The shopper’s guide to global mobility: what foreign items won’t make it through US customs.

The shopper’s guide to global mobility

Purchasing souvenirs abroad is one of the most exciting parts about first moving to a new country. Unfortunately, many items that seem innocent at the time of purchase – come on, everyone loves szablas (swords) – simply won’t make it through United States customs. Here are a few tips, tricks and helpful hints for that foreign shopaholic who just can’t say no to a good souvenir abroad.

Ceramics and artifacts.

Well, your assignee didn’t break it, but they did buy it. While seemingly innocent, ceramics can provide some concern when traveling back stateside. Certain finishes and paints can contain unsafe levels of lead and, as a result, may not make it home in time for your assignee Aunt Carol’s birthday. Advise her against purchasing certain ceramics abroad and encourage her to ask the seller to provide information on the paint used before purchase. Not only will this save some time (and money) at customs, certain tableware purchased abroad may be unsafe to eat off of and could result in a few more hospital trips than Carol anticipated (yikes).

Cultural artifacts can also inadvertently transport unsafe chemicals into the United States. While your Haiti-bound assignee may have fallen in love with the tambours masquer haitian (hide drums) they purchased at their local market, they may be in for a surprise breakup at customs. Animal hide is not allowed through United States customs and many “innocent” purchases of Haitian drums have gone awry after being linked to anthrax. While drumming up a good souvenir is always fun, when it comes to international security, it may be best to advise assignees to purchase differently instead.

Food and drink.

Foreign cuisine and drinks are some of the top things that assignees wish to bring home from abroad. Whether that be a bottle of the finest Italian Brunello di Montalcino or a Danish kanel rol (cinnamon roll) to their loved ones, you can almost guarantee at least a few crumbs will be making their way stateside. However, certain items like select produce and drinks are not allowed through United States customs and can result in more than a few questions from airport security.

Provide your assignee with a list of common items that shouldn’t be brought through customs, as well as a list of foods that could result in the transmission of disease. In many cases, food items like pastries and bread will have no problem getting through customs, but fresh шљиве (plums) from Serbia may be a different story. Advise your assignees to part ways with fresh produce at security to avoid any unwelcome questions.


Okay, okay so your assignee didn’t necessarily mean to adopt that Yorkshire Terrier in Paris with the big brown eyes, but as they say in France, “c’est la vie.” Unfortunately, even if such is life, that doesn’t necessarily mean Scottie the puppy will have his passport stamped home. United States customs requires all animals to receive a health exam prior to departure, as well as vaccinations. This can lead some assignees to run into problems at customs, as newborn puppies must be a certain age prior to receiving vaccinations. Specific airlines and having (or not having) a microchip can also be barriers to entry to the United States, so your assignee should double check rules and regulations before departing.

Fortunately, the true barrier to entry for animals into the United States is misinformation. Provide your animal-loving assignee with information on how to get his nouveau meilleur ami (or new best friend in French) home. While you’re at it, providing them with a few foreign pet names like FélicitéBrie or Pascal may be exactly what your assignee needs to bring a little bit of that Parisian lifestyle back to his life in the United States. With the right information (and a few snacks for Scottie), your assignee will have no trouble getting his new friend home.

Traveling back to the United States is a big step for your assignees and you don’t want them to get held up through customs. With just a few tips and some materials in advance, you can help them glide through security and right back into the United States. For more tips on global mobility, take a look at the HR Manager’s Toolkit.

Meet The Author:
Author - Lindsay Mullen
Lindsay Mullen
CEO of Prosper Strategies at Mango Languages
Lindsay Mullen is CEO of Prosper Strategies, working behind the scenes to support the Mango team’s world of lovable language learning. A language aficionado herself, Lindsay oversees a team of marketers fluent in public relations, content development, and strategy (and they speak some German, French, Spanish, and Chinese as well.)

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

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