Knowing in advance what you are definitely not allowed to bring into the US will help you avoid unpleasant surprises during customs control upon arrival in the US.
As soon as you arrive in the United States, your baggage – both hand luggage and checked baggage – may be subject to customs inspection. To make its course quick and trouble-free, do not take anything on your trip that is not allowed to be brought to the USA. By the way, you will avoid possible disappointment in connection with the seizure of, for example, seemingly “innocent” food products presented as gifts to American relatives at the airport.
In this article you will find among others:
- why certain things cannot be brought into the US;
- what is the risk of filling out a customs declaration incorrectly;
- on what terms you can bring food to the US;
- is it possible to make sausage and cheese to the States;
- how much alcohol can be legally imported into the US and on what terms;
- is it possible to bring home tincture to the States;
- how many cigarettes can be legally imported into the US;
- on what terms can medicines (including prescription drugs) be transported.
At the outset, it’s worth realizing that the regulation of what can and should not be brought into the United States is not necessarily a purely bureaucratic invention of officials. The ban on the import of certain fruits, vegetables, or animal foods is, for example, to protect native species that are susceptible to certain European diseases and pests.
The level of microbial contamination may vary over time as well as depending on a particular region. Therefore, below we present only general rules for the import of goods into the US by private persons (the issue of importing or shipping parcels is a bit different). If in doubt, contact the country’s embassy or consulate for more detailed information just before traveling.
If you have any food products in your luggage, even those allowed (see below), be sure to indicate it in point 11 of the custom’s declaration, completed on board the plane flying to the United States. A specialized US Customs and Border Protection (CBP *) officer will verify that you are allowed to enter the US with them. If, on the other hand, you lie in the declaration, wanting to smuggle, for example, a few Habanos sausages for your aunt (or simply forget about them), and the clerk takes you for random inspection, you may end up with a fine of up to PLN 10,000 dollars.
Meat, Fish, Seafood
It is important to know that CBP officers are very effective – they manage to catch the vast majority of prohibited products. In the case of Poles, these products are usually the aforementioned Habanos sausages, sausages, and other types of cold cuts. Meanwhile, when it comes to meat, it can only be brought to the States in a canned form, and in such a way that it does not require refrigerated storage. The legal import of meat other than pork may occasionally be limited. The possibility of bringing vacuum-packed meats to the USA, which was still available until recently, has unfortunately been abolished.
Interestingly, virtually no restrictions apply to fish and seafood. In amounts intended for personal use, they can be brought in cans, as well as in the form of cooked, frozen, smoked, dried, or even raw. Here, however, vacuum packing is indispensable, as it allows the food to stay fresh longer and protects against the release of unpleasant odors in the event of spoilage.
|Meat, fish, seafood|
You are generally not allowed to bring eggs to the USA (fun fact: the only exception is those that are hard-boiled and imported from Mexico).
There should be no problem with dairy products produced under controlled conditions and originally packaged, such as butter, yogurt, or cream, as well as cheese. The latter, however, should be at least semi-hard and must not contain meat. What does the green light mean for, for example, oscypek from Podhale? 🙂 And soft cheeses – such as processed, ricotta, or cottage cheese – from countries with an animal disease called foot-and-mouth disease will not get it.
In addition to the above-mentioned products, small amounts of milk for infants and toddlers can be brought into the US (several days).
|Dairy and Eggs|
Milk and eggs can be used in highly processed products such as sweets (e.g. candies, chocolate) and baked goods – also own production.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms
The latter, however, should not contain raw fruit or vegetables. Plums baked in a pancake qualify as baked and processed food, but fresh plums placed on top, e.g. grated, are not.
Also, fruit and vegetables in the form of industrially packed jam, sauce, or juice, as well as dried and candied ones will be considered processed. Processed – that is, shelled, dried or ground – must also be nuts.
Mushrooms, both raw and dried, but devoid of mycelium (underground part), only need to be spotless of soil.
|Fruit, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms|
The notation of “most raw fruits and vegetables” in the table above is not accidental. There are quite a few exceptions that can be brought into the US. You will find them in the database of the US Department of Agriculture. In the drop-down list of countries in the upper left corner, select Poland and then click the SEARCH button. Then, detailed information will be displayed on which plants and which parts of them can be brought from Poland to the States unprocessed. Just keep in mind that they may still be inspected by a CBP officer who will ultimately decide whether you need to leave the product at the airport or not.
Other food products
You can easily bring the following products to the US:
- ready-made sauces that do not contain meat (such as mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise);
- vegetable oils;
tea and coffee – cereal, grain, ground, instant; only raw coffee fruit is prohibited;
- loose products – e.g., flour, rice (without husk), groats, flakes, ground spices;
- honey and other bee products.
Just remember not to overdo the quantity. The US Customs Office does not define exactly what “for personal use” means, so use common sense in this matter. If a CBP officer suspects that you are bringing merchandise with you, they will need to be cleared.
Similarly, with alcohol, the amount of which “for personal use” is defined specifically as 1 liter per person. And it doesn’t matter if it was bought at a local liquor store or an airport duty-free shop.
There are other regulations as well. For example, alcohol can only be brought into the US by an adult, an adult under the American law, that is 21 years old (and not 18 as in Poland).
In addition to products with a band, home-made alcohol is also allowed, regardless of whether it is the tincture, wine, beer, or vodka. They should only bear a label informing – in English – what is in a given bottle (for example, it is enough to say “homemade wine”).
Cigarettes and other tobacco products
Since we’re already using stimulants, it’s worth mentioning that you can also legally bring to the United States:
- cigarettes – but a maximum of 200 items per person; above this number, a duty (for about $50/1000) is required;
- cigars – maximum 100 items per person;
- tobacco – again in an indefinite amount “for personal use”.
Home-made cigarettes are not allowed, as are tobacco products originating in Cuba.
Over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and dried, industrially packaged herbs in small quantities can be brought into the US with ease. However, they should be originally packed.
For prescription drugs (especially antibiotics and psychoactive drugs), make sure you have a copy of this prescription or a letter from your doctor with you. In addition to the name of the specific drug and the details of the person to whom it was prescribed, the document must also contain information on the exact number of doses that the patient must take during the entire stay in the States. The total amount of a given drug may, however, cover the requirement for no more than 90 days. The principle of preserving the original packaging also applies here
Finally, it is worth mentioning what does not fit into the above categories and what can not be brought into the USA. It is mainly about:
- seeds and live plants – flowers, cuttings, grafts etc.;
- soil and soil samples;
- organic samples of various kinds (especially those containing viruses or bacteria);
- hunting trophies;
- unique works of art;
- money in cash – in the amount over 10,000 dollars (this also applies to other currencies of the same value);
In justified, strictly regulated cases, the possible import of similar objects into the United States is possible only after obtaining the appropriate permits. It also applies to live animals, with detailed rules – concerning, inter alia, the necessary quarantine, compulsory vaccinations, and health certificates – they depend on the specific species here.
* The name US Customs and Border Protection is also sometimes translated into Polish, among others like the US Customs and Border Protection Authority or the US Customs and Border Guard.