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International Trade

International Trade Rules You Can Giggle About

Don’t try to stop your cough…in Japan.

Japanese drug laws are notoriously strict. But did you know that you cannot import Vicks inhalers into the country? Want to treat your allergies? Good luck with that. You’re going to need a prescription for sinus or allergy meds because they can also double as stimulants. If you’re sick enough to need a medication that has codeine in it, you may want to push back your vacation for a few weeks. Codeine medications are illegal to bring into Japan, and you probably need to rest anyway.

Weird Things You’re Not Allowed To Export

These rules may seem peculiar, but are probably a side effect of a local custom or local politics. Still, they’re worth a laugh (and a look, just in case you’re thinking about exporting one of the following).

  • Exporting to Argentina? Don’t try to send GPS systems with maps already included. They don’t want your maps.
  • Who needs two of a kind? Not Mexico, India, or South Africa. Don’t try to export a pair of matching shoes to any of the above.
  • We may need to worry about Algeria’s dental hygiene. You’re not allowed to export dental products to the country. Which is a great excuse not to floss.
  • Thinking of importing tents into Jordan? You better be prepared for a lot of work, including getting a special license.
  • Two odd, seemingly unconnected things you can’t import to Nigeria: wheelbarrows and fake flowers.
  • Don’t agree with Morocco’s borders? Don’t try to send them your maps of the Sahara, then.

Strange Customs Laws

Have you been on a pilgrimage? Are you returning home to Fiji? Don’t try to bring back more than one pint of holy water. It may not be that holy, after all. Pilgrims are limited to the small amount because the Fiji government is trying to protect the public’s water from health risks such as cholera and typhoid.

  • As mentioned above, Nigeria doesn’t let foreign wheelbarrows into the country. But over time, the country has also banned almost every product you could think of – from toothpicks to chocolate to ball point pens. This is because they are trying to boost their own market and encourage production of native goods.
  • Americans don’t exactly love clowns, but the French town of Vendargues (which numbers only 6,000) has banned the importation of clown costumes altogether. They especially grow concerned around Halloween. The cause: an increase of evil clown pranks that scare children (and probably adults, too, if we’re being honest). The rest of France is becoming involved in the anti-clown rhetoric, so it may not be long before all clown costumes are banned from entering the country.
  • Singapore, the business-friendly city state, isn’t so friendly toward the non-cleanly. Public enemy number one is chewing gum. You can’t import it, and you can’t chew it or sell it. This rule has been on the books since 1991. And if you do get caught with a little chewing gum, you’re going to be slapped with a not so little fine.
  • If you’ve stumbled across anti-big government/gun control debates on the internet, you probably already know about the Kinder Surprise Egg being banned in the US. It’s a tasty chocolate egg that has a little toy inside…or a little choking hazard, depending on how you look at it. The fine for bringing an egg into the country can be up to ­­$2500. A family trying to smuggle ten of the treats in from Canada was fined $1200 per egg for a total of $12,000. That’s a lot of dough for eggs that got confiscated and not eaten. – More on this later
  • Algeria says no to all dental products – which we mentioned earlier. The reason behind this ruling is a little murky, but many believe it is because the country does not endorse fluoride, which is common in many but not all dental products.
  • Even though Saudi Arabia is a relatively new nation, it knows what it does and doesn’t like. And on the top of the “dislike” list is noise. There’s no music allowed in shopping malls, and those annoying cards that play music when you open them? Those are banned. Another, more surprising product that you cannot import into Saudi Arabia is a car horn. Good luck honking in traffic with this rule on the books.
  • The Japanese Pufferfish’s poison is a thing of legend and fuels many a plot twist in mystery novels. It’s also a pretty adorable fish, albeit banned from the EU because it can kill you if prepared incorrectly. You can taste the fish, if you dare, in places like the US – where the chef just needs a license to prepare it.
  • Mexico, India, and South Africa have all banned matching shoe pairs from being imported into their countries. Most likely, they just want to get their own foothold on the footwear industry in their own countries.

More Egg-cellent info on the Kinder Surprise Ban

  • The Kinder Surprise egg was illegal ever since it was created. Why? Because the United States already had a law against candy embedded with foreign objects. That law has been around since 1938, and the Kinder Egg only dates back to the 1970s.
  • The Kinder Surprise egg could very well choke a child. The FDA has called the egg a choking hazard for young kids, and therefore Customs collects these illegal treats as they enter the States.
  • People still want the Kinder Egg. Customs will often put out press releases warning of the danger lurking within these eggs, but that doesn’t stop people from illegally smuggling some treats home. In 2011, about 60,000 of the killer chocolates were confiscated on their way into the US. And the fines for this act are steep, up to $2500. One family was fined a total of $12,000 – it doesn’t matter how delicious Kinder Eggs are…that is just not worth it.

Infographic: More Oddball Global Customs Laws

Here are a few highlights of this infographic, originally found here.

  • Guatemala – Impersonating a police officer must have reached new heights in the country, because Guatemala has banned police whistles.
  • Panama – Panama protects its native breakfast foods with a ban on foreign pastries.
  • Peru – They must know something we don’t (like, perhaps they don’t actually do anything?): Peru has banned all vitamin supplements.
  • Switzerland – Don’t try to bring a foreign lottery ticket into Switzerland, but feel free to gamble away your money on the local Swiss lotto, Swisslos.
  • Czech Republic – Don’t worry about getting a chain letter in this country. The relics from the pre-digital age are banned.
  • Italy – Only wooden toys can make it across the Italian border, which leads us to believe Italian children must be chic and polite and free of annoying plastics.
  • Uruguay – Foreign glasses aren’t allowed into the country, which is great for Uruguayan spectacle makers.
  • Benin – Benin residents can’t partake in bottled water because it is banned, which is probably great for the environment.
  • Iran – No fashion magazines allowed in the strict, religious country. The Western influence prevalent in fashion is frowned upon in Iran.



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