You’re returning from a fabulous trip abroad. You’ve purchased some wonderful mementos for friends, family and for yourself. You approach the Customs agent certain that you’ll pass through without problem. You may be wrong. Customs and Border Protection will prevent you from bringing items that are prohibited (forbidden to bring into the US under any circumstances) or restricted (requiring special licenses or permits). By knowing what you can and can’t bring into the country, you’ll save yourself both hassles with customs agents and possibly fines, from having something you bought confiscated.
Alcohol, in general, is fine to bring into the US, but be aware that the laws of state where you first arrive, as well as federal statutes, will limit the amount you can bring. If you’re thinking of bringing a case of that wonderful French wine home, you should check with the state alcohol beverage control board to determine how much you can bring through Customs. Anything over one liter per person is subject to duty and Federal excise taxes. You must be 21 to bring alcohol into the country, so your child cannot bring a bottle through Customs for you.
Absinthe, a liquor thought to include an hallucinogen, if contains more than 10 parts per million of thujone, is illegal to bring into the US. There are other restrictions regarding labeling as well. Since many brands of Absinthe are now legal in the States, you many not want to risk Customs seizing your Absinthe.
Cultural artifacts and relics are generally protected by their country of origin. These laws include export controls. Legal ownership of these artifacts, even if bought at a business, may be in question. You must have documentation such as receipts and export permits when entering the country.
Drug paraphernalia is illegal to bring into the US unless it is prescribed for authentic medical conditions. Items will be seized if you do not have documentation showing it’s medical necessity.
Many food products can be brought into the US. Candy and bakery products should not present a problem. You can bring most cheeses home with you – hard or semi-soft cheese, feta, Brie, Camembert, cheese in brine is fine. Don’t try to bring cottage cheese or ricotta though.
Generally, condiments, vinegars, oils, packaged spices, honey, coffee and tea are admissible. Be careful about bringing rice into the country. Rice from countries where the Khapra beetle is known to occur is prohibited from entering the country.
Meat, in any form, included products made with meat are generally not allowed, even if they are in a can. Fruits and vegetables are similarly restricted. These restrictions are not arbitrary. Fruit infested with the Mediterranean fruit fly cost millions and millions of dollars for the California produce industry.
Be careful going through Customs. Even if you think you can bring a certain food into the country, you are required to declare it. Failure to do so can result in up to $10,000 in fines and penalties. As CDP says “when if doubt keep it out.” Ask yourself if it’s worth a huge fine to bring that wonderful prosciutto from Italy home.
Ivory is illegal to bring into the US unless it is at least 100 years old. You must be able to provide documentation to prove this. Many other items made from animals are subject to restrictions or prohibitions. You should contact the US Fish & Wildlife Service before trying to bring something like this into the country.
Any plant or plant product must be declared and presented for inspection. This includes items made with straw, such as baskets. Some plants are allowed, but many are prohibited or require import permits.
While ceramic tableware is not restricted, be aware that items made in many foreign countries contain dangerous levels of lead in the glaze. The FDA recommends that you either use these items for decorative purposes only or have them tested for lead release, particularly items from China, Hong Kong, India or Mexico.
It may seem that there’s not much you can bring home from your vacation, but with some common sense and the basic knowledge of what’s legal, you can return with something to remember your trip by or something that you just can’t live without. If you purchase trip insurance, you can get legal assistance if your have a problem with Customs. Travel, shop and enjoy.