Same-sex couples qualify as family members for purposes of joint customs declarations, under a final rule by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The change means that upon return to the U.S., family members traveling together can make a joint declaration for items acquired abroad for all members of the family who reside in one household. This will reduce paperwork and allow family members to group their personal duty exemptions.

The rule broadens the definition of “members of a family residing in one household” to include two adults in a committed relationship, such as “long-term companions and couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships where the partners are financially interdependent and are not married to, or the partner of, anyone else.” The definition does not extend to roommates or other cohabitants. “Domestic relationship” will also include foster children, stepchildren, half-siblings, legal wards, other dependents, and individuals with an in loco parentis or guardianship relationship. To benefit from group exemptions, U.S. resident family members must also have lived together in one household at their last permanent residence and intend to live in one household after arrival in the United States.

The rule was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 18, 2013, and takes effect on Jan. 17, 2014.

BAL Comment: The change in regulations will simplify paperwork for same-sex couples and allow more families to make a single customs declaration. However, only U.S. residents qualify for personal duty exemptions of $800 (individual) and $1,600 (members of a family). Visitors to the U.S. do not get personal duty exemptions.

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