Customs in Australia are highly regulated when it comes to importing items and products, especially food, regardless of your destination city. Some products are strictly prohibited, while others are permitted but may need to be declared upon arrival on Australian soil. If you do not declare a product that needs to be declared, even if it is not voluntary, customs may stop you in the airport. You risk receiving a very high fine, and having the products concerned confiscated. Not great for your arrival in Australia! To keep you as informed as possible, here is a short guide to authorised and prohibited products at the Australian borders, as well as the rules for sending goods in parcels to Australia.
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Going through customs
Your first contact with customs will generally be on the plane, where you will be given an “Incoming passenger card” by the flight crew. This card allows you to declare the goods and products that you bring on Australian soil. It must be carefully and honestly filled in by each passenger. This involves ticking the YES box for each category of product you are taking with you to Australia. If you have any doubts about the products you are bringing into Australia, you are strongly advised to declare them.
NB: If you do not speak English well, it is possible to find this passenger card in many other languages. You can find it upon arrival at the airport, before going through customs.
When you arrive at the airport, your passenger card must be presented at Customs, along with your biometric passport. A biosecurity officer will check your declared items, and may ask you some questions to ensure that the items comply with regulations.
If the officer thinks the goods are low risk, you can keep them. On the other hand, if he or she believes that they present a high risk, you have three options: pay a fee so the goods can be processed and subsequently recovered, send them back to their country of origin, or send them to be destroyed. All these options are at your expense.
⚠️ Warning: Even if you don’t declare any goods, be aware that a biosecurity officer can still inspect your luggage. Customs officers can use X-rays or a sniffer dog. Dogs are used extensively at Australian airports. Be aware that you should never touch or pet the dogs, under penalty of being called to order by the agents.
Before your departure, we advise you to read the regulations in force on the Australian Border Force website.
Products that are banned by Australian customs
Weapons, drugs and counterfeits
Certain products, as in most countries of the world, are completely prohibited: drugs, weapons, fireworks, firecrackers, sharp objects and counterfeit items. These products are prohibited in checked baggage and hand luggage at all airports.
Animal products and plants
There are also regulations around animal products and plants. You are not allowed to bring corals, hunting trophies or ivory products. You are not allowed to bring souvenirs made of animal bones through customs, for example.
The importation of live plants and seeds is very strictly regulated. While you can import meat products if they are canned (see below), those that are not canned (including vacuum sealed items) are not allowed into Australia unless you have a permit. Natural species, especially protected species (animal and plant) are also prohibited.
Homemade food and fresh products
When you arrive on Australian soil, you will not be allowed to bring fresh fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, etc.) or in general any fresh product likely to contain micro-organisms. Thus eggs, most plants/seeds, fresh herbs, hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds are prohibited. You can forget the homemade cakes and other small dishes that you might have prepared for your trip! You will also not be able to keep food from the plane or boat that takes you to Australia.
You do not need to declare all commercially prepared and packaged products intended for your personal use and consumption such as:
- coffee and tea
- chocolate and sweets (candy, cookies, chewing gum, etc.) (commercial products and not homemade)
- cosmetic products – up to 10kg per person
- chips and industrial spreads
Products to declare
When it comes to importing food, problems can arise if you are not careful. Here is a list of the main foods that you can import for your personal consumption but that you will have to declare:
Meat products are authorised provided they are commercially manufactured and retorted. They must be in sterile cans, jars or retort pouches and must be shelf stable (not require refrigeration or freezing to maintain quality). The products will be inspected by customs officers who will verify that they meet these criteria. Forget ham, bacon, salami, sausages in your luggage!
Cheeses, butter and dairy products are allowed if they are in industrial commercial packaging. The label must clearly mention the country of origin.
Honey is permitted but must be declared. It will need to be inspected by a biosecurity officer on arrival, to confirm the honey items are free from contamination. Note that Western Australia has a higher quarantine status for bees and bee products.
Tobacco and alcohol
These products should be reported on your arrival in Australia. You have the right to carry a certain amount (preferably in your carry on luggage).
You can’t have more than 25 cigarettes on your person. For rolling tobacco, 25 grams per person is allowed. Chewing tobacco is limited to 1.5 kg per person. Electronic cigarettes should not be an issue if they don’t contain nicotine.
Alcohol is allowed within the limit of 2.25L per person.
You must declare on arrival if you have more than AUD 10,000 in cash on you when going through customs.
Any merchandise with a value of more than 10,000 AUD (or foreign equivalent) must also be declared. You may also have to pay customs fees totalling 5% of the total value of these products. These declarations can be made online, on the Integrated Cargo System (ICS) website or via a paper document, Form B650.
Duty Free shopping
If you buy Duty Free products, you will also be limited on the quantaties you bring into Australia. If you buy alcohol, again the limit is 2.25L per person. Please note that this is not in addition to a bottle that you may have slipped into your suitcase before your departure. For cigarettes, again the limits are 25 cigarettes per person or 25 grams of rolling tobacco.
If you are 18 or older, you can bring in $900 of general merchandise tax-free. If you are under 18, you can bring $450. For example, this includes perfumes, jewelry, watches, sporting goods, leather goods, cameras, electronic devices and gifts purchased in Duty Free during a stopover at the departure airport.
All camping items can be inspected by customs. It can go as far as the walking shoes you used for a previous trip. The main goal is to prevent unknown bacteria from the soil of other countries from entering Australia. So be sure to thoroughly clean all your equipment that has already been used elsewhere if you plan to take it with you.
Any drug requiring a prescription should be reported on your arrival. Customs may inspect and request a prescription that allows you to have this medication. Don’t forget to translate your prescription into English, if it is in another language! Drugs that do not require a prescription, such as aspirin, do not need to be reported.
Certain medications need to be declared before the flight. These are drugs that can be used in dangerous, abusive, or addictive ways: steroids, pain relievers, cannabis for medical use only.
For more information contact: Office of Drug Control
Only certain seeds are permitted for importation and must be commercially packaged and labeled with their full botanical name (genus and species). They must not be contaminated (live insects, soil, leaves, stems, fruit pulp, pods, animal matter).
Most wooden items are permitted in Australia if they are free of bark, insects and signs of insect damage (such as bore holes) or other contamination. To check if wooden items have been damaged by insects, examine them closely to see if there are any holes or sawdust. Wooden items must be declared upon arrival and inspected. If they do not meet these import conditions, they will be processed, exported or destroyed at your expense.
Bringing your pet to Australia
If you want to bring your pet with you to Australia, you will need to apply for a permit from the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. Your pet will be required to be quarantined when you arrive in Australia (duration may vary). You must do this very early, well before the start of your trip, as the procedure can be quite long. In addition, you will have several steps to take at certain specific periods before the trip: bring your pet for one or more health checks at the vet, apply for an animal import permit, reserve your place in quarantine, etc.
In addition, you will have to declare all products related to the animal: dog basket, food, collars, bird cages, etc.
Finally, certain species of animals are not permitted in Australia, as is the case for any object related to this animal. Domestic birds and rabbits are not allowed to be imported to Australia, unless they come from New Zealand.
For more information or if you want to see if your animal is authorised in Australia, visit the dedicated site.
Sending a package to Australia
All postal parcels arriving at international mail centres in Australia are assessed. Ministry of Agriculture biosecurity officers and their sniffer dogs search for risky goods such as certain foods, animal products (meat and pet food) and plant material (including seeds, cacti and succulents).
The rules are the same as those mentioned for importing goods, and should also apply when sending goods to Australia. This applies to everyone, especially families and friends who wish to send a gift to Australia.
What you can send to Australia by post
The rules for what you are permitted to send to Australia are similar to those for bringing goods through customs when travelling. Here is a little summary to help you. As far as food products are concerned, you will NOT be able to put homemade products (jam for example), vegetables or fruit in your package. Canned goods are not a problem. Commercially packaged cakes and bottles of alcohol are also allowed. It is also possible to send vacuum-packed cheese.
Other products are prohibited from being sent to Australia. Among them are clothes with real fur as well as cash, precious metals, ivory, semi-precious or precious stones.
Clean goods before posting them
If you are sending shoes, sports, fishing or camping gear, make sure they are clean, dry and free of soil, seeds or plant matter.
Packaging goods for postage
Avoid packing goods in egg cartons, wooden or cardboard boxes that have been used to hold fruit, vegetables or meat. These packaging materials pose a biosecurity risk because sometimes living insects can hide in the interstices. Do not package items using straw or any dried plant material. Use newspaper or foam to wrap fragile products.
Make sure the package is securely and securely packaged to avoid damage in transit. Use bubble wrap, strong cardboard boxes and tape to seal the package.
Declaring goods sent in the post
Goods sent in the post must be declared upon shipment by clearly and correctly completing the declaration label provided. Include a detailed description of everything inside the package, including any packing materials you used.
You will need to complete a customs form. Depending on the post office where you post your parcel, you can fill this out on a machine at the post office or you will have to do it on the post office’s website (you can do this on your phone, or you can prepare in advance and do it at home from your computer). When you have completed the declaration, a bar code with a number will be sent to you. You will need to provide this information when posting your package.
If the goods arrive and do not meet the import conditions, they will be destroyed or returned to the foreign postal agency.
If, after evaluation by biosecurity officers, your mail does not present a risk, it will be released for delivery by Australia Post.
Fines and penalties
If you do not declare goods that need to be declared with customs, or make a false statement on your passenger card, you risk being caught, prosecuted, and fined. At worst, fines can amount to more than 420,000 AUD, and be accompanied by a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
On the other hand, under the Biosecurity Act 2015, you will not be penalised if you declare all goods, even if they are not permitted in Australia.
Remember that the Australian government is quite strict on customs regulations. This is because of the risks involved in importing bacteria from outside the Australian environment, which can have a negative impact on Australian biodiversity. This is why there are so many rules and penalties (fines and confiscation and destruction of the object concerned).
If in doubt
If you have any doubts about a parcel shipment and its contents or about an object/product that you wish to take to Australia, we advise you to contact Australian Border Force directly:
By telephone (from abroad): +61 2 6196 0196. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (AEST)
Mondays are peak days for calls and you may have to wait longer than usual to speak to an operator.
Please note that the centre is closed on Australian national holidays (New Year’s Day, Australia Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day).
You can also visit their website for more information: abf.gov.au
Frequently Asked Questions
- Australian government website: www.australia.gov.au
- Australian Customs and Border Protection: www.border.gov.au
- Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources Australia: www.agriculture.gov.au
The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is subject to change. We invite you to consult the official websites cited or to contact the Australian customs services directly.