United States Department of Agriculture and Travel Inspection Resource
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plays an important role in keeping the United States free from destructive animal and plant pests and diseases that currently affect other countries. To accomplish this, certain limits are placed on items brought to the United States from foreign countries, as well as those brought to the mainland from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Prohibited items could harbor animal and plant pests and diseases that could seriously damage America’s crops, livestock, pets, and environment – pests and diseases that have no natural enemies or predators in this country.
All travelers entering the United States are
required to DECLARE any meats, fruits, vegetables,
plants, animals, and plant and animal products they may be
carrying. The declaration must cover all items carried
in baggage and hand luggage, or in a vehicle.
To speed up the inspection process:
• pack items where they will be readily accessible
• make sure to check “yes” for Question #11 on the U.S. Customs Declaration Form
• follow the instructions of the federal officers in the inspection area.
Upon examination of plants, animal products, and associated products, inspectors will determine if these items meet the entry requirements of the United States. Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) officers are authorized under the Plant Protection Act to seize, destroy, and if necessary, issue civil penalties for prohibited items discovered during an inspection. Even though an item may be listed on the “General List of Approved Products” (see below), if you are unsure of the origin, DECLARE the item by checking “YES” on Question #11 of the U.S. Customs Declaration Form.
“But It’s Only a Piece of Fruit…”
Travelers are often surprised when told that their “one little piece of fruit or meat” can cause serious damage. In fact, one prohibited item carelessly discarded has the potential to wreak havoc on American crops. For example, it’s quite likely that a traveler carried in the wormy fruit that first brought the Mediterranean fruit flies to California. The fight to eradicate this pest still costs America taxpayers millions of dollars each year. And, although there hasn’t been a case of foot-and-mouth disease in the United States since 1929, the threat of this disease from countries outside the U.S. remains. A single link of sausage contaminated with the dreaded virus could devastate the U.S. livestock business. Economists agree that an outbreak today would cost farmers and consumers billions of dollars in lost production, higher food prices, and lost export markets.
Avoid Fines and Delays
Personal passenger baggage is checked for agricultural products by officers from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program.At some ports, inspectors use Detector Dogs, specially trained to sniff out agricultural items. At others, low energy x-ray machines adapted to reveal fruits and meats are used. In an average month, inspectors confiscate thousands of items. Always DECLARE to the inspectors everything you have that could be classified as an agricultural product. An inspector can then determine whether that item is prohibited or is allowed entry.
The declaration you are required to make may be oral, written or both. If you’re traveling from abroad on a plane or ship, you will be given a U.S. Customs form on which to declare your agricultural products. You will also be asked to indicate whether you have visited a farm or ranch outside the United States. Why? Soil from other countries could harbor all kinds of pests, diseases, or both, and that soil could be stuck on your shoes, on garden tools, bicycle tires, or other areas!
Declarations Prevent Penalties
Prohibited items that are not declared by passengers are confiscated. But that’s not all. Civil penalties may be assessed for violations, and now, with recent increases, may range up to $1,000 for a first-time offense. Depending on whether confiscated, undeclared items are intentionally concealed, or determined to be for commercial use, civil penalties may be assessed up to $50,000 for individuals. The same fine applies to illegal agricultural products sent through the mail.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Plants
Depending on the country of origin, you may bring in some fruits, vegetables, and plants without advance permission, provided they are declared, inspected, and found free of pests. However, certain plants and any plant parts intended for growing (propagative material) require a permit in advance. For information on permits, contact the USDA/APHIS/PPQ Permit Unit. See the Information Resources section at the end of this notice for details.
Meat and Animal Products
Fresh, dried, or canned meats and meat products are prohibited entry into the United States from most foreign countries, because of the continuing threat of foot-and-mouth disease. If meat is used in preparing a product, it is also usually prohibited. Because regulations concerning meat and meat products change frequently, travelers should contact the consulate or local agricultural office in the country of origin (see U.S. Department of State section of the Resources section) for up-to-date information.
Animal hunting trophies, game animal carcasses, and hides are severely restricted. To find out specifics and how to arrange to bring them into the United States, contact USDA/APHIS Veterinary Services’ National Center for Import and Export (NCIE). The Department of the Interior’s US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulates the import and export of wild and endangered animals and plants and their products. More information is available in the FWS free publications, “Facts About Federal Wildlife Laws” and “Buyer Beware Guide.”
Live Animals and Birds
Live animals and birds may enter the United
States subject to certification, certain permits, inspection, and
quarantine rules that vary with the type of animal and its
Pet birds purchased abroad for personal use may enter, subject to restrictions by some state departments of agriculture. Quarantine arrangements must be made in advance because facilities are limited. For information and a permit application, contact APHIS’ NCIE (see Resources section).
Valid veterinary health certificates are required in many instances; fees and waiting times vary. In addition, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulate importation of certain animal species and have specific regulations regarding pets (including cats and dogs) and nonhuman primates. Importation for scientific or exhibition purposes is strictly controlled through a registration process. Contact the CDC (see Resources section) for detailed information.
Other Biological Materials
A permit is required to bring in most organisms, cells and cultures, monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, and related substances, whether of plant or animal origin. This category includes organisms and products used in the biotechnology industry. For information and a permit application, contact NCIE or PPQ’s permit unit. Biological specimens of plant pests, in preservatives or dried, may be imported without restrictions but are subject to inspection upon arrival in the United States. This is done to confirm the nature of the material and make sure they are free of “hitchhiking” plant pests or diseases. These items must all be declared and presented for inspection.
Soil, Sand, Minerals, and Shells
Soil-borne organisms threaten both plants and animals. As mentioned previously, if you visited a farm or ranch overseas, agricultural inspectors may have to disinfect your shoes or clothes. Vehicles must also be cleaned of any soil. No soil or earth of any kind is allowed into the United States without a permit, issued in advance by PPQ’s permit unit. Pure sand, like a small container of decorative beach sand, is allowed. Always check with PPQ’s permit unit in advance to find out if a permit is required.
Is There ANYTHING I Can Bring Back?
Of course. When planning your trip abroad, look over the general list of approved products that follows. Keep in mind that this list is not all inclusive, and that regulations change frequently, depending on outbreaks of plant and animal diseases in various parts of the world. So, whether or not the item in question appears on the “approved” list, you are still responsible for declaring to a federal inspection officer every agricultural product in your possession.
If you leave the United States with any U.S. agricultural products, note that you may not be allowed to bring them back in when you return to the country. If you’re unsure of what’s allowed, call for help. Check the phone book for the nearest office of USDA, APHIS, PPQ, or call PPQ’s central office at 301-734-8645. If your question is specific to animals or animal products, contact NCIE. U.S. consulates abroad may also be able to answer many of your questions. APHIS’ Web site Aphis contains information on many related topics. Every effort is made to keep the information current.
Please do your part to help protect American agriculture!
General List of Approved Products (as of January, 2003 - check for updates)
Aloe vera (above ground parts)
Bat nut or devil pod (Trapa bicornis)
Breads, cakes, cookies, and other bakery goods
Chinese water chestnut
Coffee (roasted beans only)
Garlic cloves (peeled)
Lily bulbs (Lilium spp.)
Nuts (roasted only)
Palm hearts (peeled)
Sauces, canned or processed
Shamrocks, without roots or soil
St. John’s Bread
Singhara nut (Trapa bispinosa)
Tamarind bean pod
Vegetables, canned or processed
Water chestnut (Trapa natans)
Check with the consulate or agricultural office in the country of origin to confirm that your item conforms to the above general list. Predeparture Inspection is required for passengers traveling from Hawaii to the mainland Puerto Rico to the mainland, and from the U.S. Virgin Islands to the mainland.
Products from Canada and Mexico
Many products grown in Canada or Mexico are
allowed to enter the United States. This includes most vegetables
and fruits; however, seed potatoes from Canada currently require
Note: Fruits, vegetables, meats or birds taken from the United States to Mexico may not be allowed to re-enter. Consult in advance with APHIS inspectors. All permissible agricultural products are still subject to inspection.
Information Resources for Travelers
Unit can provide information about import requirements
and permits for plants, plant parts, fruits, vegetables, and
other agricultural items.
Plant Protection and Quarantine
4700 River Road, Unit 136
Riverdale, MD 20737-1236, Attention: Permit Unit
Or Look in your local phone book for the nearest office of USDA, APHIS, PPQ,
or call the central office at 877-770-5990 or 301-734-8645. Or, visit:
National Center for Import and Export (NCIE)
can provide information about importing live animals and animal products.
4700 River Road, Unit 40
Riverdale, MD 20737-1231
Attn: National Center for Import and Export
301-734-7830 or on the web, or visit
The US Customs Service and Border
collects import duties and assists the US Public Health Service in regulating the importation of animals, dogs, cats, monkeys, and birds.
P.O. Box 7407
Washington, D.C. 20044 or visit
US Customs Service
The US Department of State issues passports for US citizens to travel abroad. Consular officers overseas issue visas for foreign citizens to enter the United States. Passport agencies are located in various cities around the country. Check listings in your local phone book or with a US embassy or consulate abroad. For recorded travel information, call 202-647-5225. Also check their web site at Travel Dept. of State
The US Fish and Wildlife
Service regulates the import and export of wild and
endangered plants and animals and their related products.
Contact: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Office of Management Authority
4401 North Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203 or their web site,
U.S. Fish + Wildlife Services
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) regulate importation of certain animal
species and have specific regulations regarding pets (including
cats and dogs) and nonhuman primates.
Contact: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Division of Quarantine
1600 Clifton Road, Mail Stop E-03
Atlanta, GA 30333
404-639-8107; fax 404-639-2599;
Centers for Disease Control
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