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Honorable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 502
Topic starter  

As some (not many) may recollect, I will be visiting America in the not too distant future- I live in the UK. Of course this represents a good chance to bring back some goodies ( :) !) assuming there aren't heaps of taxes and complications.

I've tried trawling through the HMS tax and revenue website before and it wasn't easy work!

I was hoping to bring back an external HDD and perhaps a guitar or a pedal.

Any ideas or knowledge from people in the know?

"Today is what it means to be young..."

(Radiohead, RHCP, Jimi Hendrix - the big 3)

Trusted Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 47

For gods sake, don't take what I say here as gospel, because we all know the government, any government, is more than willing to dip into your pocket at any time...

That being said...and I realize that your concern is the return home to the UK...

Whenever I've traveled internationally, the customs forms for entering the US asked if you were carrying cash over $10,000, and...ah, fruit, if I recall correctly. Edit: I forgot, alcohol is usually the other big thing they want to know about.

I've never traveled to the UK, so...this reply could be totally pointless, but there you go anyway. :mrgreen:

I mean, unless you bring something back still in it's manufacturers packaging and do they know you didn't take it with you when you left?

-Fender Stratocaster Splatter
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Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4113

1.Buy a guitar case, put some boards in it.
say you are going to a class to learn to shape boards into guitar like objects.

2.A)Buy a right sized case of some sort. (about the size that would hold an external HD.)
B) go to your local electronics store and rummage thru the trash till you find some electronic bits.
say you are visiting a friend who has offered to fix your Flux Capacitor.

When you come back you will have the baggage tags that prove you brought the newly concealed stuff with you when you went to the USA.

(you might want to run this by a solicitor before you attempt it, i would hate to get you into trouble)


Illustrious Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 6348

here are my experiences:
when bringing back rugs from Turkey into the US I experienced no problems. one is allowed a certain amount allowance
tax free. after that, the goods are subject to VAT tax (value added tax). that is determined by your home country. so the UK gets a share, in your case. you can declare the value to your advantage, but never exaggerate. having paper work is good.
don't show it unless you are asked.
when importing ceramics I ordered, bought, and paid for when in Italy both the shipper and government tried to pull a fast one. the shipper tried to charge me 'agent fees' when dealing with the Food and Drug Admin. because the ceramics were made for using as oppose to decoration, they needed testing. both wanted fees. I was able to avoid agent fees by saying no, but had to pay a small fee for the approval by FDA. no actual testing is done , I learned. I did have to pay a VAT. what ever was left over from my tax free percentage I had to pay. not much..a few percent.?

Honorable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 502
Topic starter  

Hmmm. It appears I'll have to make some calls. At the moment you're only allowed £145 worth of goods... err... not much. :)

"Today is what it means to be young..."

(Radiohead, RHCP, Jimi Hendrix - the big 3)

Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 12

In the bad old days of yore, there was a guitar dealer I heard of that used to go to the US with a Rickenbacker (when nobody wanted them in GB) and come back with a Gibson - it actually paid for his air fares.

Nowadays, things are more complicated, because there are specialists on the Customs staff who will be called in to evaluate anything considered "a bit dodgy".

Best advice on transporting a guitar - whatever means you use to bring it back, get it in a hard case and pack it into a guitar transit carton - most dealers will give you one if you ask. Get some free newspapers and pack out the spaces with screwed up paper.

First of all, check out the policy of your airline towards carrying musical instruments. They are all aware these days that they have been causing problems to musicians for years, and have taken some steps to be accommodating. What you need to know about is their insurance policy, because their standard cover for luggage allows them to beat your case into a new shape, and then do nothing if they return it to you in one piece (when that happened to me, I got 600 cigarettes that were all squashed and embarrassing to smoke in public). You might find that you need to give notice that you will be carrying a guitar, and then jump through a few hoops - but it will be a better situation than just taking it to the flight and declaring it as excess baggage.

As an alternative, you can consider posting a guitar to yourself. This is not cheap, especially since surface mail has been discontinued for a few years. For an electric, the US mail is the cheapest option, but even then you might have to "sneak it past" the man on the counter because the package may be a couple of inches over the length limit. Accoustics are generally too big to sneak past the US Mail man - but it can sometimes be done if you pick his day off and he leaves some gullible laddie in charge.
The alternative is to use a courier service like UPS, Fedex or DHL. If you check on the web, you will find franchised pick-up points from which you can send it near where you are staying. If you take the guitar to one of these, they will insist on repacking it for you before sending it - that is a condition of their service, they need to see inside the package for customs purposes (so they know it doesn't explode or leak), and they will tell you it can only be insured if they have packed it.

As a rough guide, it will cost about $120-$150 to send a guitar by US mail (USPS), and $350-$400 by one of the courier services. Remember that you need a return address on the package - so your best choice is to give the address of the person or dealer from whom you bought the guitar, if you have no-one in US who would help out.

You will have to pay customs duty and VAT to bring it into GB. If you post it, the customs charges will be calculated on the insured value. If you bring it back as baggage, you will have to go through the red channel and produce a receipt for the purchase.

Now, these things are illegal, but if you want to be a criminal ...

You can ask the dealer for two receipts - if he regards this as underhand, there is another way around it. Pay for the guitar with two payments - tell him there is not enough room on one credit card, and that he will have to take part on one card, and the rest on another (or as cash). That way you will get a credit card receipt for less than the purchase price, which you can show to customs.
You can under-insure it if you post it yourself, to keep the costs down, but then you risk damage in transit (actually very unlikely, but then, if it always happens to you ...). You will possibly need to show the receipt to prove the value before sending, so you may still need to use the dodgy receipt trick...

Whatever, do not try to shave large lumps off the purchase price if you go through the red channel unless you are a very confident person - the Customs can link to their "experts" if they smell a rat, although you are more likely to get nabbed at Heathrow than anywhere else.

There are other ways - there are agencies (some actually within the large courier companies) which are set up to facilitate trade with the US - they give you a US address for mail and freight forwarding, when you want to deal with people or companies that refuse to deal with people outside the US. This might be useful if it gives you a preferential freight rate.

The external HDD - I would leave that in my case and "chance it" - but remember that the US works on 120V and the PSU is likely to be a "wall wart" - is it worth the effort?

Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 1882

Unless things have changed significantly in the last few years, any advice you get regarding "taking a cheap guitar into the USA to swap with another for the return voyage" has another hurdle which hasn't been pointed out yet.

US immigration seems to start with the assumption that if you are bringing a musical instrument (or anything else that they consider "tools of a trade") into the country, then you might be planning to use that instrument to earn money in the USA, and therefore displace a working American musician.

In the instances that I have witnessed (at land borders, not airports) the solution has been to make it obvious that the traveler has a "campfire sing-along" quality of guitar, and is planning to be in that sort of setting (has camping stuff with them, or can provide some sort of evidence that they are going to be at a friend's cabin).

It still caused delays entering the USA until the border guard was satisfied.

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep