We are planning a two-month trip to Japan, at which time I'd like to purchase a computer for personal use. I would also like to permanently bring this computer back to the United States with me. Is there any issue with this?

I believe laptops are exempt from duty; is this correct? What about sales tax?


  • 1
    I can't find any evidence that laptops are duty-exempt in US. So you'd have to fit in standard $800 exemption assuming you're US resident. And laptops in Japan were more expensive than in US when I was there this year, so unless you're looking for a model only sold in Japan it would make no financial sense.
    – George Y.
    Aug 25, 2017 at 5:30
  • I suggest reading cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/kbyg/customs-duty-info about duty. Regarding sales tax, what state are you resident of?
    – George Y.
    Aug 25, 2017 at 5:35
  • A bigger problem for you might be any warranty. When I considered buying a laptop while on a business trip some years ago, I was quickly put off the idea by the lack of warranty service outside of the country of purchase. Laptop makers are able to provide international power supplies, but the concept of an international warranty seems to have passed them by.
    – Nick
    Aug 25, 2017 at 10:35
  • It may have some charged which you have to pay to the US government. Or you can purchase online and show your bill. Aug 25, 2017 at 11:15

2 Answers 2


You may be able to buy the laptop duty-free and avoid sales-tax in Japan as you are a non-resident and leaving within six months. Unlike some countries, you are allowed to use tax-free purchased electronic devices in Japan while in-country. I bought a camera in Japan that I then used for a few weeks before returning to the USA. No one checks whether the seal on the camera box is still secure when you leave.

As far as the USA is concerned, there is the federal government and the state government.

The federal government (customs) is mostly concerned whether the total value of items purchased abroad exceeds their personal-use exemption of US$800 per person (that is combinable, so if you were traveling with your spouse, you'd have a total of US$1600). Declare all of your purchases on your customs form and they'll do the calculations for you. It's best to declare everything and let them worry about the minutiae of classifications since obfuscating or leaving things out puts you at risk of being accused of smuggling.

Your state government may argue that you need to pay a 'use tax' equivalent to the state sales tax when you bring items back from out-of-state. However, enforcement of this tends to largely be voluntary so it will be up to you to declare this on your income tax form for your state (see Zach's note below in comments).

  • 1
    If you pay duty on excess purchases to CBP, they sometimes report it to your state, at which point the use tax (if your state has a sales tax) won't be voluntary. The state will know what you owe and send you a letter to that effect. I've seen this happen in California. Of course, sometimes CBP just waves you through without bothering to collect. Aug 25, 2017 at 18:10
  • I think the exemption for $800 is for goods that are subject to duty - in other words, you are allowed to bring in $800 worth of dutiable goods for free, and then pay the amount on the rest of the items. If the item is not subject to import duties then the $800 does not apply. Aug 26, 2017 at 13:39
  • @Burhan Khalid: No the $800 exemption is for all goods purchased abroad and brought back with you, irrespective of classification.
    – EBlake
    Oct 27, 2020 at 19:28

You would only pay sales tax at the time of sale (which is in Japan). So you would not pay sales tax again.

The CBP uses the Harmonized Tariff Schedule to determine duty rates:

The Customs Duty Rate is a percentage. This percentage is determined by the total purchased value of the article(s) paid at a foreign country and not based on factors such as quality, size, or weight. The Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) provides duty rates for virtually every existing item. CBP uses the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSUS), which is a reference manual that the provides the applicable tariff rates and statistical categories for all merchandise imported into the U.S.

You can search this database online and searching for computer or laptop does not return results that would indicate that there is duty to be paid for these items.

Anecdotal evidence (from many travels) indicates that computer laptops (especially if they are used like yours) are exempt.

Some of my US colleagues also purchase goods abroad and bring them to the US without issue - as they are cheaper here.

New ones, or multiple quantities of laptops do raise suspicions. My friend who was traveling with his family had 8 ipads, 3 laptops, 6 iphones and 2 android phones.

Other than a chuckle and questions as to what he was doing with so many things (till my friend pointed to this kids and wife), he did not have to pay any duties during his trip.

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