Take an extra bag along. Pack a collapsible bag or tote in the bottom of your suitcase to carry home your souvenirs, then put all purchases in it. It will ease your way through customs.
Keep a log of all your purchases. Include what you paid in foreign currency and the equivalent in US dollars. This will make it easier to fill our customs forms. You can check customs regulations and find useful information online at www.customs.ustreas.gov.
Do some preliminary shopping research before you leave home. Make a list of items you want to buy, sizes you’ll need, then check prices in your local stores. That way, you’ll have a basis for comparison.
Be sure to check in each country to find out about duty charges. Most countries have provisions for tourists to get a refund of at least a portion of the taxes they pay on items they buy abroad. Be sure to check the rules before you shop because there will be minimum amounts you will need to spend in one location and paper work you will have to fill out in order to get your refund. You will be given a form to have stamped at the airport customs office upon your departure. Allow extra time at the airport, because lines are often very long. Occasionally, you can get the refund right there, but often you will be required to mail that stamped form back to the store for your refund. It is best to pay for these purchases with a credit card and the vendor will issue a VAT credit to your charge account in dollars. Procedures vary from country to country so be sure to check with the customs staff for accurate information regarding your refund procedure.
When you’re traveling abroad, before you buy any antiques or archaeological artifacts, be sure you can get it out of the country. Also check the US regulations concerning items that are not allowed to be brought into the US such as ivory or items made from endangered wildlife, Persian rugs, etc. Be sure to get a clear copy of the vendor’s name, address, fax & phone numbers and email address in case you need to contact them once you return to the US. Keep in mind that if you are having your purchase shipped home, it may take several weeks or even months, depending on what type of service the vendor uses.
Beware of duty free shops. Many do not offer any real bargains. And “duty-free” applies to the country where you purchase the item. You will still have to declare these items on your Customs Declaration form when you enter the USA.