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    Bringing agricultural products into the United States

    International travelers should be aware of all the rules and regulations associated with purchasing items at their destination and bringing them home to the US. When returning with items purchased abroad, they should know about any restrictions associated with the items they want to bring back. This is especially true when bringing agricultural products into the United States.

    The US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, regulates certain items brought in from outside the country. The governmental agency prohibits those items that may harbor animal diseases and plant pests. It does this to preserve the environment by protecting livestock and crops native to America. Introducing foreign diseases to plant and animal life here can have a devastating effect on the nation’s ecosystem.

    Upon entering the US, all travelers must declare any plants, seeds, soil, vegetables, fruits, animals, meats, and any animal or plant products. This includes all items stored in a vehicle, in carry-on bags, or in checked luggage. Agents working for the US Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, will examine all agricultural items at all ports of entry to make sure none of the items are on the restricted or prohibited list.

    CBP agents will confiscate and discard any prohibited items in your possession. Failing to declare these prohibited items can cost you a maximum fine of $1,000 for a first offense for a small quantity. Fines can be much higher if the CBP determines the items were intended for resale in the US.

    Some plants, vegetables, and fruits are allowed entry without asking for permission in advance. These items must be declared and inspected. Travelers must file a phytosanitary certificate in advance for some plants and any plant parts brought back with the intent to grow.

    If you spent any time around livestock or visited a farm, you should also declare agricultural items. Do this by answering “Yes” to question number 11 on the CBP declaration form. This will alert the agent to check your luggage, shoes, and clothing for contaminated soil.

    Due to the threat posed by mad cow, foot-and-mouth, and other animal diseases, many meats are prohibited entry as well as meat byproducts. These regulations change frequently, so travelers should contact the agricultural office or consulate in the originating country to receive updated information about restrictions.

    Regulations governing bringing live birds and animals into the country vary widely according to the animal’s origin and its species. These animals are subject to various inspection, permit, quarantine, and certification rules. The departments of agriculture in some states may have their own rules about certain animals and birds.

    Regulations change frequently, so travelers are urged to keep up on the latest restrictions. Regardless of whether an item is permitted across the border, travelers must declare anything they bring from abroad and present it for inspection at the entry point. Knowing the laws and restrictions ahead of time can help ensure that you have a pleasant trip with as few delays as possible. You can also avoid having to pay hefty fines if you follow the rules.

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