Getting Musical Instruments across Borders

By Baird, Robert | International Musician, August 2014 | Go to article overview

Getting Musical Instruments across Borders


Baird, Robert, International Musician


Many musicians have been surprised at the border and unprepared when border officials asked them for information about their musical instruments. Musicians usually take it for granted that the instruments are the least of their problems in crossing borders.

However, border officials are now questioning musicians as to where they acquired their instruments, and checking them with greater vigilance to see if they violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). I received this letter:

Dear Crossing Borders,

I am taking a nine-member professional band on tour in August to Canada. I am concerned about our instruments and ensuring easy passage without incurring some type of taxes as we pass through customs; especially relating to ownership and origin. We all own our instruments, which are used, and none will be purchased in Canada. I heard that, if we cannot prove they are ours, we will be charged tax or they may take them away at the border. We will have an accordion, violin, sop and ten saxes, trumpet, trombone, and electric bass. What is the best way to ensure customs on both sides-US and Canada-leave us alone and allow us to pass without delay or problems?

Nervous About Touring

In order to avoid any complications while crossing borders with musical instruments, there are two options available to the touring musician: an ATA Carnet or an inventory list

The Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission (ATA) Carnet was established in 1961 by the World Customs Organization (WCO) as an internationally recognized customs document for the duty-free and tax-free temporary importation of goods into foreign countries. It is valid for one year, accepted in more than 71 countries and simplifies taking musical instruments across borders. The cost of a Carnet is based on the value of the goods covered and can be as bw as $150. To find out more information about the ATA Carnet in the US visit International Business (http://www.atacarnet.com/) and in Canada visit Canadian Chamber of Commerce (http://www.chamber.ca/).

As an alternative to the Carnet, you can provide an itemized inventory list of the instruments you will be bringing with you. The list should include an item description, serial number, date purchased, where purchased, purchase cost, and current resale value. Take this list and your instruments into the border office of your home country and have it stamped by a border official. The border official will examine the instruments to verify the list, so it would be best if the instruments were clearly marked with owner/group name (if applicable) and perhaps numbered to correspond with the list

When you return to your home country you will have a verified list of instruments returning with you and this will greatly ease your border crossing. …

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