Recovery of the Head Tax

For many of our passenger lists that contain information for passengers, envariably, you will encounter an unusual term called "Head Tax." What is a Head Tax? How do you recover the Head Tax?

Explanation for the Recovery of the US Head Tax from the Cunard Line, 1931.

Explanation for the Recovery of the US Head Tax from the Cunard Line, 1931. GGA Image ID #


Passengers returning to Europe in Cunard Line steamers may—on presentation of the necessary documents—viz.:—Transit Certificate Form 514 completed, and the Company's receipt for Head Tax paid— obtain refund of Head Tax from the Purser, providing the passengers have left the U. S. within the prescribed period of 60 days, and the completed form 514 has been filed with the U. S. Authorities within 120 days of entry into the United States.

Although the period of time between arrival at a Canadian port and departure from the United States may exceed 60 days, this does not necessarily mean that persons in this category are prohibited from securing refund of Head Tax, so long as the actual period spent in the U. S. does not exceed 60 days. The application for refund, however, must be filed with the U. S. Immigration Authorities within 120 days of the actual date of crossing the border from Canada into the U. S.

Note:—Passengers who have not paid the Head Tax, in consequence of their holding return tickets or being in transit to points outside the United States, will kindly complete Form 514, which they will receive from the Immigration officials at New York, and forward same to the Cunard Line, 25 Broadway, New York, as soon as possible after departure from the United States, or hand to the Purser of the steamer in which they return to the United Kingdom of Europe.


In addition to the Ocean Fare, every passenger proceeding to the United States has to pay before departure the Head Tax of $ 8 as prescribed by the American Government, with the following exceptions:

  1. American Citizens who have a valid American Passport
  2. Children under 16 years of age are born outside of the United States, accompanied by their father or mother.
  3. Persons born in the United States, regardless of age or nationality, but such passengers must produce their Birth (not Baptismal) Certificate; otherwise, the passenger must pay the Tax.
  4. Diplomatic and consular officers and other accredited officials of foreign governments, their suites, families, and guests for whatsoever purpose they visit the United States

Women born outside of the United States, married to U. S. Citizens after September 21st, 1922, are required to pay the Tax.


Passengers proceeding to the United States either for business or pleasure, who intend to leave again within sixty days of their arrival, can obtain a refund of the tax, providing:

  1. At the time of booking, they state in Column No. 20 on the U. S. Declaration Form for non-Americans that they intend to return within 59 days.
  2. On arrival in New York, they inform the Immigration Inspector and request from him a "Transit Certificate" Form No. 514.

This Transit Certificate is only valid when the duration of the stay in the United States does not exceed 59 days. The certificate must be duly completed by the Purser of the steamer by which the passenger leaves the United States and must be endorsed with the name of the steamer and date of sailing and be countersigned. Passengers proceeding by railroad to destinations over the United States border must hand the certificate to the train conductor to complete it by U. S. Customs Officer at the border station.

The Transit Certificate must be sent within 120 days after the date of arrival in New York, through the medium of the Steamship Co. by which the passenger proceeded to the United States, to the Immigration Department at Washington.

Refund of the Head Tax can only be made when these conditions have been complied with.

The return of the Head Tax can also be obtained by the surrender of the Transit Certificate at the Offices of the United American Lines in New York before embarkation or during the return voyage through the Purser on board.

Important: When Head Tax is assessed in the case of alien transits or refund refused in the case of temporary visitors, claim for refund on the United States Government cannot be made even if such aliens would have left the United States within sixty days from the time of entry.

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