Budget Travel: You’ll Never Get These 10 Items Through Customs


I came across a Budget Travel article yesterday that I found interesting but not completely true.  The article, You’ll Never Get These 10 Items Through Customs features some items that I have brought home in the past from international trips.

The articles claim that some items that you’d like to bring back as a souvenir should be passed up. Some are for health reasons, while others are for economic and cultural reasons.

Here is the list:

  1. Absinthe
  2. Certain plants (and crafts made from plants)
  3. Ivory (including jewelery)
  4. Ancient artifacts
  5. Meat-based products (even soup mix)
  6. Big souvenirs from Cuba, Iraq and most of Sudan
  7. Most fruits and vegetables
  8. Designer knock-offs and cartoon charactetr paraphernalia
  9. More than $10,000 cash
  10. Some Haitian Goat Hide Drums

So what have I brought back from this no-no list?

  • On a trip to Eastern Europe a few years back I bought a small bottle of Absinthe back as a souvenir, never planning to drink it. Absinthe can be made from a variety of different ingredients and I’m not sure what this variety was made from since I gave it to a friend that collected liquors a couple of years later. I placed the absinthe in my checked luggage and don’t know if my bag was checked but it got home safely.
  • While in Panama, Kim and I visited two of the native tribes. One of them, the Embera made various crafts made from plants. I collect masks and they had one for sale which caught my eye. The mask is a monkey face and is made from dried grass and possibly other plants. On the way home I had the mask in my backpack and was never asked about it. I had no problem clearing customs with it upon return to NYC.
  • During our visit to Budapest we stopped by the Great Market Hall. We were offered lots of samples including some meats and sausages. After tasting a few I decided to buy a piece of dried meat to bring home. I packed it in my checked luggage and wondered if it would be taken out. When I got home I was happy to see that it made the trip back safely. In the end I never got to eat it. After forgetting about it for a while, by the time I opened it up, it had turned way too hard to eat.

Has anyone else ever brought home items from this list with or without a problem? If so, please share in the comments below.

Check out the full Budget Travel article which gives info about each item from the list HERE.

8 thoughts on “Budget Travel: You’ll Never Get These 10 Items Through Customs

  1. You can try to bring/sneak in anything, but if you have Global Entry and you are caught (i.e. you failed to declare it) you are banned from GE for life. My GE is worth more than taking the risk.

  2. Tbob- KinderEggs are cool but you can by those in the states! I like to bring back weird potato chips from foreign countries. I just brought two bags of pizza rings back from Albania. Bringing a turtle back is nuts. lol

    Ryan- Great story about the painting. Cuba is high on my list but I want to go there legally. Would love to hear your visit there!

  3. brought back a large oil painting from Cuba in 2009- approximately 3 ft x 5 ft that was painted by a local guy in Havana whom we met when we were traveling there (on an off-the-record trip through Mexico). We took it off the frame and rolled it into a large tube, but one of the main sources of stress was that the painting was of a very recognizable statue that sits in front of the the Cuban National Congress building- if we were stopped in US Customs, they would know that it wasn’t from Mexico but was in fact Cuban. We were never stopped, though, and now it hangs in our living room.

  4. Kinder eggs are fun to sneak in. Just say you are bringing in chocolate. Airport customs are worse than driving across the boarder. I have carried frozen meat without issue, even when I declared it. It’s a game, enjoy it and don’t fight them when they want to take something.

    Most fun I had was bringing back a live Desert turtle we found on a back road in Mexico. It’s a protected animal in America, but they’re everywhere in Mexico. Customs guy got upset that I had the turtle, told him he could confiscate it if he wanted to. The look on his face was great, he must have been thinking about the pile of paperwork that would need to be done. He told me that keep it, but don’t doubt it again. OK, I bring back all sorts of stuff, but very rarely is it taken. Stay away from guns and illegal drugs and you’ll be fine.

  5. I have brought back several items from this list (mostly absinthe) and have not had a problem. I have several heavy-travelling friends who have had items taken and in their experience once you are caught with anything “bad” don’t try again you will get searched every time. There are scales of “bad” as well. Agri products are nowhere near as bad as the poor family that tried to bring a persian rug back. I have even seen people go through hell for (legal) Turkmen rugs as well. Cuban items are bad too as is cash.

  6. Number 9 is not true. You can bring more than $10.000 in cash (or equivalent, traveler’s checks also count, e.g.), you simply have to declare it.

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