Traditional or alternative medicines can come as raw materials like roots and stems, or in packages like tablets or pills.
Image: Louise Ye | DOC


If you are travelling with traditional medicines to New Zealand, you may need a permit. Find out how to know when you need one and how to apply.

Before you travel to New Zealand, check your belongings for any traditional or alternative medicines. 

Some of these medicines include species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). So if you have these in your belongings, you’ll need a CITES permit. Without it, your medicines will be seized and you will be held up at customs coming into New Zealand. 

Traditional or alternative medicines which contain CITES species come in various forms. Some are raw materials like whole and sliced roots and stems. Others are in commercial medicine packages like tablets, pills and plasters.

Take the following steps to find out if your medicine needs a CITES permit, and how to get one:

Step 1: Find out if your medicine contains a CITES species

Look for the ingredients on the package and check if they are CITES protected, and under which appendix; I, II or III. It doesn't matter how much material is in the medicine – any amount requires a CITES permit.

Our table below shows examples of protected species commonly found in many traditional medicines that need a permit. CITES protects over 35,000 species, so these are only a few examples and not a full list of all medicines that need a permit.

Examples of common traditional or alternative medicine ingredients listed by CITES, February 2020
Name Chinese name(s) Species name Appendix Traditional medicine example(s)
American ginseng 西洋参
Panax quinquefolius II 西洋参
Costus or kuth (thistle) 木香 Saussurea costus I 保济丸
Dendrobium orchid 石斛 Dendrobium spp. I, II 石斛夜光丸
Orchid 天麻 Gastrodia elata II 天麻切片
Saiga antelope 赛加羚羊 Saiga tatarica II 羚羊感冒片
Musk deer 马麝
Moschus spp. I 万应胶囊
Golden chicken fern or woolly fern 狗脊
Cibotium barometz II 金毛狗脊丸
Desert-broomrape (plant) 肉苁蓉 Cistanche deserticola II 复方苁蓉胶囊
Seahorse 海马 Hippocampus spp. II 海马补肾丸
Bear Ursidae spp. I, II 熊胆眼药水
Pangolins 穿山甲 Manis spp. I 利咽灵片
Tortoise Testudinidae spp. I, II 龟苓膏

If you are unsure if your ingredient is listed or what appendix it’s under, contact your local CITES Authority.

Step 2: Get a permit if you need one before you travel

The permit you’ll need will depend on what appendix the ingredient is listed under:

If the ingredient is listed as Appendix I

You’ll need an import permit from the CITES Authority in New Zealand (DOC) and an export permit from the departing country before you will be allowed to travel with them. Species in Appendix I are the most endangered, and so their movement between countries is more restricted. 

The New Zealand permit application form is currently only available in English.

If the ingredient is listed as Appendix II

You will need a CITES export permit from the departing county's national CITES Authority before you travel.

Species in Appendix II can withstand more trade. So, for example, if you want to take sliced American Ginseng roots (an Appendix II species), from China to New Zealand, you will only need a CITES export permit from China.

National CITES contacts

If the ingredient is listed as Appendix III

If the medicine you are bringing to New Zealand contains an Appendix III ingredient, check with us for the most up-to-date requirements. Species in Appendix III are those where individual countries have asked for help to protect those species.

Our support for direct enquiries by email or phone is currently only available in English.

Step 3: Validate your permit and declare your items

Once you have your permit, photocopy these documents as you may have to leave originals with border officials.

When leaving, you will need to validate your permit at the border of your departing country. Check with your local CITES Authority for the current procedure.

When arriving in New Zealand, declare all your traditional medicines to border officials. Provide them with the original copy of your CITES permit when asked.

What happens if I bring my medicines without a permit?

If you fail to provide a valid CITES permit when bringing traditional medicines containing CITES protected species to New Zealand, your medicine will be seized and destroyed and you could receive a fine or be prosecuted.

More on CITES and CITES protected species

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is an international agreement that regulates and monitors imports and exports of endangered species. This is so their long-term survival in the wild is not threatened.

CITES monitors and regulates trade in endangered species through a system of permits and certificates. Documents are needed to cross borders with any product of a CITES species.

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