I've always wondered this. Occasionally I declare medicines, or wood carvings or whatever when going through customs. The point of asking you to declare these things is so that they can inspect and prevent say, bug-infested wood from entering New Zealand.

There's usually an amnesty box as well - if you realise at the last minute you have fruit, which you can't bring into New Zealand (just using NZ as an example here), you can dispose of it in their bins, no problem.

Not that I ever would - but, if someone came through and for some reason realised they had their illegal drugs stash on them - class A - something really illegal, and they declared it - would customs simply say "thanks for declaring that, we'll have to take that off you as it's illegal in this country" or would they arrest you?

EDIT: For the sake of argument as some countries will probably differ, let's assume the US for the accepted answer.

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    I travelled to Jamaica on vacation in 2010, when I arrived at my hotel in Montego Bay I discovered that I had a .45 pistol in an interior pocket of my duffle bag. I secured the weapon during my stay in Jamaica, did not declare in to the Jamaican TSA. On the flight I declared it to CBP at Newark International before my bag came off the carousel. You would think that being upfront and open would work in your favor! WRONG! I was surrounded and treated like Bin Laden himself! 6 hours later I was permitted to leave sans weapon. I was told that I could return at a later date with ownership documenta
    – user4094
    Jan 26 '13 at 4:01
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    @Randy: A rather different case: I brought a can of pepper spray in checked luggage to Canada (from the UK) and declared it on the customs form. The customs agent inspected it and told me they had to seize it because it was not explicitly labelled as defense against wild animals. The only annoying part was that I then had to wait half an hour for them to dig up the correct form. Jan 29 '13 at 9:41

When you import coca candy from Bolivia into France, they just get confiscated. Hiding them is useless: custom dogs have an extremely sensitive nose.

I guess that this is the same for all products that are legal in your departure place but illegal in your destination place, like western women magazines into Iran.

I also guess that some products may raise attention of customs and you may undergo some questions from police about the reasons of your trip and why you brought a gun in your luggage or a laptop with an encrypted hard-disk. What happens next depends on your answers and whether you are already known to the police (either local or remote).

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    The bit about dogs might be partly a myth. Dogs are used to find drugs and I assume they do find some occasionally but there is research suggesting their nose is not that sensitive and I doubt there would be enough resources to thoroughly inspect all pieces of luggage going into France. Actual information on this would be interesting.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 24 '13 at 11:43
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    @Annoyed - The documentary I watched on french TV about Paris CDG "backstage" suggested that a special emphasis was put to luggage coming from Bolivia.
    – mouviciel
    Oct 24 '13 at 19:29
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    "a laptop with an encrypted hard-disk" - That's increasingly common by default these days. Phones' file stores are certainly encrypted by default. Many companies issue laptops with encrypted hard disks. Oct 25 '17 at 6:39
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    @ColinMackay - My answer is five years old. This is an eternity in computer technology.
    – mouviciel
    Oct 25 '17 at 8:08
  • The question appeared on the front page - I didn't check the date I assumed it was recent (or recent enough to appear on the front page or the site). Oct 25 '17 at 9:04

Since its illegal to use class A drugs anywhere, you cannot use "prescription" as a defense. Moreover, even if you have a legal prescription for a drug that is illegal in the US - you may be charged with a crime. Any Californian with a green card knows that.

If you're lucky - you'll just get deported and will have some explaining to do at the point of origin when you're back there.

Just to point out the difference, the limitation on import of food and livestock is not because this kind of food or livestock is illegal (in NZ, per your example). You can have fruits in NZ. You just can't bring fruits from other countries. That is the difference between sanitary limitations and illegal substances trafficking.

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    @tim what are you talking about? Once the airplane landed - you're in US jurisdiction, there's no immunity just because your passport hasn't been stamped yet.
    – littleadv
    Jan 9 '13 at 0:05
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    No, airports have an international zone (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_zone), and unless/until you actually attempt to leave that zone and enter the US, the government has no jurisdiction over you. Similarly, possession of drugs in your own boat in US territorial waters is no crime unless you had them in,or intended to import them to, the US. It could be argued that the US government doesn't always respect international law, (there is evidence both ways): but the law itself is clear. Jan 9 '13 at 18:34
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    @Tim so if you kill or rob someone in the duty free, no-one will charge you with the crime? Ridiculous. Besides, the OP is talking about declaring drugs in customs. That is beyond the "international zone".
    – littleadv
    Jan 9 '13 at 18:40
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    @Tim: You're quite simply wrong. Secure transit areas in airports allow you to transit without passing through immigration, but you are most certainly subject to the host country's laws in them. Here's a guy who was executed for bringing drugs into Singapore, even though he never left the transit area: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Tuong_Nguyen Jan 29 '13 at 4:25
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    What do you mean by "illegal to use anywhere"? Do you mean to claim that there does not exist a drug which is class A in one country and legal in another? I'm pretty sure that's not true, e.g. coca leaf is class A in the UK and legal (with some regulation) in Bolivia. Do you mean it's illegal to use a class A drug anywhere in the country it's classified A? Also not true, e.g. morphine is class A in the UK but can be prescribed. Not sure whether it can be brought thorough customs on prescription or not, though. Jun 10 '14 at 9:25

Can't give a blanket statement about that. All depends on where you come from, where you're declaring, what you're declaring, your composure and behaviour, whether the officer(s) you're dealing with are in a good mood or not, etc. etc. etc.
I'd suspect the TSA goons in the US to be a lot less likely to just let you go than many a customs official in the EU, and in many African countries they'd probably wink and forget about it if you gave them some money (then again, those same guys might come back and throw you in prison as soon as you turn your back for attempted bribery, then keep the stuff for themselves).

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    This answer seems to contain more national stereotypes than actual information. Nov 15 '14 at 18:03
  • Hooray for rejected migration! >:D
    – BCLC
    Nov 24 at 17:30

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