Steps to importing cell cultures

To import viable cells and cell cultures into New Zealand there are special procedures to assess and minimise any biosecurity risks. We've created a step-by-step process so you can see what's involved – all in one place.

Follow the steps 

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Step 1: What you need to know

An overview of importing cell cultures from start to finish.

To successfully import cell cultures into New Zealand you need to know about:

  • the import health standard (IHS)
  • applying for a permit at least 6 weeks before your items arrive in New Zealand
  • HSNO (Hazardous Substances and New Organisms) Act approvals from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for any new or genetically modified organism (GMO)
  • completing a declaration for the assessment of biological catalogues, if required
  • the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)
  • requirements set by other government agencies like NZ Customs 
  • approved containment facilities for microorganisms and cell cultures
  • meeting all of the post-arrival quarantine needs and IHS requirements
  • fees and charges.

Importing related products

Processes for importing products related to cell cultures are elsewhere on the website. Follow these steps if you're importing:


Step 2: What you need to do

The tasks you need to complete.

Comply with import health standard requirements

The relevant import health standard (IHS) will tell what you need to do to successfully import your cell cultures into New Zealand.

Download the IHS for cell cultures from all countries [PDF, 311 KB]

Identify the risk status of your cell cultures

To import your cell cultures you'll need to identify their risk status by:

  • searching the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) register and getting a HSNO approval code
  • searching for your item on the Official New Zealand Pest Register to see if your item is regulated (applies if your cell cultures are plant related)
  • checking that the cells are not derived from unwanted organisms. 
Search the HSNO register and get HSNO Act approval code

To get HSNO Act approval code you will need to search the register on the EPA's website.

When importing viable cells, you must check that they are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). Regulated organisms include all genetically modified organisms.

If the organism is not listed on the HSNO register contact the EPA:

If the organism is listed on the HSNO register and the approval code begins with BER, PNZ or S26 and it is not an unwanted organism or regulated in the official pest register, then it can come in on a general permit to import. Include the approval code on the permit application form.

Organisms that only have EPA approval codes that begin with NOC or GMC will need to come in on a restricted import permit and will be directed into a transitional or containment facility.

EPA approval codes starting with GMD are not used for import purposes.

If an organism is listed as present in New Zealand by the EPA but also appears in the official New Zealand pest register as unwanted or 'regulated', contact MPI for advice.

Search the official NZ pest register

The pest register records organisms that may be associated with plants or plant products that are imported into New Zealand. The quarantine status for each species is indicated as regulated or non-regulated or unwanted.

To import an unwanted organism, you must:
  • apply for a MPI Chief Technical Officer (CTO) approval to import under section 52 and 53 of the Biosecurities Act 1993
  • apply for a restricted permit from MPI. The permit will specify that the cells will be directed to an MPI-approved containment facility
  • complete the permit application form and email it to:

Download the unwanted organisms permission application form [PDF, 374 KB]

Complete the declaration for the assessment of biological catalogues

If the items you want to import are part of a catalogue, then you will have to complete the declaration for the assessment of biological catalogues form.

Complete the form, attach it to the product catalogue and send it to MPI with your other documents.

Download the declaration for the assessment of biological catalogues [PDF, 233 KB]

Check what else you may need to do

To import cells or cell cultures, you may need to comply with additional requirements such as, but not limited to:

  • checking the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora because the specimens of, or derived from, wild animals and plants may be restricted under.

Apply for a permit

A permit is required to import all cells or cell cultures.

Use one of the below application forms for import of cell cultures related to animal or plants.

Application for permit to import biologicals, microorganisms and cell cultures (animal imports) [DOCX, 286 KB]

Application for Permit to Import plant derived material, microorganisms associated with plants, soil or water [DOCX, 108 KB]

Prepare documentation for your cell cultures

Copies of the following documentation will need to accompany your cells or cell cultures on arrival in New Zealand:

  • import permit
  • copies of, or reference to, the HSNO approval, if required
  • product catalogue (or a reference to where this can be found) or list, if required.


For transporting your cells or cell cultures to New Zealand your items must comply with International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous goods Regulations. In particular the consignment should be clearly labelled and able to be identified with the item listed on the permit.

On arrival

On arrival in New Zealand your documentation will be inspected by a biosecurity officer.

Your goods may also be inspected.

If your cell cultures documentation is not acceptable, they will be moved to a transitional facility at the border. After additional investigation by a biosecurity officer, the items will either:

  • be given biosecurity direction and transferred to a transitional or containment facility
  • be reshipped or
  • destroyed.
Step 3: Getting your import documentation

How you know you've met MPI requirements.

Your cell cultures will be directed to a transitional or containment facility in New Zealand when you have:

  • completed all of the steps
  • had your documentation inspected and a direction given by an MPI inspector to an approved containment facility.

Post arrival

All cells or cell cultures are required to be imported into an MPI-approved transitional or containment facility that meets the standard for facilities for microorganisms and cell cultures.

Download the standard for facilities for microorganisms and cell cultures 2007a [PDF, 268 KB]

Types of cell cultures

This process is for all cell cultures being imported into New Zealand like:

  • cell cultures and cell lines
  • non-microbial cells
  • cell cultures that are genetically modified or are new organisms
  • cell cultures derived from tissues of unwanted organisms.

If you have questions about importing cell cultures derived from:

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