Restricted Items

Many of the items restricted from entry into the United States are noted throughout this guide. However, you should contact your nearest U.S. consulate, embassy, or the U.S. Customs Service well before packing day to ensure you are aware of all restricted and prohibited items. In addition to the restrictions placed on such items as vehicles, weapons, liquor, medicine, animals, and plants, there are less-obvious subject to strict enforcement of U.S. laws.

Prohibited Items

Items prohibited from entry into the United States include the following:

  • Absinthe
  • Liquor-filled candy (where prohibited by state law)
  • Lottery tickets
  • Narcotics and dangerous drugs,
  • Obscene articles and publications
  • Seditious and treasonable materials
  • Hazardous articles (such as fireworks, dangerous toys, and toxic or poisonous substances)
  • Switchblade knives (with the exception of those carried by one-armed persons for personal use)

People attempting to import any prohibited items into the U.S. will be subject to a personal penalty, and the items will be seized.

Wildlife Products

The U.S. also prohibits the importation of certain wildlife products, including ivory products (except antiques at least 100 years old), sea turtle products (including tortoiseshell items), and items made from endangered or threatened animals such as cheetahs, jaguars, and tigers.

Other wildlife products, including those from various marine mammals, may not be imported in most instances except by special permit from either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The U.S. and more than 130 other countries have signed CITES, a comprehensive wildlife treaty regulating the import or export of endangered and threatened plant and animal species. It is important that you determine any U.S. guidelines governing the importation of products made from endangered or threatened wildlife well in advance of your departure. Although items made from these animals might be on sale in many countries, they may not be permitted into the U.S.

Further, individual U.S. states may have further restrictions or prohibitions. Therefore, you should contact the department governing wildlife in your destination state, also. Items that may be allowed under federal law could be prohibited by your destination state.

Restricted Items

Other items are not prohibited outright, but they may be subject to restrictions.  Restricted items include the following.

Biological materials

Any type of organism used for education or research must be accompanied by an import permit, typically issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Latin American cultural property

Some Latin American countries require that an export certificate accompany any pre-Columbian artifacts shipped directly or indirectly to the United States. The U.S. Customs Service enforces this requirement.

“Pirated" copies of copyrighted books

This restriction includes any unauthorized copies of American books. The practice of producing photo-offset copies and selling the books at enormously reduced rates is common in the Far East.

Merchandise originating in certain countries

This restriction includes items from the following countries: Angola, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar (formerly Burma), North Korea, Sudan, the territory of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, and the former Yugoslavia.

A U.S. Treasury license issued under the Foreign Assets Control Regulations might be required in order to import certain or all goods (including motor vehicles) from any of the above-mentioned countries, with the exception of informational materials. However, such licenses rarely are granted.

Questions regarding merchandise control should be addressed to:

Office of Foreign Assets Control
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20220, U.S.A
Phone: (202) 622-2500
Fax: (202) 622-1657
Hotline: (202) 622-0077

The list of countries is subject to change at any time. The Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains an up-to-date list online.


You must file Customs Form 4790 with U.S. Customs if you transport or send into or out of the country more than $10,000 in U.S. or foreign coins, currency, traveler's checks, money orders, negotiables, or investment securities.

Persian rugs

Unless you can prove they were purchased legally in the United States, your Persian rugs are prohibited and will be seized. Contact a U.S. Customs office before including such a rug in your shipment.

Trademarked items

The U.S. Customs Service is authorized to identify imitation products represented by a registered trademark. The items most frequently identified as having false trademarks are perfume, jewelry (including watches), cameras, tape recorders, and musical instruments. People entering the United States are permitted to bring only a certain number of trademarked items, as set by the trademark holders, into the country every 30 days.

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