When travelling to the United States from India, people are often clueless regarding food items to carry along. While the website of U.S. Customs Border Protection gives an overview of the general food items that can enter the United States, it does not offer any detailed information. It is important to note that the failure to declare food items to the U.S. Customs might result in fees and penalties up to US$ 10,000. So, what are the food items that Indian tourists can bring along while entering the United States?
Many Indian travellers, especially first-time travellers to the U.S., wonder about the availability of Indian brands and food items in the United States. As a result, they end up carrying along with a large number of homemade and store-bought food items from India that might not be compliant with the guidelines of U.S. Customs.
Food Items Banned Entry into the U.S.
- Agriculture Products: As agricultural products might carry foreign pests and diseases that pose threat to crop production and livestock in the U.S., it is very important to declare agricultural products, including rice powder, any kind of flour, pulses, and similar food products. Loosely packaged rice and pulses are most likely to be discarded by customs officials.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Fresh fruits and vegetables from other countries such as mangoes, sweet limes, oranges, pomegranates might carry insects or pests that can harm the local crop in the United States, and hence, travellers are advised not to carry them. Indian travellers carrying dried mango as snacks or sweets need to declare it while filling out the U.S. Customs form.
- Animal Products & Animal By-Products: Any kind of meats or meat products from other nations are not allowed into the U.S. Fresh, dried, canned, or cooked meat is most likely to be confiscated by the Customs officials.
- Plants and Seeds: Plants and seeds also fall under the category of agriculture products and are subjected to inspection by Customs Agriculture Specialist to check the presence of potentially harmful pests or diseases
Food Items Allowed by U.S. Customs & Border Protection
It should be noted that major cities in the United States have Indian grocery stores or at least Asian grocery stores where Indian spices, oil, vegetables, snacks, sweets, and other products are available. However, it is still helpful to carry some basic spices and snacks to survive through the initial days, before exploring the city or neighborhood where one is staying. Following are some food items that can be brought along while travelling to the U.S.
- Spices and Condiments: Most dried spices are allowed to be carried along. Travellers can bring basic Indian spices such as garam masala or sambar powder in unopened and commercially labeled packages. If carrying homemade spices, it is advisable to pack them in airtight containers.
- Tea and Coffee: Indian travellers can bring along tea leaves and roasted coffee beans through any of the U.S. ports of entry.
- Nuts: Indian snacks or sweets containing peanuts or other nuts are allowed as long as they have been pureed, steamed, roasted, cooked, over dried, boiled, or ground.
- Milk and Dairy Products: Indian travellers with babies or kids can carry small quantities of dry milk powder in unopened, shelf-stable, commercial packages. It is not advisable to carry homemade Indian sweets made up of milk with a thin/ semi-thick liquid consistency as the chances of them getting spoiled during the long air travel are high. Further, dairy products such as butter and cheese can be brought along if they are packaged well. Homemade cottage cheese is not allowed by the U.S. Customs.
- Fish & Sea Food: Small quantities of canned, frozen, dried or smoked fish and seafood for personal consumption are allowed.
- Pickles and Ready mixes: Unopened and commercially packed Indian pickles and ready mixes for preparing snacks and curries are allowed at the U.S. ports of entry. Instant noodles and ramen not containing eggs or meat can be also carried along.
- Sweets and Snacks: Packaged dry Indian sweets and snacks can be carried along while travelling to the U.S.
- Chocolates, Candies, and Baked Items: Cakes, cookies, candies, and other baked products are allowed and so are chocolates. However, certain candies such as Kinder Surprise Chocolate Eggs that are available in India are banned by the FDA as surprise toys present inside the candy are considered choking hazards
Though all of the above-mentioned products are usually admissible at the U.S. Customs, there might be instances when the Customs officers would withhold a certain food item for further inspection. It is advisable to fully cooperate with them while they ask about the origin and ingredients of the food item. While you worry about the food items to be packed while travelling to the U.S., do not forget to buy international travel insurance to take care of any unforeseeable expenses during your travel and stay abroad.