Immigration Paperwork is Important, But Don’t Forget Customs Rules!

A recent incident at New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport strikes a cautionary note that’s well heeded: international borders matter. Most of us are used to passing through international borders smoothly and without incident, so it’s easy to forget. Though we tend to pay close attention to immigration paperwork – making sure we have the right visa and supporting documents to avoid hassles at the border – it’s worth taking time to learn more about the customs regulations and policies of any country to – or through – which you’re traveling.

The case in point involves a Canadian musician, Boujemaa Razgui, whose handcrafted bamboo flutes – and a supply of fresh bamboo canes – disappeared from his luggage, apparently during the customs clearance process at JFK. U.S. Customs officials told NPR that the fresh bamboo canes were confiscated and destroyed, due to concerns about the potential importation of plant pathogens from the bamboo’s country of origin. There was no explanation for the disappearance of the flutes. [See Destroyed by Customs? Or Stolen? Whatever Happened, Flutes are Gone, by Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR, 03.Jan.2014.]

For our purposes, it’s immaterial whether the flutes were destroyed for reasons of agricultural safety, or if they were lost or stolen. The warning still stands: if you plan to cross an international border with something you can’t afford to lose, it’s important to do your homework well in advance, to avoid being tripped up by customs regulations.

Most people now know that digital privacy at the border can be extremely limited, and take appropriate precautions. [See New York Times: Digital Privacy at the Border, MurthyBlog, 26.Feb.2011.] However, few travelers know precisely what can’t be brought into the United States, or the exact limits on what can be. A little research up front can save you from unpleasant surprises later. Returning U.S. residents should check out

the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Know Before You Go webpage and the downloadable brochure of the same name. There’s a special page for nonimmigrant visitors, too: For International Visitors. It’s time well spent!

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.