Customs shopping for the holidays

Robert Szostek
U.S. European Command

MANNHEIM, Germany – Some people have a way of buying the wrong gifts. While this is usually a matter of taste, many items available in Europe that seem like good Christmas presents violate U.S. customs rules. Some products are banned from the United States, and others may be carried in baggage but not mailed. Violations of customs, agriculture or postal regulations can lead to hefty fines and confiscation of the goods.
Meat and meat products are the biggest problem.

“European delicacies like French pâté, German wurst, Spanish chorizo salami and Italian Parma ham are here for the buying and much sought-after in the States,” said William Manning, Department of Agriculture attaché to the U.S. European Command. “Unfortunately they can also carry the spores of Foot and Mouth Disease, a virulent livestock ailment eradicated in the United States.”

These products are therefore banned, as are canned meats and even soup mixes containing meat. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also prohibited because they could harbor pests, like the Mediterranean fruit fly. Wildlife products also present problems.
The threat to U.S. agriculture is so great that Customs and Border Protection fine people who mail or take banned foods to the States at least $100 and up to $250 as a deterrent. Criminal action for deliberate cases of smuggling can end in a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.

Europe boasts many fine wines and spirits and liquor-filled candies that make original Christmas gifts. Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service bans all liquor from being mailed, even if it is inside a piece of candy. However, customs allows travelers over 21 years of age to import one liter of duty-free liquor.

Military customs offices can answer holiday mail questions, provide information and ensure that gifts don’t present problems stateside.

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