Import regulations, customs duties, and taxes

Whether on a holiday or business trip - a flight to the USA is not an everyday matter for most travelers. However, especially when traveling to the USA, there are sensitive entry and import regulations that should be adhered to in order to avoid difficulties at the airport.

COVID-19 rules for entry into the USA

The United States has lifted both the general COVID-19 testing requirement and the vaccination requirement for travelers from abroad.

Learn more about the current regulations in our article USA travel and Corona.


Since May 12th, 2023, unvaccinated individuals are allowed to enter the United States again. Submit your ESTA application now to travel to the USA without a visa!


The official entry permit for the USA!

Filing the customs declaration for the USA

Depending on the airline, the crew usually distributes small blue cards for customs declaration during your flight to the USA. Alternatively, you enter those details at a self-service kiosk immediately upon arrival. Read the instructions on the form carefully and answer all questions truthfully.

As soon as you have entered the USA and picked up your luggage, you will have to go through customs control. Here you will have to hand over your customs declaration. There are usually two exits and you have to pick the one that is applicable for you:

  1. Persons who have no declarable goods with them, or
  2. Persons carrying goods subject to declaration.

The customs declaration will usually be distributed during the flight to the USA.

This is where the goods to be declared are examined and customs duties and taxes are calculated. If necessary, the goods are confiscated.

Importing food into the USA

In general, food may only be imported into the USA if it does not cause any health issues. For example, the following products are permitted in their original packaging:

  • Sweets and chocolate
  • Pastries
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruits
  • Spices
  • Vegetable oils
  • Flour
  • Noodles without egg
  • Rice
  • Hard cheese
  • Coffee and tea

In any case, all food products must be declared upon arrival in the USA, as otherwise penalties of up to USD 10,000 may be imposed. At some airports, sniffer dogs are used that are specially trained to find food.

Baked goods can only be imported in the USA if they are in their original packaging.

The following foods are not allowed to bring to the USA:

  • Meat and meat products, neither fresh, nor dried, or canned
  • Animal products
  • Plants
  • Plant seeds or bulbs
  • Fresh dairy products
  • Kinder surprise eggs, because this candy contains inedible objects that could be swallowed by children

If you need an appropriate quantity of milk or milk products because you need to prepare baby food during the flight or shortly after, you may be granted an exception.

Certain fruits and vegetables are also subject to import restrictions, which change frequently. Travelers should therefore check the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website in advance if necessary.

Please note: Food distributed on the plane, such as apples or yoghurt, may not be taken to the USA and must be consumed in advance.

ESTA Check

Importing tobacco, alcohol and gifts into the USA

Tobacco, alcohol and gifts of various kinds can be bought at the airport in duty-free shops. However, you should be aware of the import regulations in advance. If these quantities are exceeded, you are likely have to pay high customs duties and taxes.

If you are 18 years or older you are allowed to bring the following quantities to the USA:

  • approx. 250 g tobacco,
  • max. 200 cigarettes or
  • max. 50 cigars

If you are over the age of 21 are also allowed to bring:

  • max. 1 l alcohol

Attention: The import of Absinthe is forbidden as it contains thujones.

Gifts with a maximum value of 100 USD are allowed. As the border control staff may want to inspect them carefully, gifts should not be packed.

Importing money into the USA

Cash can usually be taken to the USA up to USD 10,000. Foreign currencies, gold or securities should also be below this limit. Higher amounts must be declared to customs.

Cash amounts under USD 10,000 do not need to be declared to customs. 


Importing medicines into the USA

Medicines may only be imported into the USA in the quantities required for the stay. Prescription drugs, which can be addictive, must be carried in their original packaging, including the package insert. These include:

  • Sedatives
  • Sleeping pills
  • Antidepressants
  • Cough medicine

In addition, a corresponding doctor’s certificate in English must be presented. No drugs or narcotics may be imported into the USA.

Importing pets into the USA

Pets, such as cats or dogs, can usually be taken to the USA. However, both the airline you are flying with and the US customs authorities have certain regulations for importing pets to the USA.


Each airline has its own regulations, whether animals may be transported in the airplane or not, at which conditions and what they charge for it. There are also restrictions on the maximum number of animals which can be carried in the cabin and luggage compartment. You should therefore inform your airline well ahead of time before your scheduled flight and, if necessary, register your pet. Different regulations apply to service dogs, e.g. guide dogs.

US customs authority

Transport box

The box in which your pet must be transported during the flight should be certified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The size of the box depends on the size and weight of your pet. The box must be large enough for it to stand up and turn around. Used boxes may also be used.

If the box fits under the front seat and the animal weighs less than 8 kg, it can also fly in the cabin with many airlines. Otherwise, it is considered an "accompanying animal" and must be transported in the air-conditioned luggage compartment.

Flying to the USA with your own dog is generally no problem!

Veterinary certificates

Dogs and cats need an English health certificate which proves that they do not have any diseases which can be transmitted to humans.

In addition, the vaccination certificate or pet passport must be carried with a dog. This must prove that the dog has been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days and maximum 12 months before the planned entry into the USA.

Exception: The animal has lived for at least 6 months in an area that has been declared rabies-free by the health service, e.g. Australia, or it is younger than 3 months and therefore may not yet be vaccinated. In this case it must remain in quarantine in the USA until it is old enough to be vaccinated and then stay there for another 30 days.

Furthermore, there might be regulations depending on regional or current animal diseases. If, for example, the dog comes from a country where screwworm flies are increasingly prevalent, a veterinarian must provide proof of a non-infestation beforehand.


The animal's state of health is checked every time it enters the country. If it does not meet all health requirements, it may not enter the country and will be returned at your expense.

If you want to travel with your dog or cat to Hawaii, Guam or American Samoa, you must quarantine it for 120 days.

Animals such as reptiles and invertebrates are subject to special restrictions which can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pages.

Importing weapons to the USA

The import regulations for weapons in the USA are also subject to strict regulations. For example, it is forbidden to take the following weapons with you:

  • Fully automated weapons
  • Semi-automated weapons
  • Other weapons, e.g. switchblades

Handguns may only be carried if you have a special permit. It is permitted to import:

  • Sporting arms
  • Weapons for authorized hunting
  • Ammunition

However, they must be registered with the airline and checked in unloaded and in a sealed box as baggage. When leaving the USA, the weapon and the remaining ammunition must be taken back with you.

Other US import regulations

In addition to the goods mentioned above, there are other items which may not be imported into the USA. These are for example:

  • Flammable or explosive materials, e.g. fireworks
  • Pornographic publications
  • Dog or cat fur
  • Cultural property
  • CDs or DVDs with illegally copied material

The following products may only be carried under special conditions and if you have a special permission to import them:

  • Ivory - unless it is demonstrably older than 100 years, e.g. for antiques
  • Hunting trophies
  • Soil, sand and soil

Exceeding the excepted quantity

Whoever exceeds the given import limits, i.e. wants to import more products into the USA than the exemption limits allow, must expect high customs duties at the airport. The exact amount of these charges depends to a large extent on the type of item to be imported. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has developed the so-called Harmonized Tariff System (HTS), which tells you your individual fees.

However, since this system is very extensive and sometimes confusing, it is advisable to contact CBP directly if you have important questions. You can describe the product you want to import into the USA and its quantity to the customs officer and ask them directly for the charges you can expect.

TSA approved luggage lock

To increase security requirements at airports, the US Department of Homeland Security launched the Transportation Security Administration Program (TSA) in November 2010.

Under this program, airlines are obligated, among other things, to check baggage thoroughly when entering the USA or during transit. If anything looks suspicious, the baggage must not only be screened, but also opened.

Secure your suitcase with a TSA lock so that your luggage does not have to be broken open by US customs!

If the passenger has locked his baggage, the TSA staff will break the lock in order to examine the contents. The TSA authority is not liable for such damage or delays at the baggage claim area.

Therefore, if you want to lock your luggage during the flight, you should always use a so-called TSA lock. This can be easily opened by security personnel with a master key. Once the contents of the baggage have been checked, the staff can close the lock again and automatically reset the passenger's combination of numbers.

Apply Now