Prohibited and Restricted Items

Absinthe (Alcohol)
Ceramic Tableware
Cultural Artifacts and Cultural Property (Art/Artifacts)
Dog and Cat Fur
Drug Paraphernalia
Fish and Wildlife
Food Products (Prepared)
Fruits and Vegetables


CBP has been entrusted with enforcing some 400 laws for 40 other government agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These other agencies have a need to know what people bring into the United States, but they are not always at ports of entry, guarding our borders. CBP officers are always at ports of entry-their primary mission is to safeguard America's borders.

The products we need to prevent from entering the United States are those that would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children, or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national political interests. Sometimes the products that cause injury, or have the potential to do so, may seem fairly innocent. But, as you will see from the material that follows, appearances can be deceiving.

Before you leave for your trip abroad, you might want to talk to CBP about the items you plan to bring back to be sure they're not prohibited or restricted. Prohibited means the item is forbidden by law to enter the United States. Examples of prohibited items are dangerous toys, cars that don't protect their occupants in a crash, or illegal substances like absinthe and Rohypnol. Restricted means that special licenses or permits are required from a federal agency before the item is allowed to enter the United States. Examples of restricted items include firearms and certain fruits, vegetables, pets, and textiles.

CBP's responsibility to control the importation of distilled spirits, including absinthe, is subject to regulations of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) (See 19 CFR Part 11.7). TTB permits, subject to certain content and labeling (Certificate of Label Approval (COLA)) restrictions, the importation of distilled spirits being marketed as "absinthe."

Commercial importations - Certain importations of distilled spirits called "absinthe" containing a minimal amount of the ingredient thujone (the thujone level must be less than 10 parts per million) may be permitted, if the brands have been tested according to FDA standards and their labels approved by TTB. Commercial importers must produce both an Importer's Basic Permit and a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) issued by TTB demonstrating label and thujone content approval. Any commercial importations of distilled spirits declared or believed to be absinthe which do not have a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) approved by TTB cannot be imported, unless the entry is submission of a sample (presented with an Importer's Basic Permit) to the Beverage Alcohol Laboratory for testing and approval purposes. ( Department of the Treasury )

Returning Passengers should be aware that, in addition to compliance with the general rules governing importations of alcohol for personal use, passengers must comply with the following requirements for importing distilled spirits labeled as absinthe for personal use:

  • Only the brands of absinthe that have received TTB approval will be permitted entry. Absinthe imported for personal use that bears an unapproved label will be denied entry.
  • Travelers planning in advance to return with absinthe for personal use should consult TTB in order to determine which brands of absinthe have been tested and approved for importation.
  • Questions regarding brands of absinthe approved for importation and the labeling and thujone limit requirements should be addressed to TTB at (202) 927-5000 or Please note that TTB does not maintain a "list" of approved absinthe labels; rather, the public can search the publicly available COLA registry. ( Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau )

For basic requirements regarding the importation of alcoholic beverages, see generally the Informed Compliance Publication titled "Classification and Entry Requirements of Alcoholic Beverages and Spirits." ( Classification and Entry Requirements of Alcoholic Beverages and Spirits (pdf - 144 KB.) )


Automobiles imported into the United States must meet the fuel-emission requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the safety, bumper, and theft-prevention standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Trying to import a car that doesn't meet all the requirements can be a frustrating experience for the following reasons. (See the CBP brochure, Importing a Car)

Almost all cars, vans, sport utility vehicles, and so on that are bought in foreign countries must be modified to meet American standards. Passenger vehicles that are imported on the condition that they are modified must be exported or destroyed if they are not modified acceptably. Also under these circumstances, the vehicle could require a bond upon entry until the conditions for admission have been met.

And even if the car does meet all federal standards, it might be subject to additional EPA requirements, depending on what countries it was driven in. You are strongly encouraged to contact EPA and DOT before importing a car.

Information on importing vehicles can be obtained from visiting the Environmental Protection Agency web site at ( Environmental Protection Agency ) , or by writing to Attn.: 6405J, Washington, DC 20460, or by telephone at (202) 564-9240 for EPA forms (202) 564-9660. You may also contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (NEF 32) NHTSA, Washington, DC 20590, by telephone at (800) 424-9393, or by visiting the DOT web site at ( NHTSA ) .

Copies of the brochure Importing or Exporting a Car can be obtained by writing to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, P.O. Box 7407, Washington, DC 20044; or visiting the CBP web site at The EPA Automotive Imports Fact Manual can be obtained by writing to the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC 20460; or by visiting ( Environmental Protection Agency ) .

Cars being brought into the United States temporarily (for less than one year) are exempt from these restrictions. It is illegal to bring a vehicle into the United States and sell it if it was not formally entered on a CBP Form 7501.


You may need a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit to import biological specimens including bacterial cultures, culture medium, excretions, fungi, arthropods, mollusks, tissues of livestock, birds, plants, viruses, vectors for research, biological or pharmaceutical use. Permit requirements are located under "Permits" on the USDA Website at ( USDA ) . For some permits you may have to contact the Centers for Disease Control at ( Centers for Disease Control ) .


Although ceramic tableware is not prohibited or restricted, you should know that such tableware made in foreign countries may contain dangerous levels of lead in the glaze, which can seep into foods and beverages. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend that if you buy ceramic tableware abroad-especially in Mexico, China, Hong Kong, or India, have to test it for lead release when you return, or use it for decorative purposes only.


Cultural Property

Most countries have laws that protect their cultural property: art/artifacts/antiquities; archaeological and ethnological material is 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. Therefore, although they do not necessarily confer owner ship, you must have documents such as export permits and receipts when importing such items into the United States.

While foreign laws may not be enforceable in the United States, they can cause certain U.S. laws to be invoked. For example, 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 specifically may not be imported into the United States.

U.S. law may also restrict the importation of specific categories of art/artifacts/antiquities. For example, U.S. laws restrict the importation of: 1) Any pre Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from Central and South American countries; 2) Native American artifacts from Canada; Mayan pre Columbian archaeological objects from Guatemala; pre Columbian archaeological objects from El Salvador and Peru; archaeological objects like terracotta statues) from Mali; Colonial period objects such as paintings and ritual objects from Peru; 3) Byzantine period ritual and ecclesiastic objects such as icons from Cyprus; and 4) Khmer stone archaeological sculpture from Cambodia.

Importation of items such as those listed above is permitted only when an export permit issued by the country of origin, where such items were first found accompanies them. 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 prospective purchasers to visit the State Department cultural property web site. This web site also has images representative of the categories of cultural property for which there are specific U.S. import restrictions.

Merchandise determined to be Iraqi cultural property or other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific and religious importance illegally removed from the Iraq National Museum, the National Library and other locations in Iraq, since August 6, 1990, are also prohibited from importation.


It is illegal in the United States to import, export, distribute, transport, manufacture, or sell products containing dog or cat fur in the United States. As of November 9, 2000, the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000 calls for the seizure and forfeiture of each item containing dog or cat fur.

The Act provides that any person who violates any provision may be assessed a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 for each separate knowing and intentional violation, $5,000 for each separate gross negligent violation, or $3,000 for each separate negligent violation.


It is illegal to bring drug paraphernalia into the United States unless they have been prescribed for authentic medical conditions such as diabetes. CBP will seize any illegal drug paraphernalia. Law prohibits the importation, exportation, manufacture, sale, or transportation of drug paraphernalia. If you are convicted of any of these offenses, you will be subject to fines and imprisonment.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulates and restricts firearms and ammunition; and approves all import transactions involving weapons and ammunition. If you want to import or export weapons or ammunition, you must do so through a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer. Also, if the National Firearms Act prohibits certain weapons, ammunition, or similar devices from coming into the country, you will not be able to import them unless the ATF provides you with written authorization to do so.

You do not need an ATF permit if you can demonstrate that you are returning with the same firearms or ammunition that you took out of the United States. To prevent problems when returning, you should register your firearms and related equipment by taking them to any CBP office before you leave the United States. The CBP officer will register them on the same CBP Form-4457 used to register cameras or computers. (See the section on Register Items Before You Leave the United States).

For further information about importing weapons, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC 20226; or call (202) 927-8320; or visit ( Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ) .

Many countries will not allow you to enter with a firearm even if you are only traveling through the country on the way to your final destination. If you plan to take your firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy to learn about its regulations.


Certain fish and wildlife, and products made from them are subject to import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits or certificates, and quarantine requirements. We recommend that you contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before you depart if you plan to import or export any of the following:

  • Wild birds, land or marine mammals, reptiles, fish, shellfish, mollusks, or invertebrates.
  • Any part or product of the above, such as skins, tusks, bone, feathers, or eggs.
  • Products or articles manufactured from wildlife or fish.


Endangered species of wildlife, and products made from them, generally may not be imported or exported. You will need a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import virtually all types of ivory, unless it is from a warthog. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has so many restrictions and prohibitions on various kinds of ivory-Asian elephant, African elephant, whale, rhinoceros, seal, pre-Endangered Species Act, post-CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), and many others-that they urge you to contact them before you even think of acquiring ivory in a foreign country. You may contact them at (800) 358-2104.

You may import an object made of ivory if it is an antique. To be an antique the ivory must be at least 100 years old. You will need documentation that authenticates the age of the ivory. You may import other antiques containing wildlife parts with the same condition, but they must be accompanied by documentation proving they are at least 100 years old. Certain other requirements for antiques may apply.

If you plan to buy such things as tortoiseshell jewelry, or articles made from whalebone, ivory, skins, or fur, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 3247, Arlington, VA 22203-3247, or call (800) 358-2104 or visit ( U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ) . Hunters can get information on the limitations for importing and exporting migratory game birds from this office as well. Ask for their pamphlet, Facts About Federal Wildlife Laws.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have designated specific ports of entry to handle fish and wildlife entries. If you plan to import anything discussed in this section, please contact CBP. CBP will tell you about designated ports and send you the brochure Pets and Wildlife, which describes the regulations CBP enforces for all agencies that oversee the importation of animals.

Some states have fish and wildlife laws and regulations that are stricter than federal laws and regulations. If you are returning to such a state, be aware that the stricter state laws and regulations have priority. Similarly, the federal government does not allow you to import wild animals into the United States that were taken, killed, sold, possessed, or exported from another country if any of these acts violated foreign laws.


You may bring bakery items and certain cheeses into the United States. The APHIS web site features a Travelers Tips section and Game and Hunting Trophies section that offer extensive information about bringing food and other products into the country. Many prepared foods are admissible. However, almost anything containing meat products, such as bouillon, soup mixes, etc., is not admissible. As a general rule, condiments, vinegars, oils, packaged spices, honey, coffee and tea are admissible. Because rice can often harbor insects, it is best to avoid bringing it into the United States.

Some imported foods are also subject to requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Prior Notice for Food Importation

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (Bioterrorism Act or BTA), Public Law 107-188, established the requirement that food items, imported (or offered for import) for commercial use, including hand-carried quantities, be properly reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to arrival of those items in the United States. The FDA prior notification timeframes (by transport mode) are two hours by land, four hours by rail or air, eight hours by vessel and prior to the "time of mailing" for international mail.

Food that was made by an individual in his/her personal residence, or food purchased by an individual from a vendor that is sent by that individual as a personal gift (for non-business reasons) to someone in the United States is not subject to BTA requirements. However, food that is sent to an individual in the U.S. by a business is subject to special requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. For instance, if you go to a food shop in England and buy a gift basket, then take it to the post office or a courier service to send to a friend, the shipment is not subject to BTA requirements. But if you go to that same shop and ask them to send the gift basket for you, the shipment is subject to BTA requirements, and the vendor will have to file Prior Notice. Many travelers are finding that vendors will not ship food directly to U.S. residents because the reporting requirements can be time-consuming to complete.

In general, failure to provide complete, timely and accurate prior notice for BTA regulated items, can result in refusal of admission of the merchandise, movement of the goods to an FDA registered facility (at importer expense) and/or civil monetary penalty liabilities for any party that was involved in the import transaction.

For full details regarding the latest FDA BTA requirements, including those food items exempt from these requirements, access the FDA Website at ( The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 ) .


Bringing fruits and vegetables can be complicated. For instance, consider the apple you bought in the foreign airport just before boarding and then did not eat? Whether or not CBP will allow the apple into the United States depends on where you got it and where you are going after you arrive in the United States. The same would be true for those magnificent Mediterranean tomatoes. Fresh fruits and vegetables can carry plant pests or diseases into the United States.

One good example of problems imported fruits and vegetables can cause is the Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak during the 1980s, The outbreak cost the state of California and the Federal Government approximately $100 million to get rid of this pest. The cause of the outbreak was one traveler who brought home one contaminated piece of fruit. It is best not to bring fresh fruits or vegetables into the United States. However, if you plan to, contact either CBP or check the Travelers Information section on the USDA-APHIS web site ( APHIS ) for a general approved list on items that need a permit.


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