What items are prohibited by U.S. customs?

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Customs sign at the airport (Photo: iStockphoto/Lya Cattel)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 1, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, airport, baggage, government regulation, health and safety, Molly Feltner, security, tsa.

Some of the items you purchased abroad, even some innocuous-seeming goods, may be illegal to bring into the U.S. without a permit (or at all). To avoid hassles, fines, or jail time on your way back home from an international trip, it pays to be aware of the types of items prohibited or restricted by U.S. customs. Don't bring:

  • The distilled spirit absinthe (except certain diluted brands)
  • Cultural artifacts without a permit
  • Anything made with dog or cat fur (sometimes a problem with fur purchased in China)
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Firearms without a permit
  • Endangered animals or items made from such species, including ivory (unless you can prove it's at least 100 years old)
  • Most anything containing meat or meat products (such as chicken broth)
  • Most fruits and vegetables
  • Hunting trophies, unless certain guidelines are followed
  • Gold items from Cuba, Iran, Libya, Serbia, and Sudan
  • Narcotics and certain other drugs such as Rohypnol and Fen-Phen
  • Products from embargoed countries including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan, and Syria
  • Plants, seeds, and soil without a permit
  • Trademark and copyright-infringing articles such as designer knockoffs and pirated software

Go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website to read the full details about what you can and can't bring into the country.

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