Do I Need A Permit?

Are you planning to import, export, buy, sell, acquire, or engage in interstate or international activities with wildlife and plants? Before you get started, first determine whether your species of interest is listed under domestic and international law, and whether you need a permit.

Permits provide a means to balance use and conservation of protected species. You can help conserve protected species by complying with these laws to ensure that your lawful activities are separate and distinct from the activities that harm populations in the wild.

If your species of interest is listed under domestic or international law, certain activities may be prohibited or regulated. If you conduct certain regulated activities without the appropriate permits, you risk the seizure of the specimens or paying a fine.

Most of the permits we issue are for the import and export of species that are protected by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We also issue permits under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Lacey Act (Injurious Wildlife), the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA), and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). We work closely with the Migratory Birds program to implement the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and with clearance and inspection authorities at ports of entry and exit.

Our program handles many aspects of these laws by reviewing permit applications and determining if the proposed activities meet the issuance criteria for permits. These regulations are in addition to any other State laws and the requirements of foreign countries.

For an overview of these laws and regulated activities, continue reading.

Be sure to check with the state for their requirements, and if relevant, the foreign country for their requirements.

Are you looking for guidance on conducting activities with elephant ivory? Please see our "What Can I Do With My Ivory?" webpage.

Are you planning to travel with your pet bird? Visit our Traveling With Your Pet Bird webpage.

If you are ready to find out if a permit is required for your species of interest and activity, skip ahead to our five step process below to find out.

Overview of International and Domestic Wildlife and Plant Protection Laws Requiring Permits from International Affairs

For details about these laws, visit our laws, treaties and agreements webpage.

CITES
ESA
Lacey Act (Injurious Wildlife)
WBCA
MMPA
MBTA

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

CITES establishes an international legal trade framework with common procedures and mechanisms via a permitting system. Permit requirements depend on the status of the species in the CITES Appendices. Traders must apply for a CITES permit if they want to send out or bring in listed species, including parts and products, across international borders. If you bring wildlife into the country, that’s an import. If you send wildlife out of the country, that’s an export. And, if a species is sent across one border, and then another, the second and all subsequent crossings are called re-exports. All of these activities are considered trade, even if it’s personal. Once a species is listed under CITES, any international trade in the species, either as live specimens or parts or products, must be accompanied by a valid CITES permit or certificate. 

Species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices according to the degree of protection they need.

  • Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances (permits are required both from the exporting and importing country).
  • Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but for which trade must be controlled in order to avoid overutilization that may threaten them with extinction (permits are required from the exporting country).
  • Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Party countries for assistance in controlling the trade in that species (a certificate of origin is required from the exporting country).

For an overview of CITES permit requirements, see our factsheet on the topic.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

The ESA protects species that are listed as endangered or threatened. An endangered species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Regulations that implement the ESA make it unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to commit, attempt to commit, solicit another to commit, or cause to be committed any of the following activities without prior authorization from the Service:

  • Import or export.
  • Take (meaning to harm, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct) within the United States and its territorial seas or upon the high seas.
  • Deliver, receive, carry, transport or ship in interstate or foreign commerce and in the course of a commercial activity.
  • Sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce.
  • Possess, ship, deliver, carry, transport, sell or receive unlawfully taken wildlife

Our office reviews permit applications under the ESA for all imports and exports of ESA-listed species, as well as for interstate and foreign commerce and take of foreign species listed under the ESA. Our office also manages Captive-Bred Wildlife Registrations. For information on conducting take with ESA-listed species that are native to the United States, contact the Endangered Species program.

Lacey Act (Injurious Wildlife)

Under the Lacey Act, the import and interstate transport of injurious-listed wildlife are prohibited without prior authorization from the Service. Our office may issue a permit to conduct import or interstate movement activities with injurious-listed wildlife, provided the purpose of the activity is medical, scientific, zoological, or educational. A permit must be issued before the import or interstate movement occurs. See our guidance for injurious-listed salamanders permit applicants and constrictor snake owners. Also see the Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program's Injurious Wildlife webpage.

Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA)

The Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) was enacted on October 23, 1992, to ensure that exotic bird species are not harmed by international trade. The Service may issue permits to allow import of listed birds for scientific research, zoological breeding or display, cooperative breeding programs, or personal pet purposes when the applicant meets certain criteria. Interested in traveling with your pet bird? See our webpage on the topic.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)

All species of marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and some also are protected under the ESA and CITES. Jurisdiction for marine mammals under the MMPA and ESA is shared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Our office has jurisdiction for import and export of all marine mammals listed under CITES. NOAA has jurisdiction over whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions, under the MMPA and the ESA.

Learn more about marine mammal permits at our webpage on the topic.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations. The Service’s Migratory Birds Program reviews applications for permits related to activities with migratory birds. You can find instructions and contact information for regional Migratory Birds Permits Offices at their webpage.

 

Do You Need A Permit?

Does your activity require prior authorization in the form of a permit from our program? Follow the five step process below to find out. Allow yourself some time to complete this process. You may need to conduct research on your species of interest and contact other agencies throughout this assessment. At the end of this process you should be able to state an activity narrative, such as "I wish to export a specimen of black bear (Ursus americanus), which is protected under CITES Appendix II." This activity narrative will help you select the correct application form, if applicable.

Ready to apply for a permit? First, review our guidance on how to apply.

Step One:  Species Determination
Step Two:  Plan Ahead for Inspections and Clearances at the Port of Entry or Exit
Step Three:  Protected Status Determination
Step Four:  Activity Assessment
Step Five:  Apply for a Permit

 

Step One:  Species Determination

What is the species of wildlife or plant? To determine whether these regulations apply to your species of interest, you will first need to determine the scientific name (genus and species), as wildlife protections are designated at the species, or sometimes the subspecies level.

For example, the scientific name of the monk parakeet is genus Myiopsitta, species monachus, or “Myiopsitta monachus,” the scientific name of Brazilian rosewood is genus Dalbergia, species nigra, or “Dalbergia nigra” and the scientific name of the hawksbill sea turtle is genus Eretmochelys, species imbricata or “Eretmochelys imbricata.” The scientific name of the Sumatran tiger is genus Panthera, species tigris, subspecies sumatrae, or "Panthera tigris sumatrae."

Ask a veterinarian, scientist or qualified appraiser to help you determine what type of wildlife or plant you have. You may also be able to find the scientific name online.


Step Two:  Plan Ahead for Inspections and Clearances at the Port of Entry or Exit

Are you seeking to import or export wildlife? If not, skip to Step Three: Protected Status Determination. If yes, before you make plans to import or export wildlife, plants, or wildlife or plant products, plan to meet the requirements of authorities that handle inspections and clearances at United States ports of entry and exit, which may apply regardless of the status of your species of interest under CITES and other laws and related permit requirements. You’ll first need to know the scientific names of the species (see Step One:  Species Determinations).

  • Wildlife and Wildlife Products
  • Plants and Plant Products (Includes Wood and Wood Products)
    • For plants and plant products, check with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for their requirements.

Step Three:  Protected Status Determination

Once you know the scientific name of your species of interest and you have planned ahead to meet inspection and clearance procedures at the United States ports of entry or exit if applicable, determine whether the species is protected under domestic or international law by checking the following species lists:

CITES - Search by scientific name or common name on the CITES Species Database.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) - Visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's (Service) Endangered Species program website.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) - USFWS has jurisdiction over the walrus, polar bear, sea otter, marine otter, West African manatee, Amazonian manatee, West Indian manatee, and dugong. All other marine mammals are regulated by NOAA Fisheries. Learn more about marine mammal permits at our webpage on the topic.

Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA)

Lacey Act - Check the current list of injurious wildlife. See our guidance for injurious-listed salamanders permit applicants and constrictor snake owners. Also see the Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program's Injurious Wildlife webpage.

If you are unsure whether your species of interest is listed under any of these laws or treaties, please contact us.


Step Four:  Activity Assessment

What activity do you seek to conduct? Generally, if you seek to conduct import, export, take, or conduct interstate or international commercial activities with listed species, prior authorization in the form of a permit may be required.

Once you determine the protected status of the species, screen the table below to determine if the activity you wish to conduct may be authorized under a permit issued by our office.

Keep in mind that a species may be listed under multiple laws, so multiple authorizations may be required. For example, the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is listed under Appendix I of CITES and also listed as Endangered under the ESA. The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is listed under Appendix II of CITES and also listed as Injurious Wildlife under the Lacey Act. Under our regulations for General Permit Procedures at 50 CFR Part 13, if more than one type of permit for an activity is required by multiple regulations, we may be able to issue one consolidated permit authorizing the activity, provided certain criteria are met.

Note:  The Migratory Birds Program issues permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). However, if a species is additionally protected under CITES or the ESA and you wish to import or export, you may apply to our office for the CITES or ESA authorization and we will coordinate with the Migratory Birds Program to evaluate your proposed activity.


Law or Treaty

Activities that may be authorized by a permit issued by International Affairs

CITES

Import (Appendix I species)
Export (Appendix I, II and II species)

Endangered Species Act

 

Import
Export
Interstate commerce
Foreign Commerce
Take

Note:  The Endangered Species Program issues incidental take, enhancement of survival, recovery and interstate commerce permits for species that are native to the United States.

Lacey Act (Injurious Wildlife)

Import
Transport

Wild Bird Conservation Act

Import

Marine Mammal Protection Act

Import
Take

 

If you are unsure whether the activity you wish to conduct is allowable or prohibited under any of these laws or treaties, please contact us.


Step Five:  Apply for a Permit

If your species of interest is protected under domestic or international law, and the activity may be authorized by a permit issued by our program, the next step is to apply for a permit.

However, if your specimen is only protected under CITES Appendix II or III and you are traveling with or moving your personal belongings, you may meet the requirements of the CITES personal and household effects exemption.

If you already know that your species of interest or your activity do not meet the criteria of the CITES personal and household effects exemption, such as all commercial endeavors, all CITES Appendix-I, ESA, WBCA, MMPA, and MBTA protected species, and species listed as Injurious Wildlife under the Lacey Act, a permit is required.

For instructions, review our guidance on how to apply for a permit.


Personal and Household Effects

If your species of interest is protected under CITES Appendix II or III, but not protected under CITES Appendix I, ESA, WBCA, MBTA, or MMPA, and not listed as Injurious Wildlife (Lacey Act), you may meet the criteria of the personal and household effects exemption.

The United States recognizes the CITES personal and household effects exemption (Article VII (3)) for CITES Appendix II and Appendix III species. This exemption does not apply to living wildlife and plants, including eggs and non-exempt seeds. Provided the specimen is not living, is for personal use and is included with your accompanying baggage, or the specimen is part of a shipment of your household effects when moving your residence to and from the United States, your activity may fall under the CITES personal effects exemption, outlined in our regulations at 50 CFR 23.15, which waives the requirements for a CITES permit. Quantity limits apply to certain specimens such as caviar, crocodilian products, and queen conch. Certain specimens such as rainsticks and African elephant worked ivory are additionally restricted.

Review the personal and household effects regulation carefully to determine whether you meet the stated criteria. If yes, check with the foreign CITES Management Authority to be sure they will recognize this exemption. If they do not recognize this exemption, permit requirements apply. If you meet the criteria and the foreign country also recognizes the personal and household effects exemption, print a copy of our regulation and keep it with the item for reference purposes so that you may demonstrate that you meet these criteria, if asked. We recommend keeping documentation about the source and history of the item with the item.

If your species of interest is not covered by the personal and household effects exemption, such as all CITES Appendix-I, ESA, WBCA, MMPA and MBTA protected species, and species listed as Injurious Wildlife under the Lacey Act, or the foreign country does not recognize the personal and household effects exemption, permit requirements apply.

 

Next, review our guidance on how to apply for a permit.

 

If you are unsure whether you need to apply for a permit, please contact us.

 

Banner Credits: Scarlet Macaw: Manfred Meiners; Orchids: USFWS; Gecko: Frupus CC BY-NC 3.0