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Flying to the United States with Gifts

holiday airplane ordament

image (cc) ScottieT812 via Flickr

Traveling to the US for the holidays from practically anywhere else in the world? Flying into the US can be a hassle; flying with gifts during the holiday season even more so. Here are a few tips for anyone transporting gifts into the US from the Netherlands:

1) Know your Limits. US regulation provides limited duty-free allowances for individuals flying into the country. Knowing how much you can bring in without paying extra just makes sense. US citizens and legal residents typically are allowed $800 worth of goods duty-free (with some restrictions) every 30 days from the Netherlands. International visitors (non-residents) may bring in $100 worth of goods as gifts. These limits are per person, so juggle your luggage to make the most of your allowances.
2) Create a Gift Log. When flying into the US you are required to fill out a customs form whether you are a resident or not. If you create a log before hand, filling out this paperwork will be no sweat. You will need to include the items and approximate value in US dollars.

3) Don’t Wrap Anything (Yet). The TSA reserves the right to search your luggage and will rip open any wrapped gifts if they decide to play Christmas morning early. Wrap when you reach your destination or skip paper all together and use easy to open fabric gift bags.

4) Select Travel-Safe Tulip Bulbs. US regulations are pretty strict regarding what plant matter can be brought into the US. You can get your own purchases approved by the USDA, but if you’re short of time or don’t need a particularly rare variety, you don’t need to. Instead look for a white sticker that says:

  • “To the Plant Protection Service of the United States and Canada”
  • The botanical name
  • The date of issuance of the sticker

These are bulbs pre-approved to transport and can be most easily found at the airport or Amsterdam’s flower market. If I find a Maastricht dealer, I’ll let you know. I’ve heard many stories about bulbs being seized so its worth it to be careful.

5) Control your Booze Purchase. US regulations allow for 1 liter of alcohol per person to enter the country without paying duty. If you want to take advantage of this allowance, do not record the bottle as a gift since the allowance is for “personal use”. These days you cannot bring the liquid as a carry-on, so making your purchase in the airport before your flight will help you avoid a smashed bottle of gluhwijn all over your New Years suit. Naturally if you are under 21, don’t try to bring your own alcohol into the US. It can be seized even if you purchased it legally in the Netherlands.

6) Avoid Restricted Products. Like tulip bulbs, there are a number of restricted fruits, vegetables, meats, and raw milk products not allowed in the US. The Hague US Embassy has an excellent list of non-restricted and restricted foodstuffs. Fortunately sealed cheeses, chocolate, stroopwafels, and other such processed foods are fine. Some non-food items are also restricted and will be seized if you’re not careful.

For tobacco products, you can bring in one carton of cigarettes or cigars. Cuban cigars are still prohibited in the US.

7) Put on a Happy Face. This year everyone is still freaking out about Swine Flu, so if you look ill you’re more likely to be checked more closely. Stock up on cough drops and put on a brave face. And if you really do have Swine Flu, consider staying home. You don’t want others to get sick and from what I’ve heard you won’t want to be moving anyways.

2 Responses to “Flying to the United States with Gifts”

  1. Star Zetocha says:

    Amanda…I hope your trip goes smoothly. I wish we still lived in New England so we could see you when you’re home. Happy Holidays to you and Dan!

  2. locusta says:

    This trip wasn’t smooth, but we’re here now. Happy Holidays. :)