Be Informed. Buy Informed
Before you buy your travel souvenirs, make sure that the country you’re visiting allows the export of its native species or other wildlife that you buy or acquire there. Remember: resource protection laws and treaties don’t just cover live animals and plants but also mounted specimens, foods, parts and products made from or decorated with fur, hide, skin, feathers, scales, shell, antlers, horns, teeth, claws or bones.
These guidelines apply to wildlife items that you carry with you or bring back in your checked luggage for your personal use, all of which must be declared to wildlife (wildlife inspectors) or customs officers. Stricter prohibitions may apply if you mail or ship your purchases home.
SEA TURTLES: International trade in sea turtle products is prohibited. Avoid jewelry and products made from “tortoiseshell”; sea turtle meat, soup, eggs, facial creams and shells; leathers, boots, handbags and other goods made from sea turtle skin.
IVORY: The U.S. generally prohibits the importation of elephant ivory. Don’t bring home raw ivory or ivory jewelry, carvings or figurines made from elephant tusks. Avoid raw or carved ivory from the teeth or tusks of whales, walruses, narwhals and seals.
FURS: Most of the world’s wild cats—including tigers, jaguars, leopards, ocelots, margays, cheetahs and leopard cats—are protected. You cannot import skins or items made using the fur or parts of these animals. Furs and other parts from seals, polar bears and sea otters are also prohibited.
BIRDS: In most cases, you cannot buy a wild bird (such as a parrot, macaw, cockatoo or finch) in another country and bring it home with you. The U.S. prohibits the importation of the feathers and parts of most wild birds without a permit. This ban also includes mounted birds and bird nests.
PRIMATES: Don’t buy a live monkey or ape overseas—these imports are prohibited by U.S. health laws. Most primate species are protected; avoid products, furs or meats from these animals.
WILDLIFE WOOLS: Avoid shahtoosh, an illegal superfine fabric made from the protected Tibetan antelope. Some clothing made from vicuña (a South American mammal) may be imported with proper permits. Check country laws as well as U.S. import restrictions.
TRADITIONAL MEDICINES: Check labels carefully. Don’t bring home products that list tiger, rhinoceros, leopard, Asiatic black bear or musk deer as ingredients. Permits may be needed to take whole or sliced roots of American ginseng to another country.
FISH & SHELLFISH: You can usually bring home sport-caught or stuffed and mounted fish. Importing smoked salmon is not a problem, but you’ll need a permit for sturgeon meat. Check country laws as well as possible U.S. import restrictions before trying to bring queen conch or giant clam meat back to the states.
REPTILES: Many leather manufacturers work with skins from sustainably harvested reptiles such as the American alligator. But some snake, turtle, tortoise, crocodilian and lizard species are protected; their import as pets or in leather products or jewelry or hats with teeth or claws may be subject to trade restrictions. Check before buying reptiles or reptile products overseas or taking these items with you when you travel outside the U.S.
PANGOLINS: International trade in pangolins is prohibited. Avoid medicines, fashion accessories, and products made from pangolin scales; pangolin leather products and meats; stuffed or preserved pangolin specimens, and all other pangolin products.
CORAL & SHELLS: Many nations limit the collection, sale and export of live coral and coral products. Consult local authorities before buying coral souvenirs, jewelry or aquarium decorations. Take similar precautions with queen conch, giant clam and other shells. Import restrictions may also apply—for example, queen conch shells from some Caribbean countries cannot be imported into the U.S.
CAVIAR: The world’s sturgeon species are increasingly at risk, and trade in caviar from these fish is now regulated. Without a permit, you may only import up to 125 grams (about 4 oz) of sturgeon caviar per person per trip. Know which species of sturgeon your caviar came from—the caviar of some species is completely prohibited.
PLANTS: Certain plants—particularly orchids, cacti and cycads—may require permits. You should also check with U.S. agriculture officials before importing any plant. Some species are banned as invasive; all imports must be pest-, soil- and disease-free.
Around the world, you’ll find wildlife and plant products for sale—as jewelry, clothes, pets, souvenirs and more. But just because something is for sale doesn’t mean it’s legal to take home. Some of these products may be made from protected animals or plants and may be illegal to export or import. Other wildlife products may require permits before you can bring them home to the United States. By making informed choices, you can avoid having your souvenir confiscated or paying a fine— and support wildlife conservation around the world.
Most countries, including the United States, protect their native animals and plants under national laws and through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Signed by more than 180 nations, this treaty supports sustainable trade in wildlife and plants while protecting endangered species.
In addition to international agreements, U.S. laws provide even stronger protections for such animals as marine mammals, elephants and wild birds. If the country you’re visiting bans the sale or export of a species, you cannot legally import it here.
To make sure your purchase is legal and properly sourced, ask the seller:
Questions about a purchase? Contact local natural resource agencies, the country’s CITES Management Authority, or check:
FOR MORE INFORMATION
WHEN IN DOUBT, DON’T BUY!