Bringing plants to the UK from abroad
Though the law allows for import of plants by private individuals as detailed below, it is important to remember that imported plants and plant products are the main pathway of entry for invasive pests and diseases. Plants for planting such as pot plants, cuttings and bulbs are the highest risk.
The RHS advises not to bring back plants or plant products from other countries in your baggage. Defra’s “Don’t Risk It!” campaign explains more about the risks of bringing in plant material via passenger baggage or other non-commercial routes.
The UK is free of many pests and diseases present in other parts of Europe and beyond. The UK has “protected zone status”, which means it can apply additional measures to the import of plants from the EU for a wide range of species.
Even plant material that appears healthy may be harbouring pests and diseases. For example, some hosts of Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterial pathogen causing devastating outbreaks in Europe, may not show symptoms for months or even years following infection. More information on Xylella fastidiosa can be found here.
If you do decide to bring in plants from abroad, you must ensure that you comply with the relevant plant health regulations.
What you can bring in from the EU
If you are bringing plants and plant products into the UK from within the EU, you can bring in most plants or plant products as long as they are:
- grown in an EU country
- free from pests and diseases
- for your own use or consumption
However, you cannot bring in for planting:
- Castanea (including sweet chestnut)
- plants of Platanus (plane)
What you can bring from third countries outside the EU
If you are bringing plant material from outside of the EU into the UK in personal baggage, you must have a phytosanitary certificate for almost all plants and living parts of plants, including all seeds for planting.
Plant material exempt from needing a certificate are five tropical fruits (pineapple, coconut, durian, bananas and plantain (Musa spp.), and dates).
You can find more information on the Defra webpage: Smarter rules for safer food: how to import from third countries.
Some plant material from third countries is prohibited.
You cannot bring in:
- any plant for planting deemed high risk plants unless a risk assessment is first carried out by the European Food Safety Authority
- loose soil
- plants of Ullucus tuberosus (ulluco, a member of the potato family)
- fruits of Momordica (a type of gourd) which are from third countries where Thrips palmi (a species of thrip) is present
- wood of Ulmus where Saperda tridentata (elm borer) is known to occur
In addition, some plants and plant products from third countries are subject to import controls such as pre-notification to import. The list includes:
- root and tubercle vegetables from all third countries
- some plants and seeds for sowing
The full list of plants and products from third countries that will require pre-notification and import controls to enter the UK is set out in plant species by import category.
Other plants and plant material from third countries, which is not deemed prohibited or is subject to import controls, can be brought in provided that the material is:
- in your personal luggage
- accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate
- for your personal use
- not diseased or infected with pests
Note: Processed and packaged products such as fruit and vegetables, including packaged salads, sandwiches and frozen material are also exempt from needing a certificate. Products such as like nut and seed butters containing processed fruit or vegetables do not fall within plant health import controls.
Further information on passenger allowance is available on this European Commission poster (pdf).
‘Plant’ means a living plant (including a fungus or tree) or a living part of a plant (including a living part of a fungus or shrub), at any stage of growth.
‘Plant product’ means products of plant origin, that has not been processed or has only undergone simple preparation. Wood and bark are not ‘plant products’.
Buying plants via the internet
Plants ordered from overseas via the internet are subject to the same phytosanitary requirements as those brought into the UK via personal baggage from abroad.
We encourage gardeners to help protect the UK from unwanted pests and diseases by always buying plants from reputable UK nurseries and garden centres and to avoid ordering plants from websites where the origin of the plant material is unknown. This helps to ensure that any plant material purchased is not harbouring any potentially damaging pests and diseases.
The governments’ Plant Health and Seed Inspectorate are encouraging members of the public to report any suspicious plant products by email to PlantHealth.Info@apha.gov.uk