Importing plant research material

​Imported plant research material can introduce foreign plant pests and diseases that could be harmful to Australia’s environment, agriculture and economy. To protect against this risk, strict biosecurity measures are in place for importing live plants, including research material. An import permit application is usually required for plant research material, which is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The following information will help you import plant research material. If you require any further information consult Helpful links.

How to import plant research material

Follow the process when importing plant research materials into Australia to minimise biosecurity risks.

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1. Find out if you need an import permit for your material:

Check the department’s Biosecurity Import Conditions (BICON) database to see if your material requires an import permit. Import permits issued will specify the conditions that you must meet as an importer, such as whether the imported material must undergo any treatments or whether the material may only be used in an approved arrangement site. These conditions apply to all users/administrators of the permit.

If the pathway you have selected for your particular goods states that an import permit is not required, you must meet the import conditions as listed.

About BICON:

The import conditions listed within a BICON case are generic and usually only apply to standard goods. The listed conditions may not apply if the goods require an import permit and thus a case-by-case assessment.

2. Apply for your specific import permit, if required:

If specified on BICON, register an account and apply for a permit via the ‘Apply now’ button below the import conditions.

There is a permit fee associated with administration and assessments, which varies according to the type and number of products on the application form. Your fee will be described on your invoice, and payment must be included in your application form for it to be processed. A letter of acknowledgement of your application will be sent to you as a tax receipt.

Most import permits will be issued within 20 working days of applications being received and paid for in full.

Applications may take longer if they are incomplete or incorrect, if they require complex technical assessment, or if additional information is required. In this instance, you will be contacted by the assessing officer.

The assessing office will send the applicant and/or importer a copy of the draft permit prior to it being finalised, to ensure the importer is able to meet the listed conditions.

Once granted, your import permit will appear in your BICON account, and a copy will be sent via email to the person(s) listed in the permit application. It will specify the conditions and requirements under which your material may enter Australia. Read it carefully so you understand all the conditions you are liable for.

Any amendments required to your import permit once received, such as adding extra commodities or changing importer/exporter details, will need to be reapproved by the department. Send your request via email to Imports, and refer to the import permit number and clearly describe the amendment required. Amended permits will have the same expiry date as the original.

You must reapply for a new import permit, even if it will be for the same material as a previous permit. You can apply before it expires, but you should state on your new application form that it is a re-application of a previous import permit and provide reference to the old import permit number. The department does not renew previous import permits, as each new application must undergo a full risk assessment in consideration of current biosecurity risks and their management.

An import permit is the financial and legal responsibility of the importer and person(s) listed on the import permit. It cannot be borrowed, hired, lent, or given to another party. The documentation on imported goods (importer details, exporter details) must correspond exactly to those listed on the permit.

Note: Imports without a valid import permit, or that don’t meet permit conditions, may be destroyed or re-exported at the importer’s expense. A permit cannot be issued retrospectively for goods that have arrived without a valid import permit.

Applying for an import permit does not guarantee that a permit will be issued. The Director of Biosecurity or their delegate decides whether conditions can be applied to manage the biosecurity risk of individual goods or commodity types to Australia’s appropriate level of protection, which is very low but not zero.

3. Have your plant research material sent to Australia:

It is important to make sure the exporter understands and complies with the import conditions of the material. You or the overseas exporter must meet all the packaging, labelling and sending requirements on your import permit, or in the import conditions if a permit is not required, when importing goods into Australia.

It is important to make sure the exporter understands and complies with the import conditions of the material.

Note: as the person listed on the permit, you will be liable for all imports under that permit.

4. Arrange clearance of your imported goods:

To arrange clearance of imported goods, submit your import permit (or permit number) and all associated documentation to the Cargo Online Lodgement System (COLS) or to Self Assessed Clearance (SAC), which is used for goods under $1000.

If imported as passenger baggage please declare the goods on your Incoming Passenger Card.

If imported through the mail, ensure that the sender of the material declares the mail item as ‘biosecurity material’ with high visibility on the external packaging of the consignment.

5. Follow the post-arrival process once your materials have arrived

Biosecurity requirements do not end once the material has arrived in Australia. You need to comply with all the import permit conditions specified for your material or meet the import conditions in BICON when a permit is not required.

Import and permit conditions may specify details about:

Treatments: Some imported material may require treatment prior to use to minimise their biosecurity risk. Mandatory treatments will be listed on your import permit, or in the BICON import conditions as relevant.

Post-entry containment: Import permit conditions for plant material and seeds for research purposes may require containment in an approved arrangement (AA) site, such as a laboratory or glasshouse. The required level of containment will be stated on your import permit.

N.B. Examples of plant research materials that may require AA site containment include: pathogens and microorganisms; samples for laboratory analysis (seed, plant material, etc.); plants requiring treatment, testing, and/or a period of growth in quarantine.

End Use: Imported material will be approved for a particular end use that is stated in the permit application. Importers must reapply to the department for any change in end use.

Inspections: Some imported material may need to undergo mandatory inspection by biosecurity officers on arrival and/or during its use in your nominated approved arrangement site. Your import permit will specify if you need to arrange any inspections with your Regional Office and when these need to occur.

Releasing material: In some circumstances, imported materials undergo treatments or procedures at your nominated approved arrangement site to reduce their biosecurity risk. Under such circumstances the imported materials might be approved for release – your import permit will specify whether the material you import is approved for release.

After permit expiry: Most imported material can continue to be used past the permit’s expiry date, if the permit allows this and subject to the conditions listed on the import permit. Imported materials should be used and stored in accordance with the import permit that they were imported under.

Types of plant research material that can be imported into Australia

In scope:

  • seeds, plants, tissue cultures and fresh or dried plant material (including genetically modified plant material)
  • herbarium specimens
  • preserved plant material
  • plant pathogens (infectious microorganisms that cause disease in plants, including bacteria, fungi, oomycetes, phytoplasmas, viroids and viruses)
  • plant material infected with plant pathogens
  • diagnostic kits
  • microorganisms for in-vivo use in plants
  • DNA and RNA from plants and plant pathogens
  • biological control agents (BCAs) for plants and plant pests (invertebrates or microorganisms used to control weeds, plant pathogens or invertebrate plant pests)
  • plant symbiotic microorganisms
  • some species of Drosophila fly
  • invertebrate and nematode species known to be plant pests or with the potential to be plant pests (organisms that cause disease, spoilage, or damage to plants)

Out of scope:

  • animal or microbial derived products such as foods, therapeutics, laboratory materials, and vaccines (Biological Imports)
  • Agricultural products – timber, dried fibre articles, herbs, used machinery, not for research or analysis purposes.
  • Live animals – including viable reproductive material (Live Animal Imports)

Plant research material is often imported for either in vitro or in vivo use.

  • In vitro use: laboratory/glasshouse research where material is analysed (and may be grown) but is not exposed to live plants or animals.
  • In vivo use: laboratory/glasshouse research where material is exposed to plants, animals or microorganisms

Import conditions may be found in BICON under the following cases:

  • Plant material for research purposes
  • Permitted seed for sowing
  • Plant pathogens for research and diagnostic purposes
  • Plant DNA or RNA for in vitro use
  • Low risk genetic material and/or microorganisms for in vitro and/or in vivo use in plants
  • Diagnostic kits
  • Herbarium specimens
  • Highly refined organic chemicals and substances
  • Biological control agents
  • Drosophila spp. for use in post entry quarantine

Considerations made during an assessment of an import permit application:

  • If the materials pose a minimal (e.g. microorganisms are scientifically proven as endemic to Australia, material has been appropriately preserved) or significant (e.g. microorganisms are exotic or plant material is viable) risk to Australia and plant health.
  • If the materials will remain contained in a laboratory or facility upon import into Australia, or whether the goods will be released into the environment/commercial industry, or used for field studies.
  • If the materials would pose a biosecurity risk if introduced or unintentionally released into the Australian environment.
  • Whether particular strains/pathovars/etc. of a microorganism species pose a greater biosecurity risk than others.
  • Whether any plant material may be host to plant pathogens that could escape into Australia.
  • If any plant material may still be viable and continue to grow if released into Australia. If viable plant material grows without mitigating pathogen risk, there is a significant risk of disease transmission.
  • Whether the material will be exposed to plants, animals or biological material, and if so, will this pose a risk to animal/environmental health?
  • Whether the importer’s facility/nominated AA site is appropriate for the containment of the type of goods.
  • If the packaging is secure and labelling suitable for the particular goods.
  • Conditions of use, transfer and potentially release once imported into Australia.

What does the department expect of importers?

  • You provide the department with honest and complete information.
  • That the material will be used for the declared end use.
  • That you comply with import conditions and permit requirements.
  • That you submit an Import Permit Application well in advance of the intended import date.
  • You have read and understood the import conditions prior to importing the goods into Australia.
  • You have obtained an import permit, where required, prior to the goods’ arrival into Australian Territory.
  • That you, as the importer, contact the department if you have any questions or don’t understand import conditions prior to importing the goods.
  • You under stand your legal obligations as an importer.

What can importers expect from the department?

  • That each import enquiry will be assessed thoroughly
  • Advice will be provided in relation to the information that has been provided to the department by the importer
  • The department will contact the importer if and when it requires further information for an advice or assessment (or something along these lines).

Helpful links

Further explanatory information can be found at:

Still not sure?

You can contact us if you have further enquiries. To ensure we are able to give you the best advice, please have the following information ready:

  • Any current and previous import permit reference numbers (if applicable).
  • Information on the particular goods you wish to import, including the scientific name where possible, and the end use.
  • The name of the BICON case you believe best suits your goods.
  • Entry Number (if applicable).

Email: Imports
Phone: 1800 900 090 or + 61 3 8318 6700 (from outside Australia)