10 Things You Can't Bring Through U.S. Customs

Customs Border Patrol (CBP) Officers greet over a million international travelers and welcome them into the U.S. every day. Customs is responsible for screening both foreign visitors as well as returning U.S. citizens. The CBP prevents individuals from entering the U.S. illegally or bringing anything illegal or harmful into the country.

According to the U.S. Customs Border Protection Agency, “customs officers enforce hundreds of laws for 40 different government agencies and prevent thousands of cases of illegal smuggling each year. In fact, the CBP assesses all people who arrive by airplane, overland vehicle, ship or on foot and want to enter the U.S. The job of U.S. customs agents is to search for banned agricultural products and counterfeit goods, but they also are trained to seize street and pharmaceutical drugs, illegal immigrants and traffickers and to spot terrorist risks.” Customs Border Patrol may work with specially trained canines that are able to sniff out contraband and detect certain restricted items in luggage and bags.

One thing is for sure, when you are returning from that trip to Mexico or Switzerland and you suddenly start thinking perhaps you should have claimed those bottles of liquor you tried to hide in your suitcase or the expensive jewelry you forgot to list on your claim form, chances are you are right. It’s best to play by the rules and do your homework when purchasing items to take back to the U.S. If you do have something in your possession that is questionable be sure to check with the proper authorities and disclose everything in your possession. Complete your claim form thoroughly and include everything you are bringing into the U.S. that way you can be sure you won't have a problem. If you are wondering what kind of things you aren't allowed to bring, take a look at this list and get a quick idea.

10 Absinthe (Alcohol) 

Absinthe liquor is regulated by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration. If you wish to purchase absinthe and attempt to bring it back to the U.S. then be sure it does not contain thujone. Customs will stop you if they see a bottle of any type with “absinthe” as the name of the product or on any part of the label. There should also be no depictions of hallucinogenic or mind altering effects displayed on the bottle. If Customs comes across a bottle with any of these violations it will be seized.

9 Cultural Artifacts

Make sure when you are purchasing any art or cultural souvenirs they are not on the U.S. Customs Wanted List. Under the U. S. National Stolen Property Act, you can't have a legal claim to anything that was stolen no matter how many times the piece may have changed hands. In addition, falling under this category and completely restricted are pre-Columbian sculptures from countries such as El Salvador and Peru, Native American artifacts from Canada, terra cotta statues from Mali and Khmer stone sculptures from Cambodia. If you do wish to purchase something, it might be prudent to visit the State Department Cultural Property website first. They feature images of stolen cultural property and specific import restrictions.

8 Cuban-Made Products   

The U.S. has banned any importation of Cuban products. This includes products purchased by tourists at duty-free shops. It doesn't matter whether the items were purchased or gifted to the traveler. The ban includes Cuban cigars and other Cuban tobacco products, even those for sale on the Internet. In fact it’s illegal for a U. S. citizen to buy or sell an illegally imported Cuban cigar. If you are caught with this contraband, they will be confiscated and you may have a fine of up to $55,000 for each violation and be subject to criminal prosecution.

7 Ivory

Due to the Endangered Species Act you may not bring any ivory or product made from ivory into the U.S. If you have an item made with antique ivory you would have to show proof of its age and it must be more than 100 years old to be allowed. There are other restrictions that may apply to antique ivory as well depending on the type of ivory it is. Ivory from Asian elephants, African elephants, whales, rhinoceros, seals or walruses are expressly forbidden. You want to be careful with related items as well such as jewelry made from tortoise shells or whale bones.

6 Haitian Goat Hide Drums

Animal skin drums have Custom restrictions to begin with, but try bringing a Haitian Goat Hide Drum into the U.S. and it will be confiscated. The reason is because much of the time the goat skin is not treated correctly and has been linked back to cases of anthrax. The same applies to African drums as well. When shopping for interesting souvenirs stay away from anything with animal hide just to be sure.

5 Game and Hunting Trophies   

If you hunt or fish and want to bring back your trophy you may have a problem. There are currently only 14 ports of entry designated to handle game and hunting trophies and most items require a permit from the country you obtained it from. Also trophies must go through a rigorous inspection process for sanitary reasons and disease control and prevention. No matter what the species, you are also required to complete a form for Fish and Wildlife Services. If the trophy does not have the proper documentation and permits it will be confiscated by Customs.

4 Items with Military Applications

Any article both Classified and Unclassified that may have a military application or is considered an article for defense must have a license to be taken into the U.S. This could include blueprints, design plans or software. If there is any suspicion that this type of article is coming into the U. S. without proper license and documentation, not only will the item be seized but you may be detained, questioned and possibly charged for violating the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

3 Fruits and Vegetables

Bringing fruits and vegetables into the U.S. is generally a no-no. You might think that’s overkill on the part of Customs, but it can have serious ramifications. For example, in the early 1980’s a tourist brought back a piece of contaminated fruit and entered the State of California. The fruit carried the Mediterranean fruit fly, which promptly settled in and wound up costing California over $100 million to exterminate them.

2 Drug Paraphernalia

Any attempt to import drug paraphernalia into the U. S. unless specifically prescribed for a medical reason with proper accompanying documents will be seized immediately. The law prohibits the importation, exportation, manufacturing and transportation of drug paraphernalia. If you are caught you will be subject to heavy fines and possible imprisonment.

1 Dog and Cat Fur

It’s absolutely illegal in the U.S. to export, import, distribute, sell or manufacture any product containing dog or cat fur in the U.S. The Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000 ensures that any person violating this act may be assessed a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.  If Customs finds any product containing dog or cat fur they will seize it immediately and the owners will forfeit the value of the item.

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