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Home » Traveling Musician » Be Prepared to Cross Borders for Showcases, Competition, or Other Business

Be Prepared to Cross Borders for Showcases, Competition, or Other Business


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

Artists often ask if they can cross a border freely to do a showcase, enter a competition, or for other business purposes. Sometimes it is possible to do so without a visa or to use a different form of visa. Every artist needs to adopt the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.” Many times artists have problems at a border because they arrive unprepared. If you know what documents you need to bring with you for a showcase, competition, or other business travel, crossing the border will be much easier.

Dear Crossing Borders,

I have an artist friend coming to Canada to perform a showcase at Ontario CONTACT [the annual conference of Ontario Presents] and he is wondering if he needs a visa, a work permit, or some kind of special document.
Can you advise?

There is always good news and bad news in any answer to a border crossing question. The good news is that an artist coming to Canada to perform in a showcase at a conference does not need a special document or a work permit; the bad news is that a visitor visa may be required to enter Canada. You can determine the visa requirement at

In any case, I would suggest getting an official letter of invitation from the organization detailing when and where the event will take place.

Dear Crossing Borders,

As an AFM member in London, Ontario (Local 279), I have been playing my French horn as a member of the Medical Musical Group (MMG) for the past two years. I have travelled to the United States to play at their annual Flag Day concert. I pay all my own expenses: travel, hotel, meals, and also the P-2 visa costs, and I do not receive any payment for my performance and rehearsal time, nor do I receive any type of expense reimbursement. Is there no other less expensive way for me to obtain permission to travel to the US?

Unfortunately, there is a misconception that, if an artist does not get paid for a performance in the US, a visa is not required. The artist may quite rightly feel that a performance that is “free” should not trigger any kind of visa or work permit requirement. In the US, the key consideration is not payment, but rather “performance.” A performance of any kind requires a work visa in the US.

There are two exceptions to this requirement: competitions and auditions. A showcase at a conference falls under the latter category if, and only if, the artist is not paid and he or she covers his or her own expenses, attendance is restricted to the registered attendees of the conference (no public admission), no tickets are sold, and no other performances are engaged in on the same trip. If these criteria are met, an artist can enter the US on a visitor visa (or with a passport from a visa-waiver country) to do a showcase.

In any case, you should obtain a letter from the conference confirming that the criteria listed above will be met. Always come to a border prepared with documentation that supports your stated reasons for entering a country. Border officials have “heard it all” and are understandably sceptical if you show up unprepared.

Dear Crossing Borders,

I am finishing my debut CD in Los Angeles and I’ll be taking some of my instruments and equipment with me for three months. I am the employer and will be hiring background singers, a guitarist, a recording studio, and a CD manufacturer there. I have a production schedule and itinerary with complete contact info and the model names and serial numbers of my music instruments and equipment. Is there anything else that I should do?

Luckily in this case, a B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visa can be issued at a point of entry, since the artist is going to be in the US less than six months and only for business activities. You will need to have your passport and be prepared with documentation to indicate the purpose of the trip, what you will be doing, where you will be living, and that your primary source of revenue is outside of the US. If you are going to be travelling on business for fewer than 90 days, you may be eligible under the visa waiver program. For links to further information on both of these, visit:

Whether it’s for showcasing, competing or musical business, it’s always best to be prepared.

—Please send your questions and concerns to me at: While I cannot answer every question here, I will feature as many as I can, and I promise to answer every e-mail I receive.

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