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Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

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Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

Hey all, thanks for any help & sorry for length (if I've crossed any etiquette lines let me know)...

Documents: I have our passports and have enrolled at the US government's STEP website. So far it appears I don't need visas for any of the country's we are committed to visiting (England, The Netherlands, Italy and France). What happens if we decide to go to a country where you need a visa after we're in Europe? Also, I only put the longer stays of the trip on the STEP website (for example, not Amsterdam because we're only there three days). Is that a mistake? I am in process for the GOES program. Any advice on taking advantage of this program (flying SFO-LHR, LCY-FLR, CDG-SFO via DUB). I have read we should carry photocopies of our passports and leave the originals securely in our apt. Is that good enough?

Customs: from US to London: the paperwork (the actual form) looks like we have to declare everything above and beyond $650 in value (total) and pay 2.5% on the value above that. Seriously? And, how detailed are we talking? We'll have shoes, coats, a little jewelry, lots of electronics. Everything I've seen on-line is very nonchalant. From country to country within Europe: with things we have purchased is there anything in particular to keep in mind? Seems like somebody said we should take the price tags off stuff? Any good links for help on VAT info?

Thanks, Sylvia

Palo Alto...
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1. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

“What happens if we decide to go to a country where you need a visa after we're in Europe?” You contact the embassy for the country that you wish to visit and complete a visa application. If you are US citizens and are planning to stay in Europe, very few if any countries other than Russia, require Americans to apply for a visa prior to arriving. But, you can easily check for the list of countries where a visa is required by doing a Google search.

“Also, I only put the longer stays of the trip on the STEP website (for example, not Amsterdam because we're only there three days). Is that a mistake?” As far as I know (and I have never signed up for it), all the STEP program does is make it easier for you to receive updates on travel warnings, travel alerts and other information for the countries that you are visiting. So you decide if you think that will not find out about events that will trigger the need for travel warnings unless you hear it from the US state department – not a big worry IMHO in the age of the internet.

“I am in process for the GOES program. Any advice on taking advantage of this program (flying SFO-LHR, LCY-FLR, CDG-SFO via DUB).” I am a member of the GOES program and I love it. It is only useful for entry into the United States but it can save you hours at SFO. Last November, my flight from Paris landed at SFO at around the same time as several flights from Asia and Europe and the lines were ridiculous with only 4 agents on duty. My husband and scanned our cards, went to the dedicated agent and were out of SFO in minutes as compared to what looked like an hour or more of waiting.

“Customs: from US to London: the paperwork (the actual form) looks like we have to declare everything above and beyond $650 in value (total) and pay 2.5% on the value above that. Seriously? And, how detailed are we talking? We'll have shoes, coats, a little jewelry, lots of electronics.” I am confused by your question. If you mean US to the UK, you complete a boarding card and when you land the agent will ask you some questions about where you are staying, etc. (or at least that is what has happened to me every time I visit the UK). Coming back to the US from Europe, you are supposed to declare everything that you are bringing in from overseas but you have an exemption for $800 per person. There are some restrictions around alcohol, for example, minors do not have that exemption. Theoretically, if you go over the $800 per person exemption you can be asked at the airport to pay the duty right then and there. I have been over the exemption numerous times and never had a problem at SFO, JFK, Newark or Dulles, but it is possible that I could have to pay one day.

Any good links for help on VAT info? See premiertaxfree.com/index.php/tourist/faqs/

Have a good trip.

Brussels
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2. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

<it appears I don't need visas for any of the country's we are committed to visiting (England, The Netherlands, Italy and France)>

If you have a US passport, you can visit the UK (England) and all of the European "Schengen Area" countries without a visa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area . You can visit all the countries which are in dark or light blue or green on the map without a visa and, as far as I know, the 5 yellow ones as well.

<What happens if we decide to go to a country where you need a visa after we're in Europe?>

You would have to apply for one. If you plan to go to a country (outside Europe) where you would need a visa, you would have to apply for it before you leave home.

< I have read we should carry photocopies of our passports and leave the originals securely in our apt. Is that good enough?>

No. In France and many other European countries (not all), it is THE LAW that you must carry your passport with you while you are in that country. This is especially important if you will be travelling around, whether by car or public transport (e.g. train). Illegal immigration is now seen as a serious problem in most European countries, and document checks can take place on public transport or on roads in places where you may least expect it. A photocopy is NEVER acceptable in place of a real passport, nor is some sort of other "ID" such as a driving licence.

<Customs: ... we have to declare everything above and beyond $650 in value (total) and pay 2.5% on the value above that. Seriously?>

You shouldn't have to pay any customs duty on used personal possessions that you bring with you (clothes, laptop, camera ...).

<From country to country within Europe: with things we have purchased is there anything in particular to keep in mind?>

On certain conditions, you can get a refund of VAT (value added tax) you have paid on goods you buy in the European Union, as long as they are *new and unused* when you leave the EU (to fly home).

<Seems like somebody said we should take the price tags off stuff?>

If you buy new things and want to reclaim the VAT on them, you should leave the price tags on ! This would help to prove that they are new and that you have not used them.

Paris, France
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3. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

I have Global Entry (GOES program) and it works wonderfully well, assuming the entry kiosks are operational which sometimes they are not. However, it costs money, takes time, and not everyone passes the interview. If you are someone who frequently enters the USA, it´s worth the effort. If you are thinking about doing this for a single trip only, I am not sure I would bother.

About carrying your passport on your person, I know of one instance where someone was stopped, he was not carrying proper identification, and was required to present he passport at the local Préfecture de Police within 48 hours. There is a risk in not carrying your passport.

I also know that during the summer, the US Embassy in Paris processes about 100 claims for lost or stolen passports per week. There is a risk in carrying your passport.

You must decide which risk you are willing to accept.

San Francisco...
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4. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

Wow, you guys are awesome! Thank you!

London, United...
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5. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

Just to reiterate, you only pay customs duties on items you are intending to permanently import/export. If you are bringing electronic devices, clothes etc. with you that you plan to take home again at the end of your stay, you would not be liable for customs duties on these items and there would therefore be no need to declare them. The main way a tourist would be most likely to need to deal with customs when arriving for a stay if they are a smoker and have brought lots of cigarettes from home.Similarly, if you were intending to visit friends or relatives and were bringing gifts with you, these would need to be declared. If this doesn't apply to you, there's nothing to worry about.

You will not have to fill in a customs declaration on landing in the the UK, just the landing card mentioned above. In fact, you will probably not even notice you're clearing customs as you rarely have to speak to anyone unless you have something to declare.

There are no customs duties when travelling within the EU (e.g. from the UK to Italy etc.). Once you are within the Schengen area (including Italy, France, Netherlands etc.), it won't feel any different than travelling around the US (no customs or immigration checks at borders, though there may be spot checks to catch undocumented immigrants as discussed above).

When returning to the US, you will need to declare all the items acquired abroad that you are bringing home with you. I suspect that people who have advised you to remove labels are trying to get round the customs limits. This is illegal and not advisable. In the US, you will have to fill in a customs declaration, itemising the items obtained while out of the country. This will be in addition to the landing card. You will have to hand the customs declaration to a customs agent after collecting your bags and before exiting the airport. I can't remember ever being asked questions by US customs agents (on literally dozens of trips from Europe to the US).

As others have said, Russia is just about the only European country that requires American passport holders to get visas in advance. Assuming you are planning on staying in Europe for your whole trip and not visit Russia, you can just turn up with your passport and you will be fine.

San Francisco...
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6. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

This is making sense to me now. Amazing how ignorant one can be! One last question, is there an easy way to archive my TripAdvisor responses or will they stay in my 'Contributions' indefinitely?

Paris, France
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7. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

How long is your trip?

San Francisco...
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8. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

We'll be in Europe for 12 weeks, 4 each in England, France, Italy with one trip to the Netherlands buried in there from mid-April to mid-july this year.

Edited: 3:11 pm, February 27, 2014
Calgary, Canada
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9. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

I believe you can not exceed 90 day, so plan carefully and make sure you have especially first entrance well documented ( stamped) in your passport.

Paris, France
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10. Re: Documents & Customs: SFO to London and on to Italy, France

The limit is 90 days in the Schengen zone. With the OP staying 4 weeks in England, which is not in the Schengen zone then she will not even be cutting it close.