Traveling out of the Country (Customs) and Export Control Laws

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) maintains a webpage titled Know Before You Go - Regulations for International Travel by U.S. Residents.  We will refer to that publication several times on this website. Please check it out before you travel.

NOTE:  Certain research or other University activity is regulated by export control laws.  Please find out whether or not your research or other University activity is regulated by these export control laws.


Overview

When University faculty, students, or staff are traveling out of the country with University owned and/or personal equipment (as carry-on or checked baggage), it is important to be prepared to document the original purchase upon returning to the United States to avoid having to pay duty tax.  If the traveler chooses not to bring documentation, the University of Washington will not reimburse them if they are charged duty tax.

The traveler should keep supporting documentation of the equipment purchase with the equipment as it leaves the country, while it is in the foreign country, and most importantly, when the equipment returns to the United States.   


Supporting Documentation Examples and Pros/Cons of Each

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Form 4455 - a formal "Certificate of Registration" that requires the traveler (prior to departure) to complete the form and present the equipment to a CBP Officer for comparison and signing of the form.  The form then serves as supporting documentation of the equipment purchase.

  • Pro:  Less hassle upon return since CBP has approved prior to departure.
  • Pro:  Good for lifetime of asset.
  • Con:  Must have completed prior to departure.
  • Con:  The CBP office at SeaTac can be difficult to locate and is only open from 8am to 3pm.  It is located on the Mezzanine Facilities level and is the Global Entry Office. 
  • Con:  The Seattle CPB port of entry office is only open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4:30pm.  Additional information can be found at Service Port - Seattle or Port of Entry - Tacoma.  Please see Locate a Port of Entry for a complete listing of U.S. Ports of Entry.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Form 4457 - a formal "Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad" that requires the traveler (prior to departure) to complete the form and present the equipment to a CBP Officer for comparison and signing of the form.  The form then serves as supporting documentation of the equipment purchase.

  • Pro:  Less hassle upon return since CBP has approved prior to departure.
  • Pro:  Good for lifetime of asset.
  • Con:  Must have completed prior to departure.
  • Con:  The CBP office at SeaTac can be difficult to locate and is only open from 8am to 3pm.  It is located on the Mezzanine Facilities level and is the Global Entry Office. 
  • Con:  The Seattle CPB port of entry office is only open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4:30pm.  Directions and additional information can be found at Service Port - Seattle or Port of Entry - Tacoma.  Please see Locate a Port of Entry - Air, Land, or Sea for a complete listing of U.S. Ports of Entry.

Receipt (Original or Copy) - the original or copy of the document issued by the supplier or service provider to document the equipment purchase. The Receipt will detail the purchase date and cost for the purchase of the item. 

  • Pro:  Easy to obtain from department prior to travel.
  • Pro:  Good for lifetime of asset.
  • Con:  Though the CBP website says that this is an acceptable form of support, each CBP agent is different, and you may or may not be questioned more when using this form of support.  

Customs Letter - a formal document prepared by the department and signed by the authorizing official to serve as supporting documentation of the equipment purchase when an original receipt is not available.

  • Pro:  Easy to obtain from department prior to travel.
  • Con:  The CBP website does not specifically call this out as an acceptable form of support, though we are not aware of any issues that have arisen when these are used.  It is important to remember that each CBP agent is different, and you may or may not be questioned more when using this form of support.  

Purpose

The purpose of the appropriate supporting documentation is to:

  • Provide documentation that the University of Washington/State of Washington is the legal owner of the equipment;
  • Prevent the traveling University faculty, student, or staff from paying duty on the equipment when returning to the U.S. (supporting documentation proves that the equipment was purchased prior to the period of travel).

Procedure

Department:

Determines need to take equipment out of the country.

Determines which type of supporting documentation it wants to travel with to support the equipment's purchase:

Keeps supporting documentation with the equipment at all times of travel.


Special Notes

  • We have received feedback from University researchers who travel extensively on UW business with equipment.  Based on their experience, the most efficient, hassle free method for returning to the U.S. with equipment has been the Form 4455 and/or Form 4457. (See this page for the current Customs information on this.)
  • According to the CPB's Know Before You Go website, it is important to have "Receipts or registration paperwork for any new electronics."  This speaks specifically to personal items, not University/Government owned items.  Since all CPB agents are different, we recommend traveling with supporting documetation if possible, regardless of ownership.
  • If equipment is non-inventorial, EIO strongly recommends putting a purple, non-inventorial tag on it prior to travel to clarify government ownership.

Forms

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Form 4455

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Form 4457

Customs Letter Template

(Last updated 23 August 2018)