If you’ve tasted delicious snacks and beverages abroad, you may wonder if you can bring those food items on a plane on your international flight back home. US Customs and Border Protection, a department of Homeland Security, has an ever-changing list of prohibited and restricted items. Consult the US Customs food list before purchasing snacks overseas, and follow the rules on your immigration card about declaring foods as you go through customs. Failing to declare foods may result in a hefty fine. Here's a list of foods you can and can’t bring into the US:
- Canned and Packaged Goods: Sauce mixes, preserved fruits and vegetables, coffees, teas, and the like are generally allowed. Exceptions to this may include items containing meat or poultry. Double-check the restricted list or avoid buying those items altogether.
- Meat and Poultry: This category of goods is usually not allowed, whether cooked, dried, cured, frozen, or even in the form of meat-based dry mix. Canned meats may be permitted, but it can’t be lamb, goat, or from countries with Mad Cow Disease.
- Oils: If you tasted the most amazing olive oil on your guided tour through Spain, bring some back to the US because you are permitted to do so. Purchase your favorites for personal use and get travel-sized versions to share with friends and family.
- Dairy: There are can and cant’s in this category so be extra diligent if you are planning to buy dairy while on vacation. Generally, milk is not allowed unless it is for infants. Solid cheese is allowed as long as it does not contain meat such as bacon, sausage, etc. Soft cheeses like Brie and mozzarella are permitted, while liquid options including cottage and ricotta are not allowed if they come from countries with foot-and-mouth disease. Parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are therefore on the restricted list.
- Candy and Chocolate: Bring back as much of these items as you would like! You do not have to worry about customs-related rules for these sweet treats.
- Baked Goods: Cookies, cakes, breads, and other baked goods are generally allowed. One exception is meat or egg-stuffed mooncakes, which are a popular baked good in China. Other types of mooncakes are allowed.
- Fish: You might think fish products would be restricted, but most are actually allowed! Fresh, frozen, dried, smoked, canned or cooked fish and seafood is allowed in amounts suitable for your personal use. Even fresh fish is allowed, although your seatmates may not appreciate the odor.
- Fruits and Vegetables: This category depends on the item and where it is from, so it is best to err on the side of caution. If you are keen to bring back fruits or vegetables you enjoyed abroad, check the U.S. Department of Agriculture database, where you can search by country or item to determine any restrictions.
- Spices: You may purchase dried spices, as long as they are not from the citrus family – lemons, limes, oranges, etc. Infuse your cooking with the vibrant flavors you experienced. Spices also make great souvenirs.
- Nuts: Nuts are allowed if they have been boiled, cooked, ground, oven dried, pureed, roasted, or steamed. Additionally, nuts free from their shells are permitted. This includes popular options such as almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts.
Tasting local dishes is one of the best ways to experience the culture of a destination on your YMT vacation. When you find snacks or beverages you enjoy during your travels, taking some back home is a thoughtful idea for souvenirs and a fun way to re-live your great memories. If you have any doubts, check on the US Customs website and declare your goods when you land.