Importing Plants To The United States: What You Need To Know

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In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you the fundamentals you of importing flowers, fruits, and other popular plants.
July 28, 2020
Last Modified: June 21, 2024
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If you’re considering importing plants to the USA, then you’ve probably noticed that it’s not a simple process. There are many rules and regulations, and for inexperienced importers, they can be difficult to deal with. 

Key Takeaways

  • Importing plants to the USA requires compliance with USDA and APHIS regulations, including obtaining specific permits such as the Protected Plant Permit for endangered species.
  • Different plant types have specific import requirements. For example, plants listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)-listed must enter through designated ports.
  • Most plants and most plant-derived products are covered in chapters six through 14 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS).

Join us as we get down to the root of requirements for importing plants into the United States. 

Importing Plants to the USA: The Basics

In 2023, the U.S. imported billions of dollars worth of plants and plant-based products. Decorative and ornamental plants such as bushes, trees, and flowers were among the most popular goods in this category. To give you a general idea of the industry, I’ve compiled information from trade.gov about the value of some of the most in-demand plant imports. 

An infographic titled “Value of Popular Imported Plant-Based Commodities in 2023”. The graphic displays three columns of information from left to right, titled “HS Code”, “Commodities Described”, and “Value of Commodities Imported in 2023”. The information in the graph reads as follows.

HS Code 0601: Bulbs, tubers, and tuberous roots, $196 million
HS Code 0602: Live plants and cuttings, $898 million
HS Code 0603: Buds for bouquets, cut flowers, $2,070 million
HS Code 0604: Foliage and grasses for bouquets, $248 million

The top five countries that supplied these products to the U.S. in 2023 were:

  • Colombia
  • Canada
  • Ecuador
  • The Netherlands
  • Mexico

Given the diversity of applications plants can be used for, it’s easy to see why consumer demand is so high. However, in order to make sure those consumers and the environment don’t suffer any ill effects, plants are among the most strictly regulated products that can be imported to the U.S.

Plant Import Requirements

Different importing requirements exist for different kinds of plants and the industries in which they’re used. However, one requirement nearly all plant imports share is the inclusion of a phytosanitary certificate with the shipment. This certificate verifies inspection by the exporting country’s official National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO).

Be aware that plants and seeds can be treated with slightly different rules. 

For example, you can import small amounts of seed without an NPPO certificate under certain conditions, which include:

  • The seed packets contain no more than 50 specimens
  • Seeds are free from pesticides, plant material, soil, and foreign debris
  • The shipment is processed at an approved USDA inspection station, such as the Plant Germplasm Quarantine Center in Maryland

You will need a permit to import plants under most circumstances. There are different permits based on the type of plants you’re importing and how they’re to be used.

How To Get A USDA Plant Import Permit

APHIS has an eFile system that allows importers to apply for any necessary permits online. In the list below, you’ll find the most common examples.  

  • PPQ 587: A general permit to import common plants or plant products, such as fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers
  • PPQ 585: For timber or timber products 
  • PPQ 546: To bring propagative plants that require post-entry quarantine into the country
  • PPQ 588: Necessary for plants intended to be used for experimental, therapeutic or developmental purposes
  • PPQ 586: For shipping plant products and soil throughout the U.S. once they’ve been imported.

With that explained, let’s run through some more specific import requirements that apply to particular plants. 

Endangered Plant Species (CITES)

If you’re importing plants or plant products covered by CITES or the Endangered Species Act, USDA regulation 7 CFR 355 requires you to obtain a USDA Protected Plant Permit via PPQ form 621. CITES-listed plants are required to enter the US through a designated port. 

Some examples of plants in this category include:

  • All species of the genus Hoodia, including Bushman’s hat
  • African cherries (Prunus africana)
  • Orchis mascula and other members of the orchid family

If you’re unsure whether your imports require a permit, you can access the checklist of CITES species

Fruits And Vegetables

APHIS has a searchable, free-to-use database called Agricultural Commodity Import Requirements (ACIR). It allows people to search for authorized fruits and vegetables and their U.S. import requirements. Commodities approved under the Q56 revision will not be reflected in the Code of Federal Regulations, but rather in the ACIR database.

The Impact of the Lacey Act

The Lacey Act was passed to combat trafficking in illegal wildlife and plants. It is unlawful to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration. This declaration must be made if your shipment is a formal entry that fulfills all the following criteria.

Shipments that check all of these boxes will require a Lacey Act declaration. You or your importer of record (usually a customs broker) will need to file it via the CBP Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) portal

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Will My Plants Need To Undergo A Post-Entry Quarantine?

In some cases, plants will need to be quarantined and treated for potential infestations or diseases. APHIS will determine the type of treatment necessary for qualified specimens.  These treatments can be chemical and non-chemical. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables may require quarantine prior to being allowed into the country. Irradiation treatments that have been developed recently are considered viable phytosanitary options for eliminating certain pests. 

The quarantine is in place to widen the range of plants and foreign sources from which plants can be imported. Through careful monitoring and treatment, plants can be confirmed to be free of pests before entering the market. The regulations are listed and specified in 7 CFR 319.37-23. Requirements for post-entry quarantine are located in the plants for planting manual.

You can’t have healthy plants without high-quality soil. Read our guide on importing soil to the U.S. for more information.

Duties And Fees When Importing Plants

There are several fees associated with any import transaction, including shipping costs and customs duties Shipping fees will vary based on factors such as distance traveled and mode of transport. Duties are a little easier to predict up front. 

Our HTS Code Look-Up tool can show you what duty rates to expect on your shipment. These rates will vary based on the type of plants you’re importing and their country of origin

The responsibility of paying duties always falls on the importer of record (IoR). However, the IoR will change depending on the Incoterms® of the shipment. To learn more, take a look at our blog entry What Are Incoterms?

Importing Plants From Thailand

Thailand is home to some of the most sought-after decorative plants among U.S. consumers. These include: 

  • Ratchaphruek, also known as Golden Rain Lotus 
  • Orchid
  • Jasmine
  • Bat Flower 
  • Hibiscus

Our article dedicated to importing flowers goes into greater detail about the specifics of bringing these plants into the U.S. 

How Can A Customs Broker Help Me?

A customs broker’s job is to ensure the import and export of goods goes as planned. They’ll deal with the formalities and facilitate the clearance of goods through customs processes. 

Given how strictly regulated some plants are, partnering with a broker can help you avoid delays, fines, and censure from CBP. 

Importing Plants With USA Customs Clearance

From fruits to flowers and everything in between, importing plants is a ripe opportunity for resellers in the United States. If you want to take advantage of consumer demand for plants and plant-based products, we can help.

USA Customs Clearance has helped thousands of customers avoid the potential pitfalls of the importing process. We can ensure that your imported plants are compliant with all necessary regulations and even submit any required documents to CBP on your behalf. 

Our full suite of services includes:

Ready to get started? Call the import experts at (855) 912-0406 or fill out a contact form online and leaf the hard part to us.

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Latest comments (17)

Hello,

I bought a nursery-grown agave from eBay (only one plant), and the seller will send the plant from South Africa with a phytosanitary certificate. Do I need to apply for any permits or other documentation?

Jason Williams

hello! im planning to import plants (house plants for collection) to Chicago Illinois from indonesia/philippines. i read that if it is 12 or fewer plants, the phytosanitary permit is needed. do i still need a permit or any other documents in order to push through the importation?

do i have to do anything else other than informing the sender to comply the phyto certificate? thank you!

hello! im planning to import plants (house plants for collection) from indonesia/philippines. i read that if it is 12 or fewer plants, the phytosanitary permit is needed. do i still need a permit or any other documents in order to push through the importation?

do i have to do anything else other than informing the sender to comply the phyto certificate? thank you!

We wish to learn about import/export of dahlia tubers from individual growers (not commercial) to foster exchange of new varieties. Once I have the necessary authoritative information, it will be published in the American Dahlia Society Bulletin for better understanding of requirements and special conditions. Looking through the APHIS Manuals, I see little direct reference to dahlias. Pls advise.

Steve Fischer

I would like to bring some agaves and cacti to plant in our yard. I live in El Paso so its a short trip to Juarez. May I bring up to 12 plants? Included would be 1 madagascar palm Pachypodium lamerei

Timothy Campbell

Hi – I want to import some mulberry cuttings. I read that a permit is not needed when importing 12 or fewer plants. How does this apply to mulberry cuttings for propagation? I wanted to have 15 cuttings sent from a few cultivars. What rules apply? Am I exempt?

Randy Hauck

Hi Timothy,

Your situation will vary depending on whether these cuttings are for personal or commercial use. One of our customs experts will reach out to you shortly to obtain additional information so that we can assist you. We look forward to helping you!

Good day Custom Agent,
What is your total and complete cost, to complete the required documentation that is required in order to send plant-rhizomes from Canada to the U.S., on an order to order basis. I need certification to deliver rhizomes to customers in the U.S for regular, on -going, domestic, small order(s) basis.
Thank you, Eve

Randy Hauck

Hi Eve,

In order to provide you with an accurate quote, we need to obtain specific information from you including the tariff classification of your plant-rhizomes, their value, and more. One of our customs experts will reach out to you shortly to obtain the additional information that we need. We look forward to helping you!

KatherineYamaji

I just have a basic question. I am importing plants from thailand. I live in Seattle. When plants come in do they go to a random port 9f entry or would they enter thru the customs nearest to me which would be Seattle. I’m just trying to understand the process. Thank you.

Randy Hauck

Hi Katherine,

There are multiple plant inspection stations located that are operated by the USDA and located throughout the U.S. There happens to be one in Seatac, Washington which is where your plants would go through if you import through Seattle.

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Ocala, FL 34470
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