How long does it take to get a phytosanitary certificate?

Our turnaround time is 1-3 BUSINESS days from the time all paperwork, samples and application are received by MDA staff. Be advised that applications entered into PCIT, or paperwork received via fax, after 4:30 pm are considered received the NEXT business day. BE ADVISED THAT DEPENDING ON TIME OF DAY WE PRINT THE CERTIFICATE AND COURIER OR STANDARD FIRST CLASS MAIL DELIVERY SCHEDULES, RECEIPT OF YOUR CERTIFICATE MAY EXTEND BEYOND THREE BUSINESS DAYS. PLAN ACCORDINGLY TO AVOID SHIPMENT COMPLICATIONS.

How are applications processed?

We process applications in the order received unless there are extraordinary circumstances (detained shipment for example). We have found this procedure most equitable for all parties.

Why do I have to use PCIT?

Because the USDA has determined that this electronic certification system provides the best security for their export documents and ensures payment is received for issued certificates. In the past there were problems in both areas.

Why do I have to put money into my PCIT account before getting my phytosanitary certificate?

Simply put, some exporters failed to pay for certification services in the past. Prepayment eliminates this situation. Be advised, payment must include all inspection charges associated with the certificate and a $6 federal document charge.

What if I have insufficient funds in PCIT to pay for the certificate?

We will not process a request if there are insufficient funds in the account.

Why do I need a phytosanitary certificate?

You need a phytosanitary certificate when the destination country's plant protection organization says you do. We find this out by checking various databases.

Why do you say I don't need a phytosanitary certificate but my customer says they need one?

There is official need which means a phytosanitary certificate is required by foreign officials and there is contractual agreement which does NOT mean official need. Rather, you are agreeing to your customer's extra condition that a phytosanitary certificate be issued for your shipment. This is termed a "courtesy certificate" but all official certification requirements and inspection fees apply. We suggest you contact us before finalizing any contract to determine the current, documented entry requirements for your commodity.

What is an import permit?

An import permit is issued by the regulatory officials in the destination country, to your foreign customer, establishing specific certification requirements for your product; perhaps even your unique shipment. It is NOT issued to you nor can you apply for one. You will need to request a copy of an import permit from your customer if we need to review one for your shipment. You must provide a copy of the original import permit AND an official English translation. Partial translations will be returned and your application considered incomplete. To avoid delays, be sure the translation is complete.

How do I get an import permit translated?

There is no specific way to get an import permit or other official document translated for phytosanitary certification. You may choose to contract with a translation service or have someone you know translate it for you. Whichever method you use to translate the document, you are responsible for the accuracy of the translation. We cannot translate any documents for you and the MDA does not take responsibility for any certificate errors that may result from incorrect translations. Again, it is very important to ensure the ENTIRE document is translated not just sections with additional declarations listed. Other portions of the permit will include expirations dates, modes of transport, and allowed points of entry into the country. 

Can I get a phytosanitary certificate without an import permit?

We will review the import conditions and let you know if an import permit is essential to the certification process. There are times we can issue a certificate without reviewing an import permit even though one is required by the destination country. We will inform you of this situation, explain the possible problems you may encounter when your customer has not provided a copy of their import permit, and the options you have.

There are also countries with complex or strict import requirements. In these situations the USDA instructs us NOT to write the phytosanitary certificate until we review an import permit. In these situations we cannot issue a certificate until you present a valid import permit and any necessary English translations.

Can I get a phytosanitary certificate for a shipment already en route overseas?

Only if you had an official inspection completed prior to departure and within the destination country’s inspection time limits. The official inspection needs to have been completed by a state agriculture department, the USDA, or a federally licensed firm. If you are shipping grain, and a federally licensed firm did the inspection, they would have issued a form 921-2, Insects in Grain report which we would use to issue your phytosanitary certificate.

What are my options if the shipment has left the country and an inspection was not done prior to departure?

Certification is typically not possible. It is imperative that you know your destination country and contact us to determine phytosanitary requirements BEFORE the shipment leaves the United States; ideally before it leaves Minnesota. Your options after the shipment has left the United States are: A) divert the shipment to a country that does not require a phytosanitary certificate; B) have the shipment returned to the United States for official sampling and if eligible, reshipment; C) petition the USDA to allow certification of your shipment based on your special situation and retained samples; or D) allow the shipment to proceed to destination without certification. This option may result in destruction of your commodity depending on decisions made by regulatory officials at destination.

What is a 921-2, Insects in Grain Form?

This is a form we can use in lieu of a separate, official inspection by MDA of your commodity. The 921-2 can be attached to a PCIT application and we can issue a phytosanitary certificate based on the application and inspection form.

921-2 Insects in Grain Form is limited to grain and grain products. Contact one of seven federally licensed, private grain inspection firms operating in Minnesota and schedule an official sampling appointment. They take an official sample, inspect it and upon your request issue a 921-2 form. All scheduling and subsequent sampling/inspection payments are arranged with the private grain inspection service. The contact information for federally authorized grain inspection companies in Minnesota can be found by contacting the MDA Export Program.

It is important to know the requirements of the importing country, prior to requesting a 921-2 form. Some countries require the inspection company look for additional items when issuing a 921-2. Inspection companies typically do not look for weed seeds or dirt. Some countries REQUIRE a specific certification relative to one or more of these items. In order to get all the necessary inspections and information listed on your 921-2, you will have to make arrangements with the inspection firm and confirm the company can make the necessary inspections and state them on the 921-2 form. If specific inspections are needed for your shipment, but are not listed on the 921-2, we will not be able to use the 921-2 to certify your shipment and an official sample will need to be sent to us for inspection.

Why have my application and/or 921-2 forms been returned or rejected?

We can issue certificates for less than the amount listed on the 921-2 form, but not more. Similarly, we cannot issue a certificate with a lot number or container number different from that listed on the 921-2. When we find an error between the application and 921-2 we will return the application in PCIT for you to correct. Sometimes the error is on the application, while other times it is on the 921-2. It is up to the issuing company to determine if a 921-2 form can be revised and reissued with a different weight, lot number, or container number. Please pay attention to conversion factors if you have the 921-2 issued in metric units but apply for a phytosanitary certificate in pounds (or vice versa). Incorrect calculations have delayed many certificates because the phytosanitary certificate application is for a greater quantity than is stated on the 921-2. Even if it is just a calculation error, we cannot exceed the amount listed on the 921-2.

Another reason for the rejection of a 921-2 is that the inspection date listed on the form exceeds 30 days. The USDA policy states that a phytosanitary certificate must be issued within 30 days of the inspection date listed on the 921-2. An exception is made if the commodity left the U.S. within 30 days (by bill of lading date). In those cases, we can issue a phytosanitary certificate up to 60 days from date of inspection. IMPORTANT: Each lot or container listed on an application must have been inspected within the 30 days. The inspection date is counted as day number 1. Since several months have more than 30 days, your inspection will likely expire 1-2 days before the same date the following month. For example: An inspection done on October 10 will expire on November 8. BE ADVISED THAT SOME COUNTRIES HAVE A 14 DAY INSPECTION TO ISSUANCE TIMELINE. We cannot issue a certificate if the destination country time limits have been exceeded. It is imperative to the success of your export process that you know the timeline established by the destination country. Application on the date of expiration is not acceptable. The certificate must be issued before expiration, not just applied for. You must apply at least three business days prior to expiration to ensure your phytosanitary certificate is issued in time.

What if I experience a delay and miss the 30 day deadline?

The USDA has a formal petition and review process through which they handle these situations case-by-case. Typically the USDA will grant a ONE TIME exception to a company. This exception is company specific and not "reason" related. The company gets one exception, not an individual.

What if I don't know the container number(s)?

We issue many certificates that identify shipment by weight, bag count, lot number, bag tag or bag markings. You may have a contractual requirement or a customer demand to include container numbers on a phytosanitary certificate. That is a business-related issue. We can issue a phytosanitary certificate using the alternatives mentioned above as distinguishing marks which ensures the timely issuance of a phytosanitary certificate. Such a practice is the single most effective way to avoid missing various certification deadlines. Once the container number is confirmed you can request a replacement certificate that includes the container number if you choose. You will be responsible for paying the cost of the replacement certificate, but you avoid the serious problem of exceeding the 30 day limit. Replacement certificates cost the same as original certificates.

Why can't I get my letter of credit information on the phytosanitary certificate?

Any information that is related to phytosanitary certification contained in a letter of credit will be reviewed upon request to determine if it is eligible for inclusion. However, information that is not required for the phytosanitary certificate or is business-related will not be placed on the phytosanitary certificate. License number, contract identification, grade, quality or plant variety are not listed on a phytosanitary certificate because it is not considered phytosanitary information. We understand this business information is important to your documentation. However, much of it is not germane to the assessment of pest-free status and phytosanitary compliance and therefore cannot be included on the phytosanitary certificate.

Why can't the phytosanitary certificate be written exactly the same as the letter of credit?

We are regularly told that penalties will be incurred if and when the phytosanitary certificate has different information or spelling than that contained on the letter of credit. Another claim is that the phytosanitary certificate must have the exact information that is contained on all the other documents for the shipment. Simply put, a phytosanitary certificate does not function as, nor should you consider it, a business document. Including it with other business documents is not the correct use of the phytosanitary certificate. Its express purpose it to be presented to the foreign plant pest regulatory officials to confirm your shipment meets the plant pest import requirements established for the commodity. It should never be considered a business document. By considering a phytosanitary certificate "just another" business document you run the risk of shipment delay. One possible solution for you, when possible, is to agree to provide "a phytosanitary certificate acceptable to the plant pest regulatory officials of the destination country." In addition to being the true purpose of the certificate, it separates the phytosanitary certificate from the business documents. If the regulatory staff accepts the phytosanitary certificate, you have fulfilled your contractual obligation regardless of typographical differences with business documents.

Be advised regardless of letter of credit language and what you enter on a PCIT application:

We will not knowingly misspell words; The exporter MUST have a US address; We will not enter approximate commodity weights; We will not enter any additional declaration or pest-freedom language beyond that stipulated by import permit or federal database; We will not include tax id, letter of credit, or other business-related numbers; and We may change exporter address if it contains unacceptable abbreviations or is interpreted to be inconsistent with standard US format.

If any of these examples are found on PCIT applications, we will make the necessary changes which will be reflected on the final document.