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It is being customary we bring a few authentic Russian chocolate bars/sweets to the US but we are always struggling whether we should check that "food" checkbox in the "Customs Declaration" form?

It is under the following entry in the form (yeah, together with insects, right):

I am (We are) bringing:

fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, food, insects

I've been always checking it but that just gets us into more lines and triggers extra questions after getting to the baggage check.

  • 2
    Related question, same foodstuff, different country, slightly different question travel.stackexchange.com/questions/10930/… – Andrew Grimm Dec 30 '18 at 8:15
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    As a side note, do not put your chocolate inside a suitcase that has soap, shampoo, or perfume. I found out the hard way. I would double bag it. – Scot Parker Jan 1 at 21:58
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    You could squeeze in some information on the form and say "chocolate" next to the Yes [X] – Nick T Jan 2 at 1:29
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    @ScotParker Ew! – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 2 at 13:18
98

Yes, according to US CBP officers, you should declare it as food. I bring chocolate every time I fly from Europe.

Generally what happens next is they ask what exactly you are bringing, you say "chocolate" and they let you go.

As a general rule, if you are not sure whether something needs to be declared or not, declare it. There are no penalties for declaring something which doesn't need to be declared.

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    This is my experience as well. I sometimes volunteer that it’s prepackaged chocolate when I hand in the paperwork at customs, and they usually wave me through. – Zach Lipton Dec 30 '18 at 3:07
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    If you say anything reasonable (e.g. "canned fish", "chocolate", "nuts", etc.) the CBP people will hardly raise their eyebrows. – xuq01 Dec 30 '18 at 4:06
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    Last time I cautiously declared something that ended up not being declare-worthy, after some paperwork shuffling the officers got rather impatient and rude with me for seemingly wasting their time, making me feel less than excellent. However, this is better than the alternative, the outcome if you're caught not declaring something that you should! – Lightness Races with Monica Dec 30 '18 at 17:46
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    @crasic: Fresh produce (fruits & vegetables) will usually need to be inspected as well. In both cases, the main concern is pathogens/pests that could adversely affect US agriculture. – Michael Seifert Dec 31 '18 at 16:16
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    Well, even "chocolate" in the form of Kinder eggs could be verboten (the real kind, not the imitation we have). – user3067860 Dec 31 '18 at 19:33
44

a) Chocolate, being a thing eaten by humans, is indeed "food."

b) If you say you're not carrying food, and your baggage is searched by Customs and the chocolate discovered, then they have you for lying on your Customs forms. That would be uncomfortable, possibly expensive, and could result in entry to the US being delayed or denied.

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    That's an important point that many people do not seem to know. If you do not declare something which you should have declared, you may be fined (or worse), sometimes even if the item is allowed! But if you declare it, then you won't be fined (or worse) even if the item is not allowed to enter the country. (Of course this doesn't include illegal things like weapons or drugs...) You might still have to pay tax or duty sometimes though. – Michael Hampton Dec 30 '18 at 6:41
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    Presumably you don't have to pay duty if it's not allowed in but confiscated and destroyed instead. @MichaelHampton – Andrew Leach Dec 30 '18 at 10:23
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    @FedericoPoloni not if they're alive. – phoog Dec 30 '18 at 14:10
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    If they really hate you, lying to CBP violates 18 USC 1001, which is a felony. So definitely don't lie. – Kevin Dec 30 '18 at 16:41
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    @Kevin "I didn't know chocolate was food" is going to come off pretty lame in any event. – DavidSupportsMonica Dec 31 '18 at 22:48
13

Yes, always declare all food. Your honesty will be much appreciated by CBP. I have always been treated profesionally, with courtesy, even friendly. I always itemize my food on the Customs form, emphasizing meat products. It's foolish to hide any, they (used to) have these Beagle dogs that will rat you out by sitting down and giving you that cute look.

In 2010 I hoped to bring the ingredients for split pea soup, including smoked sausage. Meat per se was not forbidden, it depended on the diseases of the period, and this was a foot-and-mouth season. They made me translate all the ingredients lists, and as soon as I reached "beef collagen" the article was confiscated. So I skipped right to the "beef" parts and I lost over half my food stuff. I received no penalty, of course, but my host who loves the soup was less happy.

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    Yeah. The beagle's official denomination is Agriculgure Canine. And they are as cute as their smell is acute. – Mindwin Dec 31 '18 at 13:36
  • That's a sad story! I would be very sad to miss out on a traditional soup like that! – Fattie Jan 2 at 12:13
3

You need to answer all questions honestly, so if the question is about whether you are carrying food, you need to answer yes, since chocolate is food.

If the question is confusing and you don't know whether to declare it or not, you should always declare it, since there is zero penalty (except for some of your time) for declaring something you didn't need to, but fairly severe penalties (even if the item found is non-harmful or is confiscated) if you don't declare something you should have.

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