ESTA Travel Blogs

03 Mar

Prohibited items upon entering the United States

customs declaration form

ESTA Travel - Learn about restricted and prohibited items when entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program


Planning a holiday or business trip to the United States with the approval of the ESTA USA is exciting. There are countless American cities to be explored, rural areas filled with gorgeous nature, awing mountain ranges with snowy peaks and verdant valleys, miles of gorgeous beaches on both coasts and the unique American culture that beckons international travelers from Europe and beyond. And travel in the US can be leisurely with the flexible 90-day limit, per trip, for the visa-free travel allowed with authorization of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This article will help you understand the US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) restricted and prohibited items when entering the United States form a foreign country under the VWP.

It is US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that enforces laws at airports on behalf of several agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The primary reason for items being designated as prohibited is safety. According to the CBP website, “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.” 

Some common items frequently asked about by international travelers with approval of ESTA USA as part of the Visa Waiver Program are listed below. 


Alcohol, beer and wine 

Alcohol may be brought into the country for personal consumption by VWP travelers. There are restrictions set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for quantities of alcohol. Permitted alcohol, includes that which is 24 to 70 percent by volume, or up to 140 proof, is allowed in quantities up to 5 liters per person. Beer and wine which are less than 24% alcohol by volume are both unrestricted. However, large quantities will be subject to import fees. Travelers with the USA ESTA visa, along with all other passengers, must be 21 years of age to legally bring alcohol into the US.


Food and edible gifts

Foods, both prepared and raw, include many that are restricted, prohibited and limited. The regulations for foods and edible gifts are set forth in order to protect the public health. As example, meats from many countries are prohibited due to disease and rice is prohibited due to the potential for insect contamination. All food must be chronicled on your customs declaration. Meats, including dried, canned and fresh are generally prohibited. All citrus is prohibited. Mostly allowed are items considered condiments, jars of olives, olive oil, honey, coffee and tea. Hard cheeses and breads are permitted. Cookies, cakes and candies are typically allowed. Spices are generally allowed, though dried citrus spices are not. Milk is prohibited, with an exception made for small amounts of milk or liquid formula for infants which is allowed, as is baby food.


Plants and seeds

Plants and seeds are heavily restricted. For details travelers should contact the US Department of Agriculture with specific inquiries. Please note that each plant or plant product including goods made from straw should be declared to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents upon arrival. 


ESTA USA Travelers! 

Check out the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) guidelines for Bringing Agricultural Products in the United States

Firearms and ammunition 

Firearms and any ammunition are highly restricted, regulated and/or prohibited for entry into the United States unless the carrier is law enforcement, hunting or sporting enthusiast, and has a permit issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF website states in part that, “All nonimmigrant aliens (with a few exceptions ) must obtain an import permit from ATF to temporarily import firearms and ammunition for hunting or other lawful sporting purposes.”



Medications brought into the United States are subject to regulations and restrictions overseen by the CBP agency. One important regulation is regarding labeling: any and all medications an authorized VWP traveler brings into the United States is required to be in its original packaging with the dosing instructions printed on the label. For drug labels printed in any languages other than English the passenger should travel with a copy of the prescription label translated into English. Aspirin, NSAIDs and other Over the Counter (OTC) medication, must also be in its original, labeled packaging. To avoid any confusion many travelers simply plan to purchase OTC medications as needed while in the USA.


Tobacco products, restriction on quantity

Generally, tobacco products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and cigars, excluding Cuban cigars, are permitted in quantities for personal consumption. Bidis however are prohibited.

Dog arriving at airport from VWP country


Bringing dogs and cats into the United States

Any companion canine and feline pets, including canine service animals must be in good health when they arrive in the USA. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has regulations including, for example, that dogs must have proof of rabies inoculation. However, any dogs arriving from countries deemed “rabies free” are not required to have proof of a rabies vaccine. Cats must appear to be in good health. It is important to research individual airlines’ pet policies to ensure you are compliant since airlines set their own guidelines and rules for traveling with dogs and cats. 


Prohibited merchandise based on country of origin

Prohibited items are primarily those from US-sanctioned countries. The United States at the time of this writing has sanctions prohibiting the import of any goods from Syria, Iran, Cuba, Myanmar, and most of Sudan. 

Now that you understand more about restricted and prohibited items when entering the United States, you can focus on planning your holiday or business travel. You know ESTA USA has a generous 90-day limit for visa-free travel but there is more to know about becoming authorized to travel in the United States with the VWP. Understand ESTA rules regarding allowed purposes for travel, ESTA eligibility, ESTA form security questions and more by visiting our ESTA Visa guide: Learn all about ESTA here

Other informational articles about the 90-day limit for ESTA travel, Automated Passport Control, and travel insurance can be found in our ESTA blog library. If you are ready to apply for ESTA today, you will need your E passport, a valid email address, and a credit/debit card for payment. To apply, you may proceed to the ESTA application page now.  (LINK)


Glimpse of prohibited and restricted items

  • Absinthe and Alcohol of more than 140 proof is prohibited
  • Propynyl and Narcotics
  • Produce; restricted
  • Sand, soil and minerals, except by advance USDA permit
  • Meat and Poultry
  • Any items containing dog or cat fur
  • Drug Paraphernalia (unless prescribed such as insulin pens)


Know before you go - prohibted and restricted items when entering the US

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has created a short video as in informational tool that is beneficial to any ESTA USA travelers visiting the United States.