Smuggling souvenirs home? Don’t do it. Here’s why…

by Narelle Webber on Monday, 5 November 2012

Beware: your bags will get sniffed!

When I was 19 and quite naïve, I returned home to Australia from a trip to Europe with 2kg of tulip bulbs stuffed into the bottom of my travel pack, and an enormous wheel of Edam cheese for my Dutch grandmother. I decided to check the ‘nothing to declare’ box on my customs forms when returning to Sydney, and cross my fingers that I’d make it through. Alas, my bags were checked, my goods taken and I was scared to death that I was going to receive an enormous fine (or worse).  I was lucky to get off with a stern warning but I’ve since learned my lesson; some things should never be brought from one country to another, and being truthful on your customs and immigration documents is ALWAYS the right thing to do.

I tell you this now as this is also part of ISV‘s responsible travel ethic as it involves careful consideration of what you buy, and where you choose to take it on your travels.  Now, customs officials aren’t just checking for illegal weapons, drugs, or cheats who try and sneak in copious amounts of cigarettes or alcohol above the legal limits.  For example, they’re also looking for plants and animals that are illegally brought in by unwitting travelers or on purpose by professional smugglers.  CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is an international agreement between governments which aims is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.  This can include some shells and wood products.  In fact, if you buy wood overseas and it hasn’t been appropriately treated, has bark, or holes indicative of insects, expect to have it taken from you. That grass sunhat will likely not get through, and as far as purchasing shells… we strongly recommend that you do not purchase shell items as it’s too difficult to know whether that they have been taken from marine protected areas or not.

As for the cheese and tulips bulbs I carried half way around the world? I had no idea at the time that these could pose significant bio-security risks. These days, I always tell customs when I’ve been hiking too, and the officers will generally wash my boots for free to clean them of any contaminants!

I now know that when I travel overseas it’s customary for bags to get checked, either with x-ray, detector dogs or by bio-security officers. I also know that failure to declare or dispose of any bio-security risk items or making false declarations means getting caught, fined and/or prosecution. More than this, I also realize that I have to really think hard about what I buy overseas thinking I’ll bring it home. I usually ask myself this:

  1. Do I really NEED this?
  2. What’s it made from… if in doubt, ask, and/or don’t buy it. I don’t want to contribute to the trade in endangered species through ignorance.
  3. Can I get it safely home through customs? (Is it a food item and/or made from a plant or animal product of some kind)?
  4. How well is it wrapped and clearly labeled? (important for foods in particular)
  5. If there’s a chance customs will take it off me, do I still want to buy it anyway?

Finally, when traveling to other countries always accurately declare your items and fill out your travel documentation honestly. Not only will this protect your safety, it is part of traveling responsibly so that customs and bio-security officers can make sure that we aren’t inadvertently trafficking items that we shouldn’t be.

You may find these websites listed below helpful ….

Travel Safe!

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