Before you leave for your trip abroad, you might want to talk to CBP (Customs and Border Protection) about the items you plan to bring back to be sure they’re not prohibited or restricted. Prohibited means the item is forbidden by law to enter the United States. Examples of prohibited items are dangerous toys, cars that don’t protect their occupants in a crash, bush meat, or illegal substances like absinthe and Rohypnol. Restricted means that special licenses or permits are required from a federal agency before the item is allowed to enter the United States. Examples of restricted items include firearms, certain fruits and vegetables, animal products, animal by products, and some animals.
The importation of absinthe is subject to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations (21 C.F.R. 172.510 and the Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations (27 C.F.R. Parts 13.51, 5.42(a), and 5.65. The absinthe content must be “thujone free” (that is, it must contain less than 100 parts per million of thujone); the term “absinthe” cannot be the brand name; the term “absinthe” cannot stand alone on the label; and the artwork and/or graphics cannot project images of hallucinogenic, psychotropic or mind-altering effects. Absinthe imported in violation of these regulations is subject to seizure.
In addition to U.S. laws, the laws of the state in which you first arrive in the United States will govern the amount of alcohol you may bring with you, and whether you need a license. If you plan to bring alcoholic beverages with you, before you depart, you should contact the state’s applicable alcoholic beverage control board to determine what you need to do to comply with that state’s laws and regulations.
Automobiles imported into the United States must meet the fuel-emission requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency and the safety, bumper, and theft prevention standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Trying to import a car that doesn’t meet all the requirements can be difficult.
Almost all cars, vans, sport utility vehicles and so on that are bought in foreign countries must be modified to meet American standards, except most late model vehicles from Canada. Passenger vehicles that are imported on the condition that they be modified must be exported or destroyed if they are not modified acceptably. Also under these circumstances, the vehicle could require a bond upon entry until the conditions for admission have been met.
And even if the car does meet all federal standards, it might be subject to additional EPA requirements, depending on what countries it was driven in. You are strongly encouraged to contact EPA and DOT before importing a car.
Cars being brought into the United States temporarily, by nonresidents, (for less than one year) are exempt from these restrictions. It is illegal to bring a vehicle into the United States and sell it if it was not formally entered on a CBP Form 7501.
Although ceramic tableware is not prohibited or restricted, you should know that such tableware made in foreign countries may contain dangerous levels of lead in the glaze, which can seep into foods and beverages. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that if you buy ceramic tableware abroad – especially in Mexico, China, Hong Kong or India – you have it tested for lead release when you return, or use it for decorative purposes only.
Cultural Artifacts and Cultural Property
Most countries have laws that protect their cultural property. Art/artifacts/antiquities; archaeological and ethnological material are also terms used to describe this material. These laws include export controls and/ or national ownership of cultural property. Even if purchased from a business in the country of origin or in another country, legal ownership of such artifacts may be in question if brought into the United States.
Therefore, although they do not necessarily confer ownership, you must have documents such as export permits and receipts when importing such items into the United States.
U.S. law may also restrict the importation of specific categories of art/artifacts/antiquities. For example, U.S. laws restrict the importation of:
• Any pre-Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from Central and South American countries;
• Native American artifacts from Canada; Mayan pre-Columbian archaeological objects from Guatemala; pre-Columbian archaeological objects from El Salvador and Peru; archaeological objects like terracotta statues) from Mali; Colonial period objects such as paintings and ritual objects from Peru;
• Byzantine period ritual and ecclesiastic objects such as icons from Cyprus; and
• Khmer stone archaeological sculpture from Cambodia.
Importation of items such as those listed above is permitted only when an export permit issued by the country of origin where such items were first found accompanies them. Purveyors of such items have been known to offer phony export certificates.
Defense Articles or Items with Military or Proliferation Applications
Some items that have both commercial and military or proliferation applications, or that are considered defense articles, require a license before exporting abroad. Such items may include software or technology, blueprints, design plans, and retail software packages and technical information. If CBP officials suspect that a regulated item or defense article has been exported without a license, they may, for example, on your return examine files and software on your laptop computer as well as your baggage.
Dog and Cat Fur
It is illegal in the United States to import, export, distribute, transport, manufacture or sell products containing dog or cat fur in the United States. As of November 9, 2000, the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000 calls for the seizure and forfeiture of each item containing dog or cat fur.
The Act provides that any person who violates any provision may be assessed a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 for each separate knowing and intentional violation, $5,000 for each separate gross negligent violation, or $3,000 for each separate negligent violation.
It is illegal to bring drug paraphernalia into the United States unless prescribed for authentic medical conditions such as diabetes. CBP will seize any illegal drug paraphernalia. Law prohibits the importation, exportation, manufacture, sale or transportation of drug paraphernalia. If you are convicted of any of these offenses, you will be subject to fines and imprisonment.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulates and restricts firearms and ammunition and approves all import transactions involving weapons and ammunition. If you want to import or export weapons or ammunition, you must do so through a licensed importer, dealer or manufacturer. Also, if the National Firearms Act prohibits certain weapons, ammunition or similar devices from coming into the country, you will not be able to import them unless the ATF provides you with written authorization to do so. If the firearm is controlled as a U.S. Munitions List article and it is temporarily imported to the United States, or it is temporarily exported, it may also require a Department of State license.
You do not need an ATF permit if you can demonstrate that you are returning with the same firearms or ammunition that you took out of the United States. To prevent problems when returning, you should register your firearms and related equipment by taking them to any CBP office before you leave the United States. The CBP officer will register them on the same CBP Form-4457 used to register cameras or computers.
Many countries will not allow you to enter with a firearm even if you are only traveling through the country on the way to your final destination. If you plan to take your firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country’s embassy to learn about its regulations.
Fish and Wildlife
Certain fish and wildlife, and products made from them, are subject to import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits or certificates, as well as requirements. CBP recommends that you contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before you depart if you plan to import or export any of the following:
• Wild birds, land or marine mammals, reptiles, fish, shellfish, mollusks or invertebrates;
• Any part or product of the above, such as skins, tusks, bone, feathers, or eggs; or
• Products or articles manufactured from wildlife or fish.
Some states have fish and wildlife laws and regulations that are stricter than federal laws and regulations. If you are returning to such a state, be aware that the stricter state laws and regulations have priority. Similarly, the federal government does not allow you to import wild animals into the United States that were taken, killed, sold, possessed or exported from another country if any of these acts violated foreign laws.
Food Products (Prepared)
You may bring bakery items and certain cheeses into the United States. The APHIS Web site features a Travelers Tips section and Game and Hunting Trophies section that offers extensive information about bringing food and other products into the U.S. Many prepared foods are admissible. However, bush meat made from African wildlife and almost anything containing meat products, such as bouillon, soup mixes, etc., is not admissible. As a general rule, condiments, vinegars, oils, packaged spices, honey, coffee and tea are admissible. Because rice can often harbor insects, it is best to avoid bringing it into the United States. Some imported foods are also subject to requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Fruits and Vegetables.
Bringing fruits and vegetables depends on a number of factors. For instance, consider the apple you bought in the foreign airport just before boarding and then did not eat. Whether or not CBP will allow the apple into the United States depends on where you got it and where you are going after you arrive in the United States. The same would be true for Mediterranean tomatoes. Such factors are important because fresh fruits and vegetables can introduce plant pests or diseases into the United States.
Note: The civil penalty for failing to declare agricultural items at U.S. ports of entry will cost first time offenders $300. The penalty for the second violation goes up to $500. To avoid receiving a penalty all agricultural items and present them to Customs and Border Protection for inspection so that an agriculture specialist can determine if it is admissible.
Gold coins, medals and bullion, formerly prohibited, may be brought into the United States. However, under regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, such items originating in or brought from Cuba, Iran, Burma (Myanmar) and most of Sudan are prohibited entry. Copies of gold coins are prohibited if not properly marked by country of issuance.
Haitian Animal Hide Drums
Haitian goat hide drums have been previously linked to a case of cutaneous anthrax, and the CDC restricts entry of animal hide drums from Haiti if they have not been processed in a way that renders them non-infectious. Travelers should be aware that untanned animal hide drums from Africa may pose a similar but low risk for cutaneous anthrax.
Rule of thumb: When you go abroad, take the medicines you will need, no more, no less. Narcotics and certain other drugs with a high potential for abuse – Rohypnol, GHB and Fen-Phen, to name a few – may not be brought into the United States, and there are severe penalties for trying to do so. If you need medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics (e.g., some cough medicines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants or stimulants), do the following:
• Declare all drugs, medicinals, and similar products to the appropriate CBP official;
• Carry such substances in their original containers;
• Carry only the quantity of such substances that a person with that condition (e.g., chronic pain) would normally carry for his/her personal use; and
• Carry a prescription or written statement from your physician that the substances are being used under a doctor’s supervision and that they are necessary for your physical well being while traveling.
U.S. residents entering the United States at international land borders who are carrying a validly obtained controlled substance (other than narcotics such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or LSD), are subject to certain additional requirements. If a U.S. resident wants to bring in a controlled substance (other than narcotics such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or LSD) but does not have a prescription for the substance issued by a U.S.-licensed practitioner (e.g., physician, dentist, etc.) who is registered with, and authorized by, the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe the medication, the individual may not import more than 50 dosage units of the medication into the United States. If the U.S. resident has a prescription for the controlled substance issued by a DEA registrant, more than 50 dosage units may be imported by that person, provided all other legal requirements are met.
Please note that only medications that can be legally prescribed in the United States may be imported for personal use. Be aware that possession of certain substances may also violate state laws. As a general rule, the FDA does not allow the importation of prescription drugs that were purchased outside the United States. Please see their Web site for information about the enforcement policy for personal use quantities.
Warning: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the importation, by mail or in person, of fraudulent prescription and nonprescription drugs and medical devices. These include unorthodox “cures” for such medical conditions as cancer, AIDS, arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Although such drugs or devices may be legal elsewhere, if the FDA has not approved them for use in the United States, they may not legally enter the country and will be confiscated, even if they were obtained under a foreign physician’s prescription.
Merchandise from Embargoed Countries
Generally, you may not bring in any merchandise from Cuba, Iran, Burma (Myanmar) or most of Sudan. The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of Treasury enforces economic sanctions against these countries. To bring in merchandise from these countries, you will first need a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
If you plan to take your pet abroad or import one on your return, please review a copy of the CBP brochure Pets and Wildlife. You should also check with state, county and local authorities to learn if their restrictions and prohibitions on pets are stricter than federal requirements.
Importing animals is closely regulated for public health reasons and also for the well-being of the animals. There are restrictions and prohibitions on bringing many species into the United States.
Cats are subject to inspection at ports of entry and may be denied entry into the United States if they have evidence of an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans. If a cat appears to be ill, further examination by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense might be required at the port of entry.
Dogs must also be free of evidence of diseases that could be communicable to humans. A general certificate of health is not required by CDC for entry of pet dogs into the United States, although some airlines or states may require them. Dogs must have a certificate showing they have been vaccinated against rabies greater than or equal to 30 days prior to entry into the United States. This certificate should identify the dog, show the date of vaccination, the date it expires (there are one-year and three-year vaccinations), and be signed by a licensed veterinarian. If the certificate does not have an expiration date, CBP will accept it as long as the dog was vaccinated 12 months or less before coming to the United States. Dogs coming from rabies free countries do not have to be vaccinated.
These requirements apply equally to service animals such as Seeing Eye dogs.
Plants and Seeds
Some plants, cuttings, seeds that are capable of propagation, unprocessed plant products and certain endangered species are allowed into the United States but require import permits and other documents; some are prohibited entirely. Threatened or endangered species that are permitted must have export permits from the country of origin.
Every single plant or plant product including handicraft items made with straw, must be declared to the CBP officer and must be presented for CBP inspection, no matter how free of pests it appears to be.
Soil is considered the loose surface material of the earth in which plants, trees, and scrubs grow. In most cases, the soil consists of disintegrated rock with an admixture of organic material and soluble salts. Soil is prohibited entry unless accompanied by an import permit. Soil must be declared and the permit must be verified.
Textiles and Clothing
In general, there is no limit to how much fabric and clothing you can bring back as long as it is for your personal use or as gifts. If you have exceeded your personal exemption, you may have to pay duty on the items.
Trademarked and Copyrighted Articles
CBP enforces laws relating to the protection of trademarks and copyrights. Articles that infringe a federally registered trademark or copyright or copyright protected by the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works are subject to detention and/ or seizure. Infringing articles may consist of articles that use a protected right without the authorization of the trademark or copyright owner or articles that copy or simulate a protected right.
Articles bearing marks that are counterfeit or inappropriately using a federally registered trademark are subject to seizure and forfeiture. The importation of articles intended for sale or public distribution bearing counterfeit marks may subject an individual to a civil fine if the registered trademark has also been recorded with CBP. Articles bearing marks that are confusingly similar to a CBP recorded registered trademark, and restricted gray market articles (goods bearing genuine marks not intended for U.S. importation for which CBP granted gray market protection) are subject to detention and seizure.
However, travelers arriving in the United States may be permitted an exemption and allowed to import one article of each type, which must accompany the person, bearing a counterfeit, confusingly similar or restricted gray market trademark, provided that the article is for personal use and is not for sale.
This exemption may be granted not more than once every 30 days. The arriving passenger may retain one article of each type accompanying the person. For example, an arriving person who has three purses, whether each bears a different infringing trademark, or whether all three bear the same infringing trademark, is permitted only one purse. If the article imported under the personal exemption provision is sold within one year after the date of importation, the article or its value is subject to forfeiture.
In regard to copyright infringement, articles that are determined by CBP to be clearly piratical of a protected copyright, i.e., unauthorized articles that are substantially similar to a material protected by a copyright, are subject to seizure. A personal use exemption for articles, similar to that described above also applies to copyrighted articles for the personal, non-commercial use of the importer and are not for sale or distribution.
You may bring back genuine trademarked and copyrighted articles (subject to duties). Products subject to copyright protection most commonly imported include software on CD-ROMs, sound recordings, toys, stuffed animals, clothing with cartoon characters, videotapes, DVDs, music CDs and books. Products subject to trademark protection most commonly imported include handbags and accessories, and clothing.
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