How to - Seeds

Bringing plants and seeds across the border

Nicolette Linton

Ever been tempted to smuggle contraband seeds? Turns out you may not have to

You landed 30 minutes ago from Paris, clearing customs with a breezy “Nothing to declare.” You’re pushing your cart to the exit when a Canada Border Services officer beckons you over. She rifles through your bag and pulls out a bareroot Hemerocallis ‘Dragon’s Eye’ wrapped in foil, a parting gift from your host. Heart racing, you prepare for the airport walk of shame…

The best way to avoid this scenario? “Be aware of import requirements before you leave the country,” advises Patrizia Giolti, Canada Border Services Agency’s communications manager. “That way, you won’t be tempted by something on your trip you can’t bring back.” Check AIRS—the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Automated Import Reference System—for import restrictions and requirements. You’ll see, for instance, that you don’t need a seed analysis certificate or an import declaration to bring in herb seeds weighing five kilograms or less, but you will need paperwork for wildflower seeds heavier than 500 grams. And, if you keep to the legal weight limit (up to 500 g of small seeds or 5 kg of large seeds), transporting non-prohibited seeds is free.

Bringing actual plants, shrubs and trees into Canada is more complex. “Unfortunately, plant protection is never simple,” admits Lois McLean, the CFIA’s plant protection and seed potato specialist. “Import require­ments depend on the product and its origin.” For example, plants from some U.S. states—and not others—have to be soil-free. And fees may apply. The bottom line is always check AIRS before you travel. If you do need a phyto­sanitary certificate, contact the exporter to arrange for one. Not all plants and products need an import permit, but if one is required, send the exporter a copy downloaded from the CFIA website.

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