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.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, modified entry requirements apply to all international travelers arriving in the United States. Following the lifting of entry barriers on November 8th, 2021, all international travelers were initially allowed to enter the US with full vaccination.
However, with the discovery of the new Omicron variant in South Africa, a new travel ban was imposed on travelers from eight African countries effective November 29th, 2021. Also, the guidelines for pre-flight COVID-19 testing have been tightened.
There are exceptions to the current COVID-19 entry rules for the United States for Green Card holders, US citizens, travelers under the age of 18, and other groups.
Learn more about the current regulations in our article USA travel and Corona.
The official travel authorization for your trip to 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:
This is where the goods to be declared are examined and customs duties and taxes are calculated. If necessary, the goods are confiscated.
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:
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.
The following foods are not allowed to bring to the USA:
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.
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:
If you are over the age of 21 are also allowed to bring:
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.
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.
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:
In addition, a corresponding doctor’s certificate in English must be presented. No drugs or narcotics may be imported 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.
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.
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.
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:
Handguns may only be carried if you have a special permit. It is permitted to import:
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.
In addition to the goods mentioned above, there are other items which may not be imported into the USA. These are for example:
The following products may only be carried under special conditions and if you have a special permission to import them:
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.
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.
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.