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How Does Duty Free Work?

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If you’re traveling abroad for a vacation anytime soon, you’ll get to enjoy the fun and excitement of passing through Customs on your way home. Let’s take a look at a few of the other rules regarding duties and declarations, and see what's up with the duty free shop.

What am I supposed to declare to Customs officers?

As a general rule, you’re supposed to declare anything you’re bringing back from your trip that you didn’t take with you. Anything you bought or inherited while abroad has to be declared. If something you took abroad with you received any repairs or alterations, you have to declare those, too. (The Customs website specifically mentions that these repairs have to be declared even if you didn’t pay for them; might be worth declaring “button sewn back on shirt” the next time you pass through Customs.)

How much stuff can I bring back duty-free?

The size of the duty-free exemption varies a bit depending on what country you’ve visited, but if you’ve spent at least 48 hours out of the country, you can generally bring back up to $800 worth of merchandise for your personal use or to give as gifts. There are exemptions to these exemptions, too; under various growth programs for places like the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa you can bring back more duty-free items. Also, fine art is duty-free.

You can only use this $800 exemption or any part of it once every thirty days. If you’ve already used your exemption for one 30-day period or if you haven’t been out of the country for at least 48 hours, you can still get an exemption of $200.

Ack! I wanted to bring back something that cost $1,200! Is there any way to circumvent the law?

Yes. Get married. Family members who live together can combine their exemptions using a joint declaration. If you want to bring in something that’s $400 more than your personal exemption, you can combine, declare jointly and “borrow” $400 worth of your family member’s exemption.

Any other ways around the rules?

If you’ve got enough foresight, you could always have another kid to help save on customs duties. (We didn’t say it was cost-effective, just that it was possible.) The U.S. Customs website features this terrific quote: “Children and infants are allowed the same exemption as adults, except for alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.” Our deepest condolences if this rule foils your plan of using your infant as a duty-free mule for that sweet, sweet Scandinavian snuff.

Wait, I bought this in the duty-free shop! I don’t have to pay duties on that, right?

Yes, you do. “Duty-free” is a tricky term. You don’t have to pay the duties of the country where you originally purchased the item, which is why the prices are often inexpensive compared to what you’d find in a normal store. (The kinds of items that duty-free shops tend to carry, like liquor, cigarettes, and perfume, would otherwise have high excise taxes bumping up their prices.) However, you’ll have to declare your purchases once you get back home and pay duties on them if they fall outside your exemption.

Let’s cut to the chase: I just want to bring back booze and smokes. What are the rules there?

What an outlaw! Alcohol and tobacco operate a little differently under the exemptions. Alcohol is the easier of the two: adults are allowed one liter under their normal exemption. After that, you’ve got to pay duty on any booze you’ve got with you, but you can bring in as much as you want within reason. If you’re bringing in gobs and gobs of alcohol, though, Customs agents might make the judgment call that you’re importing it for resale, in which case they’re allowed to confiscate it.

Tobacco is a bit slipperier. Within the standard $800 exemption you can ferry in up to 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars. If you want to bring in more than 200 cigarettes, they’d better be foreign-made; any previously exported American cigarettes over the 200-smoke allocation are up for confiscation. It’s okay to bring in more than a carton of foreign cigarettes, but you’ll have to cough up duties on anything over 200.

Oh, no! I went over my exemption. These duties are going to clean me out, aren’t they?

Not unless you’re unusually destitute for an international traveler. The rate varies depending on the country from which you’re returning, but the duties are still pretty low. For most countries, the first $1,000 worth of merchandise after your exemption (including any tobacco or liquor over your exemptions for those) is taxed at three percent of its retail price.

The relatively low duty rates are a good reason to follow Customs’ advice about erring on the side of caution with your declarations. So you’ve got an extra $25 bottle of liquor? The duty on that would be a whopping 75 cents. You’re probably better off declaring it and potentially shelling out the spare change instead of making Customs think you were trying to pull an extremely low-stakes fast one on them.

Customs agents have to process over a million travelers a day, though, and they’re trying to keep important things like drugs and guns out of the country. Since it’s not worth Customs agents’ time to fill out paperwork and go to the trouble of collecting an extra buck or two from tourists, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that suggests you’ll just get waved through unless you owe quite a bit in duties.

Are there any other odd Customs laws I should know?

Yes, particularly if you’re in the market for a nice cat-fur sweater. Here are a few choice Customs regulations you might not have known:

• You can bring absinthe back home with you, but it must be free of thujone. Also, according to Customs, “the term ‘absinthe’ cannot be the brand name; the term ‘absinthe’ cannot stand alone on the label; and the artwork and/or graphics cannot project images of hallucinogenic, psychotropic or mind-altering effects.”

• You can’t bring in any products containing dog or cat fur.

• Haitian animal hide drums may not make it back into the States thanks to a risk of cutaneous anthrax.

Note: A version of this story originally appeared last year. It was lost in a server meltdown.

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The World’s 10 Most Beautiful Metro Stations
T-Centralen Station in Stockholm, Sweden
T-Centralen Station in Stockholm, Sweden

Some of the most beautiful places on earth lie just below the surface. For proof, look no further than T-Centralen in Stockholm, Sweden, which has just been named the most beautiful metro station in the world by Expedia.

The travel site used Google Trends to analyze the most-mentioned metro stations in the U.S. and Europe, but Expedia ultimately chose the order of its top 10 list and threw in a couple of other hidden gems. Russia and Sweden frequently popped up in their research, so it’s no surprise that stations in those countries secured the top two spots on Expedia's list.

Dubbed “the blue platform,” T-Centralen is the main station of Stockholm’s subway system, and it’s also one of the most ornate. Royal blue flowers and plant patterns creep up cave-like walls, and another section pays tribute to the workers who helped build the Metro. It has been suggested that the color blue was chosen to help commuters feel calmer as they go about their busy days.

A section of T-Centralen
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It was the first station in Sweden to feature artwork, which stemmed from a 1956 competition to decorate the city’s metro stops. Over the years, more than 20 artists have contributed their work to various stations throughout the city, some of which have tackled important social and environmental themes like women’s rights, inclusivity, and deforestation.

In second place is Moscow’s Kosomolskaya Station, which also has an interesting origin story. When the Metro started operating in 1935, it was designed to help promote Soviet propaganda. Kosomolskaya Station, named for workers of the Komsomol youth league who helped build the first Metro line, had marble walls with gilded mosaics, crystal chandeliers, sculptures of fallen leaders, and painted scenes depicting important moments in Russian history. “Unlike the dirty, utilitarian systems of many cities around the world, the Moscow metro drives through a former—but not forgotten—stage of history that sought to bring palaces to the masses,” Expedia’s report states.

Komsomolskaya Station
Komsomolskaya Station in Moscow, Russia

Most of the stations on Expedia’s list are in Europe, but three are in the U.S., including two in New York City and one in Washington, D.C.

Here’s the full top 10 list:

1. T-Centralen Station (Stockholm, Sweden)
2. Kosomolskaya Station (Moscow, Russia)
3. Arts Et Métiers Station (Paris, France)
4. The Wesfriedhof Station (Munich, Germany)
5. Toledo Metro Station (Naples, Italy)
6. Staromestska Station (Prague, Czech Republic)
7. Metro Center Station (Washington, D.C, USA)
8. Mayakovskaya station (Moscow, Russia)
9. Abandoned City Hall Station (New York, USA)
10. New York City’s Grand Central Terminal (New York, USA)

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Attention Business Travelers: These Are the Countries With the Fastest Internet
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Whether you travel for business or pleasure, high-speed internet seems like a necessity when you’re trying to connect with colleagues or loved ones back home. Of course, the quality of that connection largely depends on what part of the world you’re in—and if you want the best internet on earth, you’ll have to head to Asia.

Singapore might be smaller than New York City, but it has the fastest internet of any country, Travel + Leisure reports. The city-state received the highest rating from the World Broadband Speed League, an annual ranking conducted by UK analyst Cable. For the report, Cable tracked broadband speeds in 200 countries over several 12-month periods to get an average.

Three Scandinavian countries—Sweden, Denmark, and Norway—followed closely behind Singapore. And while the U.S. has the fastest broadband in North America, it comes in 20th place for internet speed globally, falling behind Asian territories like Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, as well as European countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Spain. On the bright side, though, the U.S. is up one place from last year’s ranking.

In the case of Singapore, the country’s small size works to its advantage. As a financial hub in Asia, it depends heavily on its digital infrastructure, and as a result, “there is economic necessity, coupled with the relative ease of delivering high-speed connections across a small area,” Cable notes in its report. Within Singapore, 82 percent of residents have internet access.

Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, on the other hand, have all focused on FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) connections, and this has boosted internet speeds.

Overall, global broadband speeds are rising, and they improved by 23 percent from 2017 to 2018. However, much of this progress is seen in countries that are already developed, while underdeveloped countries still lag far behind.

“Europe, the United States, and thriving economic centers in the Asia-Pacific region (Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) are leading the world when it comes to the provision of fast, reliable broadband, which suggests a relationship between available bandwidth and economic health,” Dan Howdle, Cable’s consumer telecoms analyst, said in a statement. “Those countries leading the world should be congratulated, but we should also be conscious of those that are being left further and further behind."

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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