World's Strangest Illegal Souvenirs
admire, or consume them overseas—but don’t even think about bringing these
tip for passing through Customs: keep exotic animals out of sight. It’s advice
Robert Cusack could have used in 2002, when a bird of paradise flew out of his
suitcase at Los Angeles Airport during a routine inspection. When agents asked
if he had anything else to tell them, he was reported to have said, “Yes, I’ve
got monkeys in my pants.” He wasn’t lying: stuffed down his trousers were
two small primates.
contents of your luggage may not be quite as exciting—nor as lively—but
souvenirs are one of the great joys of travel. A meaningful handicraft
or an unusual article of clothing is a big part of how we continue to enjoy our
travel experience. Still, watch out: your new cherished knickknack could get
you stopped by U.S. Customs, just as surely as if you’d hidden monkeys in your
obvious things any traveler should know not to pack—politically troublesome
items like Cuban cigars, ancient relics that should stay in their place of
origin, goods like tortoiseshell jewelry made from endangered species—many
apparently harmless items can bring trouble at the U.S. border.
and beverages are frequent troublemakers, often posing unseen health and
environmental hazards that necessitate tight regulations. Of course, strict
inspection is understandable: California’s $100
million fight against the Mediterranean fruit fly may well have been triggered
by a single tourist importing just one piece of infected fruit.
not all fruit restrictions are due to insect hazards. Some fruits themselves
are simply dangerous. The ackee, for example, is Jamaica’s national
fruit—and one that is both delicious and nutritious when properly prepared.
Otherwise, the flesh of the ackee contains a toxin that can induce vomiting,
seizures, and even death. Travelers to Jamaica who get caught bringing home
fresh ackee may be upset at its forfeiture—but it may save them a much worse
kind of seizure later on.
national dish—haggis—is also banned, and not just because it’s a meat product,
which always gets the attention of Customs. Haggis is created by pushing a
sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs into its stomach and then simmering the result
until it resembles food. U.S. Customs objects to this awful offal not out of
culinary discretion, but because it contains lung, an item whose importation
has been banned for sanitary reasons since 1971. (Incidentally, rumors that the
anti-haggis sanctions may be lifted are about as fact-based as Brigadoon.)
restrictions on haggis and ackee are fairly well known, at least in their home
countries, but others are nearly impossible to know about—until it’s too late.
The most surprising items may be Kinder Surprise eggs, the famous Swiss candies
with little toys in the center. Believe it or not, Kinder Surprise is
specifically banned by U.S. Customs, thanks to a 1938 food safety law that
illegalized the sale of any confectionery containing “non-nutritive” items.
travelers who mean no harm rarely suffer more than the loss of their souvenirs,
and possibly a fine. But before your next trip, you might want to glance at the
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol list
of prohibited and restricted items. That
way, you’ll get to keep your keepsake—no matter how strange, exotic, or
seemingly ordinary it might be.