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My friend is visiting Germany for some time. During the stay her notebook broke so she got a new one as a present from someone else in Germany. The receipt shows that about ~1200€ (roughly $1500) were paid for the device.

Are there any taxes/customs she needs to pay when she will return to the US? If yes, is there a reliable calculator or transparent method of how to calculate the additional cost when she has returned? Are there special regulations if the item in question was a gift?

We checked out a lot of information about this from official sources but they were contradicting each other as well as showing so many different examples of how it can be calculated that we still can't be sure how things would turn out in reality.

  • She is allowed to carry one personal laptop....if it comes outside the box as used in a computer bag nobody will check it and she probably does not need to pay anything. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 14 '18 at 0:36
  • Even though it was a gift to replace the broken notebook, it was purchased outside the US. You could risk it by doing what @RuiFRibeiro says but gifts are included in customs forms so it's best to declare it. When asked, state how she received the new product. – doctordonna Jan 14 '18 at 1:12
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Assuming she is a US resident, the duty-free exemption for this trip is likely $800. This exemption can be shared by members of a household, so if she is traveling with someone else, they can have a $1,600 exemption between them.

On her flight to the US, she'll complete a customs declaration form listing the value of the laptop. Duty rates are quite complicated, but there's a flat 3% rate for the next $1,000 you have above your exemptions. So if she's traveling alone, she has an exemption of $800, leaving 1500-800=$700 subject to duty, equaling $700 * .03 = $21 owed at the border.

In some cases, they may simply not bother to collect small amounts of duty for travelers at the airport and will wave you through. Otherwise, the officers will direct you to a cashier where you can pay on your way out of the customs area.

Note that if her home state has a sales tax, she may owe "Use Tax" (the same as sales tax essentially, for out-of-state purchases brought home) to her state government. This tax would apply regardless, but many people don't pay it, because the state doesn't normally know what you've bought. However, if you pay customs duty, the state may later mail you a letter reminding you that you owe use tax. The rate will be the same as the normal sales tax rate for her place of residence, just as if she bought the laptop at a local store.

If she's eligible for a refund of German VAT on the purchase (assuming the store offers this service), she should be sure to complete the proper procedure for that before leaving the EU. The amount she gets back ought to be more than the US taxes.

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