Travelling with instruments and equipment
Access the ISM's comprehensive guide to transporting instruments into the EU and Northern Ireland.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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: