Odd Souvenier question

This might sound a little strange but I'll risk it. My daughter will be traveling to several countries in Europe for 18 days. She will be traveling with a tour group of fellow students. My question is this, is it legal to transport sand or dirt from other countries into the USA? No one knows the answer to this. My daughter likes to collect sand from beaches she has visited and I told her to bring me a "piece" of Europe on return. Didn't know if customs or security would allow it or even what to transport it in. Baggie or film can? Would they think the dirt/sand would be some "dangerous substance".
Any comments would be appreciated.

Posted by JS
Bay Area
2262 posts

I would contact US Customs/ag inspection for clarity. Certainly soil may contain insects and weed seeds that can be a problem along with disease. Sand is probably less of a prob. You may also inquire about shells which I would think is the safest. Also you can write date/location on shells for a great memento. Place in a clear glass container and enjoy for the trips and years to come.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3145 posts

In many places in Europe, including beaches, there are small, smooth stones. On some trips I collect one in a special place and bring it home. Then I write on the stone where I found it, using a permanent marker. A small stone weighs less than an ounce and really is "a piece of Europe."

Posted by karen
131 posts

Unless she goes through the whole horrific legal postal regulations/sanitation process for the sand or dirt she will likely just be at the mercy of the gate and customs agents! Technically if it is sand and especially soil you are supposed to do this. The rules are buried online in all the import regulations if you pore through the Agriculture Dept. Website! Speaking from experience, she is better off checking her suitcase and wrapping the ziplock or film cannister in laundry and hoping for the best. Rocks, as noted, are a little easier. Even in my carry-on I brought back quite a few from_______(shhhh!)in Europe. The security officer mulled it over but did let me go- with my rocks. As with everything, moderation will probably be the key- scooping a couple tablespoons into a baggie verus trying to smuggle half the beach!

Posted by Helen
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
705 posts

I don't know about the States but if I tried that here there is no way I would get it through. I'm sure it would fall under the plant/animal/soil thing. It's not the actual substance but what nasties it may contain. She could risk it and declare it being prepared to have it confiscated. The stone idea sounds great and a lot less risky.

Posted by Ven
Kingsport, USA
2 posts

Thanks guys! I also thought about what nasties might be in the dirt. I would hate to be responsible for bringing into the country some new blight or something that might wipe out trees or egad, poeple! The shell or rock sounds like a good idea. I thought about hiding it in pockets or cuffs of pants and shorts. I don't like being dishonest but sometimes you just want to take a risk or two. Once while visiting Jamaica my husband and I brought back a few large conch shells. We put them in our luggage and when we went through customs we started smelling something really stinky. Evidently the shells were freshly prepared and smelled like dead sea life! We were afraid they would check it out but they didn't. Needlesss to say they really smelled horrible by the time we got back to TN. We put them out in the sun for a few days and they were ok after that.
Thanks again for the advice! This site is great! Full of good information on all sorts of topics.

Posted by CL
Salem, Oregon, USA
975 posts

I also collect sand from foreign places (I have a nice collection in clear glass spice bottles). It never occured to me it might fall in the evil dirt category. That said, I've never, ever been asked about it. Always kept in small (snack size) ziplock baggies in my checked luggage.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3145 posts

I recently read an article about companies that will ship small or large quantities of soil from Ireland or Israel to the US.