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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Items Imported for Official Use


Items Imported for Official

Use of Diplomatic

Missions, Consulates, or

International Organizations


1.                  Diplomatic and Consular Pouches


A diplomatic or consular pouch is defined as a sealed package, envelope, bag, pouch or other container that is clearly labeled and used exclusively to carry official correspondence, documents, or articles in between


-         Embassies, legations, consulates, and foreign government with which the United States has diplomatic relations.

-         Headquarters or any other office of a designated public international organization and one of its regional offices in the United States or a foreign country (as referred to in Section 148.87(b) and the U.S. Customs Regulations).


Diplomatic pouches are inviolable and therefore may not be detained or opened under any circumstances, nor are such pouches subject to duty.  Pouches must


-         Bear the official seal of the government or international organization concerned

-         Be addressed to one of the offices of the entity whose seal the pouch carries

-         Have a detachable certificate affixed under the seal that is signed by a responsible official of the originating foreign office, embassy, legation, consulate, or international organization and which describes the pouch and the certifies that it contains nothing but official communications, documents, or articles.


Pouches that arrive with the required detachable certificate may be cleared immediately; the certificate will be retained by USCS officials and provides the authority for immediate release.


Pouches, which arrive without the proper detachable certificate but which bear the official seal and are addressed as outlined above, may also be cleared with minimum delay by providing OFM/Customs with a DS-1504. NO pouches will be cleared telephonically.  The following information is required in the DS-1504:

-         Statement that the package is a pouch

-         Air waybill number

-         Entry or manifest number, if applicable

-         Name of the carrier and airport where the pouch is being held


2.         Office Supplies


In accordance with USCS directive that provides for duty free entry of a certain official shipments of foreign governments, only those shipments that contain paper supplies and printed matter may be imported without OFM coordination.  These shipments may be entered upon presentation of a letter—on letterhead stationary of the diplomatic or consulate mission bearing the seal of the foreign government—which describes the material being imported and certifies that it is for official use.


The term "paper supplies" means "paper supplies for use in the offices of foreign embassies, legations, consular offices, and offices of public international organizations.


The term "printed matter" means those printed materials which are necessary to the operation of foreign diplomatic offices or public international organization offices and will be used only in such offices; and other printed material of a non- commercial nature customarily used in such offices for the purpose of acquainting people in the United States with the history and other characteristics of the foreign country or international organization represented, which is property of a foreign government or international organization, does not contain advertising matter, and is imported for free distribution.


Shipments of official-use materials that have been released upon presentation of an official letter as outlined above may be inspected to identify the contents.      


All other types of office supplies and equipment (such as typewriters, office computers, calculators, furniture, rugs, paintings, and other decorative materials for use by embassies, consulates, trade commissioners or international organizations) will also be admitted duty-free, upon submission of Form DS-1504 to OFM/Customs.


3.         Articles Imported for Exhibition


Clearance may also be granted for material imported by a foreign government for exhibition.


With regard to material imported for exhibition, the following general rules will assist the diplomatic mission in considering whether or not to send a request to OFM for duty-free entry:


-         If the articles are intended for sale, they are subject to duty regardless of their status as property of the foreign government.  If the articles are not intended for sale but are for other commercial use such as exhibition to persuade prospective American buyers, they are subject to duty.

-         If articles are intended for display as in cultural exhibit in a commercial establishment such as a department store, hotel, art gallery, or bank, free entry is permitted provided the foreign government assures that:

          The commercial establishment involved will not charge admission (other than a possible nominal consideration to cover administration expenses of the particular exhibition)

          Neither the importing foreign government nor the commercial establishment will derive any direct commercial benefit from the exhibit

          None of the articles will be offered for sale or sold while in the U.S.

-         When articles are imported for no commercial purpose and are exhibited on noncommercial premises with the sole view of acquainting residents of the United States with the art, customs, or products of the importing country, they are generally accorded free entry as a matter of international courtesy.


Because USCS carefully scrutinizes all requests for duty-free admission of exhibit materials, diplomatic missions should give full details of the importation, including the place or places of exhibit, the purpose of the exhibition, the ownership of the property, and a list of the articles to be shown.


Embassies should contact OFM/Customs before arranging to import items intended for exhibition to determine whether the necessary requirements of free entry have been met.



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