Do Your Homework Before Going On Vacation Or Customs Will Seize Your Goat

Customs seizes 4,300 items each day from unsuspecting travelers, so read up on their regulations before jaunting off on vacation or they’ll seize your tasty goat when you return. Customs regulations aren’t as arbitrary as they seem, but they can’t be deciphered by common sense alone.

They’re concerned with protecting the U.S. food supply. Contaminated meat can put U.S. livestock at risk of mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, swine fever, avian flu and other illnesses that can enter the food supply through garbage feeding and other means. Plants may harbor pests that could decimate whole crops.

So the regulations are based on the disease conditions in the country the product is from. Beef in any form is not allowed from Europe, Oman or Israel, all classified as areas with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. Canned beef bulgogi from Korea, however, is fine. Korea is classified as free of mad cow.

Spain and Italy are recognized as countries with swine disease, so in general no ham because curing methods don’t always kill the disease. Parts of France have been designated as bird flu zones, so no foie gras.

So what does this mean for you?

Fungus routed from the ground by pigs in France? Load up. Basil plant from your grandmother’s garden in Italy? Pack it up (just shake off the soil)! Kangaroo jerky from Australia? Bon appetit.

But don’t even think about canned corned beef from Dublin or smoky, Spanish chorizo. And foie gras, even cooked and canned? At your peril.

In general, baked goods, candy and chocolate are all fine to bring into the U.S. Condiments — oil, vinegar, mustard, pickles, syrups, honey, jelly — also fine.

Cheese is trickier, with hard varieties such as Parmesan and cheddar allowed, but soft, fresh or runny varieties, such as Brie, burrata and ricotta — big no-nos.

Fruits and vegetables generally are prohibited or require special certificates, unless you can prove they were grown in and came directly from Canada. Except potatoes. No Canadian potatoes, which have suffered disease outbreaks.

Fresh meat generally is forbidden. No steaks, no chops, no sausage. Unless it comes from New Zealand. Or is a wild bison. From Canada. That you killed yourself (keep your hunting permit with your passport.)

Cured meats — that’s your Serrano, Parma and Iberico hams, plus Hungarian salami and other delicacies — are almost always forbidden. Unless they come from particular, preapproved production facilities.

Check with customs before leaving so your potential contraband doesn’t earn you a strict talking-to from concerned customs agents. The only thing you can know for certain is that the agents won’t be shocked by whatever you’re trying to bring back.

For Maurine Bell, port veterinarian at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport during the 1990s, that would be the whole goat she once found stuffed in a passenger’s luggage.

“The gentleman was from Greece and he was bringing it in for his daughter’s wedding,” she says. “We took the goat. And the suitcase, too.”

Think twice before stuffing your suitcase with prosciutto [USA Today]
Know Before You Go – Regulations for U.S. Residents (PDF) [U.S. Customs and Border Protection]
(Photo: dizznbonn)


Edit Your Comment

  1. azntg says:

    Just as complex as tax laws. Thanks for looking out for us Customs!

    I think it’s A-OK that you’re letting the domestic business screw us over but not international businesses. Lovely irony.

  2. They will not seize 4300 items a year- rather 4300 items per day… a BIG difference
    Quite shocking actually

  3. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Customs Cat Sez…

    i’m in yur luggage

    attractin’ yur fines and penaltiez

  4. @triscuitbiscuit:

    Wouldnt call it shocking …just shows how easy and cheap international travel became in the last decades.

  5. humphrmi says:

    Rule of thumb – don’t bring any food back. Stick to Cuban cigars. ;-)

  6. What?? No picture of a goat??

  7. @humphrmi: Or medication for goat. Bahhhh, goat. He loves that goat.

  8. on the other hand is welcome with open arms

  9. says:

    We leave our goat (mule photo URL) at home. She has no use for travel and is “lucky live Kauai.”

    US important regulations are relatively simple and straightforward. Australia on the other hand last year started scanning all in incoming luggage and is quite odd about food items permitted.

    Aloha, Jeff

  10. mijo_sq says:

    meh…i was caught 3 times bringing “contraband” over here.

    1. beef jerky from a duty free store in an airport
    2. meat dumplings from my wife’s grandfather. (i forgot to eat it on the plane.)
    3. a cake that had egg yolk inside.
    it was all listed on my passport when i entered into the US. i got fined 300 us for the 3rd time….what a waste of…food.

  11. B says:

    How do you fit a goat in your luggage?
    Was it a carry-on goat, or did he check it?

  12. Trai_Dep says:

    Pet goats, or 20′ high Siamese bug-eyed cats that will eat your family for dinner (pictured).

  13. Trai_Dep says:

    @B: Actually, the pet goat was hanging midair on the front of the man’s body. And he wasn’t using his hands.

  14. Jevia says:

    Just out of curiosity, how would they know if the item is in your suitcase, but you don’t declare it? Do they randomly ask people to open their suitcases and search?

  15. stopNgoBeau says:

    What about chickens from Kazakhstan?

  16. chartrule says:


    if you want a cuban cigar just come to Canada – Cuban cigars are legal here

  17. Ghede says:

    Oh dear lord! I had better finish that essay before my trip to barbados, or they might take my goat!

    That is the first thing that came to mind. I don’t own a goat yet, but I assumed I would own one by the time of my trip. They do make good cheese, Although I don’t know if it would be worth the smell.

  18. Parting says:

    @Jevia: They do random checks. Plus, they have food-sniffing dogs.

  19. stopNgoBeau says:

    @chartrule: It is legal to buy them in Canada, but it is illegal for a US Citizen to do that, even in Canada. Gov Arnold S. almost got in trouble for that. He purchased a cigar in Canada that was Cuban. He could have been prosecuted upon arrival in the US. It’s a rarely used law, but it does exist.

    I’m going to Mexico in a few week, and though about the best way to get some Cubans back across the boarder.

  20. Parting says:

    @Ghede: They’ve said in the luggage. So the goat must be dead by that time.

    While working in the airport, I’ve seen some nasty, nasty things. Like ”fresh” meat that stayed in the luggage for several hours. Worms ridden fish. Different organs from several animals. That kind of stayed in the luggage for ages. Also, giant cockroaches deserve a special mention. Running away from a suitcase. In different directions. Towards you. Urgh!

  21. Parting says:

    @stopNgoBeau: It’s a very stupid law, that mainly penalize everyday Cubans, since thei economy mainly relies on export and tourism.

    There a lot of countries much, much worse in the world. And USA doesn’t embargo them.

  22. Parting says:

    @Redwraithvienna: Also it proves how egoistical and dumb people are. ”Oh! It’s just an apple. Oh! It’s just some jerky beef.” Unless you got eyes equal to a microscope, you don’t know if there a bug/sickness on your food. And most of the stuff that destroys plants, is pretty harmless to humans. However, you can ruin a part of your country’s economy and end up responsible for several lost jobs. And you won’t even know it.

    Food that is forbidden, it’s due to known threats. And the list is constantly changes, because of different outbreaks around the globe. So just call your customs before planning to bring food/plant/meat from your trip.

  23. timmus says:

    Plus, they have food-sniffing dogs.

    Yep, I’ve got one of those… though it mainly focuses on roast beef and bacon.

  24. Buran says:

    @stopNgoBeau: And here I thought we were big on respecting the sovereignty of other nations. If the law elsewhere says it’s OK, it’s OK.

    But I guess it’s yet another “do as I say, not as I do” thing.

  25. Buran says:

    @Victo: That’s what I don’t get. We supposedly embargo them because we don’t like their Communist government.

    Ye we give China most-favored-nation status!? They’re far worse!

  26. Valhawk says:

    @Buran: I suppose because Cuba’s economic contribution to the US bottom line is negligible. Plus, as of yet China has not almost nuked us.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate the PRC as much, quite likely more than the next man, but US Government Policies are shaped by wider Geopolitical and Historical forces than our dislike for the neighborhood Fascists(Cuba is barely more Communist than the PRC which is not communist at all, so the PRC is just a brutal dictatorship with limited state ownership aka Fascism).

  27. Ragman says:

    “Plus, they have food-sniffing dogs.”

    Hey, at least they ain’t crotch-sniffing dogs. I don’t know what goes on during the body-cavity searches, however.

  28. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I think laptops and ipods are missing from that list. I’m sure a lot of the stuff they confiscate winds up “disappearing” or magically appears on ebay.

  29. Ragman says:

    @Buran: Yeah, but did China train terrorists? Fidel ran terrorist training camps with the Soviets back in the day.

  30. not_kosher says:

    Hopefully you learned your lesson. As innocent as your dumplings and cake seem to you, they do present a real danger if they are contaminated with germs or diseases not present (as of yet) in the US.

  31. woot says:

    The main problem with Cuba is quite specific: they illegally seized (i.e. stole) $20 billion worth of U.S. assets. They need to clear that stuff up before things can go back to normal.


  32. jetmore says:

    What’s also ironic about the goat is that he was coming to Chicago–there are numerous butchers here where you can buy *fresh* goat. They advertise it.

  33. jamar0303 says:

    BTW- something new is Customs taking to seizing people’s laptops arbitrarily. This is why I’m bringing an old, beat-up one when I travel; I am not risking the loss of a $2000 laptop (I haven’t heard of any compensation plan from them yet).

  34. Snakeophelia says:

    Australia on the other hand last year started scanning all in incoming luggage and is quite odd about food items permitted.

    If by “odd” you mean “none,” then..yeah. I traveled to Melbourne earlier this year, and the customs officials were unhappy with the fact that we had prepackaged treats from the LA airport. They barely let my friend through with her 100-calorie chocolate packs.

    But from what I could tell, anyone who was Asian was having their luggage checked very thoroughly and ALL their food was being tossed, even if it was just packaged Ramen noodles.

  35. ConsumptionJunkie says:
  36. P_Smith says:

    The basic rule for every country is, anything with potentially active (living) contents is banned. Things with inactive contents are usually (but not always) allowed.

    Myself, the onlythings I usually take country to country are things that I “can’t live without” and are not available in my destination. You can’t bring back a meat dinner from another country, but there’s nothing to stop you from carrying dried spices in volume and trying to make it yourself when you get home.

  37. P_Smith says:

    @woot: The main problem with Cuba is quite specific: they illegally seized (i.e. stole) $20 billion worth of U.S. assets. They need to clear that stuff up before things can go back to normal.

    You sound like US basketball fans who still whine about the 1972 Olympics.

    Get over it.

    The US has no business asking other countries to “repay” when the US has never made financial compensation to its own people for wrongs done – Chinese, Japanese, Blacks, and Native Americans.

    After paying those people, the US can start repaying the damages US foreign policy has caused IN other countries – Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, Grenada, Greece, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc., about 40 countries in all.

    Clean up your own house and pay back what it owes before telling others what to do. Otherwise, stop asking.

  38. Astos says:

    Interesting article but what does a picture of a cute Siamese have to do with customs regulations on the import of food?

    Is the cat running short of food or is it the food?

    Astos Green lasers rulz

  39. Astos says:

    This is an interesting article but what does the picture of a cute Siamese have to do with the import and regulation of food?

    Is the food for the cat or is the cat the food?

    Astos Green lasers rulz

  40. Gordon2 says:

    When I came back from Scotland a year ago, I had some canned haggis. The customs folks got very upset about the “Royal” haggis; it contains venison. I never even thought about it, but I had listed “food” on the declaration, and the scanner picked up the cans.

    There was no problem with the haggis that didn’t have any meat in it.

  41. milk says:

    I fought with a customs agent over a glass pipe I bought in Jamaica. He wanted to know which of us (myself, boyfriend, cousin) smoked. I continually denied that any of us smoked because it’s honestly true. It was just so cute (shaped like a seal) I had to get it. I got upset because I have anger problems…

    Officer Sweet (really, that was his name): “No, it’s okay. You could
    tell me you smoked eight pounds of weed and did four kilos of coke out
    there, and it’d be okay.”

    me: “Drugs are illegal in Jamaica, too, dumb ass. I’m not a f*ing
    idiot. I can see my f*ing inhaler from here. Don’t you see it? I
    have f*ing asthma. I can’t smoke.” He just stared at me for a while
    and I said really cold, “You’re part of what’s wrong with America.
    You’re persecuting me for doing nothing wrong purely on stereotype. [I have facial piercings and at the time unnaturally bright red hair.] Is
    torture next?” After that he let me go.