The US is known for its strict policies on bringing food through customs when entering the country. Many visitors have arrived in the US only to have their snacks, home comforts, or edible gifts confiscated.
Make sure you are not caught by surprise at customs. Here is a simple guide to what food and liquids you can bring into the United States of America and what you cannot.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has a long list of restricted food items, known as “contraband”. What many people do not realize is that seemingly harmless food can be viewed as a threat to US agriculture.
Pests, parasites, and diseases that are not native to the US can be carried in food and liquid, and have the potential to wipe out crops and devastate sectors of the American farming industry. People who take contraband agricultural produce into the country can be fined up to $10,000 USD.
Some food is allowed through customs into the US. Food items permitted by the USDA are those deemed not to be a risk to the security of American agriculture. As a general rule, sealed containers and securely wrapped items are more likely to be permitted, whereas half-full or unlabeled containers may be confiscated.
Some of the food and drink items that are generally allowed through US customs include:
It is worth bearing in mind that each customs check is performed at the discretion of the particular Customs Officer. If the officer in question regards something as suspicious, such as the amount of a food item being transported, he or she is within their right to confiscate it, even if it is one of the items that are usually permitted.
Commercially canned fruit and vegetables are generally permitted as long as they are declared on the traveler’s customs form. On the other hand, home-canned fruit and vegetables are prohibited.
The majority of dried fruit and vegetables are also not allowed; however, the following exceptions may be allowed entry if declared and presented for inspection to a US Customs Officer:
Tea bags containing purely tea leaves, such as black tea, green tea, and oolong are usually permitted but must be declared at customs.
Herbal teas and infusions must be declared and presented for inspection. Many will be allowed to enter the country, but certain herbal ingredients are prohibited, such as coca leaves and Arabian tea or khat.
The list of food items banned by the USDA is extensive. In fact, more types of food and liquid are prohibited from entering America than are permitted.
The following items are banned:
Meat, eggs, and dairy products from countries unaffected by the relevant animal diseases may be brought into the US with official documentation proving their country of origin. This could be the package label, receipt of sale, the traveler’s passport and travel itinerary, etc.
People traveling with any food, whether it is permitted or not, must declare it upon entering the United States. Passengers entering the US at an airport are given a customs form to fill out, usually before their flight lands. Simply tick “yes” on the part that says “I am (We are) bringing fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, food, insects”.
Going through passport control should occur as normal, providing you have the correct documentation. Before traveling to the US, make sure you have obtained the correct visa or, if you are eligible, the ESTA Visa Waiver. You can learn more about applying for the ESTA here.
Upon reaching the baggage control area, a Customs Officer will ask about the food being brought into the country and perform any necessary checks. Any prohibited items found will be seized and destroyed. However, in most cases, the checks are swift and the traveler is allowed to enter the US with their food without any problem.