What is Customs Law?
Customs Laws control the import of goods into the United States and the duties (or import taxes) paid on such goods. The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency is the regulatory agency primarily tasked with overseeing American customs laws.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a federal law enforcement agency, and a subdivision of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The CBP is tasked with regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. trade, customs, and immigration regulations. Given its broad scope of duties, it is perhaps not surprising that CBP is actually the largest law enforcement agency in the United States with a workforce of more than 45,600 sworn federal agents and officers. CBP is primarily responsible for preventing terrorists from entering the country, but also handles illegal immigrants of all kinds, preventing the importation of illegal drugs and other contraband, and protecting U.S. agricultural and environmental interests by preventing the introduction of foreign pests, plants, or diseases. CBP also plays a role in protecting American intellectual property interests.
As noted, the United States imposes tariffs or “customs duties” on the importation of goods. Usually, these duties average to about 3% of the value of the product. The duty is levied at the time of import and paid by the importer of record. In the case of individuals arriving in the United States, certain purchases may be exempt from the payment of a duty for a limited amount of purchases. These are often called “duty free” items.
In some cases, customs duties can greatly exceed the 3% tariff described above, particularly when the products are from certain nations of origin. These customs duties can reach as high as 81%. In other cases, products from certain preferred trading partners may be as low as zero. Similarly, certain types of goods are exempt from duty regardless of the source nation.
Failure to properly comply with customs rules can result in severe penalties including seizure of the imported goods, as well as civil and criminal penalties against those involved. All goods entering the U.S. are subject to search by the CBP. Anyone who intentionally attempts to conceal materials entering into the country could face civil or criminal penalties.
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