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Relocating to the US

Further US Import Restrictions

A move to the US, or anywhere abroad for that matter, comes with numerous things to do and heaps of paperwork to fill out. When packing your bags, you especially need to keep US Customs regulations in mind! InterNations GO! tells you what’s important to know when importing belongings to the US.

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Food, Soil, Plants, and Seeds

When it comes to food, there are various import restrictions influenced by different factors such as disease and pest control. You cannot simply import all types of food. Some are generally prohibited; for others, it depends on the country you are from. US Customs and Border Protection is very strict when it comes to food import regulations, so if you are hoping to enrich the American cuisine with ingredients from home, make sure to find out beforehand what you can and cannot bring. Any prohibited types of food will be confiscated and thrown away at your port of entry.

Types of food you are allowed to bring to the US are for example:

  • Bakery items
  • Certain types of cheese
  • Candy

In general, most prepared or processed, packaged food should be safe to import. Meat products, however, are the proverbial exception to the rule. So do not try to take your favorite type of sausage or dried meat from home with you, as the import of every form of meat or meat product from a majority of countries is strictly prohibited.

The rules for importing fruits and vegetables are similar, since these could introduce plant diseases and pests. Therefore, it is advisable that you do not even try to import them. If you insist on bringing fresh veggies or fruits, you should contact US Customs and Border Protection to find out how to get a special permit. Food that is shipped to the US by vendors or companies also falls under special report requirements. This is one reason for why most businesses will not ship your food to the US.

When importing soil, plants or seeds, you also need to get a special permit. The importation of these items can cause epidemic outbreaks of plant diseases, which the US government is obviously trying to prevent. As is the case for “exotic” pets, certain endangered plants or seeds are further protected by special importation requirements or restrictions. You either cannot import them at all, or you have to jump through some bureaucratic hoops in order to get permission.

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Firearms and Ammunition

As you may already know, gun laws in the US are a lot looser than in many other countries and you can also import your own gun and ammunition. However, you may only do so through a licensed manufacturer, dealer or importer. Certain types of weaponry, such as automatic and semi-automatic guns, may be prohibited or require a special permit.

The best thing to do is to contact the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and find out what sort of weapons you are not allowed to bring. You can also register your gun and ammunition with US Customs and Border Protection to prevent future complications when returning home. That way, you can easily certify that you are returning with the same weapon(s) that you have originally brought to the US.

Other Restrictions

There are other import restrictions which are less obvious than those for fresh foods or firearms. When moving or returning to the US, keep in mind that seemingly ordinary items might fall under importation restrictions or could even be prohibited from import altogether. This is especially the case with items qualifying as cultural artifacts or cultural property. Most countries protect these items by law. If you try to take them abroad, you can run into serious trouble. If you still want to bring something that might fall into this category to the States, you have to provide sufficient documentation to US Customs, such as export permits or receipts.

Similar restrictions exist for merchandise from embargoed countries. You cannot import items from these countries unless you have special permission to do so and such permissions are rarely granted. Cuba, Sudan, Burma (Myanmar), North Korea and Iran currently belong to this category, but the same may apply to other countries. However, there are sometimes specific items exempt from an import ban and embargo programs are subject to change, so make sure to check the latest information on sanction programs on the website of the US Department of the Treasury.

And, last but not least, if you are planning on bringing your pet with you to the United States, you will also have to abide by a number of regulations. Our article on pets in the US tells you what to keep in mind and how to best prepare your pet’s move so it is as stress free as possible.

Updated on: December 06, 2018

All about the US

Understand the process of relocating to the US by reading our practical guide on moving to the US. We discuss the requirements you need to meet and the steps you need to take for your transition. From determining what visa you need to your first encounter with the US tax system, our guide covers all you need to know for a successful move.

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