveler is subject to a duty charge.

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Full Answer

Travelers must report all goods purchased or received while abroad when returning to the United States from a foreign country, explains the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The list includes personal purchases, duty-free shop purchases, items purchased with the intention of reselling them, and gifts for and from other people.

A U.S. resident who has been in a foreign country for 48 hours or longer may qualify for a personal duty-free exemption, reports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The 48-hour rule does not apply to U.S. residents returning from Mexico, and the personal exemption varies depending on the country visited.

A nonresident entering the United States with gifts, items for resale and personal belongings may have to pay duty, advises the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As of 2015, visitors planning to stay in the United States for 72 hours or more can bring a maximum of $100 in goods without owing duty. A payment is required for gifts exceeding $100 in value. Unless items for sale are duty-free under an international agreement, a duty payment is usually required for items brought into the United States to sell.

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