Helen Nitkin and Adrienne Wong don’t know one another. But they do have one thing in common: Both have recently had their Global Entry revoked for failing to declare their purchases made overseas. Will our advocates be able to get their trusted traveler status reinstated?
Global Entry, the trusted traveler program administered by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is, in a word, awesome. My wife and I are fairly frequent travelers, and it’s saved us many wasted hours of standing in line for both departures and arrivals.
But in the last two weeks, two cases have crossed our desks with the same request for assistance. Nitkin was the first, telling us, “My global entry was revoked in 2014. I was unaware that items bought in duty free shops were only duty free in the country of purchase, not in the United States. I have requested reinstatement twice and was refused. I am a law-abiding citizen and this was an honest mistake.”
Honest mistake or not, it’s a violation of the CBP regulations to not declare your duty-free items. And CBP is very clear about it; 12-point, bold-print clear. “Goods purchased in a duty free shop are not automatically free of duty upon your return to the U.S.”
Like any government-administered program, Global Entry is subject to strict rules and regulations. In the current climate of travel bans and terrorism, those rules and regulations are even more strictly enforced than they were in 2014, when our own Christopher Elliott wrote about a similar case.
And those same rules still apply. You can be disqualified from Global Entry, according to CBP if you “have been found in violation of any customs, immigration or agriculture regulations or laws in any country.”
Our advocate responded with firm politeness to Nitkin. “Unfortunately, we have no ability to intervene in governmental decisions about your Global Entry revocation. I’m sorry we could not be more helpful.”
Then, in what seemed like déjà vu, we received Wong’s request for assistance.
I recently took my dad on a Disney Cruise. When we got to our final port in Cape Canaveral, Fla., we were stopped by CBP for secondary inspection. The officer said to make sure we declared everything we bought on board the cruise. With that in mind, I filled out my form saying I had purchased $200 worth of items thinking that they only meant items purchased on the ship. I bought one gemstone while I was in Antigua for $1,150. The shop told me it was duty free.
When the customs officer searched my bag, he found the receipt for the stone I bought. He said I did need to declare it, so I asked if I could put it on the form as it was an honest mistake. He replied no, stating that I had already handed him the form and that I couldn’t make any other changes. The officer told me this would appear on my passport record every time I pass through the U.S. border, but that it was a minor offense and I shouldn’t worry about it.
Two days later, I got an email saying my Global Entry had been revoked. I’m still a low risk passenger. I’ve never had any run-ins with law enforcement. Can you help me with my appeal?
If you thought this sounds eerily familiar, so did our advocate’s response to Wong. “There is nothing we can do in the direct advocacy department to have your Global Entry reinstated. That is a governmental decision based on the infraction that you described. We have no ability to intervene in such a situation. I am sorry that we could not be more helpful.”
Nor could we provide any legal advice to Wong to help her compose her reinstatement appeal.
We are sorry we can’t do more to help. Did Nitkin and Wong violate CBP regulations? Yes. Did they do so with malice or intent? We think not.
We honestly feel badly for any travelers who make mistakes similar to Nitkin’s and Wong’s. They, and the couple in our 2014 article, are not a threat to national security. They’re only guilty of misunderstanding the definition of duty free and failing to read some fine print.
Unfortunately, our government takes a more stringent stance on this issue, especially now. Equally unfortunate, we have no choice but to file Nitkin’s and Wong’s stories under “Case Dismissed.”