A Savvy Gypsy Traveler Is In The Know About Travel Soveniers

Be aware of what to declare. A savvy gypsy traveler does their research. While you are traveling abroad, you may discover a “travel trinket” or a “bella sea shell”; beware of currently restricted and prohibited items. Although you may be aware of some prohibited items, consider items that may be overlooked.


Los Angeles Airport: Confiscated Items Found on http://smithsonianscience.org/



Prohibited and Restricted

The Following information is an exert from U.S.Customs and Border Protection. For current and complete laws and restrictions go to:

 U.S.Customs and Border Protection 


Seashells, sand, pebbles, driftwood for personal use

Can I bring seashells, sand, driftwood or other beach mementos into the U.S.?

Seashells are generally allowed into the U.S. if they are not taken from endangered or threatened species (CITES protected), and they are completely sanitized from the creatures that inhabited them, and any other agricultural material such as sand, clay, soil, etc.  A traveler may bring in a reasonable amount of seashells for personal use as a memento of their trip.  Large quantities of seashells being brought into the U.S. for the purposes of using them in crafting, landscaping, or for commercial use are prohibited.

Stones/Pebbles/Sand are generally acceptable in small quantities as long as the item does not present a threat to American agriculture and the harvesting of the item was not detrimental to the any species and/or the environment.

Driftwood is discouraged as pests may have inhabited the wood.  Also some wood is protected.  For example, both the Sonora desert and the Sea of Cortez are protected ecosystems, therefore, it is advised not to pick up mementos from these areas.  Be aware that just because the item is sold in a shop does not make it legal to own – possession of a protected item can subject you to state and/or federal prosecution

All these items must be declared upon arrival to the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, on the arrival declaration form.

Contact the Fish and Wildlife Service on whether the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) requires an import permit to bring these items into the U.S.  See CITES Website.  It is recommended that individuals check with the proper foreign government authorities to determine if there are any restrictions under that country’s laws pertaining to the exportation of seashells, etc. The U.S. importer can find contact information for proper foreign government authorities at:http://www.cites.org/cms/index.php/lang-en/component/ncd.

Updated 07/26/2013 03:23 PM


You may need a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit and/or a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention permit to import biological specimens including bacterial cultures, culture medium, excretions, fungi, arthropods, mollusks, tissues of livestock, birds, plants, viruses, or vectors for research, biological or pharmaceutical use. Permit requirements are located under “Permits” on the USDA Web site and CDC permit information can be found on the Etiologic Agent Import Permit Program page.

Ceramic Tableware

Although ceramic tableware is not prohibited or restricted, you should know that such tableware made in foreign countries may contain dangerous levels of lead in the glaze, which can seep into foods and beverages. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that if you buy ceramic tableware abroad – especially in Mexico, China, Hong Kong or India – you have it tested for lead release when you return, or use it for decorative purposes only.

Cuban-made ProductsThere is a total ban on the importation into the United States of Cuban-origin cigars and other Cuban-origin tobacco products. This prohibition extends to such products acquired in Cuba, irrespective of whether a traveler is licensed by Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) to engage in Cuba travel-related transactions, and to such products acquired in third countries by any U.S. Traveler, including purchases at duty-free shops. Contrary to what many people may believe, it is illegal for travelers to bring into the United States Cuban cigars acquired in third countries, such as Canada, United Kingdom, or Mexico.

Importation of Cuban-origin cigars and other Cuban-origin tobacco products is prohibited whether the goods are purchased by the importer or given to the importer as a gift. Similarly, the import ban extends to Cuban-origin cigars and other Cuban-origin tobacco products offered for sale over the Internet or through a catalog.

It is also illegal for U.S. persons to buy, sell, trade, or otherwise engage in transactions involving illegally-imported Cuban cigars. The penalties for doing so include, in addition to confiscation of the cigars, civil fines of up to $55,000 per violation and in appropriate cases, criminal prosecution which may result in higher fines and/or imprisonment.

These prohibitions are applicable to all goods of Cuban origin and are an important element of the comprehensive program of economic sanctions against the Cuban Government which have been in place since 1963. Those sanctions have had the support of the last seven Administrations.

The U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), administers the embargo of Cuba. Suspected embargo violations may be reported telephonically to OFAC Enforcement Division at (202) 622-2430 or via facsimile at (202) 622-1657.

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