Categories Constituting a Shipment
The paragraphs below detail the various categories that can constitute a shipment that may be eligible for duty-free entry into the United States.
TYPES OF SHIPMENTS
Household Effects/Personal Items, Alcoholic Beverages, etc.
This category includes all articles which were in the entitled person’s and/or family member’s possession abroad that are being imported in connection with the arrival of the entitled person and/or family member and are intended for personal or household use. It also includes articles subsequently imported by those who qualify. Persons who have not received their Personal Identification Number (PID #) must attach a copy of the identification page of the passport (page showing U.S. visa), and either the Notification of Appointment of Foreign Diplomatic Officer and Career Consular Officer Form DSP-110 or Notification of Appointment of Foreign Government Employee DSP-111 to the requests for Customs Clearance of Merchandise Form DS-1504.
Items imported for the accommodation of others or intended for sale or other commercial purposes are not entitled to free entry.
Numerical limitations on the importation of vehicles by personnel assigned to embassies and consulates are governed by reciprocal treatment of U.S. personnel by the sending state. Diplomatic and Consular officers are qualified employees of bilateral missions for whom the Department has no reciprocity policy, as well as diplomatic-level officers of the United Nations (UN), and the Organization of the American States (OAS), as well as the Principal Resident Representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) may import two (2) new cars per family during a 3-year period.
Other entitled personnel of international organizations may only import an automobile that has been in the possession prior to their first arrival to the United States in connection with their post or in connection with subsequent arrivals from home leave or office travel. They are also limited to two (2) new or used cars during a 3-year period and may not import vehicles, which do not conform to U.S. safety and emissions standards.
Imported automobiles that do not conform to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety and emissions standards may not be sold in the United States unless they are brought into compliance. Consult Customs Publication No. 520 for further information. If such autos are not converted (brought into compliance), they must be exported at the end of the employee’s tour of duty. Noncompliance with these standards, however, does not exempt the qualified employees listed above from completing DOT and EPA forms requested by U.S. Customs Service.
Consumables and Other Items
Consumables including liquor may be imported for personal use of entitled personnel. Additionally, alcoholic beverages and other consumables for official entertainment purposes of a diplomatic mission may be entered free from duty and tax in the name of the chief of mission or other entitled individual for their “official and personal use”. A statement must be typed on the DS-1504 regarding the type of function or event at which the consumable items will be used if the mission employee uses ” official and personal” to clear the items.
Diplomatic and consular officers and qualified diplomatic and consular employees may obtain articles (with the exception of those prohibited by law) free of duty and any applicable tax, whether imported directly from abroad or withdrawn from customs bonded warehouses, as long as the items are for their personal and/or family use in accordance with established guidelines and procedures. Such articles include electrical equipment, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and foodstuffs. OFM expects these articles to be imported in reasonable quantities to meet personal and family needs. However, quantitative restrictions may be imposed based on reciprocal treatment by the sending government. In general, OFM expects responsible senior officials of missions to screen these requests (submitted on the DS-1504 form) for reasonableness of quantity and frequency of submission. All merchandise on the DS-1504 request for clearance from bonded warehouse(s) must be merchandise that the mission will take possession of immediately.
Baggage and Effects of International Organization Staff Personnel
Section 148.47(a) of the U.S. Customs Regulations interprets the term “baggage and effects” (as used in Section 3 of Public Law 291 of the International Organization Immunities Act) to include all articles which were in possession of the person entitled to the benefits of the Act while the person was abroad. Proof of possession may be requested before authorization of a duty-free request is approved. The U.S. Customs Service has consistently maintained that such “possession” carries the implication that the article does, in fact, exist (is not an item that was ordered to be manufactured, crafted, or assembled overseas for the purchasers after their return to the United States), and could not have been brought on the same trip because of baggage weight restrictions, lack of space, or a similar reason (documentation must be presented to confirm such a situation). In order to qualify for duty-free entry under Section 3 Public Law 291, it is also necessary for the owner to have been physically present in the country from which the shipment originates. Possession of an automobile may be established by the payment of funds, the transfer of title, or having taken delivery in the country of purchase. In all cases, shipment of the item (or motor vehicle) should be arranged to coincide with the staff member’s arrival or shortly thereafter.
According to Section 3 of Public Law 291, the baggage and effects of alien employees of international organizations, their families, and servants are admitted free of customs duties and any applicable taxes in connection with the initial arrival of the owner or the return from an official mission of home leave abroad. Included as “baggage and effects” are alcoholic beverages and new or used vehicles. All motor vehicles must meet U.S. safety and emission standards and are subject to the same general restrictions imposed by the Department for embassy and consular personnel on the importation of new vehicles, i.e., two cars every 3 years.
For eligible international organization staff members, alcoholic beverages are limited to the following amounts:
- First arrival to take up duties in the U.S.
The quantity of liquor and wine already in possession of the person concerned at his/her previous residence (no restrictions are currently placed on this personal “wine cellar”)
- Subsequent arrivals
A reasonable amount for personal consumption, but any excess will be charged duty.
“Reasonable Amount” will generally be limited to 12 bottles of hard liquor and 24 bottles of wine or a total of 36 bottles of wine.
For those requests, which meet the requirements stated above, OFM allows a reasonable period of time for the goods to be shipped to the United States, usually within 30 days of the staff member’s arrival. In some cases, shipments received within 90 days of the staff member’s arrival may also qualify for duty-free entry; however, unless there are extenuating circumstances, customs duties will be imposed beyond that.
Agricultural products imported directly from a foreign country are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, which require that all such products be declared and submitted for inspection at the time of entry. All newly arriving personnel should be informed that agricultural products (such as vegetables, fruits, plants, meats, or animal products) carried as part of the household effects will be quarantined and/or destroyed if they do not meet USDA standards. Consult Customs Publication No. 517 for further information. All meat products imported into the United States should be accompanied by a copy of certificate(s) from the foreign agriculture authority and a DS-1504 form. The mission should contact USDA at Dulles airport (703) 661-8668 or USDA at the designated port before importing fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers into the United States to verify the enter ability of the product All fresh fruit and vegetables are subject to USDA inspection as a condition of entry.
If customs officials have reasonable grounds to suspect that prohibited items are part of a shipment of household effects, the personal baggage may be subject to inspection in accordance with the provisions of Articles 36 and 37 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) or Article 49 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). TO prevent any misunderstanding concerning these requirements missions are requested to contact OFM/ Customs when any of their personnel are importing agricultural products or if newly assigned personnel are inquiring about the possibility of including agricultural products as part of their personal and/or household effects.
The importation of pets is subject to health, quarantine, agriculture, wildlife and customs requirements and prohibitions. The U.S. Public Health Service requires that pets brought into the country (particularly dogs, cats, and turtles) be examined at the port of first entry for possible evidence of disease that can be transmitted to humans. It is suggested that missions read Customs Publication No. 509, for more detailed information on the importation of household pets.