Travelling with the violin - species protection, cultural property protection and customs

When traveling with a violin, many musicians think first and foremost about whether the violin case will fit in the carry-on compartment or whether they will have to have their instrument transported as checked baggage in the cargo hold - if they don't manage to snag an inexpensive extra seat, in which many a well-traveled cellist may have developed a certain virtuosity.

As grueling as the discussions with travel agents and airline employees may be, much more complicated and unpleasant questions can await traveling string players after their happy landing, namely at the counters of customs control. This is because stringed instruments - and that includes not only the violin, cello and viola, but also the respective bows! - are often affected by regulations concerning the protection of cultural assets and species, which amateur musicians and young professionals in particular often do not have on their radar when traveling abroad for the first time.

Therefore we inform here about the most important agreements and laws, combined with practical tips and links for a carefree travelling with a violin, entry and exit.


  •     Cultural property protection - scenarios for entering and leaving the country with a violin
  •     Scenario 1: Export of the instrument - travel abroad with your own violin
  •     Scenario 2: Regular travel abroad with the violin
  •     Scenario 3: Importing the instrument - traveling abroad with a violin purchased abroad
  •     Scenario 4: Exporting the instrument for sale abroad
  •     Species protection - an issue for string players
  •     CITES certificate for traveling with the violin
  •     Emergency solution: purchase of a travel instrument
  •     Customs when traveling with the violin
  •     Checklist and links: Required documents for traveling abroad with stringed instruments
  •     Cultural property protection - scenarios for entering and leaving the country with a violin

Scenario 1: Exporting the instrument - traveling abroad with your own violin

When traveling abroad with one's own violin, regulations of the German Cultural Property Protection Act, customs regulations and regulations of European law must be observed.

The aim of these regulations is, in short, to prevent the export of important national cultural goods. Therefore, you need an export permit to travel abroad with your violin, even if you do not intend to sell it there.

Such a permit is required

    - if the trip is to a non-European country and the instrument is 50 years or older and worth at least 50,000 euros
    - or if the trip leads to a European country and the instrument is 100 years old or older and worth at least 100,000 euros.

But beware: If you are now sitting back in relief because your instrument cost less than €50,000, you should still read on: Since customs officials are generally not experts in the valuation of stringed instruments, you should have sound documentation on hand even for trips abroad with less expensive violins. Useful documents include appraisals, certificates, proof of purchase, etc.

The federal states are responsible for issuing export licenses; the authority finder on the website provides an overview of the relevant authorities - and a download resource for forms.

Scenario 2: Regular travel abroad with the violin

One relief for musicians who regularly take their violin abroad, for example for concert tours, is the so-called "specific open permit" for travel with the violin. The same conditions as mentioned under scenario 1 are decisive for its issuance - however, it is valid for 5 years, so that individual permits no longer have to be applied for during this period.

Scenario 3: Importing the instrument - entering the country with a violin purchased abroad

Similar to the Federal Republic of Germany, many other countries have protective regulations that govern the export of national cultural property. Therefore, importing an old violin into Germany requires that it has been legally exported beforehand:

    - Anyone wishing to import a violin into Germany from its country of origin must first obtain an export license from that country.
    - The conditions for such a license are, of course, not determined by German law, but by the law of the country of origin.
    - If an instrument is not exported from its country of origin, but is acquired in another EU country and brought to Germany, the situation is somewhat different. In that case, it must be documented that the violin was already legally brought to the third country before it was purchased - e.g. by providing proof of previous ownership. Such an "acquisition history" must be traceable back to a maximum of 01.01.1993.
    - In the case of non-EU countries that are members of the 1970 UN Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, the deadlines are somewhat different. Here, it may be necessary to prove that the instrument was exported from its country of origin before 27.04.2007.

Further information, including a list of the contracting states to the UN Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property, can be found on the official website

Scenario 4: Export of the violin for sale abroad

Anyone wishing to take a violin or other instrument abroad for sale requires a final export license under Section 24 of the KGSG. The requirements mentioned in scenario 1 also apply to this obligation - for a violin worth less than €50,000 or younger than 50 years, no such permit is needed. Nevertheless, it should be properly documented - e.g. with appraisals, certificates or invoices - because of the possible misunderstandings at customs control already mentioned.

Protection of species - a topic for string players

Independent of the rules of cultural property protection, stringed instruments in particular are affected by the provisions of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. During many trips to non-European countries, especially to the U. S. A., considerable problems can arise when entering and leaving the country - up to and including confiscation of the instrument.

The authorities focus on animal materials that come from protected species and are traditionally used especially in bow making. Tortoiseshell, whalebone and lizard skin are still easy to understand examples; for rare woods such as pernambuco or ebony there are exceptions if they are brought along in processed form (e.g. as a violin bow), but good documentation is recommended in any case, e.g. in the form of an instrument passport.

CITES certificate for travel with the violin

The CITES certificate serves as proof for customs control that all materials from protected species used in the instrument were either legally acquired or used at a time when the respective species was not yet protected.

The so-called negative certificate serves a similar purpose: it documents that there are no materials on the violin or bow that originate from protected species.

Anyone traveling to non-European countries should therefore obtain a corresponding certificate - i.e. a CITES certificate or a negative certificate - at least 3 months before the trip.

The basis for this is an expert opinion, which can be obtained from qualified violin making workshops or bow makers, for example. With this document, the actual certificate is then applied for at the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation. All information about the procedure can be found on the linked website.

The CITES certificate is personal and valid for 3 years in all CITES Parties. For ensembles traveling together or exhibition projects there is the possibility to apply for a collective certificate.

Emergency solution: purchase of a violin as a travel instrument

When applying for a CITES certificate, it may well be that sufficient proof of legality cannot be provided for all the materials on the violin or bow - in short, not every instrument receives a CITES certificate, and traveling with such an instrument to non-European countries is practically impossible. In this case, affected musicians only have the alternative of acquiring a travel instrument that complies with species protection regulations - for example, the Opus 12 violin or the Opus 15 violin are perfectly suitable as inexpensive second violins with a surprisingly good sound.

Customs when traveling with a violin

In addition to the regulations for the protection of cultural property and species, musicians who regularly travel outside Europe should also keep an eye on possible customs barriers. In order to avoid time-consuming controls when leaving and entering the country or even customs clearance of the violin, the Carnet A. T. A. (Carnet for temporary admission of goods) is a good solution. The carnet is valid for one year and is issued by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in whose catchment area the musician or owner of the instrument lives.

The situation is different if the violin is to be sold abroad. The A. T. A. carnet may not be used for such travel. Since customs evasion is a criminal offense, each export of a violin requires individual clarification of which customs duties and taxes are due.

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