Millions of plants cross the border between the US and Canada every year. Whether you’re curating an eclectic garden in your backyard or running a profitable exotic plant business, the importing and exporting of plants, seeds and flowers is a booming industry.
Individuals purchasing for personal use may find exotic plants in Thailand, Vietnam, or South America they can’t find at home. According to The New York Times, there are people obsessed with plants turning up with moving trucks at plant shows like Miami’s annual International Aroid Society Show and Sale. Not to mention, folks bidding for plants on eBay for up to $2,700 (USD)!
Nurseries and plant shops may find that to compete, it helps to have a more exciting variety of merchandise, including plants from overseas or just across the border. For these business owners, importing plants and seeds may also prove to be more economical than growing their own on location.
No matter what the purpose, when importing or exporting plants in Canada or the US, you must know what government parties are involved to be sure you are complying with all regulations.
Importing plants to the US
When importing plants from foreign countries, make sure they meet entry requirements as stated by Customs and Border Protection. Entry requirements will vary depending on the type of plant, but the following criteria universally apply:
- If you bring back/import 12 or fewer plants with no special restrictions, you do not need a permit. Special restrictions may include requirements such as a permit, post-entry quarantine, treatment, or ESA or CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) documentation.
- Plants must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin showing that the plants meet entry requirements for the United States.
- Plants should be bare rooted (no growing media attached to the roots).
- You should perform a basic visual inspection of plants. Look for insects or sickly-looking plant parts.
- Wrap plants in damp newspaper or similar material to prevent them from drying out. Roots may be secured in a plastic bag.
Twelve or fewer plants are inspected by CBP at the first port of entry. Thirteen or more plants will be inspected by APHIS personnel at the nearest Plant Inspection Station. If the officer finds plant pests that could cause harm to other plants, or if the plants do not meet entry requirements, they will be refused entry. This means you must forfeit the plants, which will either be destroyed or returned to the country of origin.
Travelers are advised to consult with their nearest APHIS PPQ Plant Inspection Station to determine the admissibility of propagative plant material (including live plants, bulbs, corms, cuttings, root crowns, seeds, etc.).
You can learn more about admissibility and entry requirements for specific plants by calling Permit Services at (301) 851-2046 or toll-free at (877) 770-5990 or by email at [email protected].
The responsibility of paying duties always falls on the importer of record.
If you are importing more than 12 plants:
PPQ 585 is a form you will need to fill out for a permit to import timber or timber products.
PPQ 587 is an application for a permit to import plants or plant products, including:
- Plants for planting (including seeds)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Rice and rice-related plants
- Indian corn or maize, broomcorn, and related plants
- Miscellaneous products associated with Khapra Beetle
- Sugarcane products and by-products
- Foreign cotton and covers
- Cut flowers
PPQ 546 is an application for propagative plants that require post entry quarantine
PPQ 621 is an application for a protected plant permit to engage in the business of import, exporting, or re-exporting protected plants (CITES)
PPQ 586 is an application for a permit to transit plant products, plant pests, and soil through the US.
If you have a permit, you will have an ID/barcode that goes on the box if anyone needs to contact you during the import process.
Note that if you do not have a permit, the Dept. of Homeland Security will inspect your plants, and they may not be the most delicate of handlers!
US Import Requirements For Potted Plants
- A complete description of the potted plants
- A breakdown on the invoice by type of plant
- How many of each plant
- Weight of the plants
- Country of Origin
- A separate value for each
- Phytosanitary Certificate completed by CFIA after inspection of the plants
Importing plants into Canada
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is the country’s national plant protection organization, and it regulates how plants enter and leave the country.
The first thing to do is to find out if the plant you want to import is on the CFIA’s Horticulture Plant List. This is a list of plants considered low-risk that may be imported as long as you meet basic requirements. According to The Toronto Star, some of the internet’s hottest plants — monsteras, philodendrons and anthuriums — are allowed.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is the country’s national plant protection organization, and it regulates how plants enter and leave the country. The Star spoke with Patricia McAllister, a national manager with the CFIA, to see what people need to do to ensure their plants make it to Canada safely.
What are the basic requirements?
Just as in the States, an import permit is needed. You need to get one from the CFIA through its online portal, and the plant’s seller needs to make sure there is a phytosanitary certificate from the country of export.
“All plant movement is essentially regulated under the International Plant Protection Convention,” McAllister says. “Essentially, the goal is if you have a pest, keep it; if you don’t have a pest, don’t let anyone send it to you. It really is about preventing the movement of pests between countries with plant material.”
What is a phytosanitary certificate? It is a plant passport. It shows who grew the plant, where it is traveling to, where it originated from, confirming that the plant meets Canada’s requirements. Only a National Plant Protection Organization can issue a phytosanitary certificate. (In Canada, the CFIA issues these certificates for people who are exporting plants to other countries. If you’re planning to export a plant, contact your local CFIA office for next steps.)
What happens if my plant doesn’t have this paperwork? Your plant could be destroyed or returned to its country of origin. If you’re buying from an international seller, it’s wise to confirm they are sending a phytosanitary certificate from their country with your plant. An import permit from the CFIA must be issued before your plant leaves its country of origin.
What about endangered plants?
Endangered plants are managed through Environment Canada. Certain plants have, as mentioned earlier, CITES restrictions and need to have special documentation in addition to the other paperwork. Monstera is not on the CITES list, although certain types of orchids are.
What about bringing plants into Canada from the continental United States?
If you’re driving into Canada from the US with your plants, the Canadian government has a personal exemption that allows you to bring up to 50 houseplants without paperwork as long as they are for personal use. The list of eligible plants is on the CFIA website. Generally, tropical and semi-tropical plants that can’t survive outside in Canada, and have thus been deemed low-risk, are exempt.
What happens if my plant doesn’t have this paperwork?
Your plant could be destroyed or returned to its country of origin. If you’re buying from an international seller, it’s wise to confirm they are sending a phytosanitary certificate from their country with your plant. An import permit from the CFIA must be issued before your plant leaves its country of origin.
Whether you live in the US or Canada, if you’ve ever considered importing plants from another country, there are definitely some hoops to jump through to ensure you don’t run into delays and other issues. Luckily, at BorderBuddy, it’s our business to dot every “i” and cross every “t” so your precious cargo gets to its destination on time and unharmed. So, if you have any questions about how we can help you with importing or exporting your plants, seeds, or flowers, don’t hesitate to reach out and give us a call today.