I don't really understand the customs thing - if you purchase something in one of the ports, when do you declare it? What about if you want to bring something you own on your cruise (like your own personal laptop for example) do you have to declare it at some point? Thanks
Here's the answer, straight from the US Customs Service:
Q: How Can I Prove I Didn't Buy My Watch/Camera During My Trip Outside the United States?
A: Foreign-made personal articles taken abroad are subject to duty each time they are brought back into the United States unless you have acceptable proof of prior possession. Documents which fully describe the article, such as a bill of sale, insurance policy, jeweler's appraisal, or receipt for purchase, may be considered reasonable proof of prior possession.
Items such as watches, cameras, compact disc players, or other articles which may be readily identified by a permanently affixed serial number or marking, may be taken to the Customs office nearest you and registered before your departure. The Certificate of Registration (CF 4457) that you will be given will expedite the free entry of these items when you return. Keep the certificate as it is valid for as long as you own the article(s).
If you are worried about bring your own personal laptop and you purchased it recently in the US, it may be a good idea to travel with the receipt, just in case they think you bought it while on the trip. A few years ago my husband bought a nice new watch and we knew they sold them down in the CAribbean, so he brought along a copy of his receipt, so there would be no problems, and there never was.
I still remember sitting in the Customs Officers' lounge at JFK after 18 hours in the air. I REALLY wanted a cigarette.
The Customs Officer in the lounge took one look at the pearls I was wearing and said, "I certainly hope you declared them. We spot them from a mile off. The bad knots and the cheap clasp are a dead give-away for people tyring to smuggle."
I HAD declared them and had the receipt in my pocketbook.
I forgot to answer part #1 of Allie's question. You pay duty at the port of entry to your home nation.
It's just that those are the rules: they only have a right to collect the duty once, but the onus is on you to prove that you had prior possession. If you can, you're absolutely entitled to return with it duty free.
Don't try to con these people. They're smarter than they look. They have an almost unerring sixth sense for "used" items and they almost never question them. But if you have the receipt or the "I showed it to you guys before I left the country" form that Pamda mentioned, you're in business if they say anything.
I don't know if it helps or not but I started to keep a record of my electronics on my Palm and a hard copy. For me to register items I would have to drive and hour and a half. That's stupid. For me its cheaper to pay the duty. I figure if I type something up before hand I may have better luck. I'm refering to cameras, laptops, and jewelry,