Customs & Biosecurity 

I’m going to the Pacific Islands – can I bring food back?

New Zealand has strict rules about bringing food into the country, as food can introduce exotic diseases and pests into New Zealand.

Items which pose a potential threat to our environment and economy have to be declared when they reach New Zealand. If the type of food you want to bring back is on this list on the Ministry for Primary Industries website then you will have to declare it and might not be allowed to keep it.

Other Items that have to be declared include:

  • seeds for planting, including those commercially packaged 
  • items made of bamboo, cane, coconut, wood or straw 
  • items made of hair, fur, unprocessed wool, skin, feathers or bone 
  • hunting trophies or stuffed animals 
  • clothing and footwear used around animals, animal equipment, grooming or veterinary equipment, saddles, bridles and birdcages
  • outdoor, camping, sports equipment, and hiking boots or other sporting footwear which could be contaminated with soil, seeds or water

If you are not sure whether a particular food item is allowed into the country, you can contact the Ministry for Primary Industries by email

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What happens if I don’t declare goods on the passenger arrival list?

If you don’t declare goods that must be declared you can be given an instant fine of $400.

If you are caught trying to smuggle anything regarded as ‘risk goods’ into the country, you could be fined up to $100,000 and face up to five years in prison.

More information about fines relating to false or incorrect declarations is available on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.  

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A family member is sending me some medication from overseas. Will the medicine be allowed into the country?

Some medicines may not be imported because Medsafe, the body responsible for regulating medicines and medical devices, has determined them to be unsafe. Medicines containing controlled substances (such as Pseudoephedrine) are not allowed in if they are sent from overseas (but you may under certain conditions bring such medicines with you in person – see the next question).

If the medicine being sent to you does not fall into the above categories, then you may import it if it is to be used only by yourself or a member of your family. You will need to be able to provide some proof that you have a “reasonable excuse” to import the medicine, for example a letter from someone authorised to prescribe the medicine or an original prescription; and the medicine needs to be in its original container.

You may import (either by mail/courier or in person) up to three months’ worth of medicine into New Zealand (or six months’ if it is an oral contraceptive).

More information about importing prescription medicines into New Zealand is on the Customs website and the Medsafe website.

You can also contact Medsafe by email if you have questions about this.

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I am on medication that contains a controlled drug. Can I bring it with me when I come to New Zealand?

You are allowed to bring medicine with you into the country if:

  • you declare it on your passenger arrival card
  • you have not more than one month’s supply (or have a licence to import from the Ministry of Health)
  • you can prove that it is required for your medical condition and that it was supplied to you lawfully (more about this in the answer to the previous question).

More information about this is on the Customs website.

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Do we have to pay duty on our household possessions when we move to New Zealand?

If you are moving to New Zealand as an immigrant, or returning to New Zealand after having been overseas for 21 months or more, you won’t have to pay duty on household items that you want to bring with you. This concession doesn’t apply to motor vehicles, boats, aircraft or commercial goods (e.g. goods intended for resale).

You will need to provide documents as evidence of this entitlement, for example a New Zealand or Australian passport, a current residence visa or returning resident’s visa.

More about this is on the Customs website.

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Do I have to pay customs duty on goods bought online from an overseas seller?

You may have to pay customs duty and/or GST on any goods imported into New Zealand, including gifts and goods purchased online from overseas sites.

In general Customs does not charge duties or taxes where these would total less than $60. Otherwise you’ll have to pay: 

  • Import duty (calculated based on the value of the goods and the exchange rate)
  • GST on the sum of: 
    • the value of the goods
    • any duty
    • postal charges and 
    • insurance charges

Depending on what you are importing you may also have to pay other fees – they are all listed on the Customs website.

The New Zealand Customs Service has an online tool to help you estimate whether you would need to pay customs duty or GST and how much.

More about this is on the Customs website.

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The grass seeds I bought online from an overseas seller were seized by NZ Customs. What can I do?

You have to follow a specific process if you want to import grass seeds, and some varieties are not allowed at all. If you haven’t followed the correct procedures when importing your seeds then they can be seized at the border by Customs. If this has happened to you, Customs will send you a letter to tell you that they have been seized, why they have been seized and what your options are. 

You may have the option to have the goods returned to the seller, but this would be at your own expense and you cannot be sure that you will be able to get your money back from the seller if they are based overseas. More about what to watch out for when buying online from overseas traders is on our Problems with online and mail order page and our Online sellers page.

If you are not sure whether an item you want to buy online is allowed into the country, you can contact Customs on 0800 4 CUSTOMS (0800 428 786).