I cannot go a week without drinking my mate, but this love for the yerba has sometimes caused me quite a lot of trouble when going through airport security. It turns out, I’m also not alone. In 2008, Airport Security Agents held Viggo Mortensen up for confusing his yerba mate with marijuana, according to People magazine. Born in New York, Mortensen was raised in Buenos Aires so his love for the traditional Argentinian mate isn’t accidental. When asked how he manages to look so young he said: “meditation and mate.”

Just this week, I went on a short business trip from Shanghai to Beijing and took my yerba mate along with me. I had an opened half-full 500g package of Canarias, which I had carefully wrapped and taped around in a clear plastic bag. The moment my handbag went through the X-ray machine, a Chinese policemen approached me and said: open!! 

Immediately I did as he requested and his hands went straight for my yerba. He picked it up and looked a bit confused. I noticed he didn’t speak much English, so I said in Chinese: 这是巴西的茶, which literally means: this is Brazilian tea. Luckily for me, he seemed satisfied with my explanation and just let me through. Foreigners still enjoy some degree of respect around these parts and he was kind enough to take my word for it. I’m sure that in some free countries like the US, Australia and France, my neatly wrapped package would have been ripped apart for closer scrutiny.

It is perfectly legal to take yerba mate with you into most countries. But if you don’t want to get your precious yerba mate confused for something else, cut open or taken away from you; here are soon rules, I myself have learned to follow.

  • Avoid taking your yerba mate in your hand luggage.
  • It’s always best to carry a sealed package of mate. Try not to travel with packages, which have been already opened.
  • Most authorities will require you to keep your yerba in it’s original package (opened or not). This way, they can easily verify the origin and contents of the package.

You have lost the original package and I will be travelling with hand luggage only?

I have gone through this scenario myself. I have found it quite helpful if the yerba is stored in some type of transparent recipient, which can be opened easily for inspection. I actually use a plastic pot, with a wide lid. If I am held for inspection, Agents can easily unscrew the lid and take out a sample of the yerba for a closer look.

By all means, avoid carrying your yerba in funky, ethnic, tribal and curious little recipients. That will just make everybody more uneasy. It’s also helpful to just explain once what that is, without going into so much details. I usually just say:

That’s yerba mate. A tea we usually drink in Brazil. 

Let them figure out the rest.

I hope this was article has been somewhat helpful and have a great time on your next trip with yerba mate.