California is an important agricultural state. To prevent the spread of pests and diseases, certain food items (including meats, fresh fruit and vegetables) may not be brought into the state. Bakery items, chocolates and hard-cured cheeses are admissible. If you drive into California across the border from Mexico or from the neighboring states of Oregon, Nevada or Arizona, you may have to stop for a quick questioning and inspection by California Department of Food and Agriculture agents.

Under the US Department of Homeland Security's Orwellian-sounding Office of Biometric Identity Management, almost all foreign visitors to the USA (excluding, for now, many Canadians, some Mexican citizens, children under age 14 and seniors over age 79) will be digitally photographed and have their electronic (inkless) fingerprints scanned upon arrival.

For more information about entering the USA, visit www.cbp.gov online.

Customs Regulations

Currently, non-US citizens and permanent residents may import up to the following limits:

  • 1L of alcohol (if you’re over 21 years old)
  • 200 cigarettes (one carton) or 100 (non-Cuban) cigars (if you’re over 18 years old)
  • $100 worth of gifts

Amounts higher than $10,000 in cash, traveler’s checks, money orders and other cash equivalents must be declared. Don’t even think about bringing in illegal drugs.

For more complete, up-to-date information, check with US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov).

Passports

  • Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travelers must have a valid machine-readable (MRP) passport when entering the US by air, land or sea.
  • The only exceptions are for some US, Canadian and Mexican citizens traveling by land who can present another WHTI-compliant document (eg pre-approved ‘trusted traveler’ cards). For details, visit www.cbp.gov/travel online.
  • All foreign passports must meet current US standards and be valid for six months longer than your intended stay in the USA.
  • MRP passports issued or renewed after October 26, 2006 must be e-passports (ie have a digital photo and integrated chip with biometric data).

Visas

Generally not required for stays of 90 days or less for citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries with ESTA approval (apply online at least 72 hours in advance).

More Information

  • Depending on your country of origin, the rules for entering the USA keep changing. Double-check current visa and passport requirements before coming to the USA.
  • Currently, under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), visas are not required for citizens of 38 countries for stays up to 90 days (no extensions) as long as you have a machine-readable passport (MRP) that's valid for six months beyond your intended stay.
  • Citizens of VWP countries must still register online with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/) at least 72 hours before travel. Once approved, ESTA registration ($14) is valid for up to two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
  • For most Canadian citizens traveling with Canadian passports that meet current US standards, a visa for short-term visits (usually up to six months) and ESTA registration aren't required.
  • Citizens from all other countries or whose passports don't meet current US standards need to apply for a temporary visitor visa. Best done in your home country, the process costs a nonrefundable fee (minimum $160), involves a personal interview and can take several weeks, so apply as early as possible.
  • For up-to-date information about entry requirements and eligibility, check the visa section of the US Department of State website (http://usvisas.state.gov) or contact the nearest US embassy or consulate in your home country (for a complete list, visit www.usembassy.gov).