ESTA Travel - Prohibited items when entering the US

prohibited items entering us

Learn about restricted and prohibited items when visiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme

You may know, the Electronic Travel Authorisation System (ESTA), as part of the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), offers the convenience of visa-free travel to the United States. And its flexible 90-day limit for stays make it an easy choice for savvy travellers. But, do you know what items are restricted for import into the country? Perhaps you will be visiting your best mate from University and he is homesick for Cornish Pastries. Can you take some to him in Boston? This article will explain some restrictions on certain goods as well as about prohibited items to help you better plan for the gorgeous American adventure that approval of the ESTA and the VWP offers. 

It is the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency that oversees the laws that guide restrictions of items carried into the United States. These regulations are the same for all visitors, including UK citizens, traveling with ESTA approval for visa-free travel with a 90-day limit

The protocols for prohibited items are primarily for health and security. As stated on the CBP website (link) "The products CBP prevent from entering the United States are those that would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children, or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national interests..." The website also states that, "Examples of prohibited items are dangerous toys, cars that don't protect their occupants in a crash, bush meat, or illegal substances like absinthe and Rohypnol. Restricted means that special licenses or permits are required from a federal agency before the item is allowed to enter the United States. Examples of restricted items include firearms, certain fruits and vegetables, animal products, animal by products, and some animals." Read on for some examples.

List of commonly inquired about item restrictions

Limited import items and restricted items are those that are regulated by US Customs laws. Details of some of these restrictions are noted below to help you prepare for your ESTA-approved travel to the United States.

Alcohol and Wine – Whilst there are no federal limits on alcohol transported to the US for personal consumption, they are restrictions by agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that limits alcohol carried in to the country to 5 litres per person for that which is between 24 and 70% by volume (140 proof). Alcohol of more than 70% is prohibited as is Absinthe. Beer and wine which is generally below 24% is not restricted. So, that friend from University who will be waiting for that gift of The Kernal Pale Ale need not be disappointed. Do note that spirits as a liquid are restricted in quantity in hand luggage. Only those age 21 and older may bring alcohol into the country.

Food – Though many foods may be taken to the United States―Double Deckers, biscuits, Granny’s scones― there are several that cannot. Prohibited items include: Meats and foods containing meat, citrus including citrus seeds, and liquid foods such as milk and liquid cheeses, and raw nuts. Allowed are: Edibles including packaged spices (except citrus), water biscuits and sweets, dried fruits, roasted nuts, hard cheeses, tinned goods like kippers, hard chocolates, and dried teas. Infant formula and liquid milk for infants is permitted in small quantities. UK citizens travelling to the US with the VWP may bring food for personal consumption while aboard overseas flights from the UK. Note: All foods brought into the country must be declared. The penalty for failure to do so includes fine’s up to $10,000 US. 

Bringing prescribed medication into USMedications and Drugs – Medications prescribed by a chemist in the UK and those purchased OTC (Over The Counter) such as aspirin are, once in the US, under the authority of more than one agency including the CBP, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others. 
Prohibited: Rohypnol is prohibited in the United States and may not brought into the country even in the case of a passenger having a chemist’s prescription for it. Street drugs are illegal to transport in the US.
Restricted: It is advised that passengers from the UK bring prescribed and other medication in its original packaging with any instructions by a prescribing physician clearly printed on the label or in the packaging. All medication, whether name brand or generic, is required to be approved by the FDA for import. To avoid any inconvenience with necessary prescription medication needing refills during your time in the US, it is advised that foreign travellers carry a supply for the entire length of stay up to the 90-day limit in the US. 

Plants, Soil, Seeds – Plants, including fruits and vegetables brought into the USA are approved or prohibited on a case-by-case basis; travellers need check status with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Many vegetable and fruit seeds, and all soils are prohibited.

Tobacco Products – For travellers (age 21 and older) visiting the US with ESTA, tobacco products for personal use are generally permitted. Such tobacco products include cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and cigars. Quantities are to be only that for personal consumption.

Automobiles – Cars being imported into the United States are subject to strict control for safety and emissions. However, in the rare case of cars for personal use brought into the US for less than one year, they are exempt from many of those regulations.

Firearms – Firearms are heavily restricted. For details it is wise to contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Animals – Dogs and cats being brought into the US with ESTA-approved UK travellers are required to be healthy. For dogs, it is important to note that the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) mandates that all dogs arriving in the country from the UK must be in good health and have been inoculated against rabies. Airlines have their own individual protocols for traveling with pets, including policies on brachycephalic breeds of dogs and cats (Bull Dogs, Pugs, Persians, Scottish Folds, etc.) so it is important to enquire with the individual airline about their restrictions and policies. For domestic cats the requirement is that they appear to be in good health. Vaccination and rabies requirements for cats are set by local municipalities.

Biological Materials for Research and Pharmaceutical Use –  All biological materials being brought into the US must be declared in accordance with CBP (US Customs and Border Protection) regulations.

Prohibited items based on origin – Items from US-sanctioned countries including Syria, Sudan, and Iran are prohibited. 
Quick list of some prohibited items
•    Alcohol of more than 70% by volume
•    Bidis/Beedi cigarettes
•    Clothing that contains any fur from felines or canines
•    Beef, Pork, Poultry - fresh, dried, tinned
•    Ivory Products
•    Narcotics such as GHB, Fen-phen, and Propynyl
•    Citrus. Restrictions exist for most other fruits and vegetables

An approved ESTA USA is the most convenient solution for travel abroad to the United States. With its flexible 90-day limit for stays you can plan great American adventures or time with family in the country. Understanding the laws for restricted and prohibited items for import will ensure you know if you can bring your Mum’s scones to your sister living in Arizona (YES!) or that Bacchus to your brother’s intimate destination wedding (Also yes!) To learn more about restricted goods entering the US, visit the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.

More about the ESTA and the VWP

Is the ESTA process fast? Since the ESTA application is done and submitted online approval is quite expedited. So travellers visiting the US with the Visa Waiver Programme from the UK can begin planning for a grand American holiday. To learn about ESTA eligibility you can Learn all about ESTA here. For more VWP information and US travel articles, check out our ESTA travel blogs here.  Or, if you are ready to apply so you can start planning your long overdue hols, you can begin the authorisation process for USA travel on the ESTA application page now.  


Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.

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