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December 23. 2012 7:09PM

Crossing the border for Christmas? Tips for passing through customs

ST. JOHN VALLEY, Maine - U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and agriculture specialists are providing guidance to assist cross-border travelers in New England's three northernmost states who intend to travel between the U.S. and Canada this holiday season.

The tips are designed to ease the crossing process for travelers as CBP officers and specialists maintain their principal anti-terror mission, CBP officials said in a news release.

Travelers are reminded there are a number of steps they can take to cross the border as quickly and safely as possible while avoiding violating U.S. law. Here's advice in 10 areas:

. Have your document ready. Travelers should prepare for the inspection process before arriving at the inspection booth. Individuals should have their crossing documents, i.e. valid passport, passport card, nexus card, "green card" or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) acceptable document, readily available.

. Vehicle occupants should end cellphone conversations before approaching the port or during the inspection process. Cellphone usage slows down the inspection process and causes delays for everyone in line.

. Goods and gifts. When crossing the border, each vehicle and its contents are subject to search. Please keep this in mind when transporting gifts for special occasions and the holidays. Remember to declare everything purchased or acquired outside of the United States in order to avoid fines and penalties for importation of prohibited items. If duty is applicable, credit cards or cash payment in U.S. currency are acceptable.

. Prepared foods for personal consumption or for family/friend gatherings are allowed. If bringing food items for resale or for commercial holiday parties, go to FDA.gov or contact your local CBP office for more information.

However, if you plan to cross the border with fresh meats, fruits or vegetables and you're not sure if they are allowed into the United States, please check with your local CBP office before arrival. For more information on locating a CBP office, please visit the CBP website. (http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/toolbox/contacts/ports/)

. Though many Christmas trees and wreaths sold commercially in the U.S. originated in Canada, personal importation of trees or wreaths may require certain agricultural documentation at the border. Again, it is always best to check with your local CBP office if you have any questions.

. When roasting chestnuts on an open fire during the holidays, please remember, since Jan. 1, 2009, all firewood is prohibited from entering the U.S. unless it has been properly "treated." Contact your local CBP office for more information.

. In addition to federal laws, travelers entering the U.S. are also subject to all state alcohol, tobacco and firearm laws. State laws are often more restrictive than federal laws. If transporting any such items over the holidays, please check with local law enforcement to see if any restrictions apply.

. Cats and dogs must be free of disease and illness when entering the U.S. In addition, dog owners must be able to show proof of a rabies vaccination. If crossing with a "puppy for Christmas," for example, certain paperwork will need to be completed at the border. Contact your local CBP office for more information.

. Travelers must declare medications at the border. All valid non-expired prescription medications should be in the original prescription containers with all pertinent information listed on the outside.

Narcotics and dangerous drugs are prohibited. There are severe civil and/or criminal penalties if imported.

. Currency. There is no limit on the total amount of money that may be brought in or taken out of the U.S. However, if transporting more than $10,000, travelers must file a Report of International Transportation of International Currency or Monetary Instruments. Failure to properly declare or report the importation or exportation of currency or monetary instruments in excess of $10,000 could result in seizure.

Travelers may also consult the CBP website to monitor border wait times that are updated hourly. For more information on Border Wait Times, please visit the CBP website: (http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/)

To assist travelers in their role and expedite travelers at the border, CBP has provided some basic border travel tips. For more information, please visit the "Know Before You Go" section of the CBP website. (http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/)

bhookway@newstote.com


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