Vacation Souvenirs That Could Result in Criminal Charges

7 Vacation Souvenirs That Could Result in Criminal Charges

Avoid criminal charges on your vacation. Now is the time of year when lots of people are taking summer vacations, but those seemingly harmless souvenirs you bring into the country could be illegal. While you are explicitly prohibited from bringing back certain items, you may simply have to pay to carry other souvenirs into the country.

Items that are prohibited or restricted that would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children, domestic plant and animal life, or items that defeat our national interests. Sometimes products that can hurt you, or have the potential to do so, can seem fairly innocent.

Read on to learn about seven souvenir items that may have restrictions.

7 Vacation Souvenirs That Could Result in Criminal Charges

To avoid criminal charges, don’t bring these 7 souvenirs through US customs.

vacation souvenirs criminal charges

1. Natural Items

If you’re thinking about bringing home a vial of sand or a beautiful shell from your tropical vacation, think again. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, may seize any natural elements that you bring in from another country.

Some items are prohibited from entry for specific reasons, like African bushmeat (meat made from African wildlife) or uncured animal hide drums (particularly drums from Haiti).

The regulations governing meat are very strict. You may not import fresh, dried, or canned meats or meat products of any kind. You also may not import food products that contain meat, including products like soups or bouillon.

Fruits and vegetables are also a no go. While you can bring limited fruits and vegetables into the United States, whether or not you can depends on a confusing number of factors. The civil penalty for failing to declare agricultural items at US ports of entry will cost first time offenders $300, and subsequent violations cost $500. Keep in mind that false declarations to CBP can result in criminal charges.

What food is okay to bring back?

Generally, processed food that is in unopened packaging can be brought back. Some examples of foods that are usually admissible are condiments, vinegars, oils, packaged spices, honey, coffee, and tea.

Soil and every single plant or plant product (including hand crafted items made with straw) must be declared to the Customs and Border Protection officer, and must be presented for inspection. You can find more specific information on what plant products are permitted entry into the United States on the USDA’s Plant, Organism, and Soil Permits page.

Keep in mind, there are many restrictions on flowers – so you may not be able to bring them back into the country. Before Valentine’s Day, CPB spends weeks inspecting roses, chrysanthemums and other imported blooms. The agriculture specialists make sure that no invasive pests are introduced to the country. Every year, $140 billion is spent to eradicate and reverse the damage caused by exotic wildlife that throws the country’s ecosystem out of balance.

Many products made from animal materials are subject to restrictions. If you plan to buy things such as tortoiseshell jewelry, or items made from whalebone, ivory, skins, or fur you will want to view the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s wildlife permits page. You can also call 1-800-358-2104 to speak with someone from the FWS about the specific items you’re planning on bringing back.

It is illegal to bring back any item containing dog or cat fur. As of November 9, 2000, the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000 requires a civil penalty of $5,000 for each separate gross negligent violation, $3,000 for each separate negligent violation, and up to $10,000 for each separate knowing and intentional violation.

Hunters, keep in mind that your game and hunting trophies may also be subject to restrictions. You can find more information on the US Fish and Wildlife Services’ information on hunting and fishing page about which ports of entry can accept your trophies. There are 14 ports of entry that are designated to handle game and trophies; other ports must get approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to clear your entry.

what are import restrictions

2. Merchandise from Embargoed Countries

Currently, you can not bring in any items whatsoever from Cuba, Iran, Burma (Myanmar), or Sudan. The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Department of Treasury enforces economic sanctions against these countries, and most items from these countries are prohibited in America. 

You should check the Sanctions Programs page to determine which countries are embargoed or subject to other restrictions before making any plans to travel to these countries.

There are a few exceptions to what you may bring back, but in general, most items require a special license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. These licenses are rarely granted, but you can try to get one by writing to the Office of Foreign Assets Control at this address:

Office of Foreign Assets Control
Department of the Treasury
Washington, DC 20220

What items have exceptions?

  • Art (original paintings, drawings, pastels, engravings, prints, sculptures)
  • Informational materials (books, magazines, films, posters, photographs, microfilms, records, tapes, CDs – excluding blank tapes and blank CDs)
  • Personal items of the persons arriving in the United States that were used abroad by that person (or family members arriving in the same household), that are not intended for any other person, or for sale, and are not otherwise prohibited
  • Accompanied baggage from personal use for travel
  • Allowed importations of merchandise from Sudan including gifts up to $100 (US) in value
  • Merchandise from acceptable areas of Sudan include these parts: Southern Sudan, Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains State, Blue Nile State, Abyei, Darfur, and certain marginalized areas in and around Khartoum (note: merchandise may not be commercially shipped through Khartoum, Port Sudan, or other areas of Sudan that remain subject to sanctions)

In addition to these countries which are fully embargoed, keep in mind that there may be restrictions on merchandise from the following regions:

Western Balkans; Belarus, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq (for cultural property), Liberia (Former Regime of Charles Taylor), Sierra Leone, Syria, Zimbabwe, and Persons Undermining the Sovereignty of Lebanon or its Democratic Processes and Institutions.

what can i bring back to the us

3. Drug Paraphernalia

The U.S. prohibits travelers from bringing home drug paraphernalia that is not prescribed for an actual medical disorder. Customs officers will seize any illegal drug equipment that is found upon entry into the country. If you import, export, sell, or transport drug paraphernalia, you may have to pay a fine or end up in jail.

Trying to smuggle drug paraphernalia or controlled substances into the United States can result in criminal charges.

traveling with prescriptions abroad

4. Medication

If you need to regularly take medication that contains potentially addictive drugs or narcotics like tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, or stimulants you will need to be very careful when re-entering the United States.

US Customs and Border Protection offers the following rule of thumb: When you go abroad, take only the medicines you will need. No more, no less. 

Do you think that you will be returning with extra medicine?

Be sure to:

  • Declare all drugs, medicinals, and similar products to CBP (failure to do so can result in criminal charges)
  • Carry medication in their original containers with your name on it
  • Carry only the quantity of such substances that a person with that condition would normally carry for his/her personal use
  • Carry a prescription or a written statement from your US licensed physician that the substances are being used under a doctor’s supervision, and that they are necessary for your physical well-being while traveling.

Note: Only medications that can be legally prescribed in the United States may be imported. 

The US Food and Drug Administration prohibits all importation (by mail or in person) of “fraudulent prescription and nonprescription drugs and medical devices”. These include unorthodox “cures” for medical conditions like cancer, aids, arthritis, or multiple sclerosis. If the FDA has not approved them for use in the United States, they may not legally enter the country and will be confiscated. Even if they were obtained under a foreign physician’s prescription.

Do you need more information about traveling with medication? Check out the FDA’s Drug page.

traveling with alcohol internationally tsa

5. Absinthe

According to the US Food and Drug Administration regulations (21 C.F.R. 172.510 and the Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations (27 C.F.R. Parts 13.51, 5.42(a), and 5.65, importing absinthe is prohibited and will be subject to seizure.

Absinthe must be “thujone free” (meaning it must contain less than 10 parts per million of thujone), the term “absinthe” can not be the brand name, the term “absinthe” can not stand alone on the label, and the artwork/graphics can not “project images” of hallucinogenic, psychotropic, or mind-altering effects.

Although you won’t face criminal charges, you can face fines of $500 or more per bottle of absinthe that contains thujone.

Are you trying to import another type of alcoholic beverage?

According to US laws, the laws of the state in which you first arrive will govern the amount of alcohol you may bring with you, and whether you need a license.

Keep in mind you will need to be 21 to bring back alcoholic beverages into the United States, even if the country you’re coming from allows the consumption of alcohol at a lower age. People under 21 can face criminal charges.

If you plan on bringing alcoholic beverages back with you, you should contact your state’s alcoholic beverage control board to determine what you need to do to comply with that state’s laws and regulations. You can find a list of the contact information for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for all 50 states here.

In general, US Customs and Border Protection will flag you if you carry more than a case of alcohol in your luggage (e.g., 12 bottles of wine). Anything above that might fall under suspected commercial use and require an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau import license form.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) limits carry-on liquids to 3.4 ounces unless you purchased alcohol at a duty-free shop at the airport after clearing security.

traveling with kinder eggs banned tsa

6. Kinder Eggs

These chocolate treats contain small toys inside, which pose a choking hazard and are illegal in the U.S. A 2012 Fox News article reported that two men were held at the Canadian border for several hours because they were trying to bring home these unique indulgences.

Although it won’t get you a criminal charge, you can be fined several thousand dollars for trying to smuggle Kinder eggs into the US.

Fines for counterfeit goods tsa

7. Designer Knock-offs

Counterfeit and pirated brand-name items are often sold to tourists, especially in Hong Kong and Shanghai. If you have purchased an inexpensive purse with a faux designer label or a fake football jersey, you can bring it back into the U.S. for personal use. However, if you come home with a slew of counterfeit items and the intention of selling them, you could face criminal charges.

Contact Clark Hartpence Law for Free Legal Consultation

U.S. officials generally restrict the importation of certain items to keep the public safe. Penalties for bringing home illegal souvenirs can range from confiscation to fines and imprisonment. If you have been detained or arrested for bringing home an illegal souvenir from your last trip, contact us to talk to experts about your case and learn about your rights.

If you or someone you love was involved in an accident, call us at (855) 680-4911 or schedule a free consultation.


Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.