We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re breezing through the customs form at the end of a long flight home from France ($10,000 in cash stowed in my suitcase? I wish!) until you get to the food section. Do the cookies count? The baguette? What about the cheese?!?
I once knew a woman who turned herself in crying over some tomatoes she said were too delicious to throw away (they let her go but kept the tomatoes). Don’t let that happen to you. Here are the rules about bringing food home from France:
1. Do I have to declare ALL of the food I bring home in my suitcase?
Yes, authorized or not, all food must be declared.
2. Ok, but what about the cheese? ARE THEY GOING TO TAKE MY CHEESE AWAY?
Hard cheese that has been pasteurized is allowed: comté, raclette, beaufort, cantal, emmenthal, beaufort, etc. But please, for the love of fresh air, pack them in your checked baggage.
The press office of US Customs and Border Protection has confirmed to us that soft cheeses (camembert, brie, pont l’évêque, chèvre, feta…) are authorized if they have been pasteurized. Unpasteurized cheese remains off-limits.
3. What’s the deal with foie gras?
Most meats from sausage to ham to fresh, smoked or dried meat are forbidden from crossing into the US. Not foie gras, though, as long as it’s packaged right. Canned meat like pâté or terrines will make it through customs most of the time. If it comes from a bird or a pig, it’s ok, but nothing with beef or sheep ingredients will get through. For foie gras, no problem, as long as it’s packaged in a can or a hermetically sealed jar.
4. What if I mess up? Am I going away for ever?
If you declared it, you’ll simply be asked to leave it with customs (they will destroy it). But if they find something you haven’t declared they may fine you — a lot. Penalties range from $1,100 to $60,000 and that’s a lot of cheese to pay for cheese — even if it’s French.