USA Customs Clearance - Restricted and Prohibited Items for Import

Benedict Leong


In our earlier USA eCommerce trends post, we covered that the USA is home to one of the largest eCommerce markets in the world, clocking in USD 744.1 billion in total B2C eCommerce revenue in 2019 alone. If you’re a cross-border eCommerce merchant, it helps to know that about a third of online shoppers in the USA shop internationally too, helped by the United States’ high de minimis rate.

But those seeking to ship to the USA – eCommerce merchants or otherwise – need to be aware of what can and cannot be shipped into the country to avoid any trouble during customs clearance.

All countries have agencies that regulate the movement of goods to protect the safety of their people or their interests. In the U.S., the U.S. Customs Border and Protection (CBP) enforces hundreds of laws on behalf of the various government agencies that regulate the movement of various types of goods into America.

To help you navigate U.S. customs, we’ve compiled a list of restricted items that may be commonly shipped but require additional clearance as well as a list of prohibited items that absolutely cannot be imported into the country.

Interested in shipping from Southeast Asia to the US? Reach out to us via the button below to discuss more with us!

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USA’s Restricted Items List

List of items that require permission to enter the country from different government agencies

In customs clearance, restricted items refer to items that are regulated by government agencies and require additional steps before they can be cleared at customs. Usually, these come in the form of meeting certain standards set by the relevant government agency and registering or getting a license from that agency before permission can be granted to import these items.

Below is a summarised list of restricted items. For a more comprehensive list, you can check out the CBP’s ‘Importing into the US’ guide.1

  • Health and Beauty
    • Nutritional and Dietary Supplements
    • Medicine and Drugs
    • Cosmetics
    • Dental Instruments (including toothbrushes)
    • Veterinary Products (including pet medicine or vitamins, dental instruments, etc)
    • Medical Items and Pharmaceuticals
  • Contact Lenses and Eye Wear
  • Consumer Electronics
    • CD-ROMs, CD Players
    • Computers with CD/DVD drives
    • Microwave Ovens
    • Televisions with cathode ray tubes
    • Infrared Products
  • Chemicals
  • Tobacco Products
  • Wood and Wood Products – International Plant Protection Convention
  • Animal Products
  • Certain Food Items
  • Home and Living
    • Tableware

Health and Beauty Products

US imports of food, drugs, devices, and cosmetics is governed by provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The Food and Drug Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services administers this act.

This act prohibits imports of items that are adulterated, misbranded or are defective, unsafe, filthy or created in unsanitary conditions. Some of the items below will be subject to inspection by the FDA and may need one more day to factor this in. Others require FDA clearance.

    • Nutritional and Dietary Supplements – personal importation of these items subject to:
      • The product is for a serious condition for which effective treatment may not be available domestically either through commercial or clinical means.
      • There is no known commercialization or promotion of the product to persons residing in the U.S.
      • The product does not represent an unreasonable risk.
      • The consumer affirms in writing that the product is for personal use.
      • The quantity is generally not more than a three month supply and either:
        • Provide the name and address of the doctor licensed in the U.S. responsible for  your treatment with the product, or
        • Provide evidence that the product is for the continuation of a treatment begun in a foreign country.
      • For more info, see Personal importation on FDA’s site2
    • Cosmetics (including bath and essential oils) – require FDA clearance
    • Dental Instruments (including toothbrushes) – requires FDA approval
    • Veterinary Products (including pet medicine or vitamins, dental instruments, etc)
    • Medicine, Drugs, Medical Items and Pharmaceuticals – illegal to import without FDA approval

Eyewear and Contact Lenses

Eyeglass lenses and frames must comply with FDA requirements while frames with demonstration lenses must be registered with the FDA. Prescription lenses require a separate medical device listing number.

‘Demonstration use only’ prescription lenses require one of the following:

  • A drop ball test certificate from the shipper or manufacturer
  • A statement showing the lenses have been de-characterized (cannot be sold)
  • The words “demo lenses” stamped across the lenses

To find more information about this, check out the FDA’s official page.3

Consumer Electronics

Certain consumer electronics require clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These tend to include products that emit waves such as infrared or lasers. Examples include:

  • CD-ROMs, CD Players
  • Computers with CD/DVD drives
  • Microwave Ovens
  • Televisions with cathode ray tubes
  • Infrared Products

Here is the FDA’s guide on ‘How to Get Your Electronic Product on the U.S. Market’.4


Can also include ink used in pens – Requires proper certification of compliance or exemption from requirements is present

Items that contain chemicals in bulk or as part of a mixture or article containing a chemical mixture, which can include pens, fall under this category. Clearance of these types of items requires either:

  • Negative declaration – certification that the shipment is not subject or is exempt from Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) regulations
  • Positive declaration – certification that the shipment complies with TSCA regulations

The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) regulates the manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of any chemical substance or mixture that could be risky to people’s health and the environment. You can check out the TSCA requirements for importing chemicals on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official page.5

Tobacco Products

Shipments of tobacco products like cigarettes are being restricted by an increasing number of states. Shipments of these products should be sent to recipients who are licensed and authorized by relevant federal, state, provincial, or local law or regulation.


Wood and Wood Products

Wood and wood packaging materials are subject to the Lacey Act6 and follow International Plant Protection Convention guidelines.7

Rosewood – imports of manufactured rosewood items like furniture, instruments, etc are allowed if the shipper provides a valid Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit for export from the exporter’s origin country or territory.

Animal Products and Animal-by-products

For the purposes of our article, we won’t cover meat products.

Certain items that are made using animal-by-products like apparel, jewellery, shoes, or belts may be prohibited from import into the US. These include:

  • All products made from sea turtles
  • All ivory, both Asian and African elephant
  • Rhinoceros horn and horn products
  • Furs from spotted cats
  • Furs and ivory from marine mammals
  • Feathers and feather products from wild birds
  • Most crocodile and caiman leather
  • Most coral, whether in chunks or in jewellery

For more info, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.8

Certain Food Items

The CBP mentions that condiments, vinegars, oils, packaged spices, honey, coffee and tea can be brought into the U.S. However, bush meat made from African wildlife and almost anything continuing meat products like bouillon, soup mixes and others are not permissible.

For more details, check out the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website.9

Prohibited List:

List of items that are denied entry into the USA under any circumstance

These items under most circumstances cannot be imported into the United States. You can get more details about them at CBP’s prohibited and restricted items list.10

  • Drugs and Medicine prohibited by the FDA
  • Distilled spirit absinthe (except certain diluted brands)
  • Merchandise from embargoed countries
  • Items made with Dog and Cat Fur
  • Counterfeit Trademark and Copyrighted Articles

Getting items trapped in customs is never a fun experience. Keep all that to a minimum with Janio Asia’s customs and logistics expertise whether you’re shipping to the United States or to and throughout Southeast Asia.

Want to find out more about our services or request a quote? Click the button below!


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  1. Customs and Border Protection – Importing into the United States A Guide for Commercial Importers 
  2. Food and Drug Administration – Personal Importation 
  3. Food and Drug Administration – Sunglasses, Spectacle Frames, Spectacle Lens and Magnifying Spectacles 
  4. Food and Drug Administration – How To Get Your Electronic Product on the US Market
  5. Environmental Protection Agency – TSCA Requirements for Importing Chemicals | Importing or Exporting Chemical Substances under TSCA 
  6. Forest Legality – US Lacey Act 
  7. ISPM 15 Regulation of wood packaging material in international trade 
  8. Travel.State.Gov – Customs and Import Restrictions 
  9. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service -Traveler Information 
  10. Customs, Border & Protection – Prohibited and Restricted Items 

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