Steps to importing

To import seafood products you must either be registered as a food importer with MPI, or use a registered food importer. There are also other standards and requirements. We've created a step-by-step process to explain what's involved.


Follow the steps

Step1

What you need to know

An overview of importing seafood from start to finish.

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To import seafood products successfully you need to know about:

Biosecurity requirements
  • ensuring your product is covered by an import health standard (IHS)
  • complying with the IHS requirements
  • getting a biosecurity import permit, if needed
  • arranging zoosanitary certificates and manufacturers' declarations, if needed
  • relevant legislation.
New Zealand Customs Service requirements
  • product prohibitions and restrictions
  • tariffs and permits
  • using a customs broker
  • restrictions on importing trout, if applicable.
Food Act requirements
  • food importer registration
  • general requirements of registered food importers – sourcing and keeping food safe and suitable, records, and recalls
  • the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, including labelling, composition and restricted foods
  • foods of "high regulatory interest" and "increased regulatory interest" (these will require food safety clearance)
  • how to get food safety clearance
  • fees and charges that apply for services provided by MPI and other agencies.
Guides to help you
Additional requirements

Organic food, irradiated food, genetically modified food, and supplemented foods have additional requirements besides the Food Act. Learn more:

Restrictions on importing trout

If you want to import trout for sale, or import more than 10 kg of trout for any use, you need to get approval from the Minister of Conservation.

Are you using wood packaging?

If your consignment is shipped to New Zealand on wooden pallets, or wood has been used to package any part of your consignment, you'll also need to comply with the requirements for importing wood packaging.

Export goods returning to New Zealand

If you have New Zealand-origin seafood products returning to New Zealand – for example, a consignment that has been rejected by an importing country – you need to notify MPI. You can use the export non-conformance report to do this.

Step2

What you need to do

The tasks you need to complete.

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Meet biosecurity requirements

You'll need to understand and comply with the biosecurity requirements for your product.

Find the import health standard for your product

Biosecurity requirements are detailed in documents called import health standards (IHS). The IHS for your product tells you what you need to do to meet the biosecurity requirements to import it, including getting manufacturers' declarations and zoosanitary certificates when required.

If your product contains multiple animal ingredients (like fish, milk, and egg), you will need to meet the IHS requirements for each of these ingredients. Often you can only import certain products from countries listed or named in an IHS.

If there's no IHS for your product, you can’t import it.

Products that meet all of the requirements specified in the IHS will be given biosecurity clearance. If your product doesn't meet IHS requirements you may have to:

  • reship your goods at your cost
  • pay for your consignment to be destroyed.
Apply for a biosecurity import permit, if required

The IHS will tell you if an import permit is required for your food product. If needed, apply for a permit by completing the application form and returning it to MPI. Fees apply.

Download the biosecurity import permit (animal products) application form:

If you have any questions about applying for a biosecurity import permit, email animal.imports@mpi.govt.nz.

Importing your product under equivalent measures (equivalence)

If your product doesn't meet all the IHS requirements (for example, if it has been treated using a different method from what is listed in the IHS), you can ask MPI about assessing your product under equivalent measures.  This is known as 'equivalence'.

You will need to supply information to show how the risks managed by the IHS will be managed to an equivalent level (for example, by providing information about cooking times and temperatures, and other processing details).  

You'll need to provide MPI with supporting information as listed in each IHS. MPI will issue a biosecurity permit if your request is approved.

To ask about equivalence, email animal.imports@mpi.govt.nz.

Options for products not included in the IHS

If there's no IHS for your product, you can't import it. However, you can ask MPI to consider developing a new IHS for your product.

To make a request, use a separate form for each commodity, and email or post it and any additional information to MPI.

MPI prioritises requests for each new IHS, and it may take several years to finalise your request.

Read more about requesting an IHS

Arrange transitional storage

MPI approves transitional facilities to hold and manage imported goods that might pose a biosecurity risk. These goods may need to be inspected or treated at the transitional facility before they can be cleared by MPI.

All sea containers arriving in New Zealand need to be taken to a transitional facility and unpacked there. 

You or your customs broker need to arrange for the transfer of your container to a transitional facility, before your goods arrive in New Zealand. 

All treatments at a transitional facility must be done by an approved treatment provider. You are liable for any costs associated with non-compliance or contamination.

Download a list of approved treatment providers [PDF, 128 KB]


Meet NZ Customs Service requirements

Check with the New Zealand Customs Service whether:

  • you can import the product without restriction
  • the product will be subject to duties or tariffs
  • a NZ Customs permit is needed (such as for health products).

Visit the NZ Customs website to:


Consider using a customs broker

A customs broker will help you get import entry clearance. Some services provided by the New Zealand Customs Service can only be accessed by registered customs brokers.

Many freight and transport companies employ their own brokers but if you need help finding one, contact the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation.

Visit the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation website  


Meet Food Act requirements

Registered food importers

All food coming into New Zealand must be imported by a registered food importer. If you want to import food, you can:

  • use a registered food importer, such as an agent
  • register as a food importer (available to New Zealand residents only).
Becoming a registered food importer

You can request to be a food importer when completing your New Zealand Customs Service client registration application. Tick 'Yes' when asked if you wish to be a food importer.

When you have completed your form you can:

If you need help, you can phone NZ Customs on 0800 42 87 86.

Transition from listed food importer to registered food importer

If you were a listed food importer with MPI before 1 March 2016, you are considered to be a registered food importer until at least 1 July 2016. You'll need to re-apply after 1 July 2016 to continue to be a registered food importer. To find out when you need to register by:
  • Check your Letter of Listing to find out what day and month you became a listed food importer. It doesn't matter what year.
  • Find the corresponding day and month between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017.
That is the date by which you must register as a food importer. If you can't find out the day and month you became a listed food importer, email approvals@mpi.co.nz.

Comply with regulations and standards

All food businesses must comply with the Food Act 2014, Food Regulations 2015 and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. For example, food sold in retail shops must have labels in English, with a New Zealand distributor's name and address.

As a registered food importer you must also comply with regulations about sourcing foods that are safe and suitable; storing and transporting those foods; and keeping records.

Find out more

Check if your product requires food safety clearance

MPI must check the safety of "foods of regulatory interest" before they can be imported and sold. These are types of foods that have made people sick in the past, or may make people sick. Customs or your customs broker will tell you if a food safety clearance is required.

Seafood of regulatory interest
  • Histamine-susceptible (scombroid) fish and fish products
  • Puffer fish
  • Ready-to-eat smoked fish and smoke-flavoured fish
  • Bivalve molluscan shellfish
  • Ready-to-eat crustaceans – lobsters, crabs, bugs, shrimps and prawns – and their products

If, after checking, they're shown to be safe, you'll be given a food safety clearance and the food can be imported.

Seafood from Australia

The only seafood from Australia that needs food safety clearance is bivalve molluscan shellfish or products containing them. All other seafood from Australia can be imported without a food safety clearance.

Learn more about foods of regulatory interest in the Importing Food Notice [PDF, 249 KB]

If your seafood products do not need food safety clearance, go to Step 3 – Getting your import documentation.

Getting food safety clearance

If you're importing seafood that requires food safety clearance, you may be asked to demonstrate its safety one of 3 ways:

  1. NZ Importer Assurance: A registered food importer that's verified by MPI can be issued with a NZ Importer Assurance (previously known as a Multiple Release Permit).
  2. Official certificate: For some countries, MPI will accept official certificates (from the appropriate government agency) as assurance the food is safe.
  3. Sampling and testing: In some cases, food will have to be sampled and tested. MPI will tell you if this is required.

Learn more about official certificates in Importing Food into New Zealand [PDF, 201 KB]

How to apply

You can request food safety clearance using the Trade Single Window or by filling out a food safety clearance application form.

Trade single window

Follow the instructions on the Trade Single Window (TSW) website. You'll need to log in using the RealMe login service, and then register as a TSW user.

Food Safety Clearance Application

Download and complete an application form. Follow the instructions for guidance.

When complete, email the form to imported.food@mpi.govt.nz.

Your application should include:
  • an invoice for the consignment
  • the bill of lading or airway bill.

If the food being imported requires an official certificate, you should also include that with your application.

When inspection, sampling or testing is required

MPI will tell you if the food you're importing needs to be inspected, sampled or tested. If that happens, MPI will sample the product and send samples to your choice of MPI-approved laboratory. You'll need to pay the sampling, transport and testing costs – and share the test results with MPI.

Find out more

MPI's Central Clearing House can also answer questions:

Step3

Getting your import documents

How you know you've met MPI requirements.

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All imported seafood products need biosecurity clearance. Some may also require a food safety clearance.

Biosecurity clearance

If a biosecurity inspector is satisfied that your products comply with the import health standard (IHS), clearance will be issued soon after your goods arrive.

If your products do not comply with an IHS, your goods may not be cleared. However, you may be given the chance to provide further documentation about your products.

Food safety clearance

Some seafood requires a food safety clearance. If you need one, a Food Safety Officer (FSO) will assess your application against the requirements of the Food Act. You'll be notified of the outcome through the Trade Single Window system or directly by MPI.

Clearance may be given 'without direction', which means you're free to move and sell the product within New Zealand. If the food requires inspection or sampling, or it's not safe and suitable for people to eat, then you'll receive clearance with direction. Directions given may include reprocessing the food, re-exporting it, or destroying it.

Importer responsibilities and alerts

Food can't be sold that is unsafe, unfit for human consumption, or contaminated. It's your responsibility as an importer to ensure that all legal requirements are met.

Food importers should regularly check any alerts issued for food recalled overseas, and for developing risks.

Who to contact

If you have questions about:

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