Print Preview

Prohibited or Restricted Goods

The importation of certain classes of merchandise is prohibited or restricted to protect community health, to preserve domestic plant and animal life, and for other reasons.  Should you attempt to bring in merchandise that is prohibited or restricted, the merchandise could be seized and, in addition, you may be liable for a personal penalty.  Prohibited articles include, but are not limited to, the following: absinthe, lottery tickets, narcotics and dangerous drugs, drug paraphernalia, obscene articles and publications, seditious and treasonable materials, hazardous articles (e.g. fireworks, dangerous toys, toxic or poisonous substances), products made by prison convicts, forced labor, or indentured labor under penal sanctions, and switchblade knives (the only exception is for a “one-armed traveler,” in which case the blade must be no longer than three inches).

Some merchandise that is restricted from entry into the United States may be released after inspection by the Government agency that imposed the restrictions. In some instances, this merchandise may be detained until the conditions attached to the restriction are met. If the restricted merchandise is not released by the Government agency that imposed the restrictions and/or the conditions attached to the restrictions are not met, the merchandise could be seized. In addition, the importer of this merchandise may be liable for a personal penalty.

U.S. trade sanctions administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) generally prohibit the importation into the United States (including U.S. territories), either directly or indirectly, of most goods, technology, or services (except information and informational materials) from, or which originated from, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, or Sudan; Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) had a partial lifting of trade sanctions  (See Executive Order 13192); from foreign persons designated by the Secretary of State as having promoted the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; named Foreign Terrorist Organizations; designated terrorists and narcotics traffickers; the Taliban, and areas of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. Vessels and aircraft under the registry, ownership, or control of sanctions targets may not import merchandise into the United States.  The importation of Cuban cigars is generally prohibited.  Diamonds may not be imported from Angola or Sierra Leone without a certificate of origin or other documentation that demonstrates to Customs authorities that they were legally exported with the approval of the Angola Government of Unity and National Reconciliation.

Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has amended the Iranian Transactions Regulations, 31 CFR part 560, to authorize the importation into the United States of, and dealings in, certain Iranian-origin foodstuffs and carpets and related transactions. Section 560.534(a) of this final rule authorizes the importation of Iranian-origin foodstuffs intended for human consumption that are classified under chapters 2-23 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS). Items that are classified in chapters 2-23 of the HTS that are not foodstuffs intended for human consumption are not authorized for importation into the United States by this section. This final rule also authorizes the importation into the United States of Iranian-origin carpets and other textile floor coverings and carpets used as wall hangings that are classified under chapter 57 or heading 9706.00.00.60 of the HTS. Items that are classified under heading 9706.00.00.60 ("Antiques of an age exceeding one hundred years/Other") that are not carpets and other textile floor coverings or carpets used as wall hangings are not authorized for importation into the United States by this section.

Import restrictions imposed against sanctions targets vary by program.  Contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control at 202.622.2490 with specific questions or concerns or visit OFAC’s Web site.

Biological Materials
Biological materials of public health or veterinary importance (disease organisms and vectors for research and educational purposes) require import permits.

Write to Foreign Quarantine Program, U.S. Public Health Service, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, Ga. 30333.

Books, Video Tapes, Computer Programs and Cassettes
Pirated copies of copyrighted articles (unlawfully made reproductions or articles produced without the copyright owner’s authorization, e.g., music CDs, toys, clothing with cartoon characters, etc.,) are prohibited from importation into the United States.  Pirated copies will be seized and destroyed.

Cultural Artifacts and Cultural Property
Most countries have laws that protect their cultural property (art/artifacts/antiquities; archaeological and ethnological material are also terms that are used.)  Such 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.   Make certain you have documents such as export permits and receipts, although these do not necessarily confer lawful ownership.  While foreign laws may not be enforceable in the U.S., they can cause certain U.S. laws to be invoked.   For example, as a general rule, under the U.S. National Stolen Property Act, one cannot have legal title to art/artifacts/antiquities that were stolen, no matter how many times such items may have changed hands.  Articles of stolen cultural property (from museums or from religious or secular public monuments) originating in any of the countries party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention may not be imported into the United States.

In addition, U.S. law may restrict importation into the U.S. of specific categories of art/artifacts/antiquities:

•    U.S. law restricts the import of any Pre Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from Central and South American countries.

•    U.S. law specifically restricts the importation of Native American artifacts from Canada; Maya pre Columbian archaeological objects from Guatemala; Pre Columbian archaeological objects from El Salvador and Peru; archaeological objects (such as 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; Khmer stone archaeological sculpture from Cambodia.

Importation of items such as those above is permitted only when the items are accompanied by an export permit issued by the country of origin (where such items were first found), or if you came into possession of them before the treaties were signed.  Purveyors of such items have been known to offer phony export certificates.  As additional U.S. import restrictions may be imposed in response to requests from other countries, it is wise for the prospective purchaser to visit the State Department’s cultural property website: http://e.usia.gov/edu/education/culprop/.   This website also has images representative of the categories of cultural property for which there are specific U.S. import restrictions.

Dog and Cat Fur, Items Made From
Under the “Dog And Cat Enforcement Act Of 2000” it is illegal to import products containing dog or cat fur. These products include clothes, accessories, figurines, and novelty items – made from parts or full pelts of cats and dogs. These items will be seized and violators can be penalized up to $10,000 for each item containing cat or dog fur.

Firearms and Ammunition
Firearms and ammunition are subject to restrictions and import permits.  The importation of fully automatic weapons, semi-automatic assault-type weapons, and nonsporting firearms and ammunition is prohibited. Generally, firearms and ammunition acquired abroad may be imported, but only under permit.  For complete information, write to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Department of the Treasury, Firearms and Explosives Imports Branch, Washington, DC 20226.  That agency will furnish permit applications and answer inquiries about the Gun Control Act of 1968, and import provisions of the Arms Export Control Act of 1976.

Firearms and ammunition previously taken out of and returned to the United States by the same person may be released upon presentation to U.S. Customs of adequate proof of prior possession, i.e., bill of sale, household goods inventory showing serial number, or Customs registration forms 4455 or 4457.

Food and Dairy Products
Bakery items and all cured cheeses are admissible. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) leaflet, Travelers' Tips, provides detailed information on bringing food, plant, and animal products into the United States. Imported foods are also subject to requirements of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Foods not approved by the FDA may not be entered into the United States.

Fruits, Plants, Vegetables
Fruits, plants, vegetables, cuttings, seeds, unprocessed plant products and certain endangered species of plants are either prohibited from entering the country or require an import permit. Canned or processed items are admissible.

Gold coins, medals, and bullion, formerly prohibited, may be brought into the United States. However, copies of gold coins are prohibited if not properly marked. The importation of counterfeit coins is prohibited.

Meats, Livestock, Poultry
Meats, livestock, poultry, and their by products, such as pate’ and sausage are either prohibited or restricted from entering the United States, depending upon the animal disease conditions in the country of origin. This includes fresh, frozen, dried, cured, cooked or canned items. Commercially labeled, cooked, canned meats, that do not require refrigeration and are hermetically sealed, may be brought into the United States.

Narcotics and dangerous drugs are generally prohibited entry and there are severe penalties if imported. Certain exceptions to this for U.S. residents may be found at 21 USC 956(a). A traveler requiring prescription medications (e.g., cough medicines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, depressants, stimulants, etc.) should:

  • Have all drugs, medicinals, and similar products properly identified in their original container in which they were dispensed to the individual.
  • Carry only the quantity that an individual having some sort of health problem might normally carry.
  • Have either a prescription or written statement from his personal physician that the medicinals are being used under a doctor's direction and are necessary for the traveler's physical well being while traveling.

Drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration may not be imported into the United States.

There is no limitation in terms of total amount of monetary instruments that may be brought into or taken out of the United States. Monetary instruments include U.S. or foreign coins, currency, traveler's checks, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form. If you do transport, or cause to be transported, by mail or other means, more than $10,000 in monetary instruments on any occasion into or out of the United States, or if you receive more than that amount, you must file a report (Customs Form 4790) with U.S. Customs (Currency & Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, 31 U.S.C. 1101, et seq.). Failure to report the transportation of the reportable monetary instruments may result in seizure of the unreported instruments as well as imposition of civil and criminal penalties.

There are controls, restrictions, and prohibitions on the entry of animals, birds, turtles, wildlife, and endangered species. Cats and dogs must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to man. Vaccination against rabies is not required for cats, or for dogs arriving from rabies free countries. Personally owned pet birds may be entered (limit of two if of the Psittacine family), but Animal & Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) and Public Health Service requirements must be met, including quarantine at any APHIS facility at specified locations, at the owner's expense. Advance reservations are required. Primates, such as monkeys, apes, and similar animals, may not be imported. If you plan to take your pet abroad or import one on your return, obtain a copy of our brochure, Pets and Wildlife.

Trademarked Articles
U.S. Customs enforces laws relating to the protection of trademarks and copyrights.  Articles that infringe a trademark or copyright, which is use of the protected right without authorization of the trademark or copyright owner, are subject to detention and seizure.  Additionally, the importation of articles bearing counterfeit marks may subject an individual to a civil monetary penalty.  Articles bearing marks that are confusingly similar to a registered trademark and gray market articles (genuine articles not intended for importation into the Unites States,) may be subject to detention and seizure.

Passengers arriving into the United States are permitted to import one article, which must accompany the person, bearing a counterfeit, confusingly similar, or restricted gray market trademark, provided that the article is for personal use and not for sale.  The arriving passenger may retain one article of each of the above types, accompanying the person.  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.

With regard to copyright infringement, articles that are determined to be clearly piratical of a registered copyright are subject to seizure.  Articles that are determined to be possibly piratical may be subject to detention and possible seizure.

The types of articles usually of interest to travelers are:

  • Lenses, cameras, binoculars, optical goods.
  • Tape recorders, CD players, musical instruments.
  • Jewelry, precious metalware.
  • Perfumes.
  • Watches and clocks.
  • Clothing.

Wildlife, Fish, Plants
Wildlife, fish, and plants are subject to certain import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits or certificates, and quarantine requirements. This includes:

  • Wild birds, mammals (including marine mammals,) reptiles, crustaceans, fish, and mollusks.
  • Any part or product, such as skins, feathers, eggs.
  • Products and articles manufactured from wildlife and fish.

Endangered species of wildlife and plants, including products made from them, may be prohibited from being imported or exported, as appropriate.  If you are considering purchasing articles made from wildlife, such as tortoise shell jewelry, leather goods, articles made from whalebone, ivory, skins, or fur, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. 20240, for additional information.



Print Preview
Go to Top