ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features | Deal of the Week-Travel Update |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

Traveler's Aid: Rudy's Customs Quiz (2/22/2002)

Real Audio Listen in RealAudio      help Need audio help?

Diana: When you think about problematic border crossings these days, you might zero in on televised images of Afghan civilians fleeing to Pakistan, or Karen refugees on the Thailand-Burma border. Thankfully, most of us will never endure a border crossing like these.

But there is one border crossing almost all travelers will undertake sooner or later. It's a border that lacks the elements of danger and desperation found elsewhere, but it still holds the potential for border-crossing snafus. I'm talking about our own border -- and, more specifically, I'm talking about the pesky little problems that arise when you're clearing U.S. Customs. You know how it is: You wait in that endless line for some obsessive-compulsive Customs inspector to rifle your bags, ask lots of nosy questions, and then confiscate some harmless trinket. How can you make clearing Customs as painless as possible? To help us answer that question, Travel-Expert-in-Residence Rudy Maxa is here. Hi, Rudy.

Rudy: Hi, Diana.

Diana: Rudy, I have to admit, I dread going through Customs. I seem to give off this "drug smuggler" vibe and inevitably end up getting searched. Once, Customs inspectors actually took apart my bike looking for drugs hidden in the tubes -- ruined it. Is this kind of thing really necessary?

Rudy: Ah, another Customs horror story. But the short answer is, yes. The Customs Service is charged with the monumental task of protecting our nation's borders. Inspectors examine 1.3 million passengers everyday in an attempt to keep out drugs and other contraband. It's a huge undertaking, so we have to cut them some slack and gracefully tolerate the questions and searches.

Diana: What can travelers do to make this process go more smoothly?

Rudy: First, don't lie. Second, keep all of your sales slips. And third, pack everything you need to declare separately.

Diana: I think a lot of people are confused by that last one. How do you know if you have to declare something?

Rudy: In general, you have to declare anything you've purchased while abroad, received as a gift, or inherited -- and you may have to pay a duty on it.

Diana: But isn't there an exemption? I mean, don't you get to bring in a certain amount of stuff without paying a duty?

Rudy: I'm glad you asked, Diana. That's the first question in the "Rudy Maxa Customs Quiz." Ready to play?

Diana: Is there a prize?

Rudy: Isn't knowledge its own reward?

Diana: I'd prefer a new bike -- but okay, let's go.

[Answers in brackets]

How much is the personal exemption? [Click For Answer]

How many cigarettes can you include in your personal exemption? [Click For Answer]

How much booze? [Click For Answer]

How much is the personal exemption for infants? [Click For Answer]

How much booze can infants bring back? [Click For Answer]

What's the duty rate on the first $1,000 above your personal exemption? [Click For Answer]

True or false: Every time you enter the country, you get a $400 exemption. [Click For Answer]

True or false: You won't have to pay duty on items you buy in a duty-free shop. [Click For Answer]

Which of the following items might be dutiable? . . . a $10,000 painting by a trendy French painter, an antique English tea service, your laptop computer [Click For Answer]

  • You may be charged a duty on your laptop if you can't prove you bought it in the U.S. Bring the sales receipt with you, or register it with Customs before you leave. (Customs Form 4457, available at international airports.)
  • Antiques and fine art are duty-free.

True or false: A knock-off Gucci handbag will be confiscated. [Click For Answer]

True or false: Medication from a foreign county will clear Customs as long as you have a prescription for it. [Click For Answer]

  • Travelers may not import drugs not approved by the FDA.
  • Travelers may not import more than 50 doses of a drug prescribed by a foreign practitioner.
  • Legal drugs not carried in the original container may be confiscated.

Which of the following items will clear U.S. Customs? . . . an ivory bracelet, a briefcase full of $50,000 in cash, a can of deviled ham [Click For Answer]

  • You have to report money over $10,000, but you can bring in as much as you want.
  • Objects made from ivory will be confiscated -- unless it's warthog ivory. Items containing dog or cat hair are also prohibited.
  • Meat and vegetable products are prohibited, but a bag of cookies would be okay.

All but one of the following countries is an embargoed country -- meaning, that nearly everything is prohibited. Which is not an embargoed country? ... Serbia, Libya, Angola, Cuba, Sudan, Iraq [Click For Answer]

Diana: Wow. It's a lot to remember.

Rudy: And that's just the tip of the iceberg. But you're not expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the 400 laws the Customs Service is responsible for enforcing. That's what the Customs passenger service representatives are for. These folks patrol Customs areas in major airports helping travelers get through Customs smoothly. And many airports have touch-screen kiosks that answer frequently asked questions.

Diana: Do the kiosks have a section on bike repair?

Rudy: Probably not.

Diana: Bummer. But thanks for the info, Rudy. It's bound to make Customs a little easier for a lot of listeners. You'll be back a little later with your Deal of the Week?

Rudy: Yep, and I won't even charge you a duty.

If you'd like us to address your travel questions or concerns, send us an email. Or, you can snail-mail them in. The address is The Savvy Traveler, in care of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90007. Or call us at 888-SAV-TRAV.

Savvy Resources:

For more information on Customs regulations and procedures check out: www.customs.ustreas.gov/travel/travel.htm.

Return to Travelers' Aid Archive
Search Savvy Traveler

| E-mail | Privacy | © Copyright 2001, Minnesota Public Radio