Generally, any items of a biological nature—including plants, cuttings, seeds, vegetables, and fruits—are subject to approval prior to importation into the United States. All plants, plant products, fruits, and vegetables must be declared to customs and presented to a customs officer for inspection. All plants must be free of soil, sand and earth.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the importation of plants and plant products. You must make arrangements for delivery of plant materials to a USDA plant inspection station and, if necessary, delivery to the final destination.
Inspection stations are located in Elizabeth, New Jersey; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu; Houston; Los Angeles; Los Indies, Texas; Miami; New Orleans; New York City (John F. Kennedy International Airport); Nogales, Arizona; Orlando, Florida; San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle. You will be responsible for inspection and handling fees, and you may be customs duty.
Planning ahead will help speed your plants through the importation process:
- Ensure you have secured any required permits in advance.
- Label plant packages with the genus, species, and variety of plants, preferably using scientific names.
- If your plants will arrive at an inspection station without you, enclose a sheet of paper with your name, home address, and permit number so the plants can be forwarded to you without delay.
- Consider mailing plants to an inspection station when possible to save on costs and avoid delays at your port of arrival. Mailing plants can improve their chances of survival.
- Speed up your plants' arrival at an inspection station by affixing a "priority passport" (a green and yellow mailing label) from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
- Mail your plants early in the week to avoid delays on the weekend. Import duties, if any, will be collected at your local post office.
Some plant materials do not require permits and can be carried by you as personal baggage when you enter the States. You should declare the plants to customs and have them inspected by a USDA inspector.
Other plants are prohibited or restricted. The U.S. Endangered Species Act places numerous restrictions on the importation of endangered plants such as certain cycads, orchids and cacti.
Check with APHIS's Plant Protection and Quarantine Import Permit Unit on the entry status of your types of plants. Some plants require permits from the origin country in addition to the United States.
For more information and detailed requirements on importing plants, contact:
United States Dept. of Agriculture
4700 River Road
Riverdale, MD 20737, U.S.A.
Phone: (301) 734-8645
Plant Information Hotline: (301) 734-4327