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A Guide to Bringing Souvenirs Back to the U.S.

Some would argue that half the reason we travel is to bring souvenirs back to the U.S from far off lands so we can remember the amazing times we had. Incredible wines and cheeses, hand woven blankets and tapestries, trinkets and jewelry...everyone likes to collect treasures from around the world to remember their travels.

But before you start piling up your spoils into that second suitcase you had to buy, it’s critical to know a few things before heading through U.S. through Customs. For starters, what can you bring back? What can't you bring back? What the hell are duty fees?

As always, if you'd like to learn more about traveling the world with FTLO, join our crew and a Community Manager will reach out!

US Customs and Border Protection sign in an airport.

We've broken it all down for you in three easy to digest sections. Let's dive in.

The best souvenirs to bring back to the U.S.

Colorful local handmade goods.

1. Local Handcrafts: Support local artisans by purchasing handcrafted items that showcase the craftsmanship and creativity of the region. This could include intricate pottery, textiles, woodcarvings, or metalwork. These unique pieces not only serve as decorative items but also tell the story of the place you visited.

These items are often made using centuries-old techniques, and they represent the unique culture and heritage of the place.

In addition to being beautiful and unique, handcrafted items are also often more sustainable than mass-produced items. They are often made using locally sourced materials, and they are often produced in small batches, which reduces waste.

So next time you are looking for a souvenir to remember your trip, consider supporting a local artisan. You will be glad you did!

A colorful robe being worn by a woman.

2. Traditional Clothing and Accessories: Traditional clothing, such as clothing specific to the region or traditional garments like saris or kimonos, can make for meaningful souvenirs. Additionally, accessories like jewelry, scarves, or hats can be beautiful reminders of your travels.

You can bring back as much clothing and accessories as you want, as long as they are for personal use. However, you may have to pay duty on items that are worth more than a certain amount.

Vibrant spices in a street market in Morocco.

3. Culinary Delights: Bringing back edible souvenirs is a delightful way to share your travel experiences with friends and family. Consider local spices, teas, coffees, or specialty food items unique to the region. Just ensure that any perishable items adhere to import regulations.

You can bring back up to $800 worth of food and drinks, as long as they are for personal use. However, there are some restrictions on certain types of food, such as fruits and vegetables.

A painting of leaves in black on a blue background.

4. Art and Paintings: Investing in local artwork or paintings allows you to capture the visual beauty of your destination. These pieces can adorn your home while sparking conversations about your travel adventures.

When choosing local artwork, consider the style and medium that you are drawn to. You may also want to think about the message or story that you want the artwork to convey. If you are not sure where to start, you can ask a local artist for recommendations.

Here are some of the benefits of investing in local artwork or paintings:

  • It supports local artists and the local economy.

  • It is a unique and personal souvenir that you can cherish for years to come.

  • It can spark conversations about your travel adventures and help you connect with others who have been to the same place.

Statues of ancient emperors in a shop.

5. Cultural Artifacts: Authentic cultural artifacts, such as masks, sculptures, or figurines, provide a tangible connection to the history and heritage of the place you visited.

When you purchase an authentic cultural artifact, you are not only bringing home a beautiful and unique souvenir, but you're also helping to preserve a piece of history. These items are often made using traditional techniques, and they represent the culture and heritage of the place.

When choosing an authentic cultural artifact, it is important to do your research to make sure that you are getting a legitimate item. There are many fakes and reproductions on the market, so it is important to be careful.

Here are some tips for finding authentic cultural artifacts:

  • Buy from a reputable dealer or gallery.

  • Ask about the provenance of the item.

  • Be wary of items that are too cheap.

  • Do your research on the item before you buy it.

A bookshelf with books and a hanging plant.

6. Books and Literature: A book in the local language or a travelogue about the region can serve as a captivating souvenir that transports you back to your travel experiences each time you read it.

Reading a book in the local language is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of the place you visited. It can help you to learn more about the language, the history, and the people. It can also help you to better understand the experiences you had while you were there.

If you are not fluent in the local language, you can still enjoy reading a book about the region. A travelogue can be a great way to learn about the history, culture, and people of a place. It can also help you to relive your own travel experiences.

Three musicians playing music on the street in Cuba.

7. Musical Instruments: If you're musically inclined, consider bringing back a traditional musical instrument unique to the region. Learning to play it can be an enjoyable way to revisit your travels.

There are hundreds of not thousands of different traditional musical instruments around the world, each with its own unique sound and history. Some of our favorites include:

  • The sitar from India: A stringed instrument with a long neck and resonating gourd.

  • The shakuhachi from Japan: A bamboo flute with a hauntingly beautiful sound.

  • The didgeridoo from Australia: A long, wooden trumpet that is played by humming into it.

  • The bodhrán from Ireland: A frame drum that is played with a single stick.

  • The berimbau from Brazil: A single-stringed instrument that is played with a bow.

A variety of perfumes displayed on a table.

8. Local Fragrances: Perfumes, essential oils, or incense that are characteristic of the region can evoke memories of your journey each time you use them.

When you smell something that you associate with a particular place, it will often bring back memories of your time there, even if it was years ago.

When choosing perfumes, essential oils, or incense, look for scents that are unique to the region you visited. For example, if you visited India, you might choose a perfume with sandalwood or jasmine. If you visited Morocco, you might choose a perfume with rose or orange blossom.

You can also choose essential oils or incense that are associated with certain activities or experiences that you had while you were traveling. For example, if you went hiking in the mountains, you might choose an essential oil with a woodsy scent. If you went on a beach vacation, you might choose an essential oil with a tropical scent.

A local artist making a clay pot.

9. Handmade Pottery and Ceramics: Bring back beautifully crafted pottery or ceramics that reflect the artistic heritage of the place. These functional items can serve as unique additions to your home decor.

Pottery and ceramics have been made by humans for centuries, and each region has its own unique style and techniques. When you buy pottery or ceramics from a local artisan, you're not only supporting their livelihood, but you're also bringing home a piece of art that is truly one-of-a-kind.

When choosing pottery or ceramics, look for pieces that are well-made and that you find aesthetically pleasing. You may also want to choose pieces that have a special meaning to you and those that represent the place you visited or the people you met there.

A series of wood instruments.

10. Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Items: Consider environmentally conscious souvenirs, such as reusable shopping bags, eco-friendly toiletries, or items made from sustainable materials like bamboo or recycled materials. They'll bring you back to happy times abroad.

When you choose environmentally conscious souvenirs, you're not only helping to protect the environment, but you're also showing your support for sustainable businesses. These businesses are working to create a better future for our planet, and your purchase can help them to continue their important work.

A local artist finishes a piece of jewelry.

11. Personalized Items: Create custom-made souvenirs, such as embroidered textiles, personalized jewelry, or items engraved with your name or a special message, for a truly unique memento. Something personal is the ultimate souvenir, wherever you go.

Custom-made souvenirs are a great way to create a truly unique and personal memento of your travels. These items are made specifically for you, and they can be a way to commemorate a special occasion or to remember a particular place or experience.

You may want to choose something that is related to the place you visited, such as a piece of jewelry with a local symbol or a textile with a traditional pattern.

Wine bottles sitting on a shelf.

12. Local Spirits and Wines: If you enjoy spirits or wines, bringing back a bottle of local liquor or wine can be a delightful way to savor the flavors of your destination.

When choosing a bottle of liquor or wine, look for something that is made in the region you visited. This could be a local specialty, such as grappa from Italy or sake from Japan. Or, you could choose a more popular brand that is known for its quality, such as Jack Daniel's from the United States or Dom Pérignon from France.

Be sure to check the import regulations before you buy, as some countries have restrictions on the amount of alcohol that you can bring back.

A photo of three FTLO travelers in Los Angeles.

13. Photography and Memories: Don't underestimate the power of your own photography. Printing and framing your favorite travel photos can create a meaningful and personal souvenir.

When you take photos on your travels, you're capturing memories that will last a lifetime. These photos can transport you back to the places you have been and the experiences you have had. These could be photos of the people you met, the places you visited, or the activities you did.

What can you not bring back to the US

Now, for the no-go goods. This list is long and detailed, especially if you look through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) site, so we’ve tried to filter through to simplify it.

Alcoholic beverages: Wine is okay and some kinds of alcohol too! Rules are different according to each state, so make sure to check with your home state regulations before returning.

Ceramic tableware: Who knew, right? But certain lead properties in ceramics can leak into food, so double-check what you’re bringing back.

Fish and wildlife: Skins, bones, feathers, eggs must go through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before entry.

Prepared Food Products: Bakery items and cheeses are fine (Hallelujah!). Condiments, spices, honey and tea are admissible.

Prior Notice for Food Importation: Buying a food basket and shipping it to a friend is totally fine; shipping it to yourself opens a bunch of paperwork and notices that most vendors will refuse to do, so choose wisely.

Fruits and Vegetables: In general, don’t bring either unless absolutely necessary - everything must go through CBP, even the apple you bought before departing.

Gold: Coins and medals are typically allowed unless from embargoed countries.

Medication: Bring only what you need - no more, no less, and keep everything in the original containers. Declare all medications and carry a prescription.

Merchandise from Embargoed Countries: Generally, items from Cuba, Iran, Burma and most of Sudan are not allowed. These regulations change frequently, however.

Exceptions include: informational material in the form of books, CDs, magazines, posters, works of art etc. and gifts up to $100 in value. Household and personal effects not intended for sale.

Photographic Film: Film won’t be examined unless suspicious of lewd material. Film bought in the U.S. and brought to another country will not be dutied - exposed or unexposed. However, film bought and developed abroad will be.

Plants and Seeds: All plant products - including straw items must be declared and presented for inspection. Threatened or endangered species require special permits from the country of origin.

Textiles and Clothing: As long as what you’re bringing is for personal or gift usage, there’s really no limit here. Things only get messy when excessive amounts (like extra boxes) are needed to be shipped.

Trademark and Copyrighted Articles: Genuinely trademarked items, like a Louis Vuitton purse, are okay, but subject to duties. As long as you’re not bringing back falsely copyrighted software or DVDs, these shouldn’t be an issue.

How to bring back souvenirs to US

Of course, when bringing souvenirs back to the US, you should always double check with CBP before you even jump onto your flight to ensure that it's allowed, since they strongly urge travelers to follow a Know Before You Go policy.

Some items fall under prohibited, which are absolutely not allowed entry into the country, period. Examples include: dangerous toys, bush meat and absinthe. Restricted items mean you need a special license approved for entry of those items. Examples include: firearms, certain fruits and vegetables, animal products and some live animals.

Our bottom line when bringing souvenirs back to the US? Pay attention to duty-free items as they won’t require extra fees when you return. Make sure to follow the federal rules of declaration for the above stated items to make your traveling legal and easy.


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