The United States is a free country, allowing most goods to enter and leave the country for trading. The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has authority over international trading and compliance of import regulation. American customs law is composed primarily of the U.S. Customs Duties Code (Title 19 of the U.S. Code), tariff schedule, proposed legislation, CBP decisions, CBP rulings, judicial decisions, and treaties and international agreements. Administrative materials also comprise customs law. There are other federal agencies that regulate imports, such as the Environmental Protection Agency for automobiles, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for wines.
The CBP is strict in the implementation of custom laws. The government imposes about 3% of the value of the imported good, although the tariff can reach as high as 81% on certain goods. The federal government has a list on items that cannot be brought inside the United States. These products include endangered wildlife and items made from endangered wildlife, such as ivory from elephants and rhinoceros and feathers from wild birds. Individuals found to have been carrying these items will be fined or imprisoned, depending on the item brought in. The law, however, provides for exceptions. In the case of ivory, an individual may bring back an object made of ivory if the item is antique, which means the item is at least 100 years old. There must be proper documentation to prove that such item is antique. Without the proper documentation, the item cannot get inside the United States and the bringer may be subjected to fines or imprisonment. The government also has a list of "duty-free" items, which means these products are exempt for tax payments. In addition, American residents traveling abroad can freely import cigarettes, cigar and alcoholic beverages if the total value of these items do not exceed a certain amount.
Importation of prohibited or contraband goods is a criminal offense in the United States. The most common violations of customs are law: false declarations, exporting violations, importing violations, and smuggling. False declarations usually occur following a trip abroad. All items, including gifts, brought in by residents and travelers from outside the United States must be declared. One item missed out in the declaration can be considered misrepresentation or false declaration and can be considered a violation of custom laws. Exporting and importing require licenses obtained from the appropriate government agency. Without the proper license, an individual or a corporation cannot export or import. Smuggling occurs when somebody brings to the United States an item that is considered prohibited.
The law punishes violations of customs law with a fine that can range from a thousand dollars to a million dollars and prison time of 10 years per offense. When faced with a customs law violation, it is best to seek the help of an expert customs law attorney. Customs violations is a serious offense with grave consequences. A defense attorney with knowledge on customs law should best argue for persons charged with customs law violations.