Question: What do pecan shells, ferrets and flamethrowers have in common?
Answer: They are all things you can’t bring into the state of California.
Yes, these three seemingly unrelated things are among the hundreds of items that (a) are subject to confiscation at one of California’s sixteen border stations, and/or (b) will get you into trouble with one of California’s 509 law enforcement agencies. In some cases, the worst that will happen is you get your Oregon cherries confiscated. On the other hand, getting caught with that belt buckle knife could bring far greater headaches.
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This is all to say: the laws are many and complex. We’ll go over the most prevalent laws for all you weapons holders, pet owners and pecan lovers about to move to the Sunshine State.
Dogs, Cats and Ferrets
Worried about your dog being welcome in California? Don’t’ be, as long as you have one crucial piece of paper with you. Straight from the California Department of Public Health:
“Dogs over four (4) months of age must have a certificate of current rabies vaccination. A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI), also known as a health certificate, is not required for privately owned dogs being brought into the State of California.”
Cats, on the other hand, basically get a free pass. The CDPH only states that “all domestic cats must be healthy.” (We’re not sure if this covers your 16-year-old calico’s cataracts.)
Be aware, however, that once you settle in California you will have to license your dog, and possibly your cat, depending on the county in which you reside.
As for other “exotic” animals, BornFreeUSA offers a list of all species restricted or prohibited in California, including ferrets, marine toads and, sadly, elephants. (Interestingly, there seem to be no restrictions on the American bison.)
For other states’ laws on owning exotic animals check out this interactive map. (Note: It helps to know the genus and species of your particular pet.)
Firearms and Weapons
If you are bringing a firearm into California, you are immediately given a special title. According to the California Department of Justice, “any person who moves into California with a gun is considered a ‘Personal Firearm Importer’.”
Yup, that’s your new title. And as with any title, this one comes with responsibilities. To wit: you’ll be required within 60 days to either register your firearm or sell or transfer it to a licensed dealer or a state police or sheriff’s department.
But that’s not all. Bringing your firearm into California also involves the following (very reasonable) stipulation:
Any person transporting handguns into California is required under California law to transport those handguns unloaded and in a locked container other than the glove compartment or utility compartment of a vehicle.
If you are driving from somewhere other than Arizona, Nevada or Oregon, you will also be crossing other states’ borders with your firearm – states with differing laws. To cover yourself, you may want to check with each state you’ll be passing through. Here’s a quick look at each state’s statutes.
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Aside from guns, California has outlawed a wide and interesting variety of weapons including nunchucks, Chinese stars and (sorry) lipstick case knives. For an exhaustive rundown, check out this piece by the Shouse California Law Group.
Keep in mind, while the border station guards may not be rifling through every car and U-Haul looking for Chinese stars, these weapons are illegal in California, plain and simple. You’re better off storing them, selling them or giving them away before you move.
Plants, Fruits and Vegetables
California’s agricultural industry is huge – $30 billion, which is more than twice that of any other state – so their concerns about invasive bugs and pests are well-founded. Still, it’s surprising how extensive the list of prohibited organic items is.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture answers questions about fruits, vegetables and plants via phone through the Pest Exclusion Branch – (916) 654-0312 or by email at email@example.com. But let’s go over the basics right now.
Houseplants are generally allowed to be brought into the state as long as they are free of pests and are intended to be kept inside. They must also be potted in commercially-sold soil, not dirt from your backyard. If any of your houseplants are potted in dirt or show any signs of infestation or disease they will be confiscated. For further information, the CDFA offers this Q&A Sheet to help you stay within the law.
One item of note on this Q&A Sheet is the prohibition of all citrus plants. This extends to the prohibition of bringing any citrus fruit into the state, along with many other fruits, vegetables and nuts. This extensive list shows which of these items are acceptable or prohibited, according to the state from which they were transported.
If you are wondering whether California’s border officials are really going to bother to stop you and check for prohibited items, consider the fact that each year 20 million private vehicles are stopped and inspected, compared with only seven million commercial vehicles. For an interesting insider’s look at what goes on at a border station check out this piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. (Note that the terms “U-Haul” and “standard inspection” occur in the same sentence.)
Outside of California
For those of you moving someplace not named California, check this list of regulations on importing plants into each of the United States, courtesy of the National Plant Board. As for any one particular state’s laws on importing fruits or vegetables, we suggest going directly to that state’s department of agriculture.
The lines at California’s border stations can be a hassle. Having to give up your groceries or your rose bushes at the border can be infuriating. But if it were not for these border checks we humans would quickly destroy the state’s entire agriculture industry. Considering California produces somewhere around 13% of all domestic agricultural products, we all have an interest in preserving the state’s health.
As for the nunchucks, that’s a debate for another day.