CounterfeitsImport

Yes, You May Legally Import Counterfeit Merchandise into the United States

posted by Customs & International Trade Law Blog January 24, 2010 10 Comments

Peter A. Quinter, Florida Customs LawyerMy friends tell me one of their favorite activities in China is to buy counterfeit items such as Gucci handbags or Montblanc pens. My friends do worry about U.S. Customs and Border Protection (U.S. Customs) officers looking through their luggage upon arrival at an airport in the United States, seizing the counterfeit items, and fining them.  The truth is that U.S. Customs allows the importation of counterfeit merchandise, but closely follow the rules as I explain them to you now.

First, know that it is generally illegal to import counterfeit merchandise into the United States.  The word "counterfeit" is defined in the Lanham Act at 15 U.S.C. 1124, and the U.S. Customs applicable law allowing for the seizure of counterfeit merchandise is 19 U.S.C. 1526.  That law gives your friendly U.S. Customs officers who are waiting for you at the airport the authority to look through your luggage, and seize counterfeit merchandise from you.  The U.S. Customs regulations at 19 CFR Part 133 give more specific guidelines to travelers interested in this topic. 

What the readers of this blog, and even many U.S. Customs officers, do not know is that it is perfectly legal for a person who visits China, or any other foreign country, to buy counterfeit merchandise there, including one counterfeit Gucci bag and one counterfeit Montblanc pen, declare it on the U.S. Customs declaration form, pass through U.S. Customs, and enjoy using the counterfeit items in the United States.   Of course, you generally get what you pay for, so the $2,000 Gucci bag that you purchased in China for $80 may not be such a bargain, but it can be a lot of fun to shop at a Chinese flea market, and compare the purchased products to the genuine items at your local U.S.-based retail store, or so I am told. 

According to Customs Directive No. 2310-011A dated January 24, 2000, "Customs officers shall permit any person arriving in the United States to import one article, which must accompany the person, bearing a counterfeit, confusingly similar, or restricted gray market trademark, provided that the article is for personal use and not for sale."  Moreover, the Directive states that "Customs officers shall permit the arriving person to retain one article of each type accompanying the person." 

Now, don’t go crazy trying to bring too much counterfeit stuff into the United States at once. There are many restrictions.  You can only bring counterfeit stuff in every 30 days, it must "accompany" you which means no FedEx, UPS, or DHL packages, and it is only applicable to "one article of each type" which means, for example, if you attempt to bring in two counterfeit Gucci bags, they both will be seized by U.S. Customs. And "personal use" means for you the traveler only; no counterfeit gifts for your friends and family. 

Finally, please don’t waste the U.S. Customs officer’s time attempting to explain to him that the fancy watches you purchased are marked "Rolexx" so they are not counterfeiting the Rolex trademark because of the different spelling, or that you did not know that importing counterfeit merchandise was illegal, because now you have read this blog post from "Mr. Customs".  

Just in case you do bring in one too many counterfeit products, there is an administrative process to challenge all seizures made by U.S. Customs, as I described in a previous blog post.

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10 Comments

Anonymous User November 29, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Unhappy Holidays for Some International Flight Attendants Courtesy of U.S. Customs

Every few weeks, I get a call from an international flight attendant who wants my help to deal with a

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Joan Junkala November 30, 2010 at 7:31 am

Very interesting. I have a friend who is a flight attendant. I am passing this along.

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jerry March 30, 2011 at 10:11 pm

this is the one of our country’s problem. this counterfiet stuff is taking billions of dollars of american dollars and hurting many american companies it is time to stop this. i have all the proof in the world that the web site Alibaba.com is selling counterfiet items in the united states of america. this site is based in china and needs to be shut down. i working on going on CNN and accusing the united states of just letting this happen. I need people supppport and we need to ban buying anything made in china

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Bob June 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

I’m not clear on what “type” means. I understand the violation for two Gucci bags, but what about one Rolex watch in “silver” and one Breitling watch in “gold?” It makes sense that personal use would include different brands or colors of watches. Any guidance on this? Thanks!

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Jennifer Diaz / Diaz Trade Law March 4, 2016 at 1:04 am

Bob – type = 1 watch, 1 bag, etc.

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Debra October 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Thank you for the info. One thing I want to confirm, what if you buy a counterfeit item(single and for personal use) from a foreign website and have it shipped into the US. How does that fall under the trade laws.

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xin November 12, 2012 at 6:45 am

My concern is that one may usually feel impossible to decide if one item is counterfeit. For example the counterfeit money one got as changes. After trying one’s best to check all the items she/he will take through the customs and making sure they are of perfect quality, do you have any idea how he/she should do to keep 100% abiding the law?

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JoannaB April 30, 2013 at 10:55 am

I would never buy a counterfeit designer good, but it’s not because it infringes on the designers & their creative work, as I, to be perfectly frank, don’t care about the designers crying that they’re losing revenue. (Their Park Ave. apartments, villas in Spain, summer home in the tropics doesn’t quite help me feel sorry for their revenue loss.) But I do care that the production of counterfeit goods has been definitively linked to funding terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, etc. It’s for those reasons I would never buy a counterfeit product.

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JoannaB April 30, 2013 at 11:09 am

I would never buy a counterfeit designer good, but it’s not because it infringes on the designers & their creative work, as I, to be perfectly frank, don’t care about the designers crying that they’re losing revenue. (Their Park Ave. apartments, villas in Spain, summer home in the tropics doesn’t quite help me feel sorry for their revenue loss.) But I do care that the production of counterfeit goods has been definitively linked to funding terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, etc. It’s for those reasons I would never buy a counterfeit product.

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Johnywalker March 3, 2016 at 1:09 am

Well said,what about brand name products that are made in China example MichealKors RockRevival,iPad, iPhone and many other furniture products and so on.My point is the retailer suppose to paid tax to import their products because they profited from the products.If the laws let tax free on imported goods that telling Americans to bring their production out of the country and quality control on the product are not there and who do we blame the country that produced it or the one that brought it there to produce without the quality.On the main subject,if low class or speak for all that’s cannot afford a designer products will never have a chance to be happy or feel good,besides value stand on the actual product itself we all have the freedom to decide if that’s how much we want to paid for something and the other thing is why does some people earn hundred thousand time more then other while we still using our life span up and not be able to afford anything nice in life can we ask to be born in a certain family or places or ethnicity anyway if there are laws that can compromise these problems instead of deciding what wrong when we not sure of problems.If someone made a mistake and if they only anticipated that but an honest mistake should fall under a different categories.

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