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Bringing Food and Medicines to the USA

Saturday, June 4, 2011 by

US Customs and Border Protection - Customs Declaration Form cutout

US Customs Declaration

Can I bring food or medicines in the USA? And of so, what kind? Many students ask us these questions before they travel to the USA.

So let’s have a look at the arrival procedures and associated forms.

The forms that we are talking about here are I-94 and U.S. Customs Declaration. You will receive both of them on board the airplane while flying to the USA. The flight attendants will distribute them to all passengers and on most airlines, there will be a movie with instructions how to fill out the forms.

Click on the images below to see the front and back side of the US Customs Declaration form.

US Customs and Border Protection - Customs Declaration Form front

US Customs Form - front

US Customs and Border Protection - Customs Declaration Form back

US Customs Form - back

Most travelers fill out only the front side. You may notice, that there is not any question asking if you are bringing any medicines in the USA. And indeed, nobody asks you about that.

Food, however, is a different story, mainly because students want to save money on food in the USA and think it’s a good idea to bring some from home.

If you are one of such students, keep in mind the most important thing: You are not required to know what you can bring to the USA! You are required not to lie about it! After all, you confirm by your signature at the bottom of the form that you filled it out truthfully.

In other words, if you bring a side of pig with you and check in the form that you are bringing meat, you’re OK. Your side of pig will be taken from you by the US Customs and destroyed, and you will be allowed in the USA.

And what foods will you generally be allowed to bring in?

Generally, packaged and factory processed food products, such as dehydrated soup, candy bar, a can of luncheon meat and the like.

As far as medicines are concerned, we already know that nobody asks you about them. What the U.S. CBP (Customs and Border Protection) says is this: “Medicine containing habit-forming drugs must be clearly identified. Carry only the amount you normally need. Also bring a prescription or statement from your physician explaining that the medicine is necessary for your well being.”

We would say that carrying only the amount normally needed for the duration of your stay applies to all medicines. And if you are bringing a prescription, make sure it’s written in English or at least Latin.

If you would like to bring in any of the following, make sure you find out the rules and regulations concerning them:

  • Absinthe
  • Biological materials
  • Endangered species and their products
  • Wildlife
  • Meat, poultry, eggs and their products
  • Fruits, vegetables and plants
  • Hazardous materials
  • Weapons

There is no limit on the amount of money (U.S. or foreign) you may bring into or take out of the United States. If you have more than 10,000 dollars or foreign equivalent, however, you must report this to the Customs and Border Protection officer upon entry and/or departure on the Customs Declaration form. This is however unusual among students.

Questions? Ask below in the comments!


4 Responses to “Bringing Food and Medicines to the USA”
  1. Candy hechanova says:


    I’m candy from Philippines. I’ll be flying for MNL DTW next week as fiance visa and first time to enter USA. Would like to ask if am I allowed to bring with me some medicines for my grandmother’s fiancé her two months prescription? Just want to make sure if this would be okay.

    Please do advise. Will appreciate much your soonest response.

    Thanks and best regards,


    • admin says:

      Hi Candy, unfortunately, we are not customs experts, we just compile information from publicly available sources for participants of our US programs. So on the one hand, there isn’t even a question about medicines on the US Customs form that you’ll be filling out in the airplane, but on the other hand, the only authoritative source of information is either US Customs and Border Protection, or your local US Embassy. Have a safe trip and the best of luck in America :-)

  2. Mario says:

    Hi. I’m going to US next friday… And I will take some medicines with prescription, but these medicines aren’t mine. It belongs to a friend of mine… Will I have any problem?

    Thank you

    • admin says:

      Hi Mario, while we give general guidance to students who participate in international programs shown on this website, we are not customs professionals able to give authoritative answers to questions involving unusual circumstances like yours. However, the US customs form that you’ll be filling out in the airplane doesn’t even ask about medicines. There’s just isn’t such a field. And in 20 years of traveling in a out the USA, none of us has ever been asked if we carry any medicines. That said, if you are going to carry something what may contain a hallucinogen, painkiller, is applied by hypodermic needle or is considered habit-forming, I’d recommend having a translated prescription with you. Have a safe trip and enjoy the US of A :-)

Questions? Ask below :-) In English, please.

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