Travel represents to many the perfect chance to buy new exciting souvenirs. As a responsible traveller, however, it is essential that you are aware that the trade in many natural products is illegal under international guidelines.

In order to help preserve local wildlife and habitats, you should be aware that certain products are banned and will be confiscated by customs upon arrival to your home country.

You could face fines and even imprisonment if found with these products.

If you have any products you feel concerned are restricted by international laws, then you must check with the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in your home country.

It may be the case that you need a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) permit to legally transport your goods overseas legally.

There are over 800 species of plants and animals currently banned from international trade, and over 30,000 strictly controlled by CITES and EU legislation.

Consider also checking out DEFRA (UK), CITES and World Wildlife Fund – who are actively involved with raising the awareness of banned natural products.

See also the core list of banned products you should avoid buying when away, as recommended by CITES.

Banned Products

Many products purchased by travellers are banned. Below outlines just some of the more common products regularly bought by travellers, which are currently illegal.Source: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)


CITES forbids trade in skins and products from many cat species such as the tiger, leopard and jaguar. Don’t buy skins, handbags or coats made from them.


The tiger – one of the world’s most endangered species – is also threatened by demand for traditional medicines. Other medicines may contain tiger bone, rhino horn or other endangered plants and animals. If they do – and it is not always easy to tell – they cannot be imported or sold within the UK.


Jewellery, combs, sunglasses or even whole shells from sea turtles are often available on exotic islands. If you want to help these species survive, please don’t buy.


In 1997 CITES agreed to allow very limited export of ivory and elephant products. As far as tourist souvenirs are concerned this will only involve Zimbabwe and there will still be controls.

If you are visiting Zimbabwe, you are strongly advised to check with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) before bringing anything back.

In all other African and Asian countries, export of these products is still banned even though you may see them for sale in shops, hotels, markets and even airport duty-free areas.

Remember these are only some of the products you may come across abroad – many more species are also banned from international trade.


The meat of any wild animal hunted for food. Bushmeat may pose a health hazard to both humans and domestic livestock and its import into the UK from countries outside the EU is prohibited.

Trade in dead specimens of plants and animals, and any parts derived from listed species, are also controlled so that trade does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.

You may bring back souvenirs made from certain CITES species where international trade is allowed, provided they are for your personal use and you have a CITES permit from the country of export.

Not all of the species involved are immediately obvious. You need to be clear what the legal requirements are for the products you want to buy. If you are not sure what a CITES export permit looks like, or where to apply for one, contact Defra before leaving. If you are still not sure, it may be best not to buy.


Wild specimens of certain plants are banned from trade. Artificially propagated plants may be allowed into the country, subject to permit and phytosanitary regulations. Check with Defra first.


You need to be sure that coral necklaces, earrings and ornaments are not derived from endangered species. These are not always easy to identify on market stalls or in shops so if you’re unsure, don’t bring them home.


Many reptile skins such as crocodiles snakes and lizards are covered by strict European Union import controls. These products include snake skin boots, bags, belts, shoes or watch straps. These controls vary depending on the species involved and the country of export – some only require export permits if the products being brought back are for personal use. Others are banned altogether – check which rules apply before you leave the UK.


All species of sturgeon and their caviar are covered by controls. You may however bring up to 250 grams of caviar into the EU, for personal consumption. Check with Defra if you are in any doubt.

If you are in doubt about something you have bought, or want more information or advice about which product are illegal, click here, for our useful directory of contacts.