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How to Import Live Plants to USA

The following article is very general and cannot be the sole source of your research on importing live plants to the USA. Please do more research directly to USDA Aphis or any contacts available therein.

Trust Most Updated Information When Importing Live Plants to USA

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates the import of live plants and plant products. Any live plant or plant product imported into the United States must follow the regulations described in the Plant Protection Act. These regulations require that all plants and plant products must be free from pests and diseases, meet specific phytosanitary requirements, and be accompanied by an import permit or a phytosanitary certificate.

In addition, importation of many live plants or plant products may also require a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and/or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

In recent years, the federal government has implemented new regulations to further protect the nation's food supply, agricultural industry and environment. These regulations include, and not limited to:

  1. The Lacey Act which requires that all imported plants and plant products must be declared and accompanied by a valid import permit.
  2. The Plant Protection Act which requires that all imported live plants and plant products must be certified by the exporting country to be free from pests and diseases.
  3. The National Plant Protection Act which requires that all imported live plants and plant products must meet specific phytosanitary requirements to ensure they are free from pests and diseases.
  4. The Plant Protection and Quarantine Program which requires that all imported live plants and plant products must meet USDA requirements before entering the United States.
  5. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service which is responsible for enforcing the regulations of the Plant Protection Act.
  6. The Fish and Wildlife Service which is responsible for enforcing the regulations of the Lacey Act.
  7. The Customs and Border Protection which is responsible for ensuring that all imported products comply with the regulations of the Plant Protection Act.

“Bewilderment” in the Recent Months

In the last 2-3 years, live plants exports to the United States of America have been going on smooth. No specific issues occurred. However, starting in 2023, the USDA seems to have made everything stricter. They’d want every live plant import (by you) be kept in good records.

Importers have their own perceptions and assumptions. We, exporters, couldn’t do anything except to trust every regulation enforced in the United States of America at the best knowledge of our beloved buyers. There are absolutely no changes on our regulations on how to export live plants to whichever countries.

Suggestions in Importing Live Plants

It is so much better to prepare for everything before placing your orders. You have to understand that there are possibilities that you might bump into trouble along the way your packages are being sent by us. In order to minimize the troubles, please complete yourself with every paperwork required to import live plants.

Below are some of the issues known so far. Some are ridiculous and some others are irrelevant:

  1. Missing Paperwork
  2. Phytosanitary Certificate

The very first stage in exporting live plants is that an exporter must be a company (small, medium and/ or large one). An individual without legal standing are not allowed to perform any exportations.

Once it is ensured that an individual has a legal standing, then the next department to get in touch with would be the Agricultural Quarantine Office. In this office, every live plant is processed physically to ensure their safety to enter certain country. Once the plants receive the green light, the officer will publish its Phytosanitary Certificate to that particular exporter.

While packages are exiting the border, the Phytosanitary Certificate will be checked. Domestic customs must ensure that every package containing live plant possess Phytosanitary Certificate. Without the document, any package is not allowed to exit the border.

I would just send every paperwork on my possession to my buyers anyway. In hope those will save them time and asking to me and wait for replies.

1. Import Permit

This is 100% my personal assumption. Until today, there are buyers who place their orders here and reluctant to take care of their import permit. It is 100% understandable since their purchase is kept at 12 plants maximum. However, there’s just an option for more secure shipment, I would spend a bit of my time in applying for one. (My shipment can be executed anytime after the paperwork is done and whenever you want me to). 

So, back to the first topic, I sort of assume that the “Missing Paperwork” they claim is the buyers’ Import Permit. Import permit must be attached to the package when used/ required. Remember I said previously that “it is debatable as to whether import permit is required for every live plant import”.

2. Commercial Invoice

Other departments may also claim that your package is missing of “Commercial Invoice” containing the contents of the package and their worth. This is both ridiculous and irrelevant reason. The fact that the package is being shipped that just means that the Commercial Invoice is attached to the package. Commercial Invoice is created before printing out the shipping label. Meaning that shipping label cannot be printed out before I fill out all forms of Commercial Invoice.

3. Clearance

During clearance, this is one of the most critical moments on your plant imports. Customs/ USDA/ DHL (from any departments) are checking on OUR paperwork. They will without delay CONTACT YOU for any more detail information needed. In this event, PLEASE REPLY TO THEM WITHOUT DELAY AS WELL. ANY DELAYS WILL CAUSE YOUR PACKAGE TO BE PUT “ON HOLD” LONGER.

In the case that your package is held at a certain point and not moving to another point (different dates), please initiate to open communication with your local DHL. Please ask them about your package. Now, at this point, when asking about your package whereabouts PLEASE ALSO SEND YOUR IMPORT DETAILS. Phytosanitary Certificate, Commercial Invoice, Import Permit (if available) and tracking number. All these except the Import Permit, I am the one who provides you and would have been sent to you on the day of your package shipment or 1-2 days after sending out your package (depending on my workload).

Should you need additional information from me, just contact me anywhere you find fit to your convenience.

When packaging your package, I will without a doubt record every paperwork that I attach to the package and possibly also send you the file version (optional). This is done just between you as the buyer and me as the seller. If you need the file version of these paperwork, please contact me.

Be Patient When You Import Plants to USA

While it is frustrating to know that your package is somewhere unknown and that DHL is being such a jerk sometimes when asked about it, please keep your head cool. Best thing we encourage you to do is make calls or send email to your local DHL. As I’m also in close lookout of every packages that I send, please reply to my messages asap without delay. Any actions necessary to be taken must be executed immediately to prevent further issue.

A goodwill of communication between seller and buyer is much appreciated. Please don’t jump into conclusions on whatever events taking place.

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