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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
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Required Documents

What do I need to know before buying or selling seeds online?

An import permit issued by APHIS specifies which seed species can enter the country and under what conditions. These conditions can include treatment, packaging, labeling, and shipping requirements, among other things. Only U.S. residents may apply for an import permit.

Most seeds for planting require a PPQ 587–Permit to Import Plants or Plant Products. Some seeds are prohibited or restricted and may enter the United States only under a special permit and after meeting additional requirements. Please see Seeds with Additional Requirements for more information.

To determine which permit you need, visit APHIS’ Plants and Plant Products Permits website or contact APHIS’ Permits Help Desk by phone (301) 851-2046, toll free (877) 770-5990, or email plantproducts.permits@usda.gov.

Applying for a Permit

U.S. residents can apply for an import permit at no cost using APHIS eFile. To begin, you must first create an account. Once you are registered, you may apply for a permit. Issuance of a Permit may take up to two months depending on the amount of permit being handled throughout the year and the complexity of the permit. 

A phytosanitary certificate is issued by the national plant protection organization (NPPO) of the country of origin. It attests that the NPPO has inspected the seed and found it free of pests and pathogens. All seeds imported into the United States must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, unless specifically exempted by a permit that allows importation without one, such as the Small Lots of Seed permit (See Seeds with Additional Requirements).

Important: It is the responsibility of the seller to obtain the phytosanitary certificate and include it in the shipment along with other required documents, such as an invoice, packing list, etc., (See Other Required Documents).

Exceptions to the Phytosanitary Certificate Requirement:

The following are excepted from the phytosanitary certificate requirement:

The instructions on the import permit will indicate whether a shipping label is required. Not all permits require shipping labels. The shipping label includes the address of the APHIS Plant Inspection Station where the package must be sent. Each label is individually numbered with a distinctive barcode. If APHIS does not require an import permit for the seeds you are shipping into the United States, you do not need a shipping label.

Requesting a Shipping Label

If the import permit conditions require a shipping label, the buyer must:

  1. Request a green and yellow shipping label through APHIS eFile. Simply log into APHIS eFile, navigate to My Activity and search for your permit. On the permit details page, view and download your labels in the Plant Inspection Station Labels section. You may also email your request to GreenandyellowPlantslabelrequest@usda.gov. APHIS will email you an electronic label and instructions.
  2. Send the electronic green and yellow shipping label to the seller. The seller must print the label using a color printer and attach it to the outside of the package per the instructions provided with the label.
  3. Instruct the seller to include the buyer’s name, address, telephone number, and permit number in each shipment.
  4. Let the seller know which approved U.S. ports of entry are listed on the permit.

All seeds shipped into the United States must be accompanied by an invoice or packing list that includes the scientific names of the seeds and their quantities.

Important: It is the responsibility of the buyer to ensure the seller includes the scientific name and quantity of seeds on the invoice.

Marking Seeds

Seeds shipped into the United States must be plainly and correctly marked by the seller as follows:

  • On the package: Affix the green/yellow label that will direct the package to the APHIS Plant Inspection Station listed on the permit.
  • Inside the package: Include a separate sheet of paper that plainly and correctly bears the name, address, and telephone number of the buyer.
  • On the seed container: Plainly and correctly include the following information:
    • General nature and quantity of the contents;
    • Name and address of seller, owner, or person shipping the seeds; and
    • Permit number of the permit authorizing the importation if a permit is required.

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