travelling to the US
What travellers bring into the US is subject to the approval of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Have you secured a spot to study at an American university, along with your student visa? Well done! Your next course of action would be deciding what to pack before travelling to the US or risk getting into trouble with US customs.

It helps to familiarise yourself with prohibited and restricted items in the country. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) notes that prohibited means the item is forbidden by law to enter the US, whereas restricted means that special licenses or permits are required from a federal agency before the item is allowed to enter the country.

This makes it essential that you make the necessary declarations when filling in the CBP Declaration Form 6059B. This form must be filled in correctly, as it provides CBP with basic information about who you are and what you are bringing into the country.

Failing to disclose items upon entry into the US could result in you forfeiting your undisclosed merchandise. More serious repercussions could include fines and criminal charges.

With that being said, here are five items you should either declare or avoid bringing into the US.

Travelling to the US: Items to be careful about

Ceramic tableware

While not prohibited or restricted as long as you have it inspected on arrival, bringing ceramic tableware into the US can be a hassle. The FDA advises you to get your ceramic tableware tested for lead release or to use it for decorative purposes if they have been purchased abroad, especially from countries such as Mexico, China, Hong Kong, or India.

Tableware made in foreign countries may contain dangerous levels of lead in the glaze, which can seep into food and beverages.

travelling to the US

Travellers are recommended to get prior authorisation from the CBF or check the permits section of the USDA-APHIS website to see the approved list of items which need a permit. Source: Ina Fassbender/AFP

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Did you know that fresh fruits and vegetables can introduce plant pests or diseases into the country you’re travelling to? In the 1980s, the Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak cost the state of California and the federal government approximately 100 million US dollars to get rid of this pest.

The cause of the outbreak? One traveller who brought home one contaminated piece of fruit.

CBP notes that your ability to bring in fresh fruits and vegetables would depend on several factors, including where you got it and where you are going after you arrive in the US.

They add that it is best not to bring fresh fruits or vegetables into the country. If you must, contact either CBP or check the Permits section on the USDA-APHIS Web site for a general approved list of items that need a permit.

Plants and seeds

Some plants, cuttings, and seeds may require import permits, export permits, or are prohibited entirely.

Every single plant or plant product, including handicraft items made with straw, must be declared and presented for inspection to the CBP officer, no matter how free of pests it may seem to be. For more information on importing plants or plant products, visit this page.

Alcoholic beverages

The amount of alcohol you are allowed to bring when travelling to the US depends on the laws of the state in which you first arrive and whether you need a license.

Contact the state’s applicable alcoholic beverage control board if you are unsure of the amount or conditions of the alcoholic beverages you plan to bring in.

travelling to the US

Certain medications which contain a high potential of abuse may not be brought into the US. Source: Andy Buchanan/AFP

Certain medications

When you’re travelling to the US, take the medicines you will need, no more, no less, notes CBP. Only medications that can be legally prescribed in the US may be imported for personal use, while some substances may violate state laws.

CBP adds that narcotics and drugs with a high potential for abuse — including Rohypnol, GHB and Fen-Phen — may not be brought into the US, and there are severe penalties for trying to do so.

If you need medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics, such as some cough medicines, sleeping pills, and antidepressants, click here for details.

Additional information about travelling with and importing medication can be found on the FDA’s Drugs page.

If you are unsure of what you can and cannot bring into the US, contact the CBP.