Importing and import permits

Importation into UniSA

Regardless of whether importation or transport of biological materials into UniSA is from the institution next door, interstate or outside of Australia, the legislative and university polices need to be followed.

All personnel involved in the packaging, labelling and transport of biological materials must be appropriately trained, competent and knowledgeable to the relevant state, national and international regulations.

The efficient transport and transfer of biological materials requires co-ordination between the sender (shipper, consignor), the couriers, the recipient (consignee) and in the case of exchange of material transfer agreements, UniSA and the donating institution.


Within Australia, restrictions apply to each state and territory for the movement of items (such as plants, plant products, animal products and soil) to protect Australia's valuable local and overseas markets. These restrictions operate under state and territory legislation, as well as International Aviation Transport Association (IATA) reglations for air transport.

Outside of Australia

To protect Australia from harmful pests and diseases regulations and restrictions must be adhered to. These include the Biosecurity Act, amongst others.

'The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) Biological Imports Program administers Australian biosecurity conditions for the importation of biological products. These include animal or microbial derived products such as foods, therapeutics, laboratory materials, and vaccines.' (1)

Plant produce is administered by the Plant Programs

Live animals - including viable reproductive material, Live Animal Imports

Agricultural products - Treatments and inspections - Import Clearance


1. Australian Import/Quarantine Conditions: If importing into Australia, check the Biosecurity Import Conditions database BICON to see what Import Conditions might apply to your organism, biological product, mineral or human commodity.

2. Import Permit: If an import permit is required, obtain a copy from the Manager: Technical Services of your Academic Unit, Institute or Centre.

Academic Unit/Program/Institute/Centre Import Permit Manager 
 Allied Health and Human Performance  Danijela Prso
 Animal Facility  Mike Hill
 Cancer Research Institute  Kellie La Fontaine
 Centre for Cancer Biology  Cathy Lagnado
 Centre for Cancer Diagnostics and Therapeutics  Ben Noll
 Clinical Health Sciences   Ben Noll
 Future Industries Institute  John Denman
 Program of Pharmacy and Biological Sciences  Ben Noll
 STEM  John Denman


If the import permit does not include your commodity, ask the Manager to apply for the appropriate Import Permit or add your commodity to the existing import permit.

Read and follow the conditions of the import permit or approved arrangement. This includes any packaging, labelling and accompanying documentation. Compliance with these requirements is a legal obligation.

3. Importing into South Australia: A guide to SA quarantine requirements should be consulted before bringing goods into the state. 

Fruit fly infestation of South Australia has precipitated the need to limit the movement of some fruit and vegetables. If transporting fruit, vegetables or other organic matter, check the SA Government website for current restrictions and advice.

4. Material Transfer Agreement (MTA): Check with the sender if they require a signed MTA. Often non-commercial institutions, and some commercial companies such as ATCC, Adgene and CellBank Australia, require a signed MTA before shipment. MTAs must be sent to for consideration and signing.

5. Other Approvals: If importing an NLRD, DNIR or DIR Genetically Modified Organisms or other biological material into UniSA, then approval from the UniSA Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) might be required. If importing animals, then UniSA Animal Ethics Committee approval will be required. If importing human material, then UniSA Human Research Ethics Committee approval will be required.

6. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO): Ensure that access to the GMO is restricted to persons approved by the IBC or Office of Gene Technology Regulator. Where containers are delivered to an unattended loading dock or laboratory, containers should be kept in a locked or access restricted area until collection.

7. Reuse of packaging: If reusing packaging, such as an esky, then decontaminate with 80% v/v ethanol or another disinfectant effective against the organism, or autoclave before reuse.

8. If disposing of packaging (including any melted ice) containing a GMO or material containing or potentially containing infectious organisms: packaging must be disposed in a GMO or biohazard waste bin (as applicable), or disinfected or autoclaved before disposal.

9. Decontaminate the exterior of primary containers with 80% v/v ethanol or another disinfectant effective against the organism.

10. Record the importation.

11. Keep customs declarations for at least three months following receipt of goods.

Importing GMOs

The OGTR guidelines for Transport, Storage and Disposal must be followed when importing genetically modified organisims.


Import permits

An import permit is required to import goods into Australia that are subject to quarantine. Dependent on the goods to be imported, the permit may include conditions that restrict the goods to Approved Arrangement sites. 

Import Permits may be required for a range of goods, including:

  • Live animals
  • Plant materials
  • Fish and Drosophila
  • DNA
  • Genetically modified microorganisms
  • Biological materials

To determine whether an Import Permit is required, check the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment's (DAWE) Biosecurity Import Conditions (BICON) database. BICON provides specific information about any requirement for an import permit. The Import Permit will list specific conditions relating to the importation.

Some of the common commodity names biologists use to search BICON include:

  • Microorganisms
  • Antigens For Laboratory Use
  • Plant Pathogens for Research and Diagnostic Purposes
  • Animal Fluids and Tissues
  • Microorganisms and/or Genetic Material for In Vivo Use In Plants
  • Microorganisms – standard laboratory microorganisms and infectious agents
  • Starter Cultures
  • Laboratory Reagents
  • Human Fluids and Tissues
  • Animal Reproductive Material


Plasmids that can generate replication-competent microorganisms are imported under the case ‘Microorganisms – standard laboratory microorganisms and infectious agents’ rather than ‘Genetic material’.






Guidance information and import permit application forms for biologicals

Where to obtain an existing UniSA import permit

Import permit applications are submitted to DAWE by a Facility Manager of each Academic Unit, Institute or Centre. For a copy of the import permit for your Academic Unit, Institute and Centre, see your Facility Manager or in house webpage.

If your commodity is not listed on the import permit, ask your Facility Manager to submit an amendment application to DAWE to include your commodity.

Record the Import Permit number in all your importation records.

Things to give the sender

  1. Signed MTA (if required by the sender).
  2. UniSA import permit (if from outside Australia)
  3. IATA Packing Instructions for infectious goods (if infectious)
  4. If culture media is being imported, remind the sender that culture media should be less than 20ml per flask and state the ingredients, composition, animal/chemical origins, country of origin, tissue of source, and if the media has been heat treated or processed to inactivate pathogens.
  5. If you are paying for the shipment, send them your courier account numbers.
  6. After the goods arrive tell the sender the number of samples which arrived, to account for any loss, spill or escape of the goods.

Carrying on an aeroplane

Carrying specimens into Australia or South Australia on a passenger plane

For information about what can be carried onto a passenger plane, search the CASA dangerous goods search engine. 

Taking 2.5 kg of carbon dioxide (dry ice) on board a plane is usually permitted. The package must permit the release of gas. Each item of checked baggage must be marked 'Dry Ice' or 'Carbon Dioxide, Solid' and with the net weight of dry ice, or an indication that there is 2.5kg or less of dry ice. You must gain approval from your airline before flying.

Some airlines do NOT permit the carriage of ANY specimens in a passenger's carry-on or checked baggage under any circumstances. So check the airline's website, or give them a call. In addition, you cannot keep any biological or chemical on your person (in your pocket, for example) on the plane.

However, most airlines allow Exempt non-infectious Human and Animal Specimens on the plane in checked or carry-on baggage provided they are packed according to IATA regulations. (1)

Depending on the type and volume of embalming chemicals used, human and animal specimens may contain dangerous chemicals (such as flammable 70% w/w isopropyl alcohol or formaldehyde). Most airlines will allow specimens in ethanol or formaldehyde to be carried onto the plane. Qantas for example, will allow 70% ethanol on the plane or checked luggage, provided the individual containers are smaller than 30ml and the total volume is no more than 1L. Refer to Qantas medical equipment and specimens.  Please refer to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service for more information and the airline with which you will be flying.

These items are subject to the usual biosecurity restrictions.

Check with your airline before you fly.

Cargo luggage

Dangerous Goods that are not permitted in passenger baggage may be accepted as dangerous goods freight or carried on the plane in the cargo (checked) luggage.

Notifiable Low Risk Dealings always need to be checked in with cargo luggage.

Infectious/high risk goods are NEVER permitted onto a passenger plane. They must go on a cargo-only plane.

On the plane paperwork

The same import permits, customs declarations, list of contents and packaging requirements that apply to goods shipped by courier or postal service are required when importing goods on a passenger plane.







Approved arrangements

The DAWE specifies the level of containment required for certain imports as different materials and organisms may have varying quarantine risks. If stated on the approved Import Permit, some substances must be held and handled at an Approved Arrangements (AA) site.

UniSA has two AAs in X Building, Mawson Lakes Campus. For details, contact John Denman,

If your Import Permit requires that the imported goods be held in a AA then seek advice from your Facility Manager.

Import duties

Buying Online and Importing by Post 

Goods purchased online or importing by post are subject to the same rules, duties and screening process applied to any other import into Australia.

Generally, no duties, taxes or charges are required on goods valued at AUD1000 or less.

For goods with a value over AUD1000, fill out an Import Declaration, and pay duties, taxes and charges at the entry to Australia.

More detailed information is provided by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.


Cell culture media

Imported culture media presents a significant biosecurity risk to Australia. If imported culture media is contaminated with disease agents it is possible that these disease agents will be carried through to Australian animals.

For example if the bovine serum albumin (BSA) came from the United Kingdom there is a risk it may contain Mad Cow Disease. To avoid this and to increase their global market, a lot of cell culture manufactures make their culture media with BSA produced from Australia and New Zealand. So check to see what products are contained in the culture media and their source of manufacture. 

Ask the sender of a sample in culture media to state on their customs declaration:

1. The ingredients of the culture media:

  • Product
  • Ingredient
  • Composition in product (%)
  • Animal, plant, microbial, synthetic or chemical orgin
  • Country of origin (if animal or microbial derived material)
  • Species of origin (if animal or microbial derived material)
  • If bovine/ovine/caprine identify source tissue (e.g. skeletal muscle)

2. Where the goods were manufactured (BSA produced in Australia or New Zealand (if applicable)).

3. Has the product undergone further processing such as heat treatment or other treatment to inactive pathogens.

4. The volume per package.

4 Exporters details

5. Importers details

Volume of culture media

Try to import less than 20g or 20mL of animal-derived material per individual package unit. If this is not possible then:

Ask the manufacturer to complete a DAWE Production Questionnaire 

When the Facility Manager submits an import permit application to DAWE, they must also submit the Production Questionnaire. 


Plant material and plant related products may also be subject to South Australian conditions of entry. You are advised to refer to the Plant Quarantine Standard to determine the entry requirements for fruit, vegetables, plants, plant machinery and plant related products into South Australia.


Protection and access to genetic resources

- the Nagoya Protocol

The Nagoya Protocol recognises that every country and indigenous peoples have sovereign rights over natural resources, including genetic resources, organisms containing genetic material, and sequence data. Equally, the Nagoya Protocol supports the fair, equitable and transparent access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources to the benefit of global environmental, animal, plant and human health and well-being.

Biological material containing genetic resources as defined under the Convention of Biological Diversity may be subject to Access and Benefit-Sharing legislation in both the country of origin and the recipient country. 

Australia is not a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol, but the country from which you are importing biological material may be.

To see if the country from which goods are sent is a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol and the Convention of Biological Diversity, visit the ABSCH webpage.

Import of native wildlife and endangered species

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

Australia is a signatory to CITES to help protect native and endangered species from exploitation and extinction.

Under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, non-commercial trade exports and imports may be allowed where the wildlife specimens are to be used for one of the following purposes: research, education, exhibition, conservation breeding or propagation, household pets, personal items, and travelling exhibition. Approval under these provisions is conditional on completion of the online application form and granting of a permit by DAWE. 


Purified DNA may require an import permit, IBC approval, and OGTR licence; or no approvals and import permit at all.

The number and type of permits required depends on the intended use of the DNA, and its expression after transduction.


Spills, Loss or Theft

If a package is unaccounted for, first enquire with the Quantine Office (it may be held up in Quantine), the courier, the loading dock personnel or your laboratory colleagues (who may have stored it somewhere 'safe').

It is a legal requirement to notify the OGTR of inadvertant release of a GMO. The IBC Executive Officer will facilitate this on your behalf. The Biosafety/Executive Officer and the IBC can also support you in decontaminating spills or rendering the released biological inactive. If the missing items are biologically hazardous at Risk Group 2 level or are genetically modified, notify as soon as possible. 

If the number packages or samples/units is less than you were expecting:

  • Attempt to locate or retrieve the samples
  • If the missing items are biologically hazardous at Risk Group 2 level or are genetically modified, notify as soon as possible. 
  • Notify all parties involved in shipment and transport
  • Notify your line manager or PhD supervisor
  • Notify the sender



If you have any queries or need assistance, then please contact either your Biosecurity Officer or the

UniSA Biosafety Officer: 

1. IATA Guidance Documents for Infectious Substances