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Do I need a customs form?

Go To Great Panes, Kathryn Maloney ©2012
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I’ve heard this question many times unfortunately the answer folks get is rarely accurate. The misunderstandings are sometimes perpetuated by postal clerks, so going to the post office for answers is not always more helpful than asking in forums.

The short answer is:

You need a customs form if your international package has
“potentially dutiable contents”.

It doesn’t matter:
• how light or heavy it is,
• how big or small,
• if it is a gift or something you sold,
• what mail service level or company you send it through.

If there is something that might require either duty or taxes (like sales tax) to be paid on it, it needs a form. Personally, I don’t know which goods are charged tax in different countries, so all our international packages get customs forms. Plus it can speed the way through customs if a package does get stopped (and an enclosure with the price & buyer info will help too).


You can see that answer directly on the US Postal Service website and be confident you have the right answer–the key is not to look just at the chart, but also the fine print below it. The chart:

https://webapps.usps.com/customsforms/helppickaform.htm

The fine print:

Customs forms are not required on First Class Mail International items that:

• Weigh less than 16 ounces and do not have potentially dutiable contents.
• Weigh 16 ounces or more; do not have potentially dutiable contents; and are entered by a known mailer.”


In both of the above options, the important point is about potentially dutiable contents–if the package has any, then it should have a customs form. The package should also have something that confirms the value & purchaser inside the package (like a receipt) in case customs inspects it.


The chart page above has sections that tell you which customs form you need based on:

type of mail service you are using (First Class International, Priority Mail International, etc.), and
the declared value of the items in the package (while some countries also tax the shipping cost, the customs form value doesn’t include postage–so don’t add that in).


If you are having trouble seeing where it says you need a customs form, these images have those parts highlighted in yellow for First Class International and Priority Mail International:

First Class International
Priority Mail International

So the only packages that can travel internationally without a customs form are shipped First Class International and are either:

• Under 16 oz and have no potentially dutiable contents,
• Over 16 oz, have no potentially dutiable contents and are shipped via ‘known mailer”.

If you’re looking for more details on custom form use & requirements see here: http://pe.usps.gov/text/imm/immc1_008.htm

If you are looking to print First Class International labels without a paid subscription service, check out the following post–the customs form gets printed right on the label automatically too:

International First-Class Mail:
Print Labels From Your Computer

How to handle a package with a customs form:
Handwritten customs form = present to a clerk

Electronically submitted customs form:

Under 13 oz with only postage stamps = drop in any box
Over 13 oz with only postage stamps = bring to clerk
Any weight with electronic payment = drop in any box

For more shipping tips see our main “Shipping” page–see the gold links on the right or click here:
Shipping Basics

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4 Comments | Add your own

  • . Keylee | September 9, 2010 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    This is great information. I was just at usps.com and couldn’t figure it out! Thanks!

  • . Luc | March 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    good info. thanks

  • . Rebekah | September 30, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for all the info! Do you know if I need to use those stupid clear plastic envelopes for the customs forms on a small package shipped first class international? I would love to be able to just print the form/postage on a sticky label and just stick it on the package, but I’m not sure if that is allowed. I don’t really understand the purpose of the plastic sleeves. Any advice?

  • . GoTo | September 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Rebekah–You only need those plastic envelopes for Priority Mail and faster services (and not even on the Priority small flat rate box or the Priority flat rate envelope.)

    We use a free downloadable program from USPS to print First Class International labels with the customs form right on them since Paypal & USPS online don’t offer First Class International labels–see the “International First-Class: Print Labels From Your Computer” post on our main shipping page–there’s a link to the main shipping page in gold text on the right side of every page and here for you:

    Shipping Basics

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