No one wants to start or end their vacation by spending thousands of dollars on an unexpected expense — especially when it’s cheap airport food. But two passengers recently made headlines after receiving fines of more than $1800 for bringing a Subway sandwich and, separately, McMuffins into Australia.
It’s not just Australia that imposes such hefty fines. Many countries do so in an effort to keep out pests and diseases — including the United States. In 2018, a woman had an apple in her bag when she reached US border control. She ended up with a $500 fine.
While local food is one of the best things you can bring back from your travels for yourself or your loved ones, not all food is clear. These are the things to know to avoid getting a fine or delay on your way back into the US.
How to safely bring food into the United States
Bringing food into the US is pretty simple. When you receive the Customs Declaration Form, be sure to accurately fill out section 11, which asks if you’re bringing in any agricultural products or if you visited any farmland during your trip. Once you declare your items, a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) specialist can make sure your items are free of plant, pests, and animal diseases that can negatively impact the environment. If it’s determined that what you claimed is contaminated, it’s destroyed.
Failure to claim what you’re bringing in, however, can result in up to $10,000 in fines and penalties.
The foods you can’t bring into the United States
A general rule of thumb is that any foods that can carry infectious diseases are not allowed entry. It makes sense why: A major pest or disease outbreak can disrupt ecosystems and result in higher grocery bills, shortages of certain foods, and losses for farmers, according to the Department of Agriculture. Items purchased in Hawaii and other US territories like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam are also held to many of the same strict rules as other countries because they are not attached to the country’s mainland and therefore pose the same risks to the mainland ecosystem.
Foods you can’t bring into the US include:
- Almost all fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables
- Most dried fruits and vegetables
- Most poultry, cattle, swine, sheep or goat meat, or meat products from countries affected with certain serious livestock diseases
- Whole coffee berries
- Coca, barberry, and loose citrus leaves
- Spices made from oranges, lemons, limes, and other citrus leaves and seeds, and many vegetable and fruit seeds
- Milk and dairy items from countries with foot-and-mouth disease
- Most eggs or egg products from countries affected with certain serious poultry diseases
Certain exceptions are made when traveling from Mexico. Most fruits and vegetables are allowed to enter. Stone fruit, apples, mangoes, oranges, guavas, sopote, cherimoya and sweet limes from Mexico require a permit. Avocados from Mexico must be peeled, halved, have the seed removed, and stored in liquid or vacuum-packed may enter but are subject to inspection. Most meat, poultry, egg, and dairy products can also be brought into the US, except for pork, unless it’s a small amount that’s thoroughly cooked.
There are certain exceptions made traveling from Canada to the US. Most meat, poultry, egg, and dairy products can be brought into the US for personal use. Most fruits and vegetables are also allowed to be carried across the border, except for bananas, European blackberries, cherries grown in the Ontario province, allium, citrus, papaya, peppers, pineapples, and tomatoes.
The food you can bring into the United States
Customs and Border Patrol suggests keeping receipts and original packaging of agricultural products to prove where you purchased them. Additionally, if you’re bringing in large amounts of a certain food, you may be subject to extra screening as even permitted foods are only allowed for personal use.
Foods you can bring into the US include:
- Commercially canned fruits and vegetables
- Dried beans, dates, figs, nuts (but not chestnuts or acorns), okra, peas, raisins and Szechwan peppercorns
- Commercially-packaged and labeled, cooked, shelf-stable meat and poultry items
- Most seafood
- Roasted and unroasted coffee beans
- Teas, herbal teas, and infusions commercially packaged and ready to be boiled, steeped or microwaved in liquid
- Most dried spices
- Butter, butter oil, olive oil, and other vegetable oils
- Solid hard or soft cheeses that don’t contain meat
- Liquid milk and powdered or dry milk products intended for use by infants or very young children in a reasonable amount
- Products containing powdered or dry milk (baking mixes, soup mixes, drink mixes) in small quantities
- Commercially-packaged and labeled, cooked, shelf-stable, fully finished milk and dairy items in unopened packages
- Eggshells with egg white and egg yolk removed that are decorated/etched/painted
- Moon cakes that do not contain meat, egg, or egg yolk unless the eggs appear “thoroughly cooked throughout”
- Ketchup (catsup), mustard, mayonnaise, Marmite, Vegemite, and prepared sauces that do not contain meat products
- Bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, granola bars, cereal, and other baked and processed products
- Candy and chocolate
- Juices that are commercially packaged
- Mushrooms that are fresh, dried, and the above the ground parts that are clean and free of soil
- Aloe, above ground parts
- Coconuts that are dry and without husks that haven’t sprouted
- Peeled garlic cloves
- Ginger with clean roots
Remember, even if you forget some of these rules, as long as you declare all the agricultural products you bring, you will not face any penalties — even if an inspector determines they cannot enter the country.