Traveling TOMORROW from Iceland with lava rock question
February 25, 2023 3:24 PM   Subscribe

My wonderful (Icelandic) hosts have graciously given me a lava rock they collected as a gift. Now, the night before I'm not sure whether I can/should take it with me back to the UK.

I was hosted by a wonderful Icelandic couple while I have been in Iceland. While at their house, I mentioned my son was studying volcanoes and they insisted I take a large lava rock that they collected during an eruption a few years ago. I am delighted -- how kind! I take it home.

But then I think -- can I take this on the plane to the UK? And then I google and see it's actually illegal to collect rocks this way (I think -- it's not entirely clear.). And probably illegal to travel with them. I never would have taken it had I known obviously.

I don't know what to do. The rock is very precious to them and was such a generous gift. I do not want to throw it away. I could leave it at my hotel for them (I am leaving too early to mail it to them) but they live far from where I am and getting it would be a big pain (also I have nothing to put it in!). I also do not want to hurt their feelings as it was a big deal to give this to me.

Or I could just check it in my bag and cross my fingers. But will they search my bag? Will I get into trouble? I really, really don't want to get into any trouble.

It's pretty large and has one sharp end. Like maybe the size of a small kettle?

Probably too late for anyone to respond but just in case anyone has some thoughts . . .?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you wouldnt have any trouble putting it in your checked luggage. do box it if you are worried about any delicate peices breaking off.
posted by wowenthusiast at 3:39 PM on February 25

Iceland is full of volcanoes that will keep making more lava rocks. I wouldn't be concerned-- it's not a super rare crystal formation or a piece of a historic structure or anything, right? I vote, keep the rock.

When you put it in your house, keep a note card under it with as much of its provenance as you can remember (name of volcano or at least what region of Iceland, name of the couple who gave it to you, year they collected it [if known] etc). The next geology enthusiast to whom you gift it will appreciate it.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:50 PM on February 25 [7 favorites]

FWIW, I entered the US with some a couple months ago; puzzled the Customs agent with the "lava rock" term. After ELI5 he said "so there's no dirt on/in it?" and was satisfied with my yes.
posted by achrise at 4:36 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

From what I could find online, it seems that new lava is protected in Iceland.

I wouldn't be so concerned about customs when arriving in the UK, but more so security/customs when leaving Iceland.

Can you ask the hotel whether they have any way to help you post it back to your friends?

Alternatively, ask customs at the airport before you leave whether you can take the rock.

I don't think you should pack it and hope for the best, as the penalties can be high.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:49 PM on February 25

Iceland’s Act 60/1992 forbids the export of the rock without official permission. Relevant quote from article 15: “Natural history objects may not be exported from Iceland except with the permission of the Icelandic Institute of Natural History and under the conditions set by the Institute on each occasion.” The permit process is described here.

In your situation, perhaps a white lie is justified? You could abandon the rock somewhere in Iceland but then tell your hosts that you were asked about the rock at the airport in the UK by UK Customs and were made to surrender it because you could not confirm that it was free of microorganisms or microscopic seeds or something.
posted by mdonley at 5:02 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]

First of all, I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to give legal advice.

...however, in my direct experience (I have had things seized before), this usually ends up being "Hey, you can't bring this!" followed by me saying "I can't? Oh shit, I'm sorry, I didn't realize! The guy at the market said it would be fine!" followed by them trying to look stern and saying "We have to seize this" followed by me saying "Of course, please proceed" followed by me getting on my next flight per usual while they toss the forbidden thing in the trash within my line of sight.

Now then, with respect to your specific case, rocks are not permitted to be taken from protected areas, not just in general (if in small quantities, per their Environmental Agency. Don't try to export five hundred pounds or something.). A map of protected areas, which may not be not entirely up to date, but is at least a guideline, can be found here. if your rock is not from one of the protected areas (and you can probably guess this based on where your hosts live), you should in fact be fine, particularly if you label the rock with an approximate address (name the town, or where they got it from if you know that).
posted by aramaic at 5:44 PM on February 25 [8 favorites]

Also, if you want to contact a professional, the UST Environmental Agency is here.
posted by aramaic at 5:58 PM on February 25

(and I am not encouraging you to break the laws of your host country; I'm only saying their laws may not be as strict as you think)
posted by aramaic at 6:20 PM on February 25

Advice (legal and folkloric) about taking rocks from Iceland. TL;dr: I would not risk it.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:27 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]

As I read that law (Icelandic original here), exporting natural objects (náttúrugripi) requires permission from the Institute of Natural History, regardless of whether they were collected legally. The English translation on the Icelandic Institute of Natural History website, to which mdonley linked, uses "natural history objects," which is a bit ambiguous (I study natural history, and sometimes that means something that has been explicitly collected as a specimen), but the actual law seems unambiguous.

Your situation isn't typical, in that it's not an object you collected yourself, but were given by your hosts. Still, I wouldn't take it out of the country if I were in your shoes. Had you sought permission in advance from the natural history institute, you might well have received it, but I doubt you could get it at short notice on Sunday.

I'd explain the situation to the hotel staff and ask them if they could send it back to your hosts.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:08 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]

We took some rocks home from Iceland to the US and my teenage son got his luggage randomly searched in Iceland. Iceland customs said, "you can't take this," and took the rocks. That was really all there was to it. The rest of us made it home with our contraband rocks. I suspect this happens a lot. I would chance taking home this special rock.
posted by shadygrove at 8:20 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't try to take it in your carry-on -- my husband had a molcajete taken out of carryon luggage because the TSA agent thought it might be possibly used as a weapon. Perhaps Icelandic security folks are more reasonable, but...
posted by leahwrenn at 10:11 PM on February 25

I might be tempted to break some small pieces off (research the right way to do it) and take that home.

But really - this is a legitimate puzzle and you care about their feelings -- if you decide not to risk taking the whole thing, maybe call them? Explain that it turns out there's a good chance it will be confiscated at the airport, ask if they want you to leave it somewhere for the, or to break it into smaller pieces so you both can potentially have some (you'll be connected to them forever! Both having pieces of the same rock!).
posted by amtho at 11:22 PM on February 25

I asked our guide in Iceland and he said no issues with taking Lava home as long as not from certain areas. We brought home 4 smallish pieces with no issue. You can buy items made from lava, so not sure how this is different?
posted by chr at 3:06 AM on February 26 [5 favorites]

You'd have to be extremely unlucky to get anything other than 'well have to take this' even if the rock were to be found, which is not likely in itself. If that does come up, just accept it, plead ignorance and apologise.
posted by dg at 4:42 PM on February 26

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