Tips from a Dulles car service driver on getting through customs easy like pie. (Tip 1: Don’t bring pie.)
I understand. Going through customs at Dulles sucks. I feel your pain, my little international grasshopper. As a Dulles car service driver, I’ve chauffeured many a disgruntled traveler around DC, and I’ve picked up a tip or two.
So here are some tips to help you get through customs at Dulles like a hot knife through room-temperature butter. (Or like a Dulles car service driver through DC traffic!)
First of all, here are some things you should not try to bring back into our noble country (or customs at Dulles will confiscate them and slap your knuckles with a ruler):
• Alcohol (and absinthe).
• Biological specimens, like fungi, plants, birds, goats, and viruses.
• As the picture above suggests . . . don’t bring a car.
• Arts and crafts made from plants. No woven baskets that may or may not have contained a cobra at one point. (It probably never had a cobra in it, anyway.)
• Cuban cigars.
• Cultural artifacts, whether you bought them at a market, took them from an ancient ruin, or stole them from a museum.
• Software, blueprints, or designs that might have military application. Don’t try to pull any James Bond stuff.
• Drug paraphernalia. You can bring medications, but check and make sure they don’t include prohibited substances.
• Weapons. (As a driver for a Dulles car service, I have to second this. Don’t bring weapons in my car . . . or drug paraphernalia? Please and thank you?)
• Meats, produce, and rice. You can get away with some food, but to move quickly through customs at Dulles, just leave it behind.
• Multiple designer knockoffs, or character paraphernalia, like wanna-be Scooby Doo t-shirts. If you find one must-have Not-Quite-Fendi bag, you can probably get an exemption for that. Even customs officers understand the lure of faux glam. But don’t try to bring home more than one. This is a US copyright and trademark law thing, and customs officers are pretty strict about it.
Okay, you can technically bring some of those things and get through customs at Dulles, but you might need a license or permit. You can avoid the hassle if you just leave it behind.
You’ll have to declare everything you purchased while out of the country. To make that easier, do these things:
• Before you leave home, make a list of all the stuff you’re bringing on your trip.
• While out of the country, make a list of everything you buy that you’ll bring home with you.
• Oh, and also have a list of everything you’re given as a gift that you’ll bring home with you. (Your lists will be helpful when you’re handed that declaration form by your friendly neighborhood customs officer.)
• Save your receipts, to prove you own the things you’ve bought.
• If you have your clothes tailored or altered in another country, you’ll have to declare that, so keep those receipts, too.
• Pack everything you’re bringing into the country in one bag.
Your Dulles customs officer might want proof of ownership of all your valuables, like your laptop, cell phone, and jewelry. If you register these things with the US customs agency before you leave the country, customs will know they belong to you when you come back.
One more thing. Coming from a seasoned Dulles car service driver who has chauffeured some of DC’s finest, make sure to declare your money if you’re bringing in more than $10,000. You wouldn’t want to be accused of smuggling bulk currency like a drug trafficker, would you?
And then–whatever you might think of security procedures–just do what the nice people tell you to. Cooperate. Do not ask questions. (And don’t laugh at their serious expressions or their haircuts. Trust me–that does not go over well.)
Remember, they’re charged with keeping the country’s borders safe from any and all feasible dangers. (You might get a little paranoid too if that was your job.)
When you get through customs and are ready for a pick-up from your Dulles car service, I’ll have a nice private car waiting for you. Then you’ll feel welcome home.