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Bringing Home A Bit of Sand - US Customs Problem?

I have a very dear friend whose father landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. I'd like to bring my friend a handful of sand from the area of the beach where her father landed. It's an odd situation, to be sure. But does anyone here have any idea if I'll run into a problem with US Customs on this?

Posted by
11432 posts

Here it is from U.S. Customs website:

Soil, Sand, Minerals, and Shells
Soil-borne organisms threaten both plants and animals. If you visited a farm or ranch in a foreign country, agricultural specialists may have to examine and disinfect your shoes or clothing. Vehicles must also be cleaned of any soil. No soil or earth of any kind is allowed into the United States without a permit issued in advance by USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine Permit Unit. Pure sand, such as a small container of decorative beach sand, is usually allowed. Always check with the permit unit in advance for details.

Here's a link to the website I got this from:

Bringing Agricultural Products Into the United States

Posted by
12040 posts

"Pure sand, such as a small container of decorative beach sand, is usually allowed. Always check with the permit unit in advance for details." I've actually asked a customs agent, out of curiosity because this question comes up every now and then on the forum, the exact meaning of the wording. The key words here are "pure" and "decorative". If you bought in it a store, fine. If you scoop it up yourself on the beach, not OK, because it contains all kinds of organic matter.

Of course, if you don't declare the sand, I doubt anyone would raise a fuss... not that I'm advocating anything here...

EDIT: Why does this question never come up for anywhere else in Europe? I've never heard of anyone wanting dirt from Bastogne or Arnhem... and I've certainly never heard of any Canadians wanting sand from the Scheldt Delta. Perhaps because of the movie "Saving Private Ryan"?

Posted by
768 posts

As long as you bring a handful of sand from Virginia and make it an even exchange. ONLY KIDDING. Actually, I'm curious to see the responses you get. I hope nobody gives you any nasty responses because I think it is a nice gesture on your part. I am also visiting the d-day beaches on July 24th. You may want to look at the newstands now because I just bought my husband Newsweeks 65th D-Day Anniversary Edition. It has incredibly moving photo's & history. I'm giving it to him today for father's day. Your friend may be very interested in it if he hasn't already picked it up.

Posted by
8995 posts

All I can tell you is that in 1992, as I was crossing the border from New Brunswick into Maine, US Customs confiscated a jar full of sand a traveling companion tried to bring across the border. So doing this is probably a violation of some sort.

Posted by
12040 posts

As the other poster hinted, yes, for the most part, you can not import sand. The Customs Service puts sand in the same category as soil. If you want to import a sample, it has to be for scientific purposes, with all the prerequisite documentation.

Posted by
208 posts

Since Omaha Beach is also made up of "shingle" (sea-washed stones that are an inch or two across) maybe I wouldn't have any trouble bringing back some shingle instead of sand. I'll try both.

Posted by
3313 posts

As Jim said, Omaha Beach is made of small stones, not sand. I have two on the windowsill of my office. The stones make better souvenirs than sand. No problem at customs.

Posted by
445 posts

While watching the recent TV coverage of the D Day Anniversary, I noticed a lot of vets scooping up a bit of sand...presumably to take home. Now I have no way of knowing how they got this back to the USA but I thought it was a nice idea.

Stones, as mentioned, probably would be safer. A lot of us have pieces of the Berlin Wall that arrived in the US without a problem. (A friend got me a piece herself as the Wall was significant in my family).

Posted by
53 posts

My sister and I were both at Omaha Beach in 2002 and we both saved a little sand and a stone. We didn't have any trouble bringing it into the US.

We collect rocks too and have them from several places (including the Berlin wall). I think stones are probably easier but sand for this location is also especially meaningful.

Posted by
8392 posts

We've brought home about a cup of sand in a baggie several times from many trips to Omaha Beach. Never had a problem coming home with it. I saw my Dad do this in 1963 (he landed at Omaha) and our family has done it ever since.

Posted by
208 posts

Tom...
The only reason that I'm interested in sand from Omaha Beach is that I have a close friend whose late father landed there at 8:30AM on D-Day. I'm going to take several photos of the area where he landed (the US Army Office of Military History helped me find the spot where his company hit the beach), and bring home a few rocks and a handful of sand as a gift for my friend. I'm sure she'll enjoy that more than some trinket from Paris.
Regarding soil from Bastogne: A fellow that I worked with about 20 years ago was in the Bastogne area during the Battle of the Bulge, and went back for a visit in the early 80s. After wandering around in the woods for a while, he found his old foxhole, and brought back a handfull of dirt from it. That small jar of dirt was one of his most proud possessions, and was buried with him when he died 5 years ago.

Posted by
12 posts

My friend brought sand home from a few beaches in Italy last summer to the US and she was ok - but I don't think she declared it as being in her bag. She did run into trouble when we were in the airport flying from Edinburgh to Dublin - they had to search her bag after it went through the machine but when they saw it was a bottle of sand they said it was ok.

Posted by
515 posts

Ummm.....A little sand in a ziplock bag tucked away with other valuables is a possibility. Brought a little of Utah Beach home to my dad last summer; he came ashore there a couple months after D-Day. He placed his sand in a tiny vial and tucked it inside his shadow box of WWII tags, patches, medals, and other memorabilia. This shadow box sits at eye view in his living room where he admires it daily. We also brought home a twig from the Ardennes where my husband's father fought in the Bulge. He is deceased now, but the little twig resides in a scrapbook of his assorted WWII items.

Posted by
769 posts

stones maybe but sand is like soil is like dirt - Ag Dept will probably not like it unless its in some suvenier glass like a snow-globe. Maybe you can make a painting and glue it on!

Posted by
6001 posts

...Of course, I probably bring the equivalent amount of a small scoop of sand home in my swimsuit.

Posted by
1157 posts

We returned from Normandy last month where we collected sand from the Omaha Beach for two vets back home. We had no trouble bringing it back to the US, probably a pint or less total. On the customs declaration it asks if you have any soil and I answered "no". I didn't think sand from a beach was the same thing as soil or dirt from a foreign country. I may have been wrong or splitting hairs, but two vets now have sand from Omaha and a photo of me collecting it as well.

Posted by
1170 posts

Put it in a small bottle/container. The joy you will bring outweighs everything else.

Posted by
11450 posts

Gosh,, I have been breaking the law for years and had no idea.. we always bring home a bit of sand from Hawaii,, its tradition.. and we don't hide it,, its in a pill jar usaully in our suitcase. Hubby brought home sand and shells from Mexico a few years back for kids too,, in a baggie.

Personally, I say bring the sand back,, it is a small amount that will be in a container and saved as a momento.. not a truck load in the garden. I think in the case of the D Day beaches it is a special idea.

As noted, it is apparently pebbles or rocks,, rather then sand,, so you could "wash " it , even boil it , or dump some bleach on it to " sterilize" it.

Posted by
53 posts

Pat makes a good point. The agricultural concern with sand, soil, etc. is that any organisms in the sand would mix with our organisms and potentially cause problems. If the sand is going to go into a glass bottle and kept on a bookshelf, there should be no danger. I definitely would not spread it in a garden or something similar, keep it isolated and enjoy it as a memory.

Personally I would limit "collections" to rocks or sand. I definitely wouldn't bring back soil. And wash any rocks free of soil.