2024 international travel guidance for string instruments, preparation + transportation + customs+go home


Table of Contents

1. Why you must read this article

Our store(Fiddlover Violin Shop) is located in the world's main stringed instrument production base, which carries 70% of the world's output. We have encountered all kinds of problems in a large number of international transportation in the past, whether it is from airlines or customs, once we encounter problems, let alone the trouble, the most important thing is that it will affect the using violin. So we compiled this guide, from preparation at home-to boarding-to customs-going home, we list all possible problems and solutions to help you travel more happily. Please read it patiently, because these situations apply to most people.

2.1 Whether you can take a musical instrument on a train/airplane

Let me talk about the answer first: whether it is carry-on or checked, it is allowed.

2.2 Regulations of each country

2.2.1 Check out the US FAA screenshot, which can be printed out as proof, Include the screenshot below:
fiddlover violin shop us faa

2.2.2 View US TSA:  https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/violins
fiddlover violin shop

2.2.3 American Airlines: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/baggage/specialty-and-sports.jsp
American Airlines

2.2.4 European airlines: https://www.aireuropa.com/us/en/aea/travel-information/baggage/special-baggage/musical-instruments.html
European airlines

2.2.5 Rail Europe: https://www.eurostar.com/uk-en/travel-info/travel-planning/luggage/musical-instruments
Rail Europe

2.2.6 An interesting web to check the airline's attitude towards musical instruments, please note that the time may be a bit old:
fiddlover violin shop

Since you can take the plane/train, the key to whether checked or carry-on is the size. Because each airline has different requirements for the size of carry-on luggage, you need to ask in advance. So now there are two cases:

2.3 Precautions for Carry-on

The first case: the size of the musical instrument can meet the requirements on paper, then you'd better continue to determine the size of the door and the height of the luggage rack to ensure that the musical instrument can REALLY be carry-on. Under normal circumstances, the size of violin, viola, and guitar is definitely no problem, cellos need to buy a seat separately, and double bass can only be checked. Here are a few tips for boarding:

2.3.1 Please board the plane as early as possible (first boarding/tipping/sweet talk), because the overhead storage space is first come first served. (Some friends say that you can put the musical instrument in the cloakroom, but there may be an embarrassing situation where you have to queue for a long time to get it out of the cloakroom when you get off the plane)

2.3.2 When boarding, a person can bring one personal item and one carry-on item (allowed in both the Eu and the US). Personal items can be stuffed under the seat, and musical instruments are your carry-on items. Please take the instrument off your shoulders in advance, because the aisles of the airplane are narrow. If the beautiful stewardess offers to help, politely refuse them to arrange the instrument for you (God knows what they will do with it). Be sure to pretend that you often fly with your musical instrument, use an affirmative tone, and be polite! !

2.3.3 If the staff does not allow the instrument to board the plane, first smile, then take out the printed regulations, and communicate friendly, kind and patient; if it doesn’t work, you can try boldly: cry loudly, sell miserably. (But I guess most people can't do it, lol)

2.3.4 If reasoning and crying don't work, deny boarding. Do your best not to separate from the instrument. The reason will be explained below.

2.4 Precautions for Checked

The second case: for various reasons, it can only be checked. Situations that checked may encounter:

2.4.1 The staff moved randomly (in the face of so much luggage, it is difficult for them to handle each item carefully).

2.4.2 After the plane takes off, the air pressure and temperature will change (many people are discussing this factor, but judging from our actual delivery, it has little impact).

2.4.3 If there is a delay or other, there is no way to get the instrument first. The instrument may have to wait in the cold or hot cargo hold for an unknown period of time.

That's why you need to have your instrument by your side. If you have to checked, then you need to do these things:

2.4.1 If the meaning and value of the musical instrument is very high to you, then don’t checked it.

2.4.2 Loosen the strings to avoid the bridge from crushing the panel. But don't relax completely either, because sound post falling off is a much worse thing.

2.4.3 Use a hard-shell case to hold the instrument, and then put a soft cloth (clothes, towel) between the instrument and the box for fixing, and put a humidifying strip on the instrument. Put a dust bag on the outside of the case (optional, because most of the hard shell boxes are canvas jackets, it will be obvious if it is stained with dust), and then add a strong outer packaging (flight box / we use a custom super hard carton) , and then sandwich some airbags between the outer packaging and the hard case. That's how we do it, and our shipments are all using cargo aircraft with more complex environments, which has proven to be feasible in most cases. (Except for violent transportation, in which case only one bodyguard can be hired).

Our instruments packaging: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TaCFVn6asQ

Bows packaging: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sU3tBMWUXk0

2.4.4 If you are more careful, you can write your own contact information and a description of the situation on the instrument case to prevent extreme situations.

2.4.5 Google search “musical instrument travel”. There are some companies that do this business, but the cost needs to be negotiated.

2.4.6 The case of taking the train applies (more in Europe) and will be even more convenient.

2.5 Summary

In general, the most important thing to taking a musical instrument on a vehicle is to ensure the safety of the musical instrument. If the musical instrument is damaged, it is difficult to define who is responsible. Even if it is known that the transportation company is responsible, it is very difficult to pursue responsibility. But don't be nervous, I just explained all the bad situations. According to the method we recommend, it is safe to checked musical instruments in most cases. What we can do is to prevent accidents, especially for expensive musical instruments. Then comes the key: customs. Because once there is a problem with customs clearance, it cannot be solved by canceling the itinerary.

The second upgrade question is whether my musical instrument can pass the customs.

3.1 Customs requirementsChecked

Let me say a word of nonsense first, you can pass it, and you can't pass it too. Prohibited items are definitely not allowed to pass through customs, but how to deal with vague things depends on the mood of the customs staff at that time. Customs: Why did you bring rare shells? You: what? I bought this on the side of the road for $5, it's just a street stall. Customs: No, it is a rare animal, you need to get tested /Okay, I wish you a pleasant journey.

So, it is very clear now, I will explain this matter on three levels: prohibited items/vague regulations/ normal instruments.

3.2 What are prohibited items

First we need to know what is strictly prohibited:

Parts of some precious musical instruments are made using endangered plants and animals, which are not allowed to pass through customs. For musical instruments, common prohibited items are: Brazilian rosewood, Tortoiseshell, Elephant ivory, Pernambuco, Brazilian Wood.
References USDA Office: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/traveler/intl-travel/instruments/musical-instruments
USDA Office

EU regulations:

It is extremely dangerous to pass through any customs with these contraband. If you are stopped, you must provide legal proof. If not, you will be fined/detained/returned/imprisoned. Don't bet on luck (you know what I'm talking about)! This is a gamble with completely unbalanced benefits and risks. How to solve this situation?

3.2.1 The best solution is to replace these accessories. Tortoise shells, ivory, etc. are mostly used for bows. Replacement of parts will not affect the tone, just affect the feel and feeling in the heart; for bows made of Brazilian wood or Pernambuco, it is usually necessary to prepare another familiar bow, the bow made of Asian hematoxylin is fully capable, and the second bow is used for international travel; for the chin rest of rosewood, it can be replaced with ebony, which is classic, durable and risk-free. What are you still hesitating about?

3.2.2 Or apply for a license: FWS, mainly aimed at residents who have settled in the United States, and used for non-commercial purposes to cross the U.S. border multiple times, can be used for contraband and vague items: https://www.fws.gov/service/3-200-88-pre-convention-pre-act-antique-musical-instruments-certificate-cites-mmpa-andor CITES, used for musical instruments containing contraband, is recognized by the customs of various countries (how is the effect, you can search the forum to see the excited saliva): https://cites.org/ ATA, living in the EU, and used to cross the EU border multiple times, suitable for personal and commercial purposes, equivalent to the passport of the goods, can only be used for general goods, no contraband: https://www.ism.org/advice/travelling-abroad-instrument MIC, for residents settled in the UK, entering and exiting the UK border, musical instruments with contraband:
https://musiciansunion.org.uk/working-performing/working-overseas/travelling-with-a-musical-instrument/musical-instruments-made-of-rare-materials/musical-instrument-certificate-mic Other licenses: such as proof that you bought the instrument decades ago, which means that you have owned these instruments before the ban or that they were made before the ban. (Question: How do you think customs inspectors will react when they see a purchase certificate that claims to be decades ago? Cover your face, you may also need to prove that this certificate is real)

fiddlover violin shop

Ok, I hope you are still here. Be sure to cheer up and taste the above words carefully. My grammar may be wrong but the content is not wrong. Different proofs correspond to different situations. And don't forget, all these licenses are based on the condition that the musical instrument has contraband. So, ask again: An American violinist carries an ivory bow from the United States to the European Union, and then goes to the United Kingdom to play, what certificates does he need to bring? Answer: He needs to bring a truckload of proof.

Just kidding, now to continue the topic, summarize:

*If you travel internationally, CITES is a must, and then apply for the certificate of your country according to the policies of each country (so that you can go home).

*Prepare your proof of ownership of the instrument in advance, and the reason you bring the instrument (exhibition? competition? performance? exhibition? gift?).

*license are difficult to obtain.

*There is another method, applying for a temporary entry and exit pass, which can be used as a temporary display of musical instruments, but I personally don’t recommend it, because it only solves the problem of tax exemption, and doesn’t solve the factor of contraband.

For example: American TIB,
EU: https://taxation-customs.ec.europa.eu/customs-4/customs-procedures-import-and-export-0/what-importation/specific-use_en
*Supplement: Some friends mentioned the Lacey Act in the United States, more often the Lacey Act does not target individuals.

3.3 What are vague regulations

Then we come to discuss what are the vague regulations.
First look at the original text of 16 U.S.C 1538 from the United States Code:
United States Code

And a paragraph from EU APHA:


Shellfish are mentioned in both places, and the slightly better bows will be decorated with shells, so are these shells wild? Is it a rare animal? This is again a question for God to decide. If you are stopped by the customs because the bow is inlaid with shells, you will be required to provide a shellfish purchase certificate (FWS), and even a shellfish identification certificate, although you may only spend $50 to buy it in a store. On this point, I think the EU's regulations are more reasonable. If there is no obvious evidence that it is a rare shell, it should be released instead of asking you to prove that it is legal.

One more thing here is paint. All musical instruments contain paint, and there are many ways to make paint. Sometimes the luthier doesn‘t know what elements are in the raw materials he buys, this is the category of chemists. Then the customs will tell you after scanning with precision instruments: your musical instrument contains harmful elements. you:? ? ? ?

When encountering this situation, there is only one solution, and that is to communicate with respect, patience and a smile, and then take out the purchase certificate (or popular science certificate, whatever) prepared in advance, and prove to the customs that it is not what he thinks, you are innocent and just want to take your instrument to visit the loved ones you have to see (you can cry at this time, haha). In short, this situation is negotiable, and whether it can be passed depends on your communication at that time.

3.4 Normal items

The US Customs requires that items carrying more than $800 must be declared; the EU is 430 Euros. If the value of your musical instrument exceeds this standard, should you declare it? If you declare it, it is reasonable and compliant, but you have to pay taxes and even be inspected (repeat the above situation); if you don’t declare it, it is fast and convenient, but sometimes it is inconsistent with insurance services match. So, obviously, if the musical instrument is for your personal use (performing/giving to children), then go through the green channel; if you are doing business (selling) like us, it is best to declare it truthfully.

The latest EU regulations support musicians to take the green channel (but you still have to keep a low profile): https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32013R1076

It is more convenient to bring a normal instrument home, and the proof of purchase in the home country can resist all troubles, or use the famous US 4457 application form: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/clearing-cbp/certificate-registration

Some regulations mention that if the instrument is repaired abroad, the additional cost is subject to tax. Well, if you have to be enthusiastic about explaining to the customs officers how the chin rest is replaced.

Finally, there is another situation of mailing musical instruments, which is different from carrying a violin. The most typical example is mailing expensive violins for competition or sale. This situation does not apply to most people, and it is more complicated. If you are interested, we can communicate by email.

3.5 Summary

*If your instrument contains contraband, the first suggestion is to replace the accessories, and the second suggestion is to prepare all the certificates.

*If the customs has any doubts about the matter, explain it patiently with a smile, and show the prepared certificate.

*If the material of the instrument is not contraband, feel free to come and go as if you were carrying a coat.

*In addition, repeat the protection of the instrument itself: relaxation, reinforcement, shockproof, dustproof, humidifier, contact information.

4 Thoughts on Policy

The thing that is not certain in the customs clearance process is the way the customs officers handle it. Different people have different styles and different understandings of law enforcement. Many friends are complaining: rude law enforcement, ignorant people! Dear friends, although we are also troubled, please understand these law enforcement officers. It is difficult even for music lovers to determine what certain materials are and how much certain instruments are worth, let alone a customs inspector. You can't expect them to have the professionalism of an auction house, your violin is appraised at $801 and you need to pay taxes. What we can do is to produce all the provable materials to assist them to make a ruling in our favor. Another very important aspect is that the customs are faced with a huge workload every day. If these policies open a very small small gap for musical instruments, then the criminals will definitely be the first to focus on this gap. You have to believe that we are just music lovers traveling normally with a normal instrument and everything will be fine. If not, it's not our problem, but the world's problem.

These are some experiences I wrote in my spare time, and there may be omissions. If you want to know anything else, please contact us(Fiddlover Violin Shop) or leave a message. I will do my best to help you.

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