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I am confused regarding what I am supposed to declare when driving from Mexico to the United States, as a US lawful permanent resident and French citizen.

https://www.smartertravel.com/customs-duty-free-guide/, which is for airlines (unsure whether the same applies to entries by land), states:

You’ve been out of the country on a much-deserved vacation. About an hour before your plane lands, the flight attendant hands you a U.S. Customs declaration form. Chances are you purchased a few souvenirs or gifts during your travels—so which ones do you have to declare? The answer: Every item you didn’t have with you when you originally left the United States.

https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/what-do-i-have-to-declare-at-customs-when-entering-the-united-states-31665 states the same:

what items must you declare when entering the United States? In essence, you have to declare any items you purchased and/or are carrying with you upon your return to the United States that you did not have when you left.

I assume that I must also declare any agricultural products and any presence of >10kUSD of cash, regardless of where they come from.

However, a US immigration officer told me during a secondary inspection when I was driving from Mexico to the United States that I should have declared items that I were already in my car when I entered Mexico from the US. When I asked him what specifically I should declare, he mentioned as example that I should have declared my clothes present in my car's trunk as well as my electronics. I was advised that my Global Entry privilege would be revoked if I do the mistake again.

Who's right? The websites or the US immigration officer? If the latter (=meaning that when entering the US from Mexico, I must declare items that I had in my car when I entered Mexico from the US), do I have to declare all items, or just a few types of items?

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    We must be missing a piece of information here, or there was some sort of big misunderstanding, that does not make sense. Other than agricultural products and cash, and of course anything you are just not allowed to bring into the US (drugs and other contraband), I don't see how and why anyone would have to declare all that stuff. Should you declare the clothes you are wearing? Should you declare your car? How are you supposed to do this? Did you p*ss them off somehow? To end up in secondary there must have been a trigger...
    – jcaron
    Oct 18 at 16:47
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    You seem to be asking whether Home & Gardens magazine or smartertravel.com are a more reliable source than border guards. Oct 19 at 4:21
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    @FranckDernoncourt It WAS your intent, however, and explicitly so. In your last paragraph you ask who is right, those two sources or US immigration officers.
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 19 at 13:43
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    @FranckDernoncourt That is why I am having difficulty here. The only right answer is that the statement made by the IO of the CBP is and can be the only valid one. Why you would consider statements made by non-official sources (of any kind) to be valid simply boggles my mind.
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 19 at 14:30
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    @CGCampbell some people believe whatever they are said, others like to double check. On travel.stackexchange.com/q/169297/1810 you'll see two immigration officers contradicting each other, by the way. Oct 19 at 14:34
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You commented that this was entering the US via land port-of-entry via the SENTRI/Global Entry vehicle lanes, and I think it's possible your experience was directly related to this fact.

The CBP are VERY strict on travelers who use these lanes coming in from Mexico. I know people who have had their cards withheld for what seem (to us) like very minor infractions (and sometimes for things that aren't even against the rules). The use of these lanes seems to hold you to a much higher standard, and have an additional set of requirements applied.

When we received our SENTRI cards from CBP (similar to Global Entry, but only for use crossing from Mexico to the US) we received an information booklet titled "Welcome to the Trusted Traveler Programs" which included a section on what to declare:

Declarations and Exemptions

During the inspection, you must declare ALL items to the inspecting Officer.

  • ALL includes everything purchased or brought in your vehicle.
  • ALL includes medicines, fruits, vegetables, liquor, tobacco, golf clubs, personal clothing, diaper bags, laptops, tacos, prescribed U.S. medicine, animals, any monetary instruments over $10,000 and all groceries bought in the U.S.
  • NOTHING TO DECLARE means you have nothing in your vehicle but yourself. It does NOT mean "nothing illegal" to declare!
  • You are responsible for knowing what you may or may not bring into the U.S. You are also responsible for knowing the quantity allowed under the law.
  • You are allowed to declare one liter of liquor and one carton of cigarettes every 30 (thirty) days.
  • Pets (dogs and cats) are legal to bring into the United States. You may be asked to provide vaccination or shot records for your pets. It is recommended to have a leash or crate readily available for your pet.
  • For more information you may go to www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/manuals

(section, including bolding, copied directly from information booklet)

I have not been able to find this exact booklet online, but it does appear to be specific to San Diego crossings, referring to both San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, and has a file revision name "OTM-4-5-18" (I assume the OTM is Otay Mesa, which is where the SENTRI office is).

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    Thanks, that's great information! "NOTHING TO DECLARE means you have nothing in your vehicle but yourself" is very much key here, that's probably why the agent mentioned they would revoke my global entry card next time I make the mistake. Oct 18 at 21:45
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It would assume that the custom's officer was wrong. I couldn't find any reference to declaring goods on exit, not even for sales tax refunds (which the US doesn't do). Form 6059B is clearly for arrival only and there doesn't appear to exist a departure customs form, so it's unclear HOW to declare it, even if you tried to.

Such a declaration rule would be exceedingly tedious and in all my departures from the US (land, air and sea), I have never seen it done or asked for. For a short period of time I crossed the US/Mexican land border daily and didn't see anything like this (but that's a while ago).

The only exemption that I'm aware of is a so called "Carnet" https://www.cbp.gov/trade/programs-administration/entry-summary/ata-carnet-faqs which is used to temporarily import and re-export commercial goods without having to pay duty. I've used that once when travelling with expensive and unusual measurement equipment. It would NOT apply to clothes and personal electronics.

Who's right?

Unfortunately that isn't a useful question. There are plenty of customs, security and immigration officers that get things wrong and sometimes even do things that are blatantly illegal.

A traveler has little or no recourse, and in almost all cases your best course of action is to say "Yes, officer", "I'm sorry officer", "I didn't know, officer", "Won't happen again, officer" etc. a lot and hope for the best. As long as there is no permanent damage, that's the end of it. If there is real damage (entry denied, goods confiscated, record created, status revoked, etc.) you can consider complaining of fighting it. Results may be mixed.

In this particular case, I would just ignore it. If you feel nervous about it, you can prep a form 6059B and present it during your next land border departure, but chances are the officer will just say "what the heck do you want with that thing?"

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    I think you misunderstood the question. It's not about declaring on exit, but declaring on entry into the US not only the stuff one bought/received abroad, but also everything they left the US with. So if you leave with A and return with A+B, declare all of A+B, not just B. Still probably wrong, though.
    – jcaron
    Oct 18 at 16:41
  • Sorry, this makes little sense. Form 6059B clearly asks for "RESIDENTS—the total value of all goods, including commercial merchandise I/we have purchased or acquired abroad," There is no field on the form for "stuff I brought with me".
    – Hilmar
    Oct 18 at 17:04
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    Thanks yes you're both correct, I'm interested in what needs to be declared when entering the US and I agree I couldn't find any written sources saying that one has to declare the stuff brought with me. Oct 18 at 20:48

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