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I'm a 22 year old American citizen living in Germany with my German fiance, have been for 3 and a half years. I'm returning to the states to visit family for the holidays. I'll be staying for a little over a month and a half, roundtrip.

To start with: I know the customs form is specifically for imported goods, or foreign items I acquired in Germany that will remain in the US. However, the only things I will technically be importing are the Christmas cards I'll be gifting to family. I'm bringing everything else back with me to Germany at the end of the trip. Does this matter at all for what I can omit on the form?

If it doesn't and I have to list every foreign item I'm bringing, my questions are the following:

Can I group items together? Will they penalize me if they find something that very loosely fits into the generalization? For example, I'm bringing what is essentially art supplies: paper (from a sketchbook, a journal, and loose paper made into Christmas cards), a stapler, embroidery needles and floss, brushes, etc. Can I add up the market price of all these items, and list it under "art supplies" on the customs form?

If I choose a general grouping like "souvenirs" what can reasonably fit under that description? Would "sentimental items" work for items I'm bringing for my religious practice?

Is it a good idea to group "Electronics" if I'm bringing my smartphone, which was gifted, and a kindle, which was lent to me, or keep them separate? Speaking of, it's worth noting that literally all of the items I'm bringing are either inherited or gifted. Do I really have to look up the exact market price for each and every item to tally up the total, or can I guesstimate?

And general questions: I know it's not likely that I'll be randomly checked, but isn't it pretty much impossible to prove whether I did or didn't have a specific item last time I was in the states, especially if everything I'm bringing was gifted and not bought by me? I feel like I need to bring a signed letter or something from the people who gifted the things to prove I didn't buy anything I'm bringing.

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    Whether someone gave you something or you bought it yourself never matters for customs purposes. Never. Are you bringing it and leaving it? That's what matters. Dec 9, 2022 at 12:27

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Form 6059B is quite clear on the topic. On the front it asks:

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RESIDENTS—the total value of all goods, including commercial merchandise I/we have purchased or acquired abroad, (including gifts for someone else, but not items mailed to the U.S.) and am/are bringing to the U.S. is:

VISITORS—the total value of all articles that will remain in the U.S., including commercial merchandise is:

As you live in Germany and only coming to the US for holidays, you are a visitor, so only the second case is relevant to you, and it asks only about "articles that will remain in the US".

On the back:

enter image description here

U.S. Residents—Declare all articles that you have acquired abroad and are bringing into the United States.

Visitors (Non-Residents)—Declare the value of all articles that will remain in the United States.

Same thing, you are a visitor, so again, only "all articles that will remain in the United States".

So you definitely don't need to declare everything in your bags.

The situation would be different if you were returning to the US to stay (moving back), but I would think there's a different form or process for that.

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  • Note that on the back it also says "Declare all articles on this declaration form and show the value in U.S. dollars. For gifts, please indicate the retail value. ". So I assume you need to provide total value on the front and a list of items on the back.
    – Anders
    Dec 9, 2022 at 9:30
  • @Anders Yes, total value of the articles that will remain in the US on the front, list of the articles that will remain in the US on the back, with value in USD, retail value for gifts.
    – jcaron
    Dec 9, 2022 at 9:35
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    Interesting! Okay so actually that makes sense. I guess I wasn't aware that even as a US citizen I could be considered a visitor. It's still weird to consider myself a "non-resident" of the US. But yeah, you're right. Still getting used to being a citizen of one country and a resident of another I suppose!
    – Marie Rose
    Dec 9, 2022 at 9:53
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    @MarieRose the relevant regulation is law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/19/148.2 -- basically you're a nonresident of the US for this purpose if you've established a residence elsewhere. Even if you're a resident of the US for this purpose, however, you're treated as a nonresident for this purpose if you're visiting the US for a "short period of time." I say "for this purpose" because residence is determined differently for different purposes -- you can't apply this determination to your income taxation, driver licensing, etc.
    – phoog
    Dec 9, 2022 at 10:36

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