Customs rules: Tips for when you reenter the U.S.

January 27, 2012

Reentering the United States after a trip overseas can be quick, painless and drama-free — if you know the rules before you go. Here are some tips gleaned from the experts at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Don’t take leftovers from the airplane’s in-flight food service. The food could have been sourced from a foreign destination and might not meet U.S. standards. In addition, any foods you packed from your pantry could have been contaminated during your travels. Leave them on the plane or hand them over to a Customs officer.

Duty-free items sold in the airport are not guaranteed to be safe; the stores might not abide by U.S. laws regarding sanitation, protected species and the like.

●Authorities recommend that travelers refrain from bringing back beef products regardless of country and cooking process (cured, dried, canned, etc.). The main concern: the threat of disease (mad cow, foot-and-mouth, etc.). Even candies from China are deemed unsafe, as many contain cow byproducts. The only admissible beef snacks come from countries free of disease, such as New Zealand. Consult with the USDA for a list of safe destinations. (Caveat: This status could change overnight.) Call the hotline at 888-674-6854.

Canned pork is permitted as long as it is commercially packed and hermetically sealed. Homemade or opened samples are not allowed.

●Cheeses fall into a mushy area. Hard cheeses are typically okay, but soft or liquid varieties are no-go. Check with the USDA for specifics.

Raw eggs are never welcome, but cooked eggs are allowed from countries without reported cases of avian flu or other bird-related diseases.

●If you visit a farm or a ranch, clean the dirt and muck off your shoes before you transport them home. Inspectors will disinfect your footwear if they have time (be sure to tell them of your rural outing). However, they also have the right to confiscate your mud-encrusted shoes.

●You can transport 125 grams of black caviar (unless it’s beluga), but surpass that amount and Customs can snag your entire stash.

B everages are permitted, with the exception of milk-based drinks.

●Because of an agreement with the Netherlands, Americans may purchase certified tulip bulbs; look for the official seal of approval.

Be wise (and even skeptical) when buying animal-skin accessories and attire, such as belts, wallets and jewelry. That bracelet could very well be made of elephant ivory. Best to walk away or purchase at a respected shop. Keep all receipts and grab a card with the vendor’s information. Buyers, be alert in China, Vietnam and Nigeria.

For more info: 1.usa.gov/customs1 or 1.usa.gov/customsusda.

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