All travelers arriving from the Caribbean by air, including Americans, are now required to have a passport to enter or re-enter the United States. You'll certainly need identification at some point, and a passport is the best form of ID for speeding through Customs and Immigration. Driver's licenses are not acceptable as a sole form of ID. For up-to-date passport requirements for countries around the world, check out the Consular Information Sheets at the U.S. State Department website (http://travel.state.gov).
Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you'll pay a higher processing fee.
It is advised to always have at least one or two consecutive blank pages in your passport to allow space for visas and stamps that need to appear together. It is also important to note when your passport expires. Many countries require your passport to have at least 6 months left before its expiration to allow you into the destination.
Visas are usually not required in the Caribbean, but some countries may require you to fill out a tourist card.
Each island has specific guidelines on what you can bring in with you. Generally, you're permitted to bring in items intended for your personal use, including tobacco, cameras, film, and a limited supply of liquor -- usually 40 ounces.
Just before you leave home, check with your country's Customs or Foreign Affairs department for the latest guidelines -- including information on items that are not allowed to be brought into your home country -- since the rules are subject to change and often contain some surprising oddities.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (www.customs.gov) allows $1,600 worth of duty-free imports every 30 days from the U.S. Virgin Islands; if you go over this amount, you're taxed at 1.5% rather than the usual 3%. The duty-free limit is $800 for other Caribbean Basin destinations. If you visit only Puerto Rico, you don't have to go through Customs at all, since the island is a U.S. commonwealth.
Joint Customs declarations are possible for family members traveling together. For example, for a husband and wife with two children, purchases in the U.S. Virgin Islands become duty-free up to $6,400. Unsolicited gifts can be sent to friends and relatives at the rate of $200 per day from the U.S. Virgin Islands and $100 a day from the other islands. U.S. citizens or returning residents at least 21 years of age traveling directly or indirectly from the U.S. Virgin Islands are allowed to bring in free of duty 1,000 cigarettes, 5 liters of alcohol, and 100 cigars (but not Cuban cigars). Duty-free limitations on articles from other countries are generally 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes, and 200 cigars.
You should collect receipts for all purchases made abroad. You must also declare on your Customs form the nature and value of all gifts received during your stay abroad. It's prudent to carry proof that you purchased expensive cameras or jewelry on the U.S. mainland. If you purchased such an item during an earlier trip abroad, you should carry proof that you have previously paid Customs duty on the item.
Sometimes merchants suggest a false receipt to undervalue your purchase. Beware: You could be involved in a sting operation -- the merchant might be an informer to U.S. Customs.
If you use any medication that contains controlled substances or requires injection, carry an original prescription or note from your doctor.
For information on what you're allowed to bring home, contact one of the following agencies:
U.S. Citizens: U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel. 877/287-8667; www.cbp.gov).
Canadian Citizens: Canada Border Services Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0L8 (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).
U.K. Citizens: HM Customs & Excise, Crownhill Court, Tailyour Road, Plymouth, PL6 5BZ (tel. 0845/010-9000, or 020/501-261 from outside the U.K.; www.hmrc.gov.uk).
Australian Citizens: Australian Customs Service, Customs House, 5 Constitution Ave., Canberra City, ACT 2601 (tel. 1300/363-263, or 612/6275-6666 from outside Australia; www.customs.gov.au).
New Zealand Citizens: New Zealand Customs, the Customhouse, 17-21 Whitmore St., Box 2218, Wellington, 6140 (tel. 04/473-6099 or 0800/428-786; www.customs.govt.nz).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.