Check if you need a CITES permit to import or export endangered species

Find out if your import or export needs a permit under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

It’s a criminal offence to move or trade CITES-controlled species if you don’t have a valid permit. You could get a prison sentence of up to 5 years or an unlimited fine.

You must apply for a permit to import or export any animal or plant species, and their parts or derivatives, that are on the CITES list. Species are listed according to how endangered they are in the wild. Annex A is the most strictly controlled list of species and Annex D the least.

Use Species+ to find out if your import or export is on the CITES list.

You must apply for a permit to import, export or re-export Annex A, B or C specimens.

If you plan to use a specimen for commercial purposes, you must check if you also need an Article 10 certificate for commercial purposes. You may be able to get an exemption for single commercial use.

Apply for a permit using FED0172, the CITES permit application form, except for the import of Annex C specimens. You will need to contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol to get an import notification form for Annex C specimens.

Find out how to apply for CITES permits.

Unless you have the correct permit, you should not:

  • enter into contracts over specimens
  • make payments for their purchase
  • ship specimens

Musical instruments, museums and art exhibitions

In some cases, you may need to move endangered species across international borders on multiple occasions. For example, endangered species that are part of a:

  • touring orchestra
  • museum exhibit
  • art exhibition

If you’re part of a touring orchestra and only plan to travel with a single instrument, you can apply for a FED0172 certificate for your musical instrument. Make sure you state that you’re applying to move a single musical instrument or touring exhibit. There’s no charge for this kind of permit.

However, if you’re travelling with multiple instruments or specimens, you must apply for a CITES travelling exhibition certificate.

Find out how to apply for CITES permits.

Contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol if you’re unsure about which type of permit you need.

Personal and household effects

In some specific circumstances, you do not need a CITES permit to move personal and household effects that contain a controlled species.

Contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol if you think that a personal or household item, which you plan to import or export, includes a CITES-controlled species.

Extra rules about identifying controlled species

CITES rules still apply to items if the:

  • packaging lists a controlled item but the packet does not contain a specimen or derivative - such as a traditional Asian medicine listing tiger bone
  • actual species is not known and the specimen can only be identified to a higher group that includes controlled species - such as Crocodylia (for all crocodiles, alligators and gharials) and Orchidaceae (for all orchids)

Where the specimen cannot be identified as a specific species in a taxonomic group, APHA treats it as the most protected species of that group.

CITES rules do not apply to:

  • coral sand and coral fragments
  • naturally excreted urine, faeces and ambergris as these are waste products.

Customs requirements for CITES items

All CITES import, export and re-export permits must be stamped by customs authorities when they enter or leave the UK.

For imports, you must present the import permit on arrival in the UK. The sender must:

  • get the appropriate documents to submit to the UK Border Force (UKBF)
  • attach CITES documents travelling with the goods to the outside of the parcel in a sealed clear-plastic folder.

Read HMRC’s guidance on what to expect at customs if you have a UK-issued CITES import permit.

If you fail to correctly identify an import as being part of CITES rules, the UKBF could seize the goods and take criminal action against you and anyone else involved.

Export by post

You must present your CITES permit and specimen to the UKBF at one of the points of entry before you post your items to destinations outside the EU. The white copy of the permit should be securely attached to the outside of the parcel. You should keep the yellow copy. UKBF will keep the green copy.

You must complete a customs declaration form CN22 or CN23. This depends on the value of the item. You can get these forms from any Post Office. The customs declaration must include:

  • a description of the goods
  • the value
  • whether they’re gifts or commercial items

You also need a ‘C&E 83A label: exported by post under customs and excise control’. You can get one by ringing the advice line on 0845 010 9000 21.

Import by post

If you’re importing CITES goods by post, you must make sure that the sender gets and completes customs declaration form CN22 or CN23 and any CITES documents required. They must attach these to any items coming from a non-EU country.

Although the sender is responsible for making a complete and accurate declaration, you should make sure it’s done correctly.

UKBF checks CITES imports before they can enter the UK. You will be asked to provide your CITES UK import permit before UKBF releases the specimen.

When to get a retrospective permit

Under very specific and restricted circumstances, you can apply for a permit after you’ve imported, exported or re-exported a CITES species. APHA only issues a retrospective permit if the import, export or re-export is legal.

You must APHA if your application for a permit is retrospective. Before you apply for a retrospective permit, contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol for more information.

APHA may issue retrospective permits for:

  • Annex B and C specimens
  • Annex A specimens that have previously been legally introduced into or acquired in the community, and are now being re-introduced to the community
  • Annex A worked specimens acquired before 3 March 1947
  • personally owned pets, legally acquired and held for non-commercial purposes
  • certain personal and household effects

To apply for a retrospective permit, you must be able to:

  • meet the application conditions
  • show that irregularities are not the fault of the importer or re-exporter
  • explain why the required documents were not available on arrival or before departure for personal pets or personal and household items
  • prove you made a genuine error without intention to deceive

Retrospective import permits

You can apply for retrospective import permits for:

  • Annex B and C specimens
  • Annex A specimens that you’re not importing into the EU for the first time
  • worked Annex A specimens acquired before 1 June 1947

Retrospective export and re-export permit

You can only apply for retrospective export and re-export permits for:

  • Annex B and C specimens
  • worked Annex A specimens acquired before 1 June 1947

Contact APHA

If you’re unsure about your application or don’t know what fee to pay, contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol.

Published 1 January 2013
Last updated 22 July 2019 + show all updates
  1. When you need a certificate instead of a permit section updated
  2. CITES content has been restructured.
  3. Updated the information in the "UK ivory sales ban" section.
  4. Guidance on CITES-designated points of entry or exit published in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.
  5. CITES news updated.
  6. News section - High levels of CITES applications
  7. Method of payment section updated
  8. Added news - UK ivory sales ban
  9. News added - reminder to bird breeders
  10. CITES news update - CITES Open Day
  11. Amended section on legislation due to updated regulations in relation to the imports and introduction of specimens of certain species of wild fauna and flora into the EU
  12. Added news - new EU guidance on intra-EU trade/re-export of rhino horn
  13. Added news - new EU guidance and high levels of CITES applications
  14. Added news: New CITES controls - Rosewood and Palisander guidance
  15. Added news - African Grey Parrots
  16. Amended legislation for the complete list of species controlled by CITES under the EU regulations.
  17. New CITES controls on animal and plant species news added
  18. Added news - The Listing of Dalbergia species on CITES
  19. Added news - CITES team change of address
  20. Added news - species listing decisions at CITES Conference of Parties (CoP17)
  21. News added - Defra announcement about UK ban on modern day ivory sales
  22. Published new species requiring licences (CITES certificates and permits) news
  23. Amended current restrictions on importing live birds listed on CITES news item.
  24. News added - CITES documents for hybrid specimens
  25. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
  26. First published.