Prohibited items when entering the US
When entering the United States you must know that there is a list of restricted and prohibited articles that you may not bring with you to the country. From this list, the following items are highlighted: medicines, food, animals and, of course, illegal substances. Works of art are also limited.
Reasons pertaining to public health and security, the protection of local animal and plant wildlife and, of course, national safety, are the premises under which these limitations are imposed on what foreign visitors and citizens can bring into the United States.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are in charge of enforcing the laws governing these prohibitions and watching over ports of entry, whether aerial or maritime. The same rules apply to both foreign travellers and United States citizens or other permanent legal residents that return to the country after travelling abroad, as well as foreigners entering the country as tourists or with a kind of visa or travel permit obtained through ESTA.
Limited import products:
There are, besides the list of prohibited products, some products that can be brought into the United States as long as current laws and norms are complied with.
Within this category we highlight:
Any article, software, or even blueprints, if they can be given military use, must be registered and a license must be obtained for them to be introduced into the country.
Weapons and ammunition:
To be able to go through customs with weapons and/or ammunition, you must obtain a permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
If the person carrying the weapon already had it before leaving the country, he or she will not need to provide said
permit. It is always important to register the weapon with the CBP before you travel using the 4457 form.
Automobiles and vehicles in general:
It is important to make sure that the vehicles you wish to bring into the country comply with current United States anti- pollution norms.
To make sure, your best resource is the EPA’s website:
EPA: US Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA is the agency in charge of environmental affairs for the entire country.
Department of Motorised Vehicles:
In the United States, each state establishes norms regarding motorised vehicles, so you must contact the agency in the corresponding state. Here is a list per state.
Generally, vehicles under 2 years old coming from Europe or Canada comply with all requirements as they are. It is also easy to get a temporary entry permit for the vehicle as long as the necessary modifications are performed so that the vehicle complies with the norms. In these cases it is common to pay a bond that guarantees that said modifications will be performed. If they are not performed, the vehicle must be taken out of the country or destroyed. In any case you will not be allowed to drive in the country without those modifications.
Automobiles brought in by non-residents who will be in the country for less than a year are exempt from complying with these norms, but said vehicles may not be sold in the United States.
Articles for pharmaceutical research or use:
If you need to introduce this type of article into the country, you need a permit from the US Department of Agriculture or any of the Disease Control Centres. Among the articles that usually belong in this category are molluscs, animal tissues, viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
There is no exact limitation on the amount of alcoholic beverages you may bring into the country. The amount depends on the state to which you are travelling, and you must check before travelling.
Plants, seeds, soil:
To import live plants or seed, you are likely to require a permit.
Articles protected by copyright laws:
If you introduce fake articles to United States territory, the CBP may impose a fine or sanctions. Said articles are limited to one per person and in no case may they be sold in United States territory.
Articles prohibited due to their place of origin:
It is prohibited to bring into the United States any article coming from embargoed countries such as Iran, Myanmar, Cuba, and part of Sudan.
There are also partial embargos for products coming from countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, the Balkan countries, or Sierra Leone.
There is an exception to this rule: books, magazines, movies or similar products, as well as gifts or items for household use whose value is not greater than 100 USD.
Medicines and illegal substances:
You may only bring medicines that are legal in the United States into the country, and which be bought legally in the US with a prescription.
It is thus illegal to bring in products such as needles, unless you have a doctor’s prescription that proves their medical use, if you are diabetic, for example.
It is important to point out that in the United States, contact lenses require a prescription, so it is necessary to carry enough supplies with you if you will not be able to visit an ophthalmologist in the United States who may prescribe them to you.
You are allowed to enter to the United States with the medicines you normally require. You must always carry a medical prescription with you to prove this, and the medicines must remain in their original container. The amount you may bring in will vary depending on its availability in the United States, how much your treatment requires, and how long you are staying in the country. Also, when the person bringing these medicines in is a citizen or permanent resident, the allowed amount will be limited to 50 doses.
In any case, you must notify the customs agent in the case that any these medicines can be used as narcotics or that are addictive, such as certain cough medicines, anti-depressants, or sleeping pills.
It is possible to introduce most processed foods as well as coffee, tea, honey, spices, vinegar, and oil into the United States.
Instant soups and similar products are not allowed.
Some baking products as well as cheese are allowed. It is important to check whether the foods you are bringing in are allowed.
You may introduce rice, but it can be problematic.
Unprocessed vegetables and fruit must be declared at customs and may be allowed depending on their place of origin as well as the place of origin of the person carrying them. Not declaring these articles may incur a 500 USD fine.
Introducing farm animal meat into the country is prohibited whether it is raw or processed… So no, you may not take a piece of ham with you.
Art, antiquities and archaeological artefacts:
To be able to introduce these articles you must prove beyond any doubt that these are not stolen objects, so you must clearly prove their succession of ownership.
As long as you have an export permit issued by the country of origin, you may bring objects such as sculptures, murals, ritual objects and colonial art into the United States. You must be careful, as there are many cases in which permits issued by stores, even renowned establishments, may be fake or not valid.
With the purpose of not encouraging the art plunder that has been common in certain countries, art objects coming from Mali, Cyprus, Iraq, or Cambodia are examined with special care.
Throughout most of the United States, cats do not need a rabies vaccine certificate. Dogs, however, do need it, unless they come from a country where there are no cases of rabies. The vaccine must be administered between 30 days and one year before travelling.
While it is not required at customs, keep in mind that the airline you are travelling with will probably require a good health certificate that shows that the animal is not suffering or carrying a contagious disease.
It is strongly recommended that you are informed on each state’s requirements when you bring pets into the US. Laws and norms vary from state to state.
It is prohibited to import products containing dog or cat hair. The fine for breaking this prohibition may reach $10,000.
As for house birds, they must be quarantined when entering the United States. The owner must notify this before travelling, fill out the VS 17-129 form and pay for the cost of the quarantine, also before travelling.
Hamsters, rabbits, Guinea pigs and similar animals can be brought in without paperwork by it is advisable to have some recent certificate on hand to prove they are in good health to avoid problems at customs.