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Home » Legislative Update » Update on International Travel and African Elephant Ivory

Update on International Travel and African Elephant Ivory


Since publication of the April IM article about African elephant ivory, specifically relating to the adverse effect of Director’s Order No. 210 (the Order), we have heard from many AFM members looking for concrete solutions. First and foremost, we want to be clear: the AFM has not taken a position against conservation, endangered species poaching, nor against the African elephant ivory ban itself. On the contrary, the union’s concern centers on technical details pertaining to new, adverse travel restrictions placed on musical instruments as outlined in Section 2b (4) and in Section 4 of the Order. I know many questions remain. Unfortunately at this time, we still await additional clarification from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Many have asked, “Who is affected by the ban?” Again, the ban is not our focus, Order No. 210 is. US citizens or foreign nationals entering the US with an instrument purchased after February 26, 1976 should be aware of this Order. We also note that owners of stringed instruments including guitars, woodwind instruments, custom brass instruments, percussion instruments, custom-made instruments, and musical instruments unique to indigenous cultures, that may contain African Elephant ivory, rare woods, or other protected species parts protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Treaty (CITES Treaty) should pay particular attention to the Order.

In effect, the Order issued February 25 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, under the auspices of the Department of the Interior, has had a chilling effect on travel within our industry, and in particular, on the itineraries of American, Canadian, and other foreign musicians entering and leaving the US with musical instruments containing African elephant ivory and other endangered species component parts. Recognizing the urgent need for a resolution to the negative effect of the Order, AFM International President Ray Hair, in a March 4 letter to President Barack Obama expressed the immediate need to revise, clarify, and where necessary, carve out a new travel exemption to section 2 b (4) of the Order so that musicians can travel unimpeded into and out of the US with their finely crafted, irreplaceable work tools. 

Hair states, “Order No. 210 hurts musicians by immediately implementing new and extremely restrictive rules on professionals and nonprofessionals who tour and travel internationally advocating the best of American art and culture. The Order’s sudden release has created a chilling effect on travel and touring schedules of musicians who have contracts with international concert vendors, and even with representatives of foreign governments.” In reference to the unacceptable delays and possible seizures that could take place for musicians without appropriate travel documents, Hair goes on to state, “The AFM believes the language creates insurmountable obstacles that the average citizen musician cannot navigate due to the lack of a one-stop government site that provides guidance on this particular order.”  

In a tri-caucus letter to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, dated April 4, Hair encourages members of these culturally sensitive government bodies to note the disadvantage and adverse impact that the Order can have on their unique artist constituents or cultural organizations that may own or have in their inventories custom instruments unlike those used in typical American popular, classical, or jazz music settings. Hair says, “Many who do not follow the federal regulatory process will have absolutely no way of finding out how to travel and securely re-enter the US without having priceless instruments detained, confiscated, and possibly destroyed at myriad customs entry points around the US.” The problem impacts every musician in all musical genres.

Musicians Need Answers Now: The Permit Process

The sudden introduction and immediate implementation of this order (Order 210, Section 4), issued without clear-cut public guidance, nor an informative “one-stop” Internet site, leaves traveling musicians with few options. Likewise, a major concern exists relating to the uncertain timetable guiding Customs border agents charged with enforcement.

One of the most important steps in the application process is the documentation process. In order to complete the application process, instrument owners must be able to validate the scientific name (genus, species, and if applicable, subspecies), the common name, the date of manufacture, as well as the date of purchase or transfer of ownership. Most ivory-containing musical instruments currently in use, while legally manufactured and acquired, may have been purchased after 1976, and will now be prohibited from entering or re-entering the US under the Order, regardless of whether they are for personal or professional use.

However, don’t be deterred. A FWS e-mail process may provide limited answers to your questions. For questions about permits, send your e-mails to Be prepared to provide the information noted above. There is no specific time frame for a reply.

Important Note: Musicians accepting overseas contracts or planning an international performance or tour should expect the permit application process, if all goes smoothly, to take 30 to 60 days. There is no expedited application process. Please check with the USFWS to ascertain all requirements necessary to obtain a permit. 

CITES Permits for Individual Musicians

Whether for professional reasons or simply for enjoyment, individual artists carrying instruments should know that there are two types of permits you may apply for when traveling. It is possible to obtain a Multiple Use Permit without having to designate a travel destination. This multiple use document can be obtained by an individual musician. Once obtained, the document is valid for three years. A Single Use Permit is also available, but may, at some point, require a destination designation. 

The AFM suggests that you consider applying for a CITES musical instrument permit, while the union continues to work with its partners to resolve all unanswered questions. The following information relating to individual travel may help you organize your plans. Individual travel permits: 

Use permit application form 3-200-23 if your individual instrument contains protected animal materials such as ivory or tortoiseshell, or plant material such as Brazilian rosewood.

Use permit application form 3-200-32 if your instrument contains plant material such as Brazilian rosewood, etc.

CITES Permits for Traveling-Touring Ensembles

Again, musicians should check with legitimate tour sponsors, operators, and organizational management for instructions specific to their tour. Legitimate, experienced tour operators should be aware of the CITES permit process. Musicians using international tour agencies should carefully question the agency representative about the company’s ability to help acquire the legal documents necessary to import and/or export your group’s valuable work tools. Management and tour operators should be able to provide you with individual and group regulations that ensure safe passage. The AFM suggests that you balance information between your respective union representative, administrative management, and the AFM national office. Special dispensation from US Fish and Wildlife may already have been acquired.

Group tour organizers should use the Traveling Exhibition permit application form 3-200-30, if there are multiple instruments being checked as cargo. Though these applications are do not appear specific to musical instruments, they are the forms that are available at this point. The AFM and its partners have been working with FWS staff on a new Musical Instrument Passport. 

Federal Resources for Information about Permits

If you have questions, feel free to contact the AFM Legislative Office in Washington, DC, or use any of the following resources:

US Fish and Wildlife Musical Instrument question and answer page explains how these actions impact you:

US Fish and Wildlife Musical Instrument main page has links to the musical instrument certificate application:

Some countries may have unique entry and exit requirements that impact your travel. Visit the webpage to review your options.

Take the Survey, Sign the Petition 

Your voice is important to this process. We need data. The AFM Office of Government Relations has developed two important tools to help federal officials grasp the impact their actions have on you. Both tools can be found on the AFM homepage under Announcements. The petition to the president and to members of Congress outlines the urgency of a resolution. The survey ( will collect data from you that is necessary to give emphasis to our status as principal stakeholders. We ask that you take time to engage both tools. Results will be available in June 2014.

Thank you for your patience. The AFM has engaged the government at every level on your behalf. We will keep you apprised of progress.