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What to Know About Shipping to the U.S.

Living abroad thousands of miles away from loved ones can be difficult, but sending thoughtful gifts and care packages can help diminish the distance. The following guidelines can help individuals understand the rules and procedures for shipping gifts from foreign countries into the U.S.

Know Where Items Originate From

Because Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), items that are shipped between them are duty-free, says Mark Shacklette, director of customs brokerage compliance at UPS in Louisville, Ky.

However, the sender will have to file a formal customs declaration, and the items will be examined before being deemed duty-free. For example, clothing shipped from Canada to the U.S. may not qualify for a duty exemption if the fabric was created in Italy, Shacklette says.

Clothing shipped from Canada to the U.S. may not qualify for a duty exemption if the fabric was created in Italy.

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The country's relationship with the U.S. is also a factor. For example, due to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, it's illegal to ship Cuban cigars regardless of where they were purchased.

Cost Matters

If the cost of shipping for specific items is $100 U.S. dollars (USD) or less, they are categorized as gifts, and the sender does not need to pay duty fees or file an official customs entry. If the sender is shipping one item worth more than $100 USD to multiple people, and the cost of the item when divided by the number of recipients does not exceed $100 for each person, then noting each of the recipients' names on the invoice can excuse the sender from paying duty, Shacklette says.

Additionally, if an individual is sending money overseas by check, the recipient of the check may receive less money due to fluctuations in the foreign exchange rate. However, if an individual submits payment for the gift via a trusted online foreign exchange provider, it's possible to secure the latest exchange rate at the time a international payment is sent - thereby eliminating the risk that the money's value will decrease while in transit.

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Perishable Items Are Usually Prohibited

When shipping to the U.S., perishable goods, such as fruits, vegetables and meat, are typically banned from personal shipments.

However, if the meat from a foreign country has been commercially processed and packaged by a business, international shipping might be possible. As a result of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, the sender would need to give the shipper prior notice so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can ensure that the product is safe. Before importing, individuals should review requirements from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

Although they aren't perishable, alcohol and tobacco are prohibited from being processed as gifts and are subject to heavy regulation and taxation under U.S. shipping rules, says Brian Gill, senior regulatory trade adviser at FedEx in Memphis, Tenn. But shipping rules for alcoholic beverages vary from state to state, he says, so check with the applicable state agency.

Create a Detailed Invoice

It's important to include a detailed invoice with the following information to ensure shipping to the U.S. goes smoothly:

·      Name and address of sender

·      Name and address of recipient

·      A description of the item, its value, weight and country of production

·      The sender's phone number for customs brokers in case of questions

Sample invoice forms can be downloaded from UPS or FedEx. "These descriptions are very, very important," Gill says. "They help us help you."

For more information on the restrictions and procedures for shipping items to the U.S., individuals can speak to the U.S. Customs Border Protection, as well as independent international shipping companies.

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