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Sending Items Back to the United States

Unaccompanied baggage is anything you do not bring back with you. These may be items that were with you when you left the United States or items that you acquired (received by any means) while outside the United States. In general, unaccompanied baggage falls into three categories: U.S. mail, express shipments and freight.

U.S. Mail Shipments
Shipping through the U.S. mail, including parcel post, is a cost-efficient way to send items to the United States. The U.S. Postal Service sends all foreign mail shipments to CBP for examination. CBP officers then return packages that do not require duty to the U.S. Postal Service, which sends them to a local post office for delivery. The local post office delivers them without charging any additional postage, handling costs or other fees.

Packages that contain fruits, vegetables, meat or other items of agricultural interest are inspected to ensure they meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. CBP agriculture specialists enclose a Mail Interception Notice, PPQ Form 287, to document any agriculture items that are removed from the package. The package is then returned to the U.S. Postal Service for delivery. Information on importing agriculture items is located on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site.  If the package does require payment of duty, CBP attaches a form called a mail entry, CBP Form 3419Alt, which indicates how much duty is owed and charges a $5 processing fee as well. When the post office delivers the package, it will also charge a small handling fee. Commercial goods, or goods intended for resale, may have special entry requirements. Such goods may require a formal entry in order to be admitted into the United States. Formal entries are more complicated and require more paperwork than informal entries. Generally, informal entries are personal packages or commercial items worth less than $2,000. CBP employees may not prepare formal entries for you; only you or a licensed customs broker may prepare one. For more information on this subject, please see the brochure U.S. Import Requirements.

If you believe you have been charged an incorrect amount of duty on a package mailed from abroad, you may file a protest with CBP. You can do this in one of two ways. You can accept the package, pay the duty, and write a letter explaining why you think the amount was incorrect. You should include with your letter the yellow copy of the mail entry (CBP Form 3419Alt). Send the letter and the form to the CBP office that issued the mail entry, located on the lower left-hand corner of the form.

The other way to protest duty is to refuse delivery of the package. Then within five days, send your protest letter to the post office where the package is being held. The post office will forward your letter to CBP and will hold your package until the protest is resolved.

For additional information on international mailing, please see the brochure International Mail Imports, or visit CBP.gov.

Express Shipments
Packages may be sent to the United States by private sector courier or delivery service from anywhere in the world. The express company usually takes care of clearing your merchandise through customs and charges a fee for its service. Some travelers have found this fee to be higher than they expected.

Freight Shipments
Cargo, whether duty is owed or not, must clear customs at the first port of arrival in the United States. If you choose, you may have your freight sent, while it is still in CBP custody, to another port for clearance. This is called forwarding freight in bond. You, or someone you appoint to act for you, are responsible for arranging to clear your merchandise through CBP or for having it forwarded to another port. Note, that regulated agriculture shipments must be inspected at the first port of arrival with few exceptions.

Frequently, a freight forwarder in a foreign country will take care of these arrangements, including hiring a customs broker in the United States to clear the merchandise through CBP. Whenever a third party handles the clearing and forwarding of your merchandise, that party charges a fee for its services. This fee is not a CBP charge.

There are several ways a traveler can find a broker:

  • Phone book, in the Yellow Pages under "Customs Brokers,"
  • Internet, search for "Customs Brokers," or
  • CBP Web site - under "ports" button on bottom of each page, click the state of interest and click on a city within the state. Under each city is a listing of brokers. Click "view list" for a listing of brokers in that area.

The phone book listings as well as the Internet listings are limited to brokers that submit the information. It is not all-inclusive.

The listing of brokers on the CBP Web site is updated on a regular basis. Listed brokers have a current permit in that port. This list is the only broker information provided by CBP.

When a foreign seller entrusts a shipment to a broker or agent in the United States, that seller usually pays only enough freight to have the shipment delivered to the first port of arrival in the United States. This means that you, the buyer, will have to pay additional inland transportation, or charges, plus broker fees, insurance and possibly other charges.

If it is not possible for you to secure release of your goods yourself, another person may act on your behalf to clear them through CBP. You may do this as long as your merchandise consists of a single, noncommercial shipment (not intended for resale) that does not require a formal entry, meaning if the merchandise is worth less than $2,000. You must give the person a letter that authorizes that person to act as your unpaid agent.

Once you have done this, that person may fill out the CBP declaration and complete the entry process for you. Your letter authorizing the person to act in your behalf should be addressed to the "Officer in Charge of CBP" at the port of entry, and the person should bring the letter with them when they go to clear your package.

CBP will not notify you when your shipment arrives, as this is the responsibility of your carrier. If your goods are not cleared within 15 days of arrival you could incur expensive storage fees.