Biosecurity questions and answers

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What’s the difference between the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment?

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment protects Australia from exotic pests and diseases, while the Department of Immigration and Border Protection intercepts illegal goods, such as drugs and weapons. The departments work together at airports, seaports and mail centres to detect and deter the unlawful movement of goods into Australia.

More about the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
More about the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

What can I bring or send to Australia?

Australia has strict laws relating to the importation of certain goods. This ensures that the biosecurity risk to Australia’s agricultural industries and unique environment is minimised.

You must declare certain food, plant material and animal products. When you declare these goods they will be checked by a Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment biosecurity officer who will determine whether they are allowed into Australia.

Some products may require treatment to make them safe. Other goods may be restricted due to pest and disease risks.

See What can I bring or send to Australia?

When to mark ‘yes’ on your Incoming Passenger Card

You will be given an Incoming Passenger Card (IPC) before you arrive in Australia. You must comply with the requirement to provide this information. Giving false or misleading information is a serious offence.

You must mark ‘Yes’ if you are carrying certain food, plant material or animal products. You can take these declared goods with you to the clearance point where they will be inspected by a biosecurity officer.

Alternatively, you will have the opportunity to voluntarily dispose of any food, plant material or animal products in the bins at the terminal.

On arrival your baggage may also be inspected by a biosecurity officer, including by X–ray or detector dog.

If you fail to declare or dispose of any biosecurity risk goods, or make a false or misleading declaration on your Incoming Passenger Card, or provide false or misleading information to a biosecurity officer, you:

  • will be caught
  • may be given an infringement notice specifying a penalty amount of A$420
  • may be subject to civil penalty proceedings, and/or
  • may be prosecuted for a criminal offence. If convicted, you could face a maximum penalty of A$420,000 and/or be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

You will not be penalised under the Biosecurity Act 2015 if all goods are declared, even if they are not allowed into Australia.

What happens to goods you declare?

Goods will be inspected by a biosecurity officer who will determine the level of biosecurity risk associated with the goods. You may be required to provide information or documents to enable the biosecurity officer to determine the risk. In many cases goods you declare will be of low risk and will be returned to you after inspection. However, goods that may present an unacceptable level of biosecurity risk will be managed in accordance with the Biosecurity Act 2015. At any time during the inspection process you may voluntarily dispose of the goods in a bin at the terminal.

Depending on the risk, you can:

  • pay for the goods to be treated to reduce the biosecurity risk (for example fumigation, irradiation)
  • pay to export the goods from Australia, or
  • destroy the goods.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment makes every effort to minimise the risk of damage caused as a result of treatment, but does not accept liability for any damage that may occur to your goods during treatment or export.

Why can’t I bring or send goods into Australia that are already available in Australia?

The goods you buy in Australia have been commercially produced and imported under strict biosecurity conditions. Similar goods that are homemade, traditionally produced or purchased overseas could carry biosecurity pest or disease risks and cannot be imported.

Why do I have to declare on my return to Australia goods that I took overseas with me?

It may be possible for pests and diseases to contaminate your goods while overseas. Biosecurity officers inspect certain articles arriving into Australia irrespective of where they originally came from.

Where do I go for more information on goods to declare?

For information about bringing or sending goods to Australia, visit Arriving in Australia - Declare it!

If you need more information on goods that need to be declared or that require an import permit, visit the Department of Agriculture Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON).

BICON provides information about Australian biosecurity import conditions for foreign plant, animal, mineral and human commodities. It can be used to determine if a commodity intended for import to Australia needs an import permit and/or treatment or if there are any other biosecurity conditions.

The information available on BICON is the same information that biosecurity officers use when inspecting goods arriving in Australia. Import conditions within BICON are regularly reviewed, so please ensure you check the conditions each time you travel or send goods.

Can I take food or other goods from Australia through an airport to another country?

Each country has specific requirements as to goods that are allowed to be imported. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment does not keep a record of other countries’ requirements. For further information you should contact the relevant country’s consulate or embassy in your nearest capital city.

Once I’ve cleared biosecurity at an airport, can I take food or other goods to another state within Australia?

Some states prohibit the entry of a range of goods from other parts of Australia.

See Travelling within Australia.

Why can it take so long to get through the airport?

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment organises its resources at international airports to match scheduled flight arrival patterns. However, a range of factors including airport infrastructure and baggage transfer arrangements can influence the time it takes for passengers to move through the baggage reclaim area and the inspection area.

For faster clearances through Australian airports, make sure you are not carrying any fresh fruit, vegetables, plants, seeds, and meat, animal or wood products. You should also ensure that your footwear, sporting and recreational equipment is dry and soil free—including golf clubs, bikes and prams.

Why do dogs work for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment?

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment uses detector dogs as part of a range of tools to intercept biosecurity risk material at the border. Detector dog teams are highly mobile and can screen large volumes of arriving passengers, mail and cargo quickly and effectively.

See Detector dogs.

What will happen if there’s an outbreak of a disease in Australia?

Australia is well prepared to handle pest and disease outbreaks because of its excellent health system, well tested emergency response plans, past experience and international connections. The Government regularly assesses its ability to manage an outbreak through regular planning and exercises involving people at the highest levels of both government and industry. This allows for an informed approach to any complex and/or serious incident that may arise.

See National pests and disease outbreaks.

Why does the airline spray the aircraft during international flights to Australia?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), certain insects can act as transmitters or vectors of pathogens or parasites that are responsible for spreading a number of human diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, Ross River fever and malaria.

All aircraft arriving into Australia are required to undergo a process called disinsection. This process eliminates these vectors of concern (such as mosquitoes) from the cabin and holds of aircraft.

Preparations of chemicals currently used in aircraft disinsection are based on two active ingredients, permethrin and d–Phenothrin, currently recommended by WHO. The difference between permethrin and d–Phenothrin is principally one of residual effect; permethrin is a residual pyrethroid and d–Phenothrin a non-residual pyrethroid.

See Disinsection.

I want to buy something online from overseas, what do I need to know?

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment assess international mail items sent to Australia. Biosecurity requirements apply to goods ordered on the internet.

See Buying goods online from outside Australia.

What is the procedure and costs involved in importing my dog or cat to Australia?

Cats and dogs can be imported into Australia under strict conditions to manage biosecurity risks. The owner or importer must pay all fees associated with the import and quarantine accommodation.

See Bringing dogs, cats and other pets to Australia.

What is the procedure (including fumigation) for importing wooden goods to Australia (including wooden crates and packaging)?

Timber/wood may be imported in a highly processed state such as high quality furniture, picture frames, tool handles and composite wood material or as sawn timber or wood packaging (including dunnage). The latter represent a significant biosecurity risk if not properly treated.

See Importation of timber and timber products, or contact Timber Imports.

Why do we import goods that we produce here in Australia?

Australia exports almost two thirds of its agricultural produce and promotes fair and consistent trading rules for all countries around the world. We cannot expect trading partners to take our produce if we are not prepared to apply the same rules to their products.

If we import goods, doesn’t the risk of diseases and pests entering Australia increase?

The Australian Government takes a very conservative approach to biosecurity and through Government policy aims to reduce the risk to a very low level, but not to zero. It would not be practical for Australia to take a ‘zero risk’ approach, as it would mean no tourists, no international travel and no trade with other countries. Other countries could then apply the same policy and our products would not be accepted overseas.

Last reviewed: 12 February 2020
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