Avoid Losing your Italian Goodies to Customs

Your Italian adventure has come to an end and you managed to snatch up plenty of souvenirs along the way.  For American travelers, the moment after a long flight arrives when you must fill out your customs form to re-enter the USA. You hesitate on the “goods to declare” section, and you start to wonder things like, “Do I have too many bottles of wine?” and “Can I actually bring that hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano home?”

Here’s our quick guide for American travelers to keep in mind when packing your bags (and as usual, remember restrictions on liquids in your carry-ons).

First of all: Never lie on your customs form!  If they open your bag and see it’s full of non-declared goodies, they aren’t going to believe that you simply forgot to write them down, and fines for this can be pretty hefty (up to $10,000 in some cases). 

Some products, like meats or meat-containing products, cannot be brought in, period.  And others require paying duty, like tobacco products and alcohol, or paying fees if you are bringing back goods for resale.  So when they see surprise items in your bags, they assume you’re avoiding paying fees or taxes, and are obviously not happy about it. When in doubt, check out the customs language directly from the United States government.

What you CAN bring into the USA from Italy:

  • Olive Oil
  • Condiments – ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Marmite and Vegemite and prepared sauces that do not contain meat or dairy products.
  • Bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, granola bars, cereal and other baked and processed products. You can also bring back dried cake and cookie mixes.
  • Chocolate and candy
  • Cheese – Solid cheese (hard or semi-soft, not containing meat), butter, butter oil, and cultured milk products such as yogurt and sour cream. Feta cheese, Brie, Camembert, cheese in brine, Mozzarella and Buffalo Mozzarella are “permissible.” But keep in mind how perishable things of this nature are if you are taking these on such a long flight!
  • Canned or jarred goods (other than those containing meat or poultry products), think: olives, peppers, bruschetta spreads, sun-dried tomatoes, jams and jellies, etc.
  • Fish – “personal amounts” of fish, shrimp, abalone and other seafood are allowed and can be fresh, frozen, dried, smoked, canned or cooked.  I doubt any of you plan on sticking some swordfish in your luggage, but just in case, it turns out it’s ok to do!
  • Dried Fruit – a large variety of dried fruits are fine to bring home, including apricots, barberry, currants, dates, figs, gooseberries, peaches, prunes, and raisins.
  • Coffee and Tea, roasted or unroasted, bagged and ready to brew, all ok!
  • Spices – such as the bags of mixes you might by at one of Italy’s food markets, most dried spices are allowed except for orange, lemon, lime and other citrus leaves and seeds, or lemongrass.
  • Honey – locally made Italian honey is a great gift to bring back folks!
  • Pasta, Noodles – provided they do not contain meat
  • Rice – white rice, basmati rice, brown rice, husked rice, polished rice, rice flour. Only personal use amounts allowed, otherwise they will consider it for commercial use or sale.
  • Flour – wheat, rice, oat and cornmeal
  • Mushrooms – fresh or dried, must be free of any dirt!
  • Nuts – all nuts are ok, so go nuts!
  • Garlic – approved for vampire-phobic passengers to carry on plane or check in bags.

What you CANNOT bring into the USA, or is extremely restricted:

  • Fresh Fruits and Vegetables – You can search the Customs and Boarder Patrol database for specific fruits and vegetables that are allowed, but a lot of it is not allowed in checked or carry-on luggage.
  • Animal Products – CBP’s website says: “Meat, milk, egg, poultry, and their products, including products made with these materials, such as dried soup mix or bouillon, are either prohibited or restricted from entering the United States.”
  • Meat and Meat Containing Products- “Fresh (chilled or frozen), dried, cured, and fully cooked meat is generally prohibited from most countries” meaning no bringing home prosciutto, salumi, or Florentine steak, I’m afraid. “Canned meat is allowed entry, except beef, veal, lamb, mutton, venison, elk, bison, etc”….I’m not sure what other types of canned meat that leaves, but them’s the rules!

Restrictions on Alcohol (since many of us bring wine home from Italy):

  • Wine/Alcohol can be brought back to the USA only by passengers 21 or older (even if it’s a gift).  While there are no actual limits on the amount you can bring back for personal use, you might raise suspicion if you bring back A LOT (and by A LOT we mean more than a few cases), since they may suspect you intend to sell it. 
  • In general each passenger can bring in 1 liter of alcohol tax-free. Supposedly even alcohol purchased at the duty-free shops after airport security may be taxable past the 1 liter limit. These fees are all entirely dependent on the state you reside in and the folks at customs.

For more information, and all the necessary details not covered here, please take a look directly at the US Customs and Border Protection’s very informative FAQ page.