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Home » Traveling Musician » Playing It Safe: The Importance of Documents

Playing It Safe: The Importance of Documents

  -  President Baird Artists Management (BAM!)

Q: My performing group had a gig in the United States and we thought we were prepared. We knew our work permit was in order; none of us had criminal records; we weren’t carrying any merchandise; we arrived at the border early; we all had passports; and our car insurance was current. But we still had trouble getting across the border. Apparently our visa approval had gotten lost in the system and the border officials could find no record of it. We had no paperwork with us and had to wait at the border until a colleague brought a copy of our I-797. We’ll always carry our paperwork from now on.

It’s always a good idea to carry your paperwork with you, especially when it comes to border crossings. You need an approved work visa to perform in the US. Although the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) uses Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) to inform a port of entry or pre-flight inspection facility of all approved visas, there can be errors and omissions. It’s always up to the border official to allow entry. Having your paperwork with you is imperative.

If you are applying for a visa at a consulate and your approved visa is not in the PIMS system, there will be a delay until it is. Having your approved I-797 with you can expedite the process. You might also consider having your complete visa application package with you, since it contains a complete itinerary and copies of contracts, as well as passport copies and beneficiary information.

Although the temporary work permit is perhaps the most important piece of paper to carry with you, there are other essential documents that will help facilitate border crossings. Obviously, your passport (or equivalent identification) is a must.

If you are bringing instruments or equipment with you, you should have an original purchase receipt for each item crossing the border, or at the very least, an inventory listing with particulars such as a description, serial numbers, purchase date, etc. Border officials need to know where and when you acquired an item or they may consider that you acquired it when travelling. It would then be subject to border crossing purchase restrictions and possibly duty and taxes.

If you are travelling with an instrument that contains any of the protected species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), such as ivory, sea turtle shell, Brazilian rosewood, monitor lizard, or whale bone, you will need a CITES permit to get the instrument across the border. Without such a permit, you may have your instrument confiscated.

If you are travelling by air, have a copy of your particular airline’s musical instrument policy: Also bring a copy of the Federal Department of Transportation musical instrument rule:

Other important documents to have with you are proof of vehicle ownership, proof of accommodation, receipt for a return ticket (if travelling by air), conference registration or letter of invitation, and written permission from the guardians or parents, if travelling with a child under 18.

Border officials need to be assured you are entering the country temporarily, that you will be returning to your own country, and that you are not engaged in any activities which might violate the law.

Play it safe by carrying essential documents with you that will ease your border crossings.

—I welcome your questions and concerns. Please send an email to:

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