Making it through customs with a musical instrument Jump to main content

Making it through customs with a musical instrument

Stuart Cooke, Digital Marketing Manager at My Baggage has put together some helpful advice on getting through customs with your musical instrument.

There is a lot to consider before you travel with your musical instrument (such as which airline to fly with, how to stow your instrument and how to protect it during transit) but one thing that often gets neglected is whether or not you're going to be able to get your instrument safely and easily through customs. For the most part, if you’ve done everything correctly this won’t be a problem but in some places, you may be subject to additional taxes and in more extreme cases you might not be able to bring your instrument into the country at all.

That said, don’t start panicking just yet! We’ve put together a guide to explore how best to travel with an instrument and we’ll also look at some examples of customs rules form around the world that you need to be aware of. This will make travelling with your precious cargo much safer and easier in the future.

1. Make sure to check in with your airline

Before you travel, it’s a good idea to check in with your airline if you're unsure about the best way to fly with your instrument. They’ll be able to advise you on whether you can take it into the cabin with you or whether it’s better to put it in the hold. They’ll also be able to advise you on security measures and any other rules you may need to be aware of.

So, before you book your tickets and commit, get in touch with your chosen airline and find out what their rules and regulations are. This can save you lots of trouble (and potentially money) in the long run. You might also wish to ring around a few of the popular airlines to get a better idea of their individual rules, so you can find out which is going to be the best option for you and your instrument. It may be the case that it’s easier and cheaper to use a luggage shipping solution to send your instrument ahead and have it meet you at your hotel or venue.

2. Do your research

As well as doing your research into the airline’s rules and regulations, it’s also a good idea to look into the specific country you're visiting to see if they have any specific laws that could impact your entry into the country. A quick internet search should throw up plenty of information but if you can find the airport or government’s official website this is usually the best place to look. You might also be able to find forums from fellow musicians who have travelled to that country in the past and can offer their advice.

3. Investigate whether you need to declare it

In some cases, you may need to declare your instrument, depending on what it is and the material it is made from. As we said above, do your research and you should be able to determine whether you will need to declare this at customs but if on doubt, you should always speak to a customs officer when you arrive and explain what you have. In most cases, they will ask to see your documentation (more on this in the next section) or simply just wave you through.

4. Have the correct documentation

To make your trip as simple as possible it’s important that you get all the correct documentation, otherwise you could face problems when getting through customs. Different countries require different documentation and permits so you’ll need to look into this and find out if you need to arrange any particular forms or documents before you travel. Some of the most popular and recognised documents that you should have/consider include:

  • ATA Carnet - Sometimes referred to as a ‘passport for goods’ this is an international customs document which allows the temporary import or export of nonperishable goods, tax and duty-free.
  • CITES - This stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This is an international agreement and applies if your instrument is made with certain specified materials.
  • ISM membership - If you're a member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians you should carry your card with you to prove you're a professional musician.
  • Extra seats booked - This goes without saying but you will need to bring proof that you’ve booked an extra seat for your instrument if this is the case.
  • Proof of ownership - It might also be a good idea to take photographs and proof of ownership if you have it, so you can always prove that the instrument is yours.

5. Make sure to package your instruments correctly

In order to keep your instrument safe, you need to package it up properly in a case or bag, taking extra precautions such as fragile sticks, padding and removing any sharp implements that could leave a mark. But more than this, if you're taking your instrument into the cabin you, it’s also important that you make it easy for customs to check inside the case or bag if they need to, so you can get through security as quickly and easily as possible.

6. Examples of customs rules from around the world

Finally, in this last section, we’ll take a look at some customs rules from around the world, so you can keep these in mind when planning to travel with your instrument.

      • The United States - The US regulates and/or prohibits the entry of musical instruments that contain any materials (animal or plant) that are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). For example Brazilian rosewood, tortoiseshell, and ivory, so you’ll need to make sure you have the correct documentation.
      • Australia - Occasionally customs are wary of wooden instruments and these may be checked for borer holes or similar. They may also require that the instrument is fumigated but as this can be damaging you might want to consider other ways to get your instrument over safely.
      • UK - If you’re part of a touring orchestra and you're travelling with a single instrument you need a musical instrument certificate (MIC). If you’re travelling with multiple instruments you must get a CITES certificate instead.
      • Russia - Items of cultural value require special permission to enter Russia so if you're travelling with a unique or rare musical instrument you must provide certificates from the relevant authorities proving that the goods are being transported legally.
      • Europe - As all members of the EU are part of the same customs union, you’ll be able to travel freely between countries with your instrument as long as you have an ATA Carnet certificate.

      ISM Brexit advice pages

      For more information on Brexit and what this means for you after the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, ISM members can access the following updated advice pages: