Some people travel internationally with valuable personal effects. The most obvious example is photography equipment which could easily be valued over $15k. Jewelry, watches, and specialized medical or sports equipment (think expensive bicycle) also seem likely expensive personal effects that people might travel with.

For most countries it seems that personal effects are not subject to duties (see also "Customs and Duties" of this answer). Of course, this depends on the customs official accepting your claim that the items you are importing are personal effects. If a customs official rejects your claim that they are, in fact, personal effects, it seems clear that you would have to pay duty on the items. While this seems uncommon, there are reasonably credible stories about travelers being charge import duties the personal items they are traveling with including this one about photographers returning to the USA and this one about a visitor to China's iPad.

How do I avoid being charged duty on my valuable personal effects when I cross a border?

This is probably one of those questions that will have a different answer for each country, so I've left it country-agnostic. I've found the answer for leaving and returning to the USA, but I really need an answer for traveling from Canada to Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, and back to Canada via Germany.

  • Wouldnt answering this be aiding and abetting ? Wasn't even sure SE would encourage answers to circumvent local custom law ! Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 13:23
  • 7
    @happybuddha: the OP doesn't ask how to avoid paying duty for goods that have to be taxed; rather, the question is how to avoid being asked to pay for items you rightfully own prior to travelling. Also, there's a difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. The former is legal, the latter is not. Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 14:22
  • France to Switzerland, you should not be to worried because the VAT is less in Switzerland.
    – ucsky
    Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 20:15

5 Answers 5


Leaving and then Returning to the USA

According to this answer on photo.se.com, travelers leaving from and returning to the USA with valuable personal effects should fill out a CBP Form 4457 and get it signed at a CBP office prior to leaving the USA. As best I can make out, presenting a signed 4457 upon re-entry to the USA is considered proof that the goods listed on the 4457 are, in fact, your personal effects and exempt from duty.


For professional equipment, there is an international procedure especially for this purpose, called an ATA carnet.

My understanding is that you might have to provide a deposit equivalent to the duties that would be due if you failed to leave the destination country in time, which could be quite a sum of money. The good thing is that you would get the money back at the end and you deal primarily with your own country's customs or chamber of commerce, not with remote authorities that might not even speak your language. It can also be easier and cheaper than the relevant national procedures, especially if you plan to cross several countries.

I have never actually used an ATA carnet myself, YMMV.

  • Thank you. That seems like the most comprehensive method for traveling to multiple countries. The downside in Canada, at least, seems to be the rather arduous registration process and the 1-year expiry date.
    – alx9r
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 17:54

Entering and then Leaving the EU

As a foreigner, traveling through Europe, you have to observe the following:

Professional gear, such as samples, professional camera equipment, musical instruments or other commercial goods have to be declared.

You have to pass through the red exit ("Goods to declare") at the airport and fill out the required forms. If your camera gear is used solely privately, but very expensive, I would go and still fill out the forms since it makes sure you do not get into trouble when leaving the EU.

On top of this, if any of your goods are intended to remain in the EU, you have to do all the import proceedings. I assume this is not the case here, so I won't go further into that.

In general, the first country of arrival is important since there are no more customs checks when traveling from one EU country to another.

Once you return into your country of residence, no matter where that is, you have to make sure that you can prove that you did not buy the goods on your trip, otherwise you will have to pay VAT and customs duty for it.

  • Thanks for the answer. What did you have in mind when you wrote "...makes sure you do not get into trouble when leaving the EU"? Is there some sort of exit check I might be subject to?
    – alx9r
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 4:03
  • Customs can check you theoretically at any border crossing and anywhere within the country. But they rarely do. If you want to be on the safe side, declare on entry.
    – uncovery
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 4:08
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    So I went through the red exit upon arrival at Munich airport. The customs officials seemed to understand that I wanted to register my equipment, but did not know of any form or method to accomplish that. @uncovery Can you link to such a form for the EU?
    – alx9r
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 20:20

Leaving and then Returning to Canada

According to the CBSA website you can register your items with a Form BSF407: Identification of Articles for Temporary Exportation which is a small green card. The registration is accomplished by taking the items to one of the CBSA Inland Offices prior to traveling. At the office, you list your items on the Form BSF407 and present the form and your items to a customs agent. The agent then stamps and signs the form. Then you take the form with you when you travel.

According the CBSA website, "If you are questioned about your goods when you return to Canada, show your card to the officer. This will help identify the valuables that were in your possession before leaving the country."

The inland CBSA officer told me that the the Form BSF407 would help convince a customs officer upon my return that the valuable were only temporarily exported from Canada. However, he also stated that it is the discretion of the customs officer at the re-import whether the BSF407 is sufficient to avoid duties.

On my last trip, I registered some camera equipment using a Form BSF407. So far, I have not had to use my Form BSF407 at any checkpoint. But I keep it with my camera equipment just in case.

  • Is this a smallish green card? I had one once that I listed laptops on before it was normal for everyone to have a laptop. It was really hard to get it and to get it stamped, IIRC. Allow plenty of time. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 1:00
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    Yes, the BSF407 is a small green card. I had no problem getting it signed, although I went to an Inland CBSA office to do it (ie. hundreds of miles from a border checkpoint). I would expect that trying to get it signed at a checkpoint would be more difficult since it might not be something your CBSA agent has ever even heard of.
    – alx9r
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 19:12

Usually it'a best to check prior to leaving for the airport. At certain duty-free shops, the staff will be able to tell you what are the duty restrictions for the country that you are travelling to. This is especially so for liquor and cigarettes - with countries like Australia tightening their cigarette regulation, I would highly recommend heading to the duty-free shop at your destination.

Some countries like Singapore forbid tobacco products at customs. Drugs are also punishable by death in Singapore and most Asian countries, so ensure your pockets are clean before walking through customs. There is a chance that officers may carry out random checks, so don't count it on luck.

  • 3
    While "valuable personal effects" could refer to drugs, it certainly doesn't refer to alcohol and tobacco. This answer isn't relevant to this question. Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 1:01

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