Can I Bring Beef Jerky into the USA? A Complete Guide for International Travelers

Beef jerky makes for a tasty and portable protein snack. But can you bring beef jerky into the USA when traveling internationally?

As an international traveler, you may be wondering if beef jerky purchased abroad can be legally imported into the United States. With strict US customs regulations on many food products, it’s an important question to get clarity on.

In this comprehensive guide we’ll cover everything you need to know about bringing beef jerky into the USA

  • Overview of US import rules
  • Commercial vs homemade jerky
  • Allowed countries of origin
  • Declaration requirements
  • Mail and courier regulations
  • Quarantine and inspection
  • Fines and penalties
  • Safer travel snack alternatives

Let’s find out if you can legally bring beef jerky over the US border!

Overview of Bringing Meat Products into the USA

In general bringing meat and meat products like beef jerky into the United States from another country is heavily restricted.

According to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency rules, pork, ruminant meat, poultry, and their byproducts from most foreign countries are prohibited entry altogether due to serious disease risks like swine fever, mad cow disease, avian flu, and foot and mouth disease.

For non-ruminant meats like beef jerky, importation may be allowed but is still very limited and subject to strict regulations. Commercial beef jerky from approved nations can potentially be brought in under specific circumstances, while homemade beef jerky is banned outright.

So while not completely impossible, getting beef jerky successfully through US customs from another country can be tricky and requires following proper protocol.

Commercial vs Homemade Beef Jerky

A key distinction exists between commercially prepared vs homemade beef jerky in terms of bringing it into the US.

Commercially prepared beef jerky that is properly packaged, labelled, and sourced from certain approved countries may be permitted entry under select conditions that will be outlined. Approval depends on disease status.

Homemade or artisanal beef jerky, meanwhile, is strictly prohibited import under any circumstances, no exceptions. Homemade jerky could contain raw meat from unknown sources, creating a high disease risk. Leave any homemade jerky products behind when traveling to the US.

This commercial vs homemade difference is a crucial factor when evaluating if that foreign beef jerky can come home with you. Only commercial jerky has potential for allowance if all other import requirements are fully met.

What Countries Can Beef Jerky Be Imported From?

Assuming it’s commercially made, the country your beef jerky originates from also determines if it can enter the US.

Currently, the CBP only allows import of beef jerky from the following nations:

  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Argentina

So if you purchased some beef jerky in Canada or New Zealand recently and want to bring it back to the States, you may be in luck. But jerky from other countries outside of the above approved list cannot be brought in.

These disease-free determinations are made by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Restricted countries are those considered higher risk for contagious livestock diseases. As disease statuses evolve, so do APHIS import approvals.

Bottom line: the jerky must originate from one of the countries currently cleared for beef product import to have any chance of entering. Other nations, no go.

Declaration Requirements When Arriving in the USA

If you’re carrying beef jerky from an permitted country, your next step is proper customs declaration upon arriving in the US.

You must officially declare any foods you are importing on your written or verbal declaration form when going through US customs. Write “beef jerky” on the form under meats/food items.

Failure to declare could result in your beef jerky being confiscated and penalties assessed. Being transparent is mandatory.

Two important notes:

  • You must declare the jerky even if it was made in the USA originally. All meats are subject to declaration when re-entering the country.

  • Declare the jerky even if the packaging seems unopened. Do not attempt to hide or obscure it.

Making a complete and honest declaration is required for your beef jerky to be potentially cleared.

Can Beef Jerky Be Mailed or Shipped to the USA?

You might be wondering if beef jerky from approved places can simply be mailed or couriered to you in the US rather than carried through customs. Unfortunately, no.

USPS regulations prohibit mailing meat products, with no exceptions for beef jerky. The same holds true for private international couriers like DHL and FedEx.

Your only option is to bring the beef jerky with you in luggage when passing through US customs at an airport or land border crossing. Do not attempt to mail jerky to yourself. It will be confiscated and destroyed by USPS or customs officials.

What Happens During US Customs Inspection?

If you followed all the steps above, your commercial beef jerky from a permitted country stands a chance of making it through US customs. But it’s not guaranteed.

Your baggage containing the declared beef jerky will need to undergo additional inspection and screening. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Dogs trained to sniff out meat products will inspect your bag.

  • Your beef jerky will be physically examined and possibly opened.

  • You may need to provide invoices/receipts about the jerky’s origins.

  • The jerky will be held aside for further testing and quarantine.

  • If cleared, you’ll receive notice when to return and collect your jerky

  • If not approved, your jerky will be confiscated and destroyed.

  • Be cooperative and patient during the inspection process.

The CBP allows up to 15 days for testing and clearance decisions. If your beef jerky fails to meet all their import requirements, then unfortunately it will not be returned to you.

Fines and Penalties Associated with Beef Jerky

If you attempt to sneak commercial beef jerky through customs without declaring it, or try to import homemade jerky, you could face some hefty fines if caught:

  • Failure to declare: $300-$500 fine first offense.

  • Commercial product concealed: $250-$1,000 fine first offense.

  • Homemade product: $250 fine first offense.

  • Repeat offenses: fines up to $1,000 plus possible ban from entering the USA.

Penalties escalate sharply for those who ignore or break the rules. Make sure to follow proper protocol.

Safer Food Souvenirs and Travel Snacks

While getting beef jerky successfully through US customs can be tricky, you have plenty of safer food souvenir options to consider instead:

  • Sealed packaged cookies, candies, chips, snacks without meat ingredients

  • Hard cheeses sealed in wax only

  • Fruit jams/preserves in sealed containers

  • Wine/alcohol (must be declared, limits apply)

  • Chocolate bars or other candy (non-meat)

  • Spices sealed in small packets

Stick to non-perishable, hygienically packaged items free of meat, dairy, fresh produce, or raw ingredients to minimize customs scrutiny. And always remember to declare any foods brought back when re-entering the USA.

Can I Bring Beef Jerky into the USA? The Bottom Line:

Bringing beef jerky into the United States as a traveler involves obstacles. Commercially prepared beef jerky from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or Argentina has potential for clearance if properly declared. But approval is never guaranteed, and homemade jerky is strictly prohibited.

Your best bet is leaving any foreign beef jerky purchases behind to avoid fines. With some planning, you can find safer food souvenirs and snacks to enjoy abroad while staying compliant with US customs rules.

Bon voyage and happy travels! Just leave the beef jerky cravings for when you return.

See What Really Happens To The Illegal Food Confiscated At U.S. Customs


Can I bring dried beef to the USA?

Meats, Livestock and Poultry: The regulations governing meat and meat products are stringent. You may not import fresh, dried or canned meats or meat products from most foreign countries into the United States. Also, you may not import food products that have been prepared with meat.

Can I take beef jerky on American Airlines?

Yes! TSA allows solid foods and snacks on airplanes, including beef jerky.

Do I have to declare snacks at US Customs?

Travelers entering the United States must declare all food products on U.S. Customs forms or be subject to significant penalties.

What foods are not allowed through US customs?

Prohibited or restricted items may include meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, seeds, soil and products made from animal or plant materials. For generally allowed food items please visit USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

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