Carrying Food From India To USA? Do's And Don'ts To Follow

Moving to a new country can be scary, especially when you’re younger, and sometimes a taste of home is needed to beat the homesickness. As a result, many travellers, especially students who are headed to the United States to study often feel tempted to take a lot of beloved food items with them when they leave but face complications the other end while trying to get them into the US. 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has very stringent guidelines about what makes the cut and you can incur fines of up to $10,000 for bringing prohibited items. So if you’re the kind of person who has a dedicated suitcase for snacks then it’s well worth checking and double-checking the rules to make sure your favourite khakhras and chai will be there to keep you company during those long all-nighter study sessions. 

While there are a lot of Indian speciality stores and things available online these days in most major American cities, it’s natural to want to take a few essentials from home. So if you’re looking for some help, here are some useful Do’s and Don’ts for what you can carry in your check-in luggage. 

Do Not Carry

Agricultural Products: Things like atta, pulses, rice and other grains are counted as agricultural goods and need to be declared. There’s always a risk of these products containing pests and diseases that might be harmful to US crops and livestock, so best to leave them behind. 

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Sure, we know it’s tempting to take some Alphonsos when you know you’ll be missing mango season but fresh fruits again pose the risk of insects that can harm local crops. You can instead opt for dried fruits or sweets, but make sure to declare them at customs.

Animal Products & By-Products: This is one category which is completely off-limits. Any type of meat or meat product is banned from the U.S., whether it's fresh, dried, canned, or cooked. So if you do bring any, they will likely be confiscated

Plants and Seeds: Of course, if you’re planning to grow your own Indian garden in the US, it could potentially disrupt the ecosystem. As such, plants and seeds fall under the agricultural category and will be inspected by Customs Agriculture Specialists to check for potentially harmful pests or diseases, and most likely, you won’t be able to bring them in.

Do Carry

Spices and Condiments: The most essential part of any Indian dish are the spices, so rejoice, because most dried spices can be packed in airtight, unopened containers and brought into the country. If you have homemade spices it’s a bit of a risk, but if you pack them well in airtight containers, they may be safe. 

Tea and Coffee: Don’t worry, you won’t have to give up your masala chai mornings just yet, you can bring tea leaves and roasted coffee beans through any U.S. port of entry.

Sweets, Snacks and Nuts: Snacking needs are also taken care of since all snacks and sweets containing peanuts or other nuts are allowed as long as they are pureed, steamed, roasted, cooked, dried, boiled, or ground. Cakes, cookies and chocolates can also come through as well as all dry Indian snacks, as long as they’re sealed in unopened packages

Milk and Dairy Products: Small quantities of dry milk powder in unopened, shelf-stable, commercial packages are permitted for travellers with babies or children. However, homemade Indian sweets that are liquid or semi-liquid like gulab jamun are not allowed due to the risk of spoilage. Dairy products like butter and cheese can be brought if well-packaged, but in very tentative conditions, and things like paneer are not allowed.

Fish & Seafood: It may seem contradictory since meat isn’t allowed, however, small amounts of canned, frozen, dried, or smoked fish and seafood that are meant for personal consumption are allowed. 

Pickles and Ready Mixes: No meal is complete without some pickle on the side, so if you carry unopened and commercially packed pickles and ready mixes you’re free to bring them with you. You can also carry instant noodles and ramen that do not contain eggs or meat.