Customs Restrictions on Bringing Items into the United States

Posted by Chris Morales on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 @ 08:00 AM

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While everyone who travels internationally has had experience filling out customs declaration forms when reentering the United States, most people have very little knowledge of what they are and are not actually allowed to bring into the country and how steep the penalties can be for even an innocent or unwitting mistake. 

Are you aware that carrying fruits and vegetables in your luggage or carry-on can subject you to hundreds of dollars in fines? For many animal-based products, it’s even more.  Simple possession of any item containing cat or dog fur as you enter the country, to take just one example, commonly carries a fine of $3,000 to $10,000.

Some medications, too, that are legal to possess in the U.S., such as Rohypnol and GHB, are illegal to bring into the country, and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) web site itself asserts that “there are severe penalties for trying to do so.” Even those medications for which travelers may have a valid prescription are generally not allowed to be carried into the US if they were purchased abroad.

Before you travel across the border, therefore, you may want to consult a San Francisco white collar criminal lawyer if you have any questions at all about the legality of items you may be considering bringing back with you.

Some items that may be perfectly legal to carry in and out of the country may still be subject to regulations limiting the amounts of these products or belongings you can have with you or require you to obtain a permit in advance. You may, for instance, bring in as many clothes and textiles as you want for your own personal use.  Beyond that, however, you have to pay a customs duty.

While bringing plants into the country is generally legal, they must always be declared and presented for inspection to a CPB officer.  And bringing in soil of any kind is illegal without an import permit.

The country of origin of the items you want to bring into the U.S. with you may also affect the legality of their import.  Gold and articles made of gold are generally acceptable to bring in unless they are from Cuba, Iran, Burma (Myanmar), and most of Sudan.

Failure to pay a required import duty can expose violators to very serious punishment.  In 2009, for example, the president of a California mushroom-importing company was sentenced to 13 months in prison plus a subsequent year of home detention, and his company was fined almost a million dollars, when he attempted to avoid paying the necessary customs duty on fresh mushrooms imported from Japan. 

Of course, penalties become even more severe for people who attempt to bring in items that are illegal to possess at all in the United States, including drugs, weapons, and endangered species of plants and animals, as well as stolen property of any kind.

The rules regarding the import of items from abroad when entering the United States are serious, and violating them can be very costly. San Francisco white collar criminal lawyer Christopher Morales can help you to prepare for your business and personal travels and ensure that your plans remain within the boundaries of the law.  And if you have been accused of violating a customs law, contact Christopher Morales or another qualified white collar criminal lawyer immediately before you pay a steeper price than you legally have to.