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Rule of thumb: When you go abroad, take the medicines youíll need, no more, no less.

Narcotics and certain other drugs with a high potential for abuse-Rohypnol, GHB, and Fen-Phen, to name a few-may not be brought into the United States, and there are severe penalties for trying to bring them in. If you need medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics (e.g., some cough medicines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, or stimulants), do the following:

  • Carry all drugs, medicinals, and similar products in their original containers.
  • Carry only the quantity that a person with that condition (e.g., chronic pain) would normally carry.
  • Carry a prescription or written statement from your physician that the medicinals are being used under a doctor's supervision and that they are necessary for your physical well-being while traveling.

Warning: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the importation, by mail or in person, of fraudulent prescription and nonprescription drugs and medical devices. These include unorthodox "cures" for such medical conditions as cancer, AIDS, arthritis, or multiple sclerosis. Although such drugs or devices may be legal elsewhere, if the FDA has not approved them for use in the United States, they may not legally enter the country and will be confiscated if found, even if they were obtained under a foreign physicianís prescription.

A new federal ruling allows U.S. residents reentering the United States at international land borders to bring back, without a prescription, up to 50 dosage units of medications on the Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA) controlled substances list, Schedules 2 through 5. You may bring in more than 50 units if you have a prescription written by a U.S.-licensed physician whom DEA has authorized to prescribe these medications.

Please note that this rule applies only to medications that can be legally prescribed in the United States. You still can't bring back drugs or medications not permitted in the United States, such as anabolic steroids, laetrile, or heroin.

If you are returning by a land border and you are bringing back medications that qualify under this rule, you must declare them. Also, they must be for your own personal use, and they must be in their original container. Finally, you should be aware that drug products not approved by the FDA may not be allowed under this rule. Such unapproved drugs are often of unknown quality, may have been manufactured under inferior conditions, and may not be as safe or effective as their U.S. counterparts, even when they have the same name. Take the generic drug diazepam, for example. It is manufactured in the United States, Canada, and Mexico as Valium. But itís also sold in Canada under the names Neo-Calme and Rival, and in Mexico as Pacitran and Relazepam. Are all these brands equally effective or safe? Not necessarily.

For specifics about DEAís controlled substances list, call (202) 307-7977 or
(202) 307-1000. For additional information about traveling with medication, contact your nearest FDA office or write Food and Drug Administration, Division of Import Operations and Policy, Room 12-8 (HFC-170), 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857 or visit:

Merchandise from Embargoed Countries

The importation of goods from the following countries is generally prohibited under regulations administered by theOffice of Foreign Assets Control:Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Yugoslavia (Serbia), Taliban, UNITA (Angola) Libya, Iraq, and Iran. These restrictions do not apply to informational materials such as pamphlets, books, tapes, films, or recordings.

Authorization from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in the form of a license may be required to import merchandise from these countries to the U.S. Foreign visitors to the United States may be permitted to bring in small articles for personal use as accompanied baggage, depending upon the goods' country of origin.

Travelers should be aware of certain travel restrictions that may apply to these countries. Because of the strict enforcement of these prohibitions, those anticipating foreign travel to any of the countries listed above would do well to check OFACís website at or write in advance to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. 20220, U.S.A.

NOTE:As of April 28, 2000, the Office of Foreign Assets Control has removed some of the restrictions on imports from Iran. The new regulation now permits the importation of food items for human consumption and carpet and other textile floor coverings as well as carpets used as wall hangings.


If you plan to take your pet abroad or import one on your return, please get a copy of Customs booklet Pets, Wildlife, U.S. Customs. You should also check with state, county, and local authorities to learn if their restrictions and prohibitions on pets are more strict than federal requirements.

Importing animals is closely regulated for public health reasons and also for the well-being of the animals. There are restrictions and prohibitions on bringing many species into the United States.

Cats must be free of evidence of diseases communicable to humans when they are examined at the port of entry. If the cat does not seem to be in good health, the owner may have to pay for an additional examination by a licensed veterinarian.

Dogs, too, must be free of evidence of diseases that could be communicable to humans. Puppies must be confined at a place of the owner's choosing until they are three months old; then they must be vaccinated against rabies. The puppy will then have to stay in confinement for another 30 days.

Dogs older than three months must get a rabies vaccination at least 30 days before they come to the United States and must be accompanied by a valid rabies vaccination certificate if coming from a country that is not rabies-free. This certificate should identify the dog, show the date of vaccination and the date it expires (there are one-year and three-year vaccinations), and be signed by a licensed veterinarian. If the certificate does not have an expiration date, Customs will accept it as long as the dog was vaccinated 12 months or less before coming to the United States. Dogs coming from rabies-free countries do not have to be vaccinated.

You may import birds as pets as long as you comply with APHIS and U.S. Fish and Wildife requirements. These requirements may include quarantining the birds at one of APHIS's three Animal Import Centers, at your expense. You must make advance reservations at the quarantine facility. If you intend to import a bird, call APHIS' National Center for Import and Export at (301) 734-8364 for more information. In any case, birds may only be imported through ports of entry where a USDA port veterinarian is on duty, and you must make arrangements in advance to have the bird examined by a USDA port verinarian at the first U.S. port of entry. There is a user fee for this service of a minimum of $23.00, based on an hourly rate of $76/hour. For more information, you may contact the USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Center for Import and Export (NCIE), 4700 River Road, Unit 40, Riverdale, MD 20737-1231, phone number (301) 734-8364; or on the internet at

Textiles and Clothings

In general, there is no limit to how much fabric and clothing you can bring back as long as it is for your personal use, that is, for you or as gifts. (You may have to pay duty on it if youíve exceeded your personal exemption, but the amount you may bring in is not limited.)

Unaccompanied shipments (packages that are mailed or shipped), however, are subject to limitations on amount. The quantity limitations on clothing and textiles are called "quotas." In order to enter the United States, clothing and textiles may need to be accompanied by a document-you could think of it as a passport for fabrics-called a "visa." Sometimes, instead of a visa, an export license or certificate is required from the country that produced the clothing. A formal entry must be filed for all made-to-order suits from Hong Kong, no matter what their value, unless they accompany you. If you plan to get clothing or fabric on your trip and have it sent to you by mail or courier, check with Customs about quota and visa requirements before you travel.

Money and Other Monetary Instruments

You may bring into or take out of the country, including by mail, as much money as you wish. But if itís more than $10,000, youíll need to report it to Customs. Ask the Customs officer for the Currency Reporting Form (CF 4790). The penalties for not complying can be quite severe.

"Money" means monetary instruments and includes U.S. or foreign coin currently in circulation, currency, traveler's checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form.

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