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Suppose I'm entering the US after arriving on an international flight. I fill out a US customs declaration form, which includes my signature stating it is complete and truthful. The last part is the sticking point: this means complete and truthful as of when??

The customs declaration form is examined by both a border control officer at passport control, and by the customs officers at customs. Suppose I am carrying with me (either in my carry-on or checked luggage) some item (e.g. fresh fruit) which might be problematic to take through customs. I might decide it's easier to just consume and/or discard it before going through customs but after going through passport control. Say the item in question is food I took on the airplane (hence why it was not discarded before boarding the flight). Given that I don't have the item with me when I go through customs, do I need to include it in my customs declaration? Such a declaration would be accurate as of when I go through customs, but not accurate as of when I go through passport control.

I should note that writing it on the form and then crossing it off once I eat it or discard it is not a perfect solution! It is often the passport control officer who decides whether I must go through extra screening at customs, and having food with me is often the deciding factor for this.

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You are making a bit of a fuss over nothing. The time between passport check and customs check is usually a few minutes. Why not dispose of (or consume) the items before filling in the form?

Technically the form is asking about items you intend to import into the US, so you should not mention items you intend to consume or discard before that. The downside of that is that if you are found with these items on you at any time, they may or may not believe that you were intending to discard or consume them. That should be balanced by saying that US customs are very, very unlikely to be seriously concerned about small quantities of fruit, even if you did try to smuggle them into the US. The usual punishment would be confiscation, and getting taken aside for a little talking-to.

My advice would be to eat or discard the items before immigration and save yourself the hassle.

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    +1 Baggage claim is between immigration and customs. At some airports, you may see really cute dogs walking around baggage claim with their handlers. Those dogs can easily detect fresh fruit in a suitcase. You will avoid any hassle if you dispose of the fruit before immigration. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 7 '17 at 14:38
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    Note that a customs violation has a good chance of disqualifying one from Global Entry (and, for an American, from foreign known traveler programs one might otherwise qualify for). Anyone that might someday travel fairly frequently could come to regret risking that. – Dennis Jul 7 '17 at 16:34
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    I'm aware of how US immigration works, having been through it many times. Waiting for baggage in between passport check and customs can easily take 40 minutes or more (especially if one gets through passport control quickly, e.g. if one has Global Entry). – John Pardon Jul 7 '17 at 17:01
  • Do you have an official source for "you should not mention items you intend to consume or discard before that"? I have been told otherwise by CBP officers. – John Pardon Jul 7 '17 at 17:02
  • It was my understanding. I'm prepared to be corrected. If you've been told that, why are you asking the question? – DJClayworth Jul 7 '17 at 17:05

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