Food & Drink For Members

What are the rules on bringing cheese, cured meat and wine to the US from Spain?

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What are the rules on bringing cheese, cured meat and wine to the US from Spain?
Spanish cured meats and cheeses are delectable, but can American take them back home with them in their suitcases? Photo: Chuttersnap/Unsplash

Whether you're taking home a little taste of Spain at the end of a trip or want to introduce your American friends and family to the delights of Spanish cheese, jamón and wine - here's what US customs regulations say.


Firstly, it's worth noting that provided you declare any food items on your US customs declaration form, you won't get in any kind of trouble.

The US Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service says; "As long as you declare all the agricultural products you are bringing with you, you will not face any penalties - even if an inspector determines that they cannot enter the country" - so the worst that can happen is that an item gets confiscated.

But the last thing you want is to spend precious euros on expensive cheeses, the finest jamón ibérico or Rioja wines only to have your precious cargo seized by a border agent as soon as you land. So how can you avoid that happening?


The first thing to know is that solid/hard cheeses are generally fine, which means that the vast  majority of Spanish cheeses will be allowed in. US Customs and Border Protection's latest guidance explicitly states that "solid cheese that does not contain meat" is admissible, so your Manchego should be fine to bring in.

When it comes to soft cheeses, however, the rules are slightly more strict: the US department of Agriculture says these are generally OK to bring in, "as long as the cheese does not contain meat or pour like a liquid ie ricotta or cottage cheese."


That indicates that cheeses such as brie or goat's cheese are fine to take with you, regulation-wise (although they aren't that common in Spain, and if you do need to keep these as cool as possible, and of course brie will stink out your luggage).

American authorities also have a problem with blue cheese - anything with a certain bacteria level is banned. Though smelly blue cheeses are less common in Spain than they are in France or England, there are some tasty blue cheeses in Spain, especially in the north of the country, notably queso de Cabrales from Asturias and Picón Bejes-Tresviso, which is produced in Cantabria.

The US Customs Clearance website states: "Soft or liquid cheese made from raw cow’s milk or other milk-producing animal is banned from importing into the US by the FDA."



So what if you want to take some jamón or Spanish chorizo back with you?

Unfortunately, these are banned under current US rules. The Department of Agriculture clearly states: "Cured hams (prosciutto, Serrano ham, Iberian ham) and salami from areas within France, Germany, Italy and Spain may not be brought into the United States by travellers."

"These items may only enter in commercial shipments because there are special restrictions that require additional certification and documentation."

As with the cheese, wine can only be imported for personal consumption or as a gift. Photo: Alexander Tamargo/Getty/AFP


If you've fallen in love with a particular Spanish vintage during a vineyard trip you may want to bring a couple of bottles back with you.

This is allowed, but the allowances for all types of alcohol are very low. 

The exact amount of alcohol you can import into the US varies by state, so you will need to check the rules on the state you are flying into (and it's where the airport is that counts, not your final destination).

The US Consulate says that the average amount allowed is just one litre (so that's one standard size bottle of wine, plus a half bottle) for duty-free allowances, and after that duty has to be paid, with amounts varying by state.

You also need to remember that the drinking age in most US states is older than in Europe, so you cannot bring in any type of alcohol if you are under 21.

As with the cheese, wine can only be imported for personal consumption or as a gift. 

Please note that The Local's staff are not US customs experts and are unable to advise on individual cases. If you're unsure whether an item is allowed, email the National Center for Import and Export at [email protected] or call on (+1) 301-851-3300 or (+1) 877-770-5990 in advance of your journey for confirmation.


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