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.

General Comments

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:

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?

CITES – Endangered or Threatened Species, or Products

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)

Dead insects and all invertebrates fall under the category of regulated wildlife products as seen by the USFWS and must have accompanying paperwork upon import or export. Live animals, federally listed Threatened and Endangered species, or CITES specimens, require additional and complex permits that generally prohibit unaffiliated researchers or collectors from importation. Commercial imports require inspection by an agent and payment of appropriate fees for every transaction.

Non-commercial transactions apply to “scientific”, “educational”, or “personal use” exceptions. While you may list personal use for a few specimens, large transactions of more than 10 specimens may be seen by agents as a commercial transaction and you will be subject to inspections and fees. Purchasing of insects from abroad falls under the commercial transaction purpose code. Call your local port of entry office to speak to an officer about what is required before any transaction occurs.

Every border crossing event with specimens requires a USFWS 3-177 declaration. Failure to declare at point of entry risks having the specimens confiscated and destroyed. While 180 days is granted for an updated form, a 3-177 must be submitted or presented at time of entry or exit. The 180 days allowance is for the subsequent identification of specimens and for an update to the original form. For most scientific transactions this update is not required to be made and the original declaration will stand. Listing the identification of every specimen to family or genus is not necessary, and various or unidentified bulk lots may be entered as “unidentified insects” or “unidentified moths”. If better identifications are available they should be used, and the country of origin of the specimen must be listed either on the 3-177 form or on the accompanying packet upload. If multiple species from multiple countries are imported you can list them as various (code “VS”), provided the country per species is listed on the attached documentation.

Note: specimens originating from embargoed countries such as Cuba are prohibited from all international border crossings. An exemption from OFAC (The Office of Foreign Assets Control) is being pursued for the scientific community by Smithsonian legal offices.

FWS Form 3-177 and other information is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This form is downloadable but should be filed electronically via eDecs. If no internet is available or if counts are not ready before importation from abroad it is advisable to have a hard copy that accompanies specimens as a backup. You should also notify the USFWS office at the designated port of entry at least 7 days in advance of your entry. Speaking to an agent about your importation is the best way to ensure you are cleared ahead of time and that they have sufficient time to notify Customs and Border Protection agents of your arrival.


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.”
    “(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.”

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.

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.”

State Restrictions

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.