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Stopped at customs: The items that can get travellers deported

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When these people breached customs laws in Australia they risked fines, jail time and in some cases, deportation.

Australia is notoriously strict when it comes to going through customs at the airport, with rules about what can be brought in. But some people still try to push the limits. Source: Getty / Mark Evans


  • Australia has some of the strictest customs rules in the world.

  • Many of the restrictions around what can be brought into Australia are about protecting the country's biodiversity.

  • Plane food, pancetta and squirrels have found some people on the wrong side of Australian customs laws.

Imagine travelling halfway across the world and being turned back because of pancetta.

That was the case for a young Spanish man whose meat and cheese led to his deportation earlier this month.

People entering Australia fill out what's known as an incoming passenger card, which asks about the types of items a person is bringing into the country with them.

By declaring items, passengers let authorities know what items of interest they have with them.

But with some of the strictest customs rules in the world, what exactly can you bring into Australia, and what is off the cards?


Many of the restrictions around what can be brought into Australia are about protecting the country's biodiversity, with strict biosecurity controls helping to minimise the risk of pests and diseases entering.

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture previously spoke of a 2018 incident that was one of the more surprising and serious cases biosecurity officers at Australia's airports had seen.

An Australian resident arrived in Brisbane after travelling from Bali with live squirrels concealed on his body.

A man travelling home to Australia from Bali was found with a squirrel. Source: Getty / NurPhoto

“Squirrels can carry rabies — which is present in Bali — and if this disease was to arrive here, the toll on human and animal health would be huge,” the Department's Dr Chris Walker said in 2021 when reflecting on some of the more interesting finds.

The man was given an 18-month jail sentence with immediate release on the condition he be of good behaviour for five years.


Certain food products are allowed to be brought into Australia if they meet requirements.

While commercially prepared biltong or jerky generally gets a thumbs up, if it is made from pig meat, it won't be allowed past customs.

Interestingly, uncanned meat from New Zealand is able to be brought into the country if it complies with certain criteria, but plane food is not allowed.

Two airport workers learned this when Customs Act warrants were executed on them separately as they went about their jobs as flight engineers at Brisbane Airport in 2022. Both had removed food subject to customs control from international aircraft.

One man was cautioned after he was found with a duffle bag full of food items, including bread rolls, crisps, chocolates, yogurt and airline meals containing meat products.

The airport worker found with these plane food items in a duffle bag risked a fine of thousands of dollars. Source: Supplied / Australian Border Force

At the time, people could face fines of up to $111,000 for such actions.

Another man was fined $3,300 for receiving baked goods from a flight attendant which came from an aeroplane.

He allegedly placed the goods in a bin when confronted by a colleague.

Plant material

In 2020, before Australia shut its international borders due to the pandemic, two passengers were found to have separately brought in citrus fruit which carried a pathogen that has the potential to have a major impact on the Australian citrus industry.

One person brought in a kilogram of limes and another a quantity of dried citrus peel, all of which were confirmed to be carrying the citrus canker pathogen.

The items were destroyed, and because the people who had them in their luggage had declared them at customs, they avoided being fined or charged.


In 2019, eight Chinese men attempted to bring 170,000 undeclared cigarettes into Australia between them and were reportedly denied entry to Australia.

While it is possible to bring a small amount of tobacco and alcohol into the country without paying a duty fee, these items must be declared — something the men had not done.\

A list of items travellers must declare on entry. Source: SBS News

Travellers over the age of 18 can have with them one unopened packet of up to 25 cigarettes and one open packet of cigarettes.

This is what's considered a duty-free allowance, so anyone who brings more than that has to pay duty on the items.

When you declare items

Travellers can be fined or prosecuted if they are found not to have declared items in their possession that are listed on the card.

Customs staff may ask further questions about the items, and biosecurity officers may assess them.

In many cases, they'll return declared goods once they have inspected them.

Some items, such as wooden carvings, may require treatment to make them safe, and some items are not permitted to enter Australia at all.

If officers seize these, they may be exported or destroyed.

There are also designated bins at airport terminals that arrivals can use to dispose of items they would prefer not to claim.

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