These notes reflect new USDA import practices implemented September 30, 2013. If you have import permits issued prior to this date, see a recent change in the use of BRS courtesy permits below.
Importing Drosophila into the U.S.
Let's start with two simple facts. First, it is illegal to import any item into the U.S. without describing it accurately on customs documents. Live animals must be listed by species name on customs declaration forms. Second, customs inspectors expect to see appropriate documentation with shipments of live animals. If documentation is not provided, shipments may be returned to the shipper, delayed in delivery or destroyed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides different documentation for different animals. Federal Plant Pest Regulations say that any animal classified by APHIS as a plant pest requires a permit for importation. A division of APHIS called Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) issues these permits. Federal Genetically-Engineered Plant Pest Regulations say that any transgenic plant pest or any organism carrying transgenic sequences from a plant pest requires an import permit issued by another APHIS division called Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS). Shipments of these "regulated items" are imported under "standard permits" and are forwarded by customs inspectors to an APHIS agricultural inspection station where they are cleared for delivery.
Animals that are not plant pests or do not carry sequences from plant pests are considered "non-regulated items" and do not require a standard permit or APHIS inspection. Instead, BRS issues "courtesy permits" telling customs inspectors they are permitted to clear shipments for direct delivery and PPQ provides other documentation. Courtesy permits are not required by regulation, but they facilitate and expedite customs clearance. Practically speaking, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get shipments of non-regulated live animals through customs without them.
To our knowledge, Drosophila melanogaster has never been formally classified as a plant pest by APHIS. BRS currently treats Drosophila melanogaster strains lacking plant pest sequences as non-regulated items and issues courtesy permits for their importation. Transgenic Drosophila strains with plant pest sequences are not common, but they are imported using standard permits (see How do I know if my construct carries sequences from a plant pest?).
How to apply for permits
If you intend to import both transgenic strains lacking pest sequences and nontransgenic strains, we recommend that you apply for courtesy permits issued by BRS (see Permits for importing transgenic Drosophila strains). Most Drosophila scientists use BRS permits exclusively. BRS courtesy permits are issued on a country-by-country basis and are valid for a period of three years for an unlimited number of shipments.
A recent change in the use of BRS courtesy permits (September 30, 2013)
Prior to September 30, 2013, all Drosophila imports were processed by an APHIS inspection station. Both standard and courtesy permits were issued with special mailing labels directing delivery of packages to an inspection station. Now, only standard permits are issued with mailing labels. Courtesy permits are now issued with a "Letter of No Jurisdiction" instructing customs inspectors to forward packages directly to the recipient.
No permits are required for transporting flies between U.S. states except transporting flies into Hawaii, where a Hawaii Import Permit is needed, and transporting transgenic flies carrying DNA sequences from plant pests between states, where an Interstate Movement Permit is required.