Understanding U.S. Customs laws
By Kim Bercaw
Every day, the folks at U.S. Customs oversee the movement of 1.3 million people into the United States, most of whom are just trying to get home to their TiVo. Even so, the majority of us end up bringing something back that we didn’t have at the outset, whether it be as substantial as a suitcase full of souvenirs or something as modest as a half eaten banana. And given the sometimes arduous process of clearing customs, it never hurts to have detailed knowledge of what’s allowed in the country and what will earn you a free search from Mr. Chillyhands.
Some restrictions are obvious. (You may not import drug paraphernalia, firearms or endangered species.) Other restrictions are sort of obvious. (You may not import meat, seeds, plant cuttings and most fruits and vegetables.) And some restrictions are so specific you might not know an item is illegal until you’re in handcuffs. (Byzantine period ritual objects and icons from Cyprus, for example.) As a general rule however, when in doubt, declare it.
Undeclared contraband will most likely be discovered and you’ll be slapped with a hefty fine AND you’ll receive a black mark on your record. I have a friend whose love of large, unpasteurized French sausages drove her to repeatedly hide said meats in her checked bags, three or four at a time. It all seemed harmless enough… until she got caught. Now marked as a “sausage smuggler” by the feds, she’s subject to a thorough search every time she re-enters the country. Oh, the shame! She might as well embroider a large “S” on her suitcase.
The estimated value of goods confiscated by U.S. Customs amounts to a whopping $368,000 per day. You’d be amazed at what some crazies stash in their luggage. Contraband recently discovered by customs agents at JFK airport includes: a bird corpse, insect larvae, pigeon medicine and toothpaste made from cow dung. (Hopefully not all from the same person.)
For an amusing, professionally photographed look at these and other seized goods.
And don’t hesitate to look to your Travel Beyond consultant for answers to any other nagging U.S. customs questions you might have.