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It makes sense for Armchair World travelers to be aware of the legalities and hazards of buying "collectibles" overseas.
Be careful when you buy articles made from animals and plants or purchase live wild animals to bring back as pets. Some items, such as those made from elephant ivory, sea turtles, crocodile leather, or fur from endangered cats, and many species of live animals cannot be brought into the United States legally. Your wildlife souvenirs could be confiscated by government inspectors, and you could face other penalties for attempting to bring them into the United States. Do not buy wildlife or wildlife products unless you are certain they are legal for import into the United States.
Beware of purchasing glazed ceramic ware abroad. It is possible to suffer lead poisoning if you consume food or beverages that are stored or served in improperly glazed ceramics. Unless the ceramics are made by a firm with an international reputation, there is no immediate way to be certain a particular item is safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that ceramic tableware purchased abroad be tested for lead release by a commercial laboratory on your return or be used for decorative purposes only.
Some countries consider antiques to be national treasures and the "inalienable property of the nation." In some countries, customs authorities seize illegally purchased antiques without compensation and may also levy fines on the purchaser. Americans have been arrested and prosecuted for purchasing antiques. Americans have even been arrested for purchasing reproductions of antiques from street vendors because a local authority believed the purchase was a national treasure.
Protect yourself. In countries where antiques are important, document your purchases as reproductions if that is the case, or if they are authentic, secure the necessary export permit. The documentation or export permit may be available through the country's national museum. A reputable dealer may provide the export permit or information on how to secure one.
If you have questions about purchasing antiques, the country's tourist office can guide you. If you still have doubts, consult the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. In places where Americans have had problems because of purchasing antiques, the Consular Section is well aware of the situation. They can tell you about the local laws and the correct procedures to follow.
Keep all receipts for items you buy overseas. They will be helpful in making your U.S. Customs declaration when you return.
Excerpted from:U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. U. S. State Department Publication 9926. February, 1992. pgs. 26-27.
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