back to Resources
Permits for the Importation of Natural History Specimens into the United States
compiled by Paul J. Johnson (June 2000)
Disclaimer: All information presented here is provided for personal use only. Changes in laws, policies, and protocols are frequent. It is the investigators responsibility to fully understand the legal requirements and regulations for all permits. The Coleopterists Society accepts no liability for interpretation of information provided.
The importation of specimens of insects and other organisms into the United States can be an exercise in frustration for the uninitiated. However, the importation of either live or dead material is possible, with little difficulty, if the fieldworker is cognizant of the expectations and requirements. The two regulatory agencies that you need to deal with are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Generally speaking, U.S. Customs laws, regulations, and policies do not impact the importation of natural history specimens. However, if you have purchased materials, these purchases must be declared. Yet, the customs officer that you meet when entering the U.S. is typically the first person to make a decision about any need to inspect you or your baggage. Open declaration of specimens is generally a good policy, whether you are routed to an agricultural or wildlife inspector, or not. Experience indicates that declaration of materials and possession of permits speeds the process of routing through customs and other inspections, and successful retention of materials. Specific information is available through the U.S. Customs Service.
There are five primary considerations that need to be made before conducting fieldwork and expecting to return materials to the United States:
CITES - Endangered or Threatened Species, or Products
- 1) Is your material dead?
- 2) Is your material alive?
- 3) Is your material an endangered or threatened species, or product thereof?
- 4) Are collecting or export permits required from the country of your visitation?
- 5) Which state of the U.S. are you importing materials?
If the material being or expected to be imported is specifically listed as a globally or nationally endangered or threatened species, from any country, please review the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).
Dead Specimen Importation (USFWS Form 3-177)
Generally speaking, the importation into the United States of dead insects and other organisms is not heavily regulated. The primary exception to this policy involves endangered and threatened species [see this category above], and live specimens that are covered under authorities of both the USFWS and the USDA. For dead specimens, the identification and interpretation of potentially endangered or threatened species by customs or agricultural inspectors upon entry to the United States may depend upon the information that you provide and your knowledge of the organisms in possession. DO NOT expect customs or agricultural inspectors to be able to identify your material to species.
Consequently, it may be in your best interest to have completed copies of FWS Form 3-177 in your possession. This form provides for identification of the material being imported and can be used to document your importation and help prevent automatic confiscation and destruction of your specimens. Also, this form is nominally required when exporting dead specimens on loan.
Dead specimens for scientific use are treated differently by USFWS than are living specimens. The declaration and reporting requirements are much less stringent, for example Form 3-177 does not have to be filed for 180 days after importation for dead specimens, while it must be presented upon arrival at Customs for living specimens.
FWS Form 3-177 and other information is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This form is downloadable. Detailed routes to this form are provided due to the availability of additional information and the potential for future address changes. To obtain Form 3-177, follow this procedure [effective March 2000]:
First, go to: Types of Permits (not "Permits"). On the next page, go to "Import/Export," then to "Requirements to have fish and wildlife, parts and products inspected." From here, go to fourth bullet point, http://www.r6.fws.gov/law/le68.html; this is the form. You must download and print the form. There is no online submission so the form can be mailed to any regional FWS office, though it is best sent to the office for the region in which you reside.
Live Specimen Importation (PPQ Form 526)
To legally import live critters into the United States, you need PPQ Form 526 "Application and Permit to Move Nongenetically Engineered Live Plant Pests and Noxious Weeds." The agency responsible for regulating plant and pest importation into the U.S. is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In February 1999, President Clinton signed Executive Order 11987 which deals with invasive species in the United States. This Executive Order should be read by all entomologists interested in the importation of organisms, as well as the movement and conservation of organisms within the United States.
Form 526 -- There are several routes to the page of interest. The most straightforward is to go to "News & Information" and choose "Permits." On the subsequent page choose the button for "Plants and Plant Pest Permits" which takes you to the "Plant Pest Permits" page. You can now go to "Download Forms" and obtain Form 526.
It is strongly recommended that you also move downpage and visit the appropriate information categories, and another form access route. Instructions on "How To Move Live Plant Pests and Noxious Weeds" and for Form 526 are below the links that first show on your screen. Presently, no electronic application is possible, but this may be an available option in the near future.
A major factor in completing the form is the definition of a pest. Regulations on this matter contain the following information:
"Plant pest. (1) Except for items 330.200 through 330.212, "plant pest'' means any living stage of any insects, mites, nematodes, slugs, snails, protozoa, or other invertebrate animals, bacteria, fungi, other parasitic plants or reproductive parts thereof, viruses, or any organisms similar to or allied with any of the foregoing, or any infectious substances which can directly or indirectly injure or cause disease or damage in any plants or parts thereof, or any processed, manufactured, or other products of plants."
For all practical purposes, any and all live insects and other arthropods are subject to determination as plant pests. Thus, to avoid bureaucratic conflicts and confiscation of your material, it is in your best interests to have a Form 526 available when you come through customs.
"(2) For purposes of items 330.200 through 330.212, "plant pest'' means any living stage of insects, mites, nematodes, slugs, snails, protozoa, or other invertebrate animals, bacteria, fungi, other parasitic plants or reproductive parts thereof, viruses, or any organisms similar to or allied with any of the foregoing, or any infectious substances of the aforementioned which are not genetically engineered as defined in section 7 CFR 340.1 which can directly or indirectly injure or cause disease or damage in any plants or parts thereof, or any processed, manufactured, or other products of plants."
Presently, it takes 6-8 weeks for this permit to become available as it normally requires the co-signature of a state agricultural officer. However, the process is being streamlined. Soon, applications for the permit will be available electronically and the processing time will be 30 days or less.
Generally, you will receive a photocopy or fax of the permit, with the original remaining with APHIS-PPQ. Thus, if time is short in preparation for a trip, you can have the permit faxed to you at any location.
Importing Plant Materials (PPQ Form 587)
If you are also interested in importing live plant materials and do not wish to risk loss under the 12 plant per person policy, then you will need PPQ Form 587 "Application for Permit to Import Plants or Plant Products."
Some states, such as Florida, require their own import permit for living insects above and beyond that required by the USDA. Permit information is on the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website.
State permit regulations are not necessarily limited to agricultural pests. Be sure to check your state regulations regarding importation of live material.
Information for other states will be posted as it becomes available.
Collecting and Export Permits from Host Country
Specific information on this matter is not provided here. Every country is unique with its requirements regarding the collecting and exporting of natural history specimens. Also, these regulations often change from year to year. Some countries require collecting permits, or require them only under certain conditions, others do not. Some countries require export permits, other do not. Some countries have the permit acquisition protocols streamlined and reasonably efficient, others are simply a bureaucratic nightmare! Usually, there are tangible costs involved with each permit.
Hopefully, information that will assist fieldworkers in seeking permit information for various countries will become available here in the near future. Presently, information for obtaining CITES permits for the 150 signatory countries can be found in the Directory of CITES or CITES-equivalent permit issuing (management) authorities and scientific authorities. Included are the names, addresses, voice, and electronic access data for permitting agencies.
The Coleopterists Society strongly advocates responsibility for any fieldworker to investigate and obtain all necessary permits for any country visited. Legal liabilities involving potential loss of specimens through confiscation, or even imprisonment for wildlife smuggling, are real and not worth the effort simply because the investigator is either lazy or contrary to bureaucracy.