Preparing yourself for your mission trip has many facets, one of which is packing for your journey. It will benefit you to be informed about the rules and regulations enforced by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) which is an agency that is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) . You will need to be knowledgeable about what things you can take into other countries as well as what you are allowed to bring back into the United States when you return home. These regulations exist to protect each country’s economy, environment and residents. A Customs Duty is a tariff or tax imposed on goods being transported across international borders. It helps control and monitor the movement of goods into and out of the country, also referred to as imports and exports. Each country has certain restricted and prohibited goods, and Customs monitors those goods and collects the tariff or taxes owed on items being imported.
Here are some things you should be aware of prior to departure:
- When you are traveling abroad, each country has different regulations regarding prescription medications. You should always pack your medication in the original prescription bottles in your carry-on luggage. Along with the labeled bottles of pills, you should have a letter from your physician on their letterhead stating what medication you take. Some prescriptions are illegal in other countries, for example, Adderall, which is not legal in Japan, even if you have a prescription from the US.
- Many missionaries like to bring gifts to those they will be working and living with. This is a nice gesture, but can also be interpreted by Customs as importing items they assume you plan on selling, especially if you have many gifts. Sometimes less is more and in this case, you should consider that rule of thumb or be prepared to pay tax on the items. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, you pay a flat fee of about $15 for items less than $1,000 in value.
- To expedite getting through Customs on your return home, you should fill out the Customs form that your flight attendant will offer you while you are on the plane. Upon entering the United States, you must declare items you purchased or are carrying with you, gifts purchased or received, items you inherited, anything you bought in duty-free shops on your trip, repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back — even if the repairs or alterations were free of charge, items you are bringing home for someone else, items you intend to sell or use in your business and all monetary instruments such as traveler’s checks, cash, gold coins, negotiable checks, money orders, promissory notes and securities or stocks.
- Know what restricted or prohibited items that Customs Border Patrol will not allow to pass into the United States, so you do not waste your time and money. These are products or items that would have a negative impact on community health, endanger public safety, the welfare of children or cause harm to domestic plant or animal life. Remember that insects and pests can be found in fruits, vegetables and even wood.
- Last but certainly not least, there is a free app called Mobile Passport, which allows you to skip the line at US airports for Custom and Border Protection. You simply fill out your profile and answer the questions and you can go straight to a separate line called “Mobile Passport Control” which is an express lane that can help you get through Customs quicker. Most people who have this app say they save at least an hour at the airport getting through Customs!
Although Customs rules and regulations are created to protect people, the economy, the environment, etc., remember that each country has its own regulations specific to their culture, economy and environment. One missionary recounted that Customs at Katmandu and Nepal searched his suitcases right on the tarmac! Traveling internationally, always anticipate the unexpected and be prepared to answer for every item you carry with you. Preparation both physically and mentally is key for a successful mission trip!