Know your baggage rules

K. Karthikeyan | Updated on May 11, 2012


While travelling abroad, ignorance of the Customs rules can never be an excuse.

Jay Govind, an expatriate, arrived in India after a short visit abroad during which he purchased designer jewellery for his wife as a surprise gift for their silver wedding anniversary. At the Customs clearance in the Indian airport, he walked through the green channel and was picked up for a check of his baggage for dutiable goods. The verification revealed the jewellery and the Customs officials demanded that he pay duty on it along with penalty or else it would be confiscated. Jay was not familiar with Indian baggage rules. He explained this to the Customs officials and paid the relevant duty. Needless to say, he was acutely embarrassed due to his ignorance.

Indians have always had a fascination for foreign goods and those who could afford air travel in the past were expected to buy whole cartloads of foreign items for the relatives back home. The scene has changed these days, with foreign travel for business and leisure becoming common. Today, most foreign brands are available locally.

Various categories

Though Jay may truly be innocent of any wilful attempt to deceive the Customs, ignorance of the rules can never be an excuse. Baggage rules in India differ for various categories of people. Tourists have one set of rules while people transferring residence to India or coming back to India after a long stint of employment abroad are subject to another. The green channel, depicted by a green line at the Customs clearance in airports, is meant for passengers who have no dutiable goods to declare. The red channel is for those who have dutiable goods to declare. Male Indian passengers residing abroad for more than a year may bring in Rs 10,000 worth of jewellery duty-free while females are allowed Rs 20,000 worth of jewellery, the stay condition remaining the same.

There was a time when India did not allow import of gold at all; now one can bring in up to 10 kg, though the import is dutiable. However, ornaments studded with stones and pearls are not allowed. The passenger has the option to bring in the gold in his luggage or as unaccompanied baggage within 15 days of his arrival in India.

Currency rules

There are rules for the volume of foreign and Indian currency one may carry during a trip. While going abroad, residents may carry up to $10,000 with $3,000 being in foreign currency. Currency brought in, in excess of $5,000 and aggregate in excess of $10,000 (including traveller's cheques), must be declared to Customs. Indian residents going abroad may carry Rs 7,500 abroad and the currency limit remains the same on their return as well.

The penal provisions for attempting to walk through the green channel with restricted, banned or dutiable goods include confiscation, imposition of fine up to five times the value of the goods involved, and arrest and prosecution in serious cases. Even with gold prices spiralling globally and the added duties and taxes in the recent Budget, people are still interested in acquiring gold during foreign trips; which is why they should know the baggage rules.

Free allowances

The free allowances include one laptop and alcohol (not more than 2 litres). Also, keep in mind that Indian spices are not welcome everywhere. Specifically, Malaysia and the US insist that foodstuff be declared on arrival. If one unknowingly does bring foodstuff, it is best to obtain the authorities' permission to carry it.

The joke goes that when you start resembling your passport photograph, it's time to travel. Yes, we all need rest and rejuvenation every once in a while, but should stick to rules while buying gifts to make travel stress-free.

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Published on May 11, 2012
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