Importing Soil Into the United States

A minimalist-style digital image depicting a man and woman harvest soil in a forest.
Importing soil into the U.S. requires loads of documentation, which can confuse even veteran shippers. Before the soil can be used to grow veggies or plants, our experts answer your top questions and explain the required forms.
June 26, 2020
Last Modified: June 13, 2024
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Importers who plan to bring soil into the U.S. should be prepared to face a gauntlet of regulations. While seemingly innocuous compared to commodities like firearms or pharmaceuticals, the potential dangers of contaminated soil have resulted in strict guidelines for how it’s imported, transported, and stored.

Key Takeaways

  • Importers must fill out PPQ Form 526 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) site to import large amounts of soil intended for the extraction of biological organisms.
  • Importing less than three pounds of soil per shipment into the United States requires shippers to fill out PPQ form 525-A. These shipments can be sterilized at plant inspection stations in the United States.
  • Permits are also required to move soil to the mainland U.S. from states and territories such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In this guide, we’ll explain those regulations and help you import with confidence. Let’s dig in. 

Regulations for Importing Soil into the U.S. 

Before getting into these regulations, it’s worth pointing out that none of them allow for bulk importation of soil for purposes of resale. Soil brought into the country from a foreign area is to be used strictly for research and biological extraction purposes, not farming or gardening.

The main reason soil is such a highly-regulated commodity is its potential for transferring pests from one area to another.  Basically, soil can contain various diseases that threaten the surrounding ecosystems. Invasive species of plants, insects, and even bacteria can do serious damage to the environment. 

While screening can be done, this is not always possible on a large scale. Therefore, the United States instead heavily regulates and, in most cases, prohibits the importation of soil from foreign countries. 

For the purposes of regulation, the USDA defines soil as having the following properties:

  • A mixture of organic and inorganic components
  • Loose surface material which is responsible for plant growth
  • Supports biological activity

Examples include composted plants, earthworm castings (manure), and forest litter. Inorganic materials such as pure sand, iron ore, and chalk don’t qualify as soil and are exempt from these regulations.

The USDA, through APHIS, controls the influx of soil into the U.S. in a variety of different ways. First, a clear description of the intended purpose of the imported soil must be provided on PPQ Form 525-A for packages less than 3 lbs. These shipments can undergo heat sterilization under the supervision of APHIS at the port of arrival. 

Second, most imported soil is expected to be destroyed after its intended use. When applying for the permit, you need to provide the method that will be used to dispose of the soil. If you’re not planning to dispose of it, an explanation needs to be given.

Under some circumstances, the receiving facility will need to undergo an inspection by APHIS. This is done to ensure that appropriate equipment and procedures are on-site. 

Failing to comply with any of these requirements can have significant consequences. Most frequently, goods can be held at the border or seized permanently if the proper protocols haven’t been followed. In other cases, businesses can receive fines or jail time if the violations are more serious.

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What about Soil Samples? 

Soil samples follow the same guidelines as importing large amounts of soil; some types are prohibited, but you can apply for a permit via the USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine Permit Unit to get permission. As long as the soil samples meet the guidelines referenced above from APHIS, it is likely your permit will be granted. 

Challenges When Importing and Shipping Soil

Once approved for a permit, there are specific guidelines you must follow when importing and moving soil. 

Soil must be carefully stored in leak-proof containers that are high-quality, durable, and can withstand any damage from shipping. Once it arrives, the soil must be treated carefully before being used and (if applicable) destroyed. You may use one of two treatments that have been authorized by the U.S. Government: 

  1. Heat Treatment: Treating the soil at a heat of 250 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two hours. 
  2. Steam Heat Treatment: Treat the soil with steam heat for at least 30 minutes at 15 PSI. 

While these are the two government-approved methods of heat treatments, others may be permissible if you check with the proper offices first. These methods include acid washing, boiling, and destructive testing. 

If you do plan on keeping the soil indefinitely after treatment, it needs to be stated when you apply for the import permit. 

It’s also important to avoid importing soil that cannot enter the U.S. under any circumstances. Currently, APHIS lists five banned Canadian locations, which are laid out in the table below.

An Infograph titled “Prohibited Canadian Soil Sources” displaying information about areas in Canada from which soil importation is prohibited by U.S. authorities. The information is presented in the form of a bar graph with  “province” and “specified area” labels, and reads as follows.

Province: Alberta. Specified Area: Farm units and lands associated with areas near Fort Saskatchewan and Spruce Grove.
Province: British Columbia (BC). Specified Area: Part of the municipality of Central Saanich, east of West Saanich Road
Province: Newfoundland and Labrador. Specified Area: The entirety of Newfoundland
Province: Prince Edward Island. Specified Area:  The whole island 
Province: Quebec. Specified Area:  Saint-Amble municipality

If you’re looking to import soil, it’s wise to work with an import and export consulting. To learn more, check out our article on import export consulting services.

Do You Need a Customs Bond to Import Soil into the United States?

In short, yes. Any shipment valued at $2,500 or more requires a customs bond, but so do all shipments that are regulated by a government agency. Since soil is regulated by the USDA, you’ll need a bond in place regardless of shipment value. 

Related: How to Get a Customs Bond

Need Help Importing Soil?

Now that you’ve seen what’s involved in importing soil to the U.S., are you ready to get your hands dirty? If so, we can help.

USA Customs Clearance has extensive knowledge and experience in navigating tricky government regulations. Our team of licensed experts will work directly with you to ensure that your soil arrives safely and without issue. 

In addition to clearing your soil at the border, we can also assist you with:

To connect with our team, give us a call at (855)-912-0406 or contact us online today. You can trust us not to soil your reputation as an importer and business owner. 

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