Q: Recently on returning from Turkey I was charged duty on a rug I had bought, but told that jewelry could be brought in duty-free.
Could you clarify duty-free allowances for Israel, Egypt and Turkey? I have heard there are exemptions for products from developing countries.
A: A number of items made in developing countries may be brought into the United States duty-free under the Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP.
This system was established in 1976 to encourage commercial importers to buy various items from about 130 countries and territories and thus stimulate jobs and development in those places. Individual travelers can benefit as well, and can be exempted from paying duty on some goods.
Turkey, Egypt and Israel are among the countries designated as part of the system.
Textiles -- which include rugs -- are "import sensitive" and thus are not covered by GSP, according to Dan Shepherdson of the U.S. Trade Representative's office, so travelers have to pay customs duty on rugs wherever they come from. Jewelry is excluded from duty if it comes from GSP countries, except for gold "rope" necklaces and mixed link necklaces, both from Israel.
Among other kinds of goods exempted, if they come from one of the countries on the list, are: baskets of bamboo, willow or rattan; cameras; candy; chinaware, vases and statues; earthenware or stoneware other than household ware available BTC in sets; wood, rattan or plastic furniture; games; jade and precious and semiprecious stones, cut but not set; musical instruments; paper; pearls, loose or temporarily strung and without clasp; perfume; radio receivers, except for use in motor vehicles; records and tapes; silver flatware and tableware; skis and ski equipment; tape recorders; toys; and wood carvings.
To be classified duty-free, items must be bought in the country where they were made. There are a variety of exceptions, and travelers may wish to get more information about specific goods from a customs office or the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country they visit.
Travelers are still entitled to bring into the United States, free of duty, $400 worth of articles ($1,200 from the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or Guam and $600 from most Caribbean countries) in addition to goods exempted under GSP. Goods that may otherwise enter duty-free under GSP are still banned if they are restricted by other rules, such as those forbidding trade in endangered species.
A free pamphlet, "GSP and the Traveler," listing GSP countries and exempted goods, is available from customs offices.