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The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit


Home » Traveling Musician » Getting Musical Instruments Across Borders

Getting Musical Instruments Across Borders


by Robert Baird, President Baird Artists Management (BAM!)

Many musicians have been surprised at the border and unprepared when border officials asked them for information about their musical instruments. Musicians usually take it for granted that the instruments are the least of their problems in crossing borders.

However, border officials are now questioning musicians as to where they acquired their instruments, and checking them with greater vigilance to see if they violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES ). I received this letter:

Dear Crossing Borders,

I am taking a nine-member professional band on tour in August to Canada. I am concerned about our instruments and ensuring easy passage without incurring some type of taxes as we pass through customs; especially relating to ownership and origin. We all own our instruments, which are used, and none will be purchased in Canada. I heard that, if we cannot prove they are ours, we will be charged tax or they may take them away at the border. We will have an accordion, violin, sop and ten saxes, trumpet, trombone, and electric bass. What is the best way to ensure customs on both sides—US and Canada—leave us alone and allow us to pass without delay or problems?

Nervous About Touring

In order to avoid any complications while crossing borders with musical instruments, there are two options available to the touring musician: an ATA Carnet or an inventory list.

The Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission (ATA) Carnet was established in 1961 by the World Customs Organization (WCO) as an internationally recognized customs document for the duty-free and tax-free temporary importation of goods into foreign countries. It is valid for one year, accepted in more than 71 countries and simplifies taking musical instruments across borders. The cost of a Carnet is based on the value of the goods covered and can be as low as $150. To find out more information about the ATA Carnet in the US visit International Business ( and in Canada visit Canadian Chamber of Commerce (  

As an alternative to the Carnet, you can provide an itemized inventory list of the instruments you will be bringing with you. The list should include an item description, serial number, date purchased, where purchased, purchase cost, and current resale value. Take this list and your instruments into the border office of your home country and have it stamped by a border official. The border official will examine the instruments to verify the list, so it would be best if the instruments were clearly marked with owner/group name (if applicable) and perhaps numbered to correspond with the list. 

When you return to your home country you will have a verified list of instruments returning with you and this will greatly ease your border crossing.

Musicians now have to consider the materials used to manufacture their instruments as well. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and/or the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have become major issues for the AFM. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) implemented a ban on the commercial trade in African elephant ivory, which resulted in severe restrictions on AFM members who regularly perform internationally with instruments that lawfully contain small amounts of elephant ivory. This ban has had negative and unintended consequences on musicians and the music industry. The AFM is trying to obtain an exemption for musicians. (See President’s Message, page 2.) In the meantime, here are a few tips that may help reduce border complications:

1) Know what material is in your instrument. The most common endangered species materials found in musical instruments are African elephant ivory, Asian elephant ivory, sea turtle shell, and Brazilian rosewood, as well as monitor lizard and whale bone in certain instrument bows. If your instrument contains any of the 54 species listed in CITES Appendix I: then you will need a CITES permit for your instrument.

2) Apply for a CITES permit 60 to 90 days in advance of your travel. You can apply for a single-use permit for travelling with instruments or a new three-year multi-use instrument “passport.” Note that there are residency requirements for the permit and various US regulations that govern the process. There are different forms to be used, depending upon what materials your instrument contains.

3) Note that an instrument bearing a CITES permit or passport may only travel through a very limited number of designated ports of entry and exit where USFWS and Department of Agriculture officials are on hand to inspect documents. 

Having the required documentation makes every border crossing easier. 

I welcome your questions and concerns. Please write to me at: While I cannot answer every question I receive in this column, I do promise to answer every e-mail.

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