Heading home? Be careful what you pack
By Mark Abramson, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Saturday, November 15, 2008

That holiday gift from Europe for mom and dad in the States could cost you big bucks and even jail time if it isn’t declared and it doesn’t conform to U.S. customs laws.

The biggest "don’t" as far as bringing or mailing goodies to the United States is transporting meat products, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said.

"The biggest problem is, everybody wants to bring home sausage from Germany," said Janice Mosher, director of the U.S. Customs customer service center in Washington, D.C. "Because the disease conditions of animals changes so frequently, we just advise people to avoid bringing home meat products."

Bringing a banned food item into the States without declaring it is a minimum $300 fine, and if it is done deliberately, it could result in a $5,000 fine and a year in jail, Customs officials warn.

"Anybody can be inspected at any time (when they arrive in the United States)," Mosher said.

Don’t try to sneak scores of Gucci knockoff bags or anything else that imitates the real thing by customs officials or mail them to the United States, Mosher advises. Travelers can bring back one of every type of item, like a wallet they bought overseas, a handbag and other products, plus their own personal clothes and goods.

"We recognize that travelers aren’t experts in recognizing knockoffs, so in our minds a single purchase is an innocent transgression," Mosher said. "Anything you bought overseas has to be declared. Anything that you acquired during your travels should be declared."

If a U.S. citizen is coming back to United States temporarily, he or she could bring back things for personal use, but each person can bring back only up to $100 worth of gifts, Mosher said.

Another product banned from the States are Kinder Surprise Eggs stuffed with a plastic shell wrapped around a toy, said Robert Szostek, a Customs and border clearance spokesman in Europe.

U.S. consumer protection laws ban products that have non-nutritive items (toys) inside the candy shell.

That fancy European-made Nativity scene to decorate the front lawn could be confiscated as well if it is built out of straw, moss, bark or something else that pests and insects can lurk in, Szostek said. Nativity scenes built with stripped wood, plastic or commercially cleaned and lacquered straw are OK to ship to the States.

Other examples of banned items include Italian Parma ham, Spanish chorizo, French pate, Cuban cigars and Cuban rum. Some wildlife products, such as ivory pieces that are not registered with U.S. Customs, are also prohibited.

According to U.S. Customs, travelers 21 and older, however, can bring home one liter of duty-free liquor, and federal taxes and duties are low enough that it could be worth it to exceed that one liter.

For more information about U.S. Customs laws go to http://www.customs.gov/xp/cgov/trave...ing/restricted.