Flying to USA with Fake Brand Items? Check Regulations, or else Be Ready to Lose It or Pay for It at Airports

Are you traveling to the US for a wedding or after attending a wedding in India? Make sure to pack in a genuine Sabyasachi lehenga/saree or original ethnic wears of ‘Manyavar’ brand. Counterfeit items of these or any international brands in your bags are at high risks of being confiscated upon your arrival in America. In FY 22 alone, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized more than 25 million fake items of various brands from foreign travelers including Indians entering the USA.

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The US government is stepping up the law enforcement to combat the import of brand counterfeits right at ports of entry in the country. With markets for counterfeit luxury products growing by leaps and bounds, the US CBP is not merely seizing but destroying fake goods of international brands, such as Gucci, Puma, Nike, and Adidas, as reported by many Indian travelers. Mostly, students and visitors from India have faced confiscation of many items from their bags on charges of being deemed fake to their dismay.

Of late, a middle-class Indian father from Hyderabad, whose son is studying in Philadelphia, travelled to the US. To his utter surprise, he was held and interrogated about the brand authenticity of clothes and accessories that he had purchased in India for his son. The CBP officers checked his bags, and confiscated the shirts, trousers, and shoes that he was carrying for his son. When he insisted on having those items back, he was threatened with a hefty penalty. Finally, he incurred a loss of Rs 28,000 (the value of the seized items) to evade the penalty.

What is the US policy for international travelers arriving with fake brand items?

The CBP allows foreign nationals traveling to the US and Americans returning from abroad to carry not more than one counterfeit item of each apparel and accessory for personal use. Precisely, packing in more than one shirt, one handbag, one wristwatch, one pair of shoes, and one set of earbuds with fake brand tags for a US trip is a criminal offense. Therefore, it is strictly prohibited, according to the CBP regulations for carrying fake brand goods into the United States.

As of 2022 reports, the global market for counterfeit luxury and fashion merchandise is estimated at $4.2 trillion. In the 2023 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy, the United States listed 33 physical markets including Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. India is home to thriving markets, such as Heera Panna in Mumbai, Tank Road in New Delhi, and Sardar Patrappa Road in Bengaluru, where counterfeit brand goods, from apparel to footwear to cosmetics, sell like hot cakes ignoring potential health and safety risks.

The heightened surveillance of the arriving passengers for fake branded products at all major US airports has resulted from the rampant violation of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). An influx of counterfeit goods into the country poses threats to the US economy, public safety, national security, and environmental sustainability.

“Carrying counterfeit brand items beyond the aforementioned permissible limit is considered an unscrupulous act of smuggling and supporting forced labor in manufacturing counterfeits of branded goods – which travelers from India, China and other countries are advised to be aware of, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Even if you got a discount on flight tickets to USA, your noncompliance with the rules for carrying fake brand clothes and accessories would cost you dearly,” said Sourav Agarwal, the Editor of Travel Beats.

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