Some of us fall in love when we travel to foreign countries. We fall in love with the fresh, local mangoes, the Spanish jamón Iberico, the sun-ripened avocados. But heartache often awaits those who try to bring those new food loves home with them.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection prohibits us from importing many different kinds of food souvenirs into the country. And no, it’s not because they’re envious of your stinky, French cheese.
1. Absinthe. We carry this legendary spirit here in the U.S., so what’s the big deal? Some brands sold overseas contain the chemical compound thujol, which is prohibited in America.
2. Booze. In fact, traveling with alcohol is generally tricky. Different states have different regulations about what you can bring and how much. Most of what people bring home should be fine, but to be on the safe side it’s wise to check your state’s alcoholic beverage control board for more information.
3. Cuban cigars. We’re normalizing relations with Cuba, but travelers still can’t import their cigars, foods and beverages. Que lastima.
4. Meat products. Everything from bush meat made from African wildlife to cured meats to even bouillon cubes are likely to get confiscated.
5. Cheese. Surprise — some kinds of cheese and dairy are allowed so long as they’re packed correctly. According to customs, “Cheese in liquid (such as cottage cheese or ricotta cheese) and cheese that pours like heavy cream are not admissible from countries affected by foot-and-mouth disease.” Here’s a list of countries not affected by foot-and-mouth-disease. Oh my, this is complicated, isn’t it? Also: No cheese with meat in it, natch.
6. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Yes, tropical fruit tastes a thousand times better at the source. No, you cannot bring it with you. Enjoy the ephemeral pleasures of fresh produce on your vacation. When they travel here, they can bring seeds, insects and pathogens that could threaten our own environment. There are a few exceptions, and you may have to apply for a permit.
7. Rice. Yes, rice, because there could be insects hiding within the grains. Who knew? For U.S. travelers, all rice is forbidden rice.
8. Kinder Eggs. Those cool little chocolate eggs with the toy surprise inside are still illegal to bring here, even in your suitcase.
9. Food you plan to sell. You won’t get in trouble if your kid ends up selling his Swiss chocolate bar to the highest bidder on the playground, but if you import food for the purpose of selling it, you have to apply for a permit beforehand.
Guess what foods you can bring home from abroad! Honey, coffee, tea, packaged spices, vinegar, oil and condiments are good. Baked goods? Go for it. Candy other than Kinder Eggs? Knock yourself out. The USDA has a list of foods travelers can bring home.
By the way, the same volume rules that apply to personal items in your carry-on luggage (shampoo, mouthwash, etc.) apply to food. Any containers of booze, yogurt, jam, jelly, syrup, oil, vinegar, sauce, salsa, gravy, dressing or soup larger than 3.4 ounces are not allowed. Pack larger bottles in your check-in luggage instead.