Guidance

Import or export endangered species: check if you need a CITES permit

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

There are criminal offences associated with moving or trading CITES-controlled species if you do not have a valid permit or certificate. You could be liable to a prison sentence of up to 7 years, an unlimited fine, or both.

You must apply for a permit or certificate to import, export or re-export any animal or plant species, and their parts or derivatives, that are on the CITES list. This includes if you move CITES specimens between Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and the EU, and Great Britain and Northern Ireland (NI).

Use Species+ to find out if your specimen is 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.

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.

Find out how to apply for CITES permits and certificates, including any fees you’ll need to pay.

Unless you have the correct CITES documentation, you should not:

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

You’ll need to:

  • use a designated point of entry or exit
  • show your CITES documents to Border Force
  • check other custom controls required by HMRC

Read the guide for trading or moving CITES-listed specimens through UK ports and airports.

Musical instruments, museums, art exhibitions and touring displays

In some cases, you may need to move CITES specimens across international borders several times. For example, endangered species or specimens that are part of a:

  • touring orchestra
  • museum exhibit
  • art exhibition
  • touring display or circus

If you’re travelling with your instrument as part of a touring orchestra you should apply for a CITES permit for each instrument containing CITES listed specimens. You do not have to pay for the permit.

Find out how to apply for CITES permits and certificates.

Contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol if you’re not sure which type of permit or certificate you need.

Personal and household effects

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

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

Eels

Contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol for advice if you plan to export or import European eels.

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 naturally excreted urine, faeces and ambergris as these are waste products.

Contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol if you’re not sure whether CITES rules apply to your item.

Customs requirements for CITES items

All CITES import, export and re-export permits or certificates must be endorsed by customs authorities when they enter or leave Great Britain.

UK Border Force (UKBF) will check and endorse the documents. UKBF will keep the documents and send copies to APHA. Other copies are used to prove legal import or export of the specimen.

You must present these documents to UKBF at the:

  • first point of entry into Great Britain - before the CITES goods are removed to a customs temporary storage facility
  • last point of exit from Great Britain

For imports, you must:

  • get the appropriate documents to submit to UKBF
  • attach CITES documents travelling with the goods to the outside of the parcel in a sealed clear-plastic folder

If you do not identify an import as part of CITES rules, UK Border Force can seize the goods and take criminal action against you and anyone else involved.

Export by post

Before you post your item to a destination outside the UK, you must present your CITES permit and specimen to UKBF at a CITES designated point of entry and exit (PoE) to be endorsed. This includes movements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

All 3 copies of the CITES permit need to be securely attached to the outside of the parcel in a clear plastic folder.

The white and yellow copy of the permit will be returned to you. You will need to put the white copy in the parcel before posting and keep the yellow copy as your proof the permits were presented for endorsement.

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 calling HMRC on 0300 200 3700.

For advice on movements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain contact: BFPortTeam@homeoffice.gov.uk

For more ways to contact HMRC, check its Imports and exports: general enquiries page.

Post moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland

For CITES specimens moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, your handling agent must move parcels through Belfast International airport.

Import by post

If you’re importing CITES specimens by post, you must make sure that the sender fills in and attaches to the items:

  • customs declaration form CN22 or CN23 - you can get these from any post office
  • any CITES documents required

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.

Post moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain

For CITES specimens moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain your handling agent must move parcels through Belfast seaport.

Retrospective permits

You must have the relevant permit before you import, export or re-export a CITES specimen. You can only apply for a retrospective permit under very specific and exceptional circumstances.

Before you apply for a retrospective permit, you must contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol.

Returned goods

If your CITES specimen has been exported from Great Britain but is rejected by the importing country, contact UK Border Force at CITESteam@homeoffice.gov.uk to let them know it’s been rejected.

You’ll also need to get CITES documents to re-import the items into Great Britain. Contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol for more details.

Contact APHA

If you’re not sure about your application or do not know what fee to pay, contact APHA Centre for International Trade: Bristol.

Published 1 January 2013
Last updated 28 May 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated the 'Customs requirements for CITES items' section to make it clear that you need to present documents to UK Border Force at the first point of entry into, and the last point of exit from, Great Britain.

  2. Updated the export by post and import by post sections. When moving CITES specimens from Great Britain (GB) to Northern Ireland (NI), your handling agent must move parcels through Belfast International airport. When moving CITES specimens from NI to GB your handling agent must move parcels through Belfast seaport.

  3. Updated eels section. Contact APHA for advice if you plan to export or import European eels.

  4. We updated the guidance to make it clearer that you need a CITES permit when you move CITES specimens between Great Britain and the EU, and between GB and Northern Ireland.

  5. Added guidance about customs requirements and travelling displays. Updated information about penalties if you do not have the correct documents.

  6. When you need a certificate instead of a permit section updated

  7. CITES content has been restructured.

  8. Updated the information in the "UK ivory sales ban" section.

  9. Guidance on CITES-designated points of entry or exit published in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

  10. CITES news updated.

  11. News section - High levels of CITES applications

  12. Method of payment section updated

  13. Added news - UK ivory sales ban

  14. News added - reminder to bird breeders

  15. CITES news update - CITES Open Day

  16. 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

  17. Added news - new EU guidance on intra-EU trade/re-export of rhino horn

  18. Added news - new EU guidance and high levels of CITES applications

  19. Added news: New CITES controls - Rosewood and Palisander guidance

  20. Added news - African Grey Parrots

  21. Amended legislation for the complete list of species controlled by CITES under the EU regulations.

  22. New CITES controls on animal and plant species news added

  23. Added news - The Listing of Dalbergia species on CITES

  24. Added news - CITES team change of address

  25. Added news - species listing decisions at CITES Conference of Parties (CoP17)

  26. News added - Defra announcement about UK ban on modern day ivory sales

  27. Published new species requiring licences (CITES certificates and permits) news

  28. Amended current restrictions on importing live birds listed on CITES news item.

  29. News added - CITES documents for hybrid specimens

  30. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

  31. First published.