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Customs, declarations, duty free???

San Jose, California
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Customs, declarations, duty free???

I am traveling to Mexico next month. It is my first trip out of the U.S. ever. I am reading about customs and declarations and I'm starting to worry.

I understand that each person has a certain allowance for declarations ($400?). What I don't understand is what needs to be reported on the form. Do you need to declare souvenirs you have purchased in Mexico? How about the clothes and toiletries that you bring with you? Do you declare on your way to Mexico or only coming back to the U.S.?

And I don't really understand the concept of duty free stores. It states that merchandise bought at duty free shops is still a part of that $400 limit in declarations. So why buy it? Is it cheaper than regular stores?

I apologize if this stuff seems basic to others. Depsite "googling" all this stuff I'm still confused. The last thing I want to do is raise some red flag in customs.

Huntsville, Alabama
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1. Re: Customs, declarations, duty free???


Generally speaking, you do not need to declare anything when entering Mexico (provided you are not carrying a lot of cash, in the 10s of thousands nor anything that you are planning to resell). The $400 allowance is for returning to the US. You need to list out the items purchased on the back of the customs form that you will receive on the flight from Mexico to your first US destination. This listing can be something along the lines of "Souvenirs - $40".

Duty free stores means that no taxes are collected at checkout. Not only do you save on the taxes but a good bit of time buying things like alcohol in Mexico is cheaper than in the US (but you cannot bring Cuban rum back with you). You can only bring 1 liter of alcohol per person back duty free. Extras can be purchased but you will have to pay taxes on them (works out to be about $1.32 per liter). However you will need to put any liquids over 3 ounces in your checked bag at your first US airport. So, if you purchase a liter of tequila at the Cancun airport and are flying from CUN to Dallas then to SFO, you will need to put the tequila in your checked bag before you recheck it in Dallas (after going through immigration and customs).

I hope this helps.

Edited: 10 September 2013, 19:12
Huntsville, Alabama
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2. Re: Customs, declarations, duty free???

And you do not need to declare anything on your US customs form that you had brought with you to Mexico in the first place.

Queretaro City...
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3. Re: Customs, declarations, duty free???

1) Your personal items that were yours before your trip are duty free both into Mexico and into the U.S.

2) There are restrictions on what you can take into any country (no plants, no guns, no drugs etc. plus a limit on the number of spirits, cigarettes, etc. you bring in) and you can find the limits for Mexico here: …sat.gob.mx/aduana_mexico/…139_10210.html There must be a similar web page for U.S. customs but it will be similar.

3) You must declare any cash or equivalent over $10,000.

4) Souvenirs that total more than a certain amount per person (maybe 400 USD) should be declared (although I bet most don't).

Overall it is highly unlikely that you will have to formally declare anything either in Mexico or the U.S. unless you are a really big spender.

The duty-free shops are simply free of local sales tax. In Cancun Sales Tax is 11% so in theory things should be a bit cheaper but in practice not really! Duty-free cigarettes are a big thing for UK visitors because tax in the UK is about 80% of the cost so there are a big savings. For U.S. visitors - duty-free is probably not such a bargain.

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4. Re: Customs, declarations, duty free???

Thanks for the info SteveMex, coming from the UK the price of cigerettes are off the scale, I can buy a whole carton when we go Cuba for the price of 1 20 packet here!

In Mexico then, if I buy some cigerettes at tobacanists in the area, then put them in my suitcase for flying home,would I pay their taxes on them when checking them in or have to declare them?

I've understood where its being pointed out you are only allowed to bring 400 IN to Mexico, but still confused when returning home? (By the way to fellow UK travellers I know the limit is 200 each)

Destination Expert
for Akumal, Riviera Maya, Cancun
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5. Re: Customs, declarations, duty free???

"In Mexico then, if I buy some cigerettes at tobacanists in the area, then put them in my suitcase for flying home,would I pay their taxes on them when checking them in or have to declare them? "

Yes, you still have to declare them - it doesn't matter where in Mexico you purchased them or if they're in your checked bag, your hand luggage, your pocket or hidden under your hat. You don't declare them when you're leaving Mexico; you declare them to UK Customs when you're entering your own country.

Here's a link to the relevant website that sets out your allowances. This is what you can bring into the country without paying any tax - you must still declare it though. hmrc.gov.uk/customs/…arrivingnoneu.htm

You can bring in more than your allowance but you may have to pay tax on that overage.

It was a long time ago that I lived in the UK, but IME, if you were slightly over your allowance, the Customs officer would usually let it go and not bother making you pay the tax. The trick though, was to be honest and declare on the form exactly what you had. If you got caught with something you should have declared but didn't, they took a very dim view of that.

6. Re: Customs, declarations, duty free???

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