It’s hard enough remembering to re-pack all the essentials when your trip is over. But did you know that bringing back the wrong things could actually spell BIG trouble? Unfortunately, many travelers are unaware they may be packing items that could lead to major issues—not just when they get back to the U.S, but also in their host countries. Don’t be one of them! Read our list of four items to never bring back, as well as ways to save time, hassle (and potential incarceration!) by ensuring everything in your luggage is safe to take home.
- Illegal Items: First and foremost, make sure any souvenirs, antiques or other items are legal to purchase and/or take out of the country. This can be especially important when shopping at flea markets and when purchasing antiquities. For example, you cannot bring ivory into the United States unless it’s over 100 years old and you have the documentation to prove it. This also applies to any antiques containing animal parts. And did you know it’s illegal to buy, sell or export antiquities from Turkey? That vase you found at a flea market could land you in jail if you unwittingly purchase an antiquity. And, what’s legal in one country may cause you problems in the next. Items like counterfeit designer handbags or watches may be legal in Europe or Asia, but are not allowed to be carried into the United States. Border security agents do not take the law lightly, and attempting to bring forbidden items home could get your arrested, fined and/or thrown in jail. If you’re traveling between countries on an extended trip, make sure you know the regulations for each specific country as each country has individual laws regarding what is and isn’t allowed.
- Unwanted Friends: Opening up your suitcase to find anything other than your belongings can be downright frightening. Crabs, scorpions, mice, mosquitos and cockroaches can sneak into small spaces like your luggage or an airplane cargo hold and stay tucked away until you reach home. Make sure to give all of your belongings a thorough check before packing up and when you get home. In addition, you should be extra cautious of bed bugs. Researching your hotel and reading reviews are ways to help ensure you’re sleeping in a clean room. Make sure you understand how to check for bed bugs in your hotel room so you can avoid these little pests before they can make a trip home with you.
- Living Things: It may be tempting to try to take a new pet home with you, but this is highly illegal. Regardless of whether you purchase the animal legally in another country or try to sneak it across country borders, be prepared to be slapped with some hefty fines. Additionally, you could be harming the animal by taking it out of its natural habitat. Bringing coral and shells into the US from foreign soil is also against the law. Some common plants require a permit to transport into the U.S., and some are forbidden entirely. Plants can carry diseases, pests and illnesses that could threaten our environment or human health. Check with the Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service before packing any flora or fauna.
- Food and Medication: Unless you’re planning to eat a snack on the plane, you should be extra cautious of any food or drink items you decide to bring home. Typically anything Border Patrol can declare consumable will be confiscated due to the risk of spreading illness. It may sound like a great idea to bring home some fresh food or authentic items for your next meal, but they most likely won’t make it past security. Some of the well-known offenses are cheese, meats and herbs. Also be cautious of returning with any medication you may have gotten abroad. Whether prescribed or purchased at a drug store, it’s most likely not allowed to be carried into the United States. It’s better to research what’s permitted instead of taking a guess.
Important note: It should go without saying, but when you receive your declaration form on the flight home, it’s important to document all your items. Don’t attempt to sneak something back or assume border security won’t find it if you don’t write it down. Leaving items out can result in a sizeable fine and could also leave you stuck in the airport for several hours or, worse, stuck in jail. When in doubt, it’s safer to leave it behind or be honest with a security agent.