(Not) taking food into Chile

This item appears on page 16 of the May 2009 issue.

Arriving at the Santiago International Airport, Dec. 18, 2008, I went through Immigration and then Customs. As a frequent traveler to less-traveled parts of South America, I am used to bringing snacks in case we miss meals. On this trip I had brought a new, unopened bag of dried peaches from Costco, an unopened bag of dried apricots from Fresh & Easy, trail mix in a baggie and unsalted almonds in another baggie.

All were confiscated. I was told that no dried fruit is allowed; all must be dehydrated, and, no, dried is not the same as dehydrated. Trail mix or nuts not in the original packages also are not allowed, and the nuts must be salted.

As we had arrived on a night flight, I hadn’t read all the rules on the reverse of the Customs form; I was just doing what I had done on my last flight to Santiago three years before. For the question, “Are you bringing in any fruit or vegetables?,” I had checked “No.” I am used to that question applying to fresh products.

Well, with that, besides bringing in illegal products I had lied on the Customs form, so I was fined $184.

I was not alone in having snacks confiscated, and there was a long line of incoming passengers waiting to pay their fines.

Not bad for the first 30 minutes of being in Santiago — a $131 entry tax and a $184 fine!


San Diego, CA

ITN contacted the Chilean Consulate in San Francisco and was informed that Chilean law forbids any animal or vegetable items from being brought into that country without their being declared on the Customs form. Even after a passenger declares carrying certain items, it is up to the Customs inspector to decide if they will be allowed.

Because Chile exports so many agricultural items, authorities are vigilant about preventing the importation of pests. The consulate contact mentioned that once in a while a Customs agent might let a sealed packet of peanuts or trail mix pass, but, in general, the agents are extremely strict.