Taking Plants Over Borders – Learn About International Travel With Plants

Lady Holding A Plant Wrapped In packaging
moving plants
(Image credit: LightFieldStudios)

Did you know transporting plants over borders can be illegal? While most commercial growers realize moving plants across international borders requires a permit, vacationers may not consider the ecological ramifications if they take plants to a new country or even a different state.

Ecological Impact of Moving Plants Across International Borders

That beautiful flowering plant growing outside your hotel balcony may look innocent enough. You might even consider gathering a few seeds or taking a root clipping home so you can grow it in your backyard. You must resist the temptation of sneaking plants over borders though.

Bringing non-native plants into an ecosystem can create an invasive nightmare. Without natural population controls, non-native plants can overtake the habitat of native species and squeeze them right out of existence. Additionally, live plants, clippings, seeds, and even fruit can harbor invasive insects, pests, and plant diseases that can desecrate native plant life.

About International Travel with Plants

What if you're moving or making an extended visit to a foreign country and you want to bring along the tea rose your grandmother gave you for graduation or your favorite variety of garden seeds? Be aware that some states, like California, don't permit the transport of plants into or out of the state. The first step will be to check with your home state to see if it has such a provision.

Next, you'll need to find out if the country in which you'll be residing permits moving plants across international borders. You can find this out by checking their consulate's or custom's website. Be aware that international movers may not accept plants and plant materials for transport. Additionally, there could be fees in excess of the plant's value and the plant may not survive the long journey.

Commercially Shipping Live Plants Internationally

Importing and exporting live plants and propagative materials into and out of the United States has similar restrictions. Generally speaking, importing fewer than a dozen plant items doesn't require a permit providing that species has no restrictions. Documentation, quarantines, and inspections may still be required.

Restricted species and those exceeding the dozen item limit may require a permit for moving plants across international borders. If you're positive you want to take your grandmother's tea rose plant to your new home abroad, the following steps should be taken to determine if a permit is needed for shipping live plants internationally.

  • Species Identification: Before a permit is issued, you must be able to properly identify the plant as to species and genus.
  • Prepare for Inspections and Clearances: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has requirements for inspections and clearances at the port of entry or exit. The foreign country may also have inspections, clearance, and quarantine requirements.
  • Protected Status: Research to find if the plant species has domestic or international protective status.
  • Assessment: Determine which, if any, permits you need or regulations that will need followed. There are exemptions for importing or exporting personal belongings.
  • Apply for the Permit: If a permit is needed for moving the plants over borders, apply early. The application process may take time for approval.
Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.