Whenever people announce a visit, they are so kind as to offer to bring things that are hard to get by here. However, there is a lot of confusion in terms of what is allowed and what not. So here’s the deal:
You are allowed to bring gifts up to a value of 300 USD. Yayyy! But don’t bring too many cameras or recorders – you are only allowed one piece each. (I haven’t read any regulations regarding jewelry… or fabulous bags… just saying.) Whatever exceeds 300 bucks, I always remove all signs of it being new (or a gift), so who could know? (By the way, I read that you can carry up to 10,000 USD in cash, just in case you were wondering. I guess, that should be enough for a short vacation.)
Most websites claim that you must not bring food whatsoever, and when you fill out the customs questionnaire that you get prior to or on your flight, there is a section where they ask you whether you carry any foods. If you want to go through immigration in one swift swoosh, don’t pack food and tick off “No”. But giving in to my many cravings, I was brave enough to carry food on various occasions – sometimes facing difficulties when passing customs, sometimes not.
Of course, you must not carry any fresh food – but honestly, who would do that? Yes, I would love to take some lobster home from Seattle, but I somehow sensed it might not be the smartest thing to do… I once brought something like 20 lbs of German marzipan (OK, it was slightly less… but only slightly!) and got stopped when passing customs. I had to open my suitcase, present the sweets and was good to go. My heart was pounding, though, since I had checked “No” on my customs form in response to whether I was carrying any food.
So next time, I honestly answered “Yes” on my questionnaire. After all, who would like to be on the black list for “Threatening and Food Regulations Violating Tourists” (or expats, in my case)? When you answer “Yes”, you have to turn to the customs office upon arrival and present the food that you intend to get into the country. Normally, those guys are very friendly and helpful, always interested in the exotic stuff that you carry, and then they might accompany you to the bio scan machine and wave you good-bye.
One time, though, I got a little stuck. I had bought couscous (a coarse kind of couscous that I haven’t found here, yet) that had been packed at the store, so it was just in a clear plastic bag with a handwritten label. I shouldn’t have done that! After explaining everyone what it was and how to prepare it, where I had bought it, what Seattle was like and whether I liked Mexican food, I was told I couldn’t import it, since it wasn’t safe. Only food that comes in its original package is allowed into the country to make sure you don’t schlep any germs into the country. Makes sense, I guess.
After I had given all proper cooking instructions to the nice lady, she took pity on me, though, and let me keep my precious couscous. Taking the above-mentioned regulations into account, it didn’t make sense, but who was I to complain?
So if you want to bring food, I would recommend to be honest about it, claim it on your customs form, and normally, you should be allowed to keep it. If you are a cissy like me, it saves you a lot of sweat and keeps your blood pressure at a normal level, even though as a result the customs may take longer. But who knows, you also might gain a new friend!