U.S. Customs Prohibited Items

U.S. Customs Prohibited Items

Going on vacation often means you’ll be coming back with fun souvenirs. In most cases, a souvenir is something like a shot glass, spoon, t-shirt or mug. But have you ever wondered if there are any restrictions on other souvenirs such as food or alcohol when you bring it back from a foreign country? There is an official U.S. Customs prohibited items list that identifies which items cannot be brought back as souvenirs. You may incur a hefty fine if you are caught with certain items, so be sure to review the list before your next vacation! You may also find that some items can be brought back with the proper export or import permits and receipts.


U.S. US Customs Prohibited Items

Ensure the souvenirs you’re bringing home are welcome back in the U.S.


The U.S. Customs prohibited items list restricts many items due to illegal poaching, a high risk of bringing in a foreign disease or parasite, FDA regulations or other government safety regulations. Here are the most common items souvenir type items that a tourist could run into problems with:


  • Alcohol – If you are under 21 this will be taken away from you upon entering the United States and there are also limit restrictions based on where you are flying into even if you are 21 or older. A popular alcohol called Absinthe is also restricted. The only exception is if the absinthe bottle is clearly labeled as thujone free and if the bottle labeling does not depict any form of mind-altering effects.
  • Food – rice is often on restricted food list because it can easily contain foreign insects. You’ll also find that almost any product containing meat, especially any African wildlife will be restricted. You can learn more about restricted foods via the United States Department of Agriculture.
  • Cultural artifacts – This includes paintings, sculptures icons, and pieces from archaeological sites. If you will be purchasing of any these items legally, you may be required to have export permits and receipts.
  • Drug paraphernalia – Anything that is not medically necessary equipment is restricted.
  • Certain animal products – Products made from sea turtles, ivory, feathers, crocodile, caiman, rhino horns, or coral are all restricted.
  • Animal skins & furs – This includes any wild or domestic animal skins or furs. If you’ve made a fur purchase, be sure to have a receipt and be sure the fur type is legal in the United States. All spotted cat skins and furs are restricted items.
  • Plants & seeds – These are largely restricted due to the possibility of containing any foreign diseases, insects, parasites, or being deemed an invasive species. They can be imported under the proper permits.  
  • Weapons & ammunition are restricted items and can only be imported through a legal and licensed importer, dealer or manufacturer.


While these are the most common “souvenirs” that may be restricted during during your return travel from abroad, some may be imported through proper channels with the proper permits. It is also important to know that some countries may not let you exit if you have certain items that have been purchased during your trip. To avoid accidentally having a restricted item when you go to leave your vacation spot, you can find a country specific restricted export list here. If you aren’t sure whether your souvenir will cause an issue when you leave the country or come back to the United States, you can also contact the United States embassy or consulate to be safe.


US import restrictions

Some US import restrictions can keep you from bringing that special souvenir home. Be sure to learn whether your imports will be allowed back in the U.S. upon your return.

In addition to verifying which items may be brought into or out of a foreign country during your upcoming vacation, you should also look into what personal documentation you will need for your trip. Depending on your destination, you may be required to apply for a visa for extended stays or  have your passport renewed if it will expire within six months. These are all things that require having the proper vital records and documents ready at a moments notice, so be sure you have your birth certificate on hand for any upcoming travels or travel documentation applications! Need help getting a certified copy of your birth certificate? Simply visits VitalChek.com and place a secure order online!

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