Bringing an immediately unidentifiable brownish powder through US customs

I have a friend who paid over $200 for a batch of ginseng-based medicine and now wants to bring it with her in her carry-on baggage when she flies to the US (port of entry: Los Angeles). As the title indicates, it’s apparently a brownish powder in an unlabeled bottle, and a pungent odor that’s sure to drive the customs beagles crazy to boot. Am I right in telling her that this may be a Bad Idea?

Are there arrangements that can be made with Customs beforehand? Would it be better to mail the stuff?

I would think so. And why not put it into checked luggage?

Sorry, but to which part of my question are you referring? Bad Idea, making arrangements, or mail?

And customs goes through checked luggage at the port of entry.

Or checked luggage goes through customs, as the case may be.

I would definately suggest labeling it, and putting it in the checked luggage.

You bet it does. And dogs are all over your luggage.

If it’s truly a legal substance in the US, then she could try mailing it back here to herself. At least that way, if there’s a misunderstanding, the worst that’s likely to happen is confiscation plus a possible investigation (which would discover that it is truly legal).

On the other hand, being caught with it in customs whilst at the airport, and having it be suspected of being drugs, means being strip-searched, cavity searches, interrogations in cells, refusal to allow you to call a lawyer, browbeating, threats, and finally, perhaps days later, reluctant release. Along with a little mark in your customs records to subject you to the same thing every time she enters the country (like what they do if you are caught bringing Cuban cigars in).

Definitely put it into checked luggage. Don’t attempt to “disguise” it. Maybe seal the bottle in a plastic bag to prevent against breakage or leakage. She shouldn’t be stopped leaving where she is, but she might get stopped at U.S. customs.

However, before she does bring it home, she should be absolutely certain it contains no ingredients that may qualify as “controlled substances” or contraband in the U.S.

What I have learned is that certain herbal/holistic remedies that are called “medicines” in some countries are not considered such here and therefore it’s illegal to market or sell them here as “medicines.” People then get the mistaken impression that it’s illegal to possess or sell the product itself. As a result, there’s a lot of surreptitious movement of these products, particularly in bulk and in unmarked containers. Some of them get repackaged here and enjoy a brisk black market trade.