CITES Protected Species Travel Tips

The recent Obama Administration effort to increase restrictions on travel and trade in African Elephant ivory has placed a new focus on long-existing, but largely unimplemented permitting rules for international travel with instruments that contain endangered species material. Those rules are contained in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, otherwise known as CITES (SIGH-tees). It is unclear when U.S. Customs officials will expect instruments crossing borders to be accompanied by permits. Before embarking on the permit process, it is critical to understand as much as possible about the rules and limitations that apply to travel with permits. Following are tips for becoming familiar with these rules.

  1. Know what material is in your instruments. Permits are required for the most highly-protected material found in musical instruments, listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The most common Appendix I species found in musical instruments are Asian elephant ivory, African elephant ivory, sea turtle shell, and Brazilian rosewood. If your instrument does not contain Appendix I material, CITES permits are not required for travel.

    Note that as of the February 25, 2014 U.S.-issued ivory order, most instruments containing African Elephant Ivory may be removed from the U. S., but may not be brought into the U.S., even with permits.

    Bookmark this Resource Page from Fish & Wildlife specifically created for musical instruments.

    See this Overview Fact Sheet on use of plants and wildlife in musical instruments.

    Visit the CITES checklist – an online resource that contains CITES-listed species based on Appendix, country, or other criteria.

  2. Become familiar with the CITES permit process. Applying for the proper permits takes time and should be done well in advance of travel. Until very recently, countries issued only single-use permits for travel with instruments, requiring new, multiple documents for each international trip. A new streamlined process for issuing musical instrument certificates for international travel was accepted by 178 nations at a March 2013 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This “passport” process would allow a single document to be recognized by multiple countries, good for travel for up to three years.  While the new passport process was to go into effect in June 2013, each country is still determining its procedures for issuing and recognizing the new documents, and some still only issue single-use permit. Here in the U.S., the old single-use forms are being used for issuing multi-year passports, while the U.S. attempts to finalize the new passport forms. The passport process is still in its infancy. Note that musicians based outside the U.S. will need to contact their country’s CITES authorities to inquire about permit and passport procedures.

    A single instrument containing animal material (such as ivory or sea turtle shell), or animal or plant material (such as ivory and Brazilian rosewood) uses Permit Application form 3-200-23

    A single instrument containing plant material only (such as Brazilian rosewood) uses Permit Application form 3-200-32

    Traveling groups with cargo that contains multiple instruments with animal and/or plant material use a single permit, called a “traveling exhibition” use Permit application form 3-200-30  (Disregard that the form says it is for “circuses and traveling animal exhibitions!”)

    We’ve assembled this Sample chart showing the required instrument information needed for CITES permit applications

    Start the process by emailing questions to the Division of Management Authority at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

  3. Consider the extremely limited locations for exiting and entering the U.S. with CITES permits. An instrument bearing a CITES permit or passport may only travel through a very limited number of designated ports of entry and exit where U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Department of Agriculture officials are on hand to inspect documents. Unanswered questions about the port process abound, and the policies vary from port to port.  Musicians traveling with CITES permits are strongly encouraged to contact ports in advance. There are just 18 U.S. ports for traveling with animal material (such as ivory or sea turtle shell), 15 ports for traveling with CITES plant material (such as Brazilian Rosewood), and only nine port for traveling with instruments that contain both plant and animal material.  While this limitation is extremely impractical, showing a permit at a non-designated port could be highly problematic and disruptive to travel.

    We have assembled this list of Designated Ports of Entry/Exit for traveling with protected species.

  4. Additional layers of rules may apply country by country. It is extremely important to remember that under the current and newly proposed permitting systems, each country may continue to apply additional permitting requirements for complying with additional layers of domestic endangered species rules. (For instance, here in the U.S., the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act apply.) The U.S.-issued CITES permits or passport may not cover all foreign permitting requirements. If a permit is being used for travel, it is always advisable to contact the CITES authorities of the countries you will visit. Keep in mind that since this process is largely unimplemented, it may be difficult to quickly find the answers you seek.

    Always consult CITES Authorities prior to international travel.

  5. Learn more background and stay tuned for updated information. On May 14, 2013, the League of American Orchestras, in partnership with the American Federation of Musicians, The Recording Academy, and NAMM, hosted a free, interactive webinar featuring experts from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the agency that implements CITES in the United States. Keep in mind that the webinar was created before the recent limitations on re-entry with African elephant ivory. All procedures are in a state of flux. We will be updating resources as new information becomes available.

    Download the free, on-demand webinar with Fish & Wildlife providing an overview of current permitting rules and how to determine whether they apply to your instrument.

    View and save the slide presentation (no audio) of the May 14 webinar.

    For a quick overview of what has led to this point, check out this Summer 2013 Symphony article on the passport process.