Skip to main content

Traveling to South Korea for the Olympics? Bring Back Great Memories, Not a Pest or Disease

Posted by Joelle Hayden, APHIS Public Affairs in Animals
Feb 06, 2018
A wing tip of an airplane
Traveling to South Korea for the Olympics? Bring back great memories, not a pest or disease.

The Winter Olympics begin shortly in South Korea, bringing us two weeks of incredible athletic performances. While many of us will watch the games from our TVs, computers or phones, some lucky individuals will travel to witness the games in person. And when traveling, people often bring back items as souvenirs or as gifts for those of us at home. If you are traveling to the Olympics (or anywhere outside the country), keep in mind there are rules about agricultural products being brought into the U.S.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service works to protect American agriculture in many ways, including keeping potentially harmful pests and diseases out of the country. Without knowing it, the items you try to bring back from your international travels could impact the health and safety of American agriculture and natural resources. So be aware when you are selecting souvenirs and gifts – there are some items travelers cannot safely bring back.

Travelers cannot bring back any beef, poultry, lamb, goat and/or pork products without a proper import permit issued by USDA. This includes meat, noodles with meat flavorings, soups, mooncakes, etc. – even if they are commercially produced and purchased.

Travelers cannot hand carry any fresh fruits, vegetables or seeds into the U.S. Travelers also cannot hand carry bonsai or potted plants. These items can only enter the U.S. through commercial shipments with the proper permits.

On the other hand, commercially preserved and packaged items like teas or chocolate that you purchase at the airport are generally safe to bring back. Other items that are generally considered safe include:

  • Breads, cakes, cookies, and other bakery goods
  • Candies
  • Roasted nuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Canned or processed sauces
  • Seaweed
  • Canned or processed vegetables and fruits

Even if something is on the generally safe list, make sure to declare any agricultural products you are bringing back on to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when you return home.

If you need more information or guidance, visit APHIS’s international traveler page. For specific information on importing products that are made from or contain animal derived materials (e.g., food, pharmaceuticals, trophies), call 301-851-3300 or visit the animal product import page. For specific information on plant materials, contact Plant Protection and Quarantine Permit Services at 301-851-2046 or 877-770-5990 or email

Here’s to safe travels to South Korea – and protecting American agriculture on the way home!

Category/Topic: Animals