Is it Wrong for me to use Items Undeclared at Customs?

Please note that I am somewhat scrupulous

My family and I will soon return to the states after going on a one-month vacation to Asia and the Pacific. As much as I enjoyed it, I can not help but feel that I have gravely sinned and will continue to. Allow me to explain. I do not fly too much, so I was a bit uneducated in regards to customs laws. If I recall correctly, in our previous vacations, my father would always fill out the customs forms for the whole family. He would also check the box “nothing to declare” on the form. Now that I have grown older and wiser (and perhaps more scrupulous), I have grown more suspicious as to why my father would not declare any items (even the gifts that we bought from the states to give to our relatives in the Philippines and Japan) even though some of the forms ask that we declare such items. So, I decided to do some research. I read up on American and some other countries’ customs laws and found that, basically and for America at least, ANY ITEMS THAT YOU DID NOT HAVE WITH YOU AT THE START OF YOUR TRIP MUST BE DECLARED; ANY UNDECLARED ITEMS MAY RESULT IN FINES OR CONFISCATIONS OF THOSE ITEMS.

This got me worried and feeling guilty. My parents bought me some really fashionable clothing from a store called Kultura Filipino in the Philippines (most notably a Fedora) that I would like to use when I get back stateside. Can I use any of these items with a clear conscience knowing that my dad lied to the government in order to get them past customs?

So I decided to discuss this with my parents. I have to admit, their reactions made me feel like was wrong to question them. That is why I would like some second opinions. My parents seemed rather irritated when I confronted them on this issue. For example, I could not tell if my dad was being defensive of a wrongdoing he committed or indignant at me for implying that he was a “smuggler.” My mother cried because I thought I was taking things too seriously and said I was being “too good.” She also said things like “I know you are afraid of sinning, but let it fall on us so that you do not have to feel guilty.” My dad even threatened to leave me at one of the airports to take care of the customs for them if I felt that not declaring goods was so wrong. Now you know why I am confused as to whether it was necessary to bring this up. I could not tell if I was in the wrong or not.

Anyway, they said that “declaring everything” is too burdensome. They would have to declare every piece of toiletry or scrap of paper that they had in their possession since the trip started. It is only common sense that Customs Agents do not want to be bothered with the small details. They said Customs Agents know that it is natural for people to buy souvenirs on long vacations, so there is no need to declare souvenirs. Besides, they have more things to worry about like contraband, drugs, guns, and illegal importation of commercial goods and commercial quantity of goods. And because the goods we bought and received are below $800 for the each of us and we are not carrying anything illegal, it is ok to not trouble the customs agents unnecessarily and not declare these goods. (Please note that I did not approach them on the gifts they gave to our relatives in Japan and the Philippines). It was already close to midnight and we were all tired so I decided to end the discussion there.

My parents were pretty stressed out as a result of this discussion. It does not help that my paternal grandfather died during our vacation (so my dad is technically supposed to mourn during our vacation). My dad is probably even more stressed out. I do not know what to do. My dad did offer that I write my own customs forms for my fashionable clothing and submit it to him for approval but he said that he was not going to approve it anyway and still check “nothing to declare.” So, to not stress out my parents further, I decided to drop the issue entirely.

However, I feel guilty. Now that you know my situation, may you please help me? Is it morally wrong to disobey secular authority like this? Have I been an accessory to their customs violations? Have I done enough to admonish them? Lastly, is it right for me to make use of the clothing that my parents bought for me knowing that they did not go through customs? Please help me out and forgive me if I was being too scrupulous. Thank you in advance and God bless.

Please just ask if you want me to clarify things. I could not describe this in detail, because we only have on laptop in our possession right now. I do not want my parents to find out I am still worrying about this

The value in total is the key to whether there would have been a financial impact on the declaration. When we travel we do always declare the goods we have purchased, itemized by type and value. However, these goods have never amounted to enough to create a taxable amount due from us upon re-entry into the U.S.
I’m no expert, but I will say you were correct to bring up the issue. You are not responsible for their reaction. From what you describe, their reactions were extremely defensive and they were forced to examine their own consciences. Unless you could have filled out your own declaration as a separate household, you are not culpable for their omission.

Good for you in bringing up the subject. Examination of conscience is always a good way to clear up any misconceptions or errors. I say you are in the clear. Wear your hat in good conscience and if you are still bothered, you can atone for this error on your parents part by praying for them, offering up your attendance at mass for their strengthening/forming of conscience…

You father just lost his father and you want to worry him about stuff like this? Good grief, give it a rest. I don’t mean to sound unkind, I know what it’s like to have bad anxiety, but I think for your parents’ sake you should drop the matter. Talk to a priest if you’re still worried about it.

No, the government steals from you all the time through unjust and unlawful taxation. I guess you can even things up as needed.

this is not authentic Catholic teaching on several levels.

First, the Church acknowledges the authority of the state to levy taxes, which is not "stealing’.

Secondly, it is wrong to suggest that one may commit an immoral act to ‘get even’ with something one thinks is unjust. that in itself is sinful.

all you need to do with your customs form when you receive it on the airplane is write “souvenirs” and the approximate total amount-- such as $200, $400, $700 or whatever.

You say what you are bringing back is less than $800 worth of purchases. that is your personal exemption, so you really don’t have anything to declare and pay duty on. You do NOT have to itemize everything you bought on the form.

However, since you are minor traveling with your parents, the US Customs office directs one form per family unit. if you father is in charge of filling it out, you bear no responsibility for what he puts on it.

When you are 18 or over, just fill out your own form in whatever manner you see fit but know that it is perfectly fine to just write “souvenirs” and the total if below $800. keep your receipts to prove how much you paid.

and yes, you can keep and wear whatever gifts your parents bought for you. it is not immoral to do so.

please get help for your scrupulosity, it is out of control and causing family discord. You simply MUST make an appointment with your priest when you return.

Did you read the part where the Op said he had issues with scrupulosity?

I’d say the parents reaction was more indicative of frustration than defensiveness. I’d be willing to bet cash money this isn’t the first time they’ve dealt with this sort of behavior from their child.

Excessive taxation is stealing. Just because the government gives itself the power, does not mean it is right, honest or ethical. As an individual you have the right to keep what you worked for.

Would the Church support taxation at a rate of 100%? Of course not and the Church would support civil disobedience.

The Church also recognizes the right of the state to create laws right? So are we as Catholics just supposed to not fight back against laws allowing abortion?

God is the ultimate authority - not the state.

The Church’s authentic teaching on social justice would not classify the US tax code as “excessive” taxation by any stretch of the imagination.

This is speculation, not fact. The US does not have a 100% tax rate. Your hyperbole and change of subject attempts to mask that you have given advice not in keeping with vthe Church’s teaching.

Stick to the facts at hand.


Depends on what you mean by “fight back”. We may never do evil in pursuit of good.

You asserted that the OP may “get back” for your perceived overtaxation by committing fraud. That is a sin against the commandments.

God has given authority to the state and we may not commit objectively wrong acts in furtherance of any agenda. The Church’s moral teaching is clear that we may never do evil in pursuit of good.

To All

Thank goodness. I can wear it in peace. But judging by some of your answers, I feel I need to clarify things. I am a college student and not a minor. Indeed, I am scrupulous sometimes, but my parents profess to liberal Catholicism. They are some of the most charitable people I have ever met, but they do not always agree with the Church. As a result, I have difficulty trusting my parents where religion is involved. I do not blame them for they were raised that way by some rogue nuns and others.

But I would like to hear more answers from you all. Thank you again.

BTW, I forgot I had a smart phone, so I can probably reply more now.

I have been out of the Catholic game myself for awhile but I seem to recall the gent named Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher of the Church and one of the Saints I rather like, mentioned something about the conscience and that, if it convicts you, not to ignore it. I could be wrong but it you feel guilty then write a letter to the the department in the Philippines responsible for this stuff and explain the situations. The Internet should give you the right people to contact. Theft is theft. Even the government employees workers and those workers make their bread and butter off taxes including the one your family skipped out on.

Sounds like your dad is going through a lot with his own father passing. That doesn’t make it right, but your approach needs work. Christ didn’t win people to Him by dropping trow and crapping down the throats of his audience, force feeding them His message regardless of their mindset or willingness, He met them on their level. If they were sad He cried with them. If they were happy He celebrated with them. There is wisdom in His approach, I think. Not trying to nag you or anything.

Good luck.

It doesn’t matter, you are still one household traveling together.

If you want to do your own customs form you can. But you are not required to.

Are you under the care of a spiritual director? If not, you MUST get under such direction when you return from vacation. You CANNOT continue to come here and ask if everything you do is a sin. It is unhealthy and will not help your scruples, it will in fact make them worse. You are already second guessing what everyone has said with your need to “clarify”.

Drop it. Be at peace. Do not think of this again.

And, get help from your pastor when you are back at home.

First, when you add the federal tax, the state tax, the local tax, property tax, excise taxes, sales tax and God knows how many other taxes and fees the rate is excessive.

The Church has never opposed civil disobedience when the citizens need to take a stand against unjust and immoral laws. Civil disobedience is not fraud.

By your response, it becomes easier to understand how so many Catholics voted for Obama, a man who is attacking our Church on a repeated basis. Reminds me of the Jews who supported Hitler in his early days. They unwittingly contributed to their own demise.

In your opinion.

If we go about it in a moral way. All the fonts of morality must be satisfied, not just one.

Falsifying government forms is fraud.


Well that got a bit off topic…anyway, OP, have you seen a doctor for advice regarding anxiety? It’s good to talk to a priest about scrupulosity, but the problem with anxiety disorders is that they will constantly generate new fears for you to obsess over (in your case, the fear of sinning especially).

Obviously I can’t say for sure that you have an anxiety disorder, but reading through your previous posts I get a strong sense that you might. Other posters have indicated a similar belief.

This is timely. Came across this quote on Facebook:

“The Bible says render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. But Caesar is demanding more and more of what was once considered God’s matter.” - Dr. Jim Garlow, Skyline Church, La Mesa, CA.

Thanks guys. I really do appreciate your inputs. I can now safely drop the issue. If anyone else has something to add, then please do so. But for now, I am enjoying my vacation with my family.

(Please do not disobey the 7th Commandment in regards to my house while I am away. Lol, if you even know where I live).

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