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Home » Traveling Musician » It Takes More than Just a Passport: Preparing for Foreign Gigging

It Takes More than Just a Passport: Preparing for Foreign Gigging


by Michael Manley, AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking and Immigration Division Director and Assistant to the President 

In a landscape where an artist’s big break can take place on YouTube as often as in a concert hall or club, musicians can reach an international audience with a few swipes of a tablet screen. Jazz artists and indie bands may play festivals and tours around the globe. A theatre musician may conduct Gypsy in Germany, and a violinist might play Brahms in Brazil. While the barriers to getting on the international radar may be coming down thanks to technology, the very real borders and immigration regulations governing international gigging are still very much a reality.

What are some basics you need for global gigging? Entertainment Visa Consultant David King, who specializes in cross-border artist employment, gave me the run-down. “Each country has its own requirements for musicians wanting to perform in their country,” he notes. This begins with the proper visa allowing employment to take place. King’s general rule is, “No visa, no show, no earnings.” And this usually means a different visa for each country, if there are multiple country stops on the route.

“Wherever you are going, you need to remember to allow plenty of time to process the paperwork,” King continues. “Treat this as the most important aspect of your travel plans.” Here’s his checklist:

  • Do you have a valid, undamaged  passport, with empty visa pages?
  • Have you, or those traveling with you, ever been arrested and/or convicted of anything, anywhere, at any time? (Depending on the country, this could be a minor or major problem.)
  • Have you, or others in your travel party, had previous problems with immigration in the country you are traveling to?
  • Do you have proper health coverage while traveling, and do you have/need travel insurance?

While navigating this process can be a daunting task, there are service agencies and immigration lawyers who can do the heavy lifting for a fee.

Aside from the visa and clearance hurdles, there are the regular concerns about any gig—do I have an enforceable contract, and who is responsible for it? It is ideal for the employer to be based in the US or Canada, as the AFM has jurisdiction in those countries and a union contract can be entered into covering the foreign employment. Employers not based in those two countries have no obligation to enter into union agreements to cover work performed in their own countries. In that case, it’s best to do as much research as possible on the employer to ensure it is reputable and professional, in addition to answering the following questions:

  • Is there a contract in place, and who is the enforcing party?
  • Are the gigs/performances protected against unauthorized recording/capture/broadcast?
  • Is the employer paying for fees incurred to secure visas and other clearances, or are the musicians bearing those costs?
  • Is round-trip travel provided, with clearly defined travel dates? (Consider a one-way travel ticket a definite “red flag.”)
  • What is the air carrier’s policy regarding instruments on the plane?
  • Are all or part of the wages being paid “up front?” (It is best to get at least 50% in advance, if possible.)
  • Are there cultural customs that will make me uncomfortable, or make my performance risky?

Because of the lack of AFM jurisdiction, and because of the many unknowns and potential traps with foreign employment, it is ideal to have a booking agent or artist manager working with you or your band on foreign engagements. In cases of disputes, an agent or manager can be much more effective in resolving problems than a single musician or band. Good agents can also negotiate an agreement that will address the above areas of concern. You can search for an AFM signatory booking agent on the website at:

Foreign employment isn’t hassle-free, but it can be relatively painless with the right resources and precautions in place. Just don’t forget your passport.

Thanks to attorney Jonathan Ginsburg, Fettmann Ginsburg PC, Fairfax, VA for his assistance in preparing this article.


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