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General Rules on Nonresidents/First-Time Immigrants

Difference between Nonresidents/First-Time Immigrants and Returning Residents
Requirements for the importation of alcohol, tobacco, automobiles and gifts by nonresidents/first-time immigrants are different than those for returning residents.  Please see the following sections for specific details.

Duty Exemptions for Household and Personnel Effects
You may import furniture, dishes, linens, libraries, artwork and similar household furnishings for your personal use free of duty.  To be eligible for duty-free exemption, the articles must have either been available for your use or used in a household where you were a resident for one year.  The year of use does not need to be continuous, nor does it need to be the year immediately before the date of importation.  Personal and household effects entitled to duty-free entry need not accompany you to the United States; you may have them shipped to your U.S. address at a later time if you choose. Your shipment of personal and/or household goods must be cleared through Customs at its first port of arrival, unless you have made arrangements with a foreign freight forwarder to have your effects sent in Customs custody in-bond from the port of arrival to a more convenient port of entry for clearance. (Ask your moving company if they offer this service.)

Household effects from the country where these effects were used, and meeting the above criteria, may be entered into the United States duty-free within 10 years after your initial arrival in the United States as a legal resident.

Personal effects may be shipped or mailed to you at a later date.  The package should be marked “Used Personal Effects” and must have been in your possession prior to your entry into the United States.  Anything included in the package that is new may be dutiable.

Professional Equipment
A person emigrating to the United States may enter professional books, implements, instruments and tools of trade, occupation or employment free of duty if the articles were owned and used abroad. These items do not need to have been in your possession for one year prior to importation, but they must be imported for your use and not for sale.  Theatrical scenery, properties, or apparel and articles for use in any manufacturing establishment are not eligible for this exemption.

Nonresidents/First-time immigrants may temporarily import a vehicle duty-free for personal use if the vehicle is imported in connection with the owner’s arrival.  Vehicles do not need to accompany the owner, but should arrive in the U.S. at approximately the same time, at least within a few weeks.  If a delay of more than a few weeks should occur the importer must prove that the delay was justified.  Vehicles are defined as an automobile, trailer, airplane, motorcycle, boat or similar vehicle.  Vehicles that don’t conform to U.S. safety and emission standards must be exported within one year and may not be sold in the United States.  There is no exemption or extension of the export requirement.  Conforming vehicles imported under the duty-free exemption are dutiable if sold within one year of importation.  Duty must be paid at the most conveniently located Customs office before the sale is completed.  Conforming vehicles so imported may remain in the U.S. indefinitely once a formal entry is made for EPA purposes.

Foreign-made vehicles not in your possession before you leave your foreign residence, and imported into the U.S., whether new or used, (i.e., ordered for direct delivery to your U.S. residence, either for personal use or for sale) are generally dutiable at the following rates:

  • Autos......................................2.5%
  • Trucks....................................25%
  • Motorcycles, mopeds
    • up to 700 cc................Free
    • 700 to 970 cc..............2.4%
    • over 970 cc.................Free
  • Trailers…………………….....…Free

Duty rates are based on the market value of the vehicle and those rates are subject to change on an annual basis.

Liquor, Tobacco
Nonresidents who are at least 21 years old may bring in, free of duty and internal revenue tax, up to one liter of alcoholic beverage – beer, wine, liquor – for personal use.  Quantities above the one-liter limitation are subject to duty and internal revenue tax.

You may also include in your personal exemption not more than 200 cigarettes (one carton) or 50 cigars or two kilograms (4.4 lbs.) of smoking tobacco, or proportional amounts of each.  Cigars of Cuban origin are prohibited.

Firearms and Ammunition
Firearms and ammunition are subject to restrictions and import permits.  The importation of fully automatic weapons and semi-automatic assault-type weapon is prohibited. Generally, firearms and ammunition acquired abroad may be imported, but only under permit.  For complete information, write to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Department of the Treasury, Firearms and Explosives Import Branch, Washington, DC 20226.  That agency will furnish permit applications and answer inquiries about the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Nonresidents are allowed up to $100 (or $200 if from American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, or Guam) worth of merchandise, free of duty and internal revenue tax, as gifts for other people. These gifts must be included in your declaration and must accompany you.  Gifts are not considered as part of household and personal effects.

Nonresidents can include cigars in their $100 gift exemption, but may not include cigarettes or alcohol.  Gifts originating from countries currently under sanctions with the U.S. (See Prohibited and Restricted Importation’s section on page __) may not be eligible for the $100 gift exemption (Example: Iraq). To ensure that gifts are eligible for the $100 exemption, questions should be referred to the Office of Foreign Assets Control at 202/622-2480.


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