CITES Protected Species Travel Tips

UPDATED August 28, 2019

Efforts to increase restrictions on travel and trade in African Elephant ivory and other endangered animal and plant species 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). 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, and certain materials listed in Appendix II. While the most common Appendix I species found in musical instruments are African elephant ivory, sea turtle shell, and Brazilian rosewood, it is important to be aware of any plant or animal material an instrument may contain. For instance, Asian elephant ivory, monitor lizard (listed in Appendix II until exemptions go into effect in late-November), and rosewood from countries other than Brazil (listed in Appendix II) and whale bone may be found in certain bows. If your instrument does not contain covered material, CITES permits are not required for travel.

    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.

    As of January 2, 2017, new CITES requirements applied to all species of dalbergia (also known as rosewood) that is not Brazilian rosewood. A great many woodwinds and stringed instruments contain Indian rosewood and other rosewood species. December 21, 2017, CITES issued a notification clarifying the terms of exemptions from permits, which essentially enable musical instruments being shipped for performances to be exempt from permitting, as long as the quantity of non-Brazilian rosewood in each instrument weighs less than 10kg. (Most marimbas, for instance, would exceed this limit.) Noncommercial travel includes international travel for concerts with a paying audience. On April 6, 2018  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Q&A was updated to reflect this change (see page 3) and includes detailed background on travel with musical instruments (see page 22)." Guidance issued by the European Union confirms that the EU will likewise implement these exemptions. At CITES treaty negotiations that concluded on August 28, 2019, the 183 Parties to the Convention agreed by consensus to remove permit requirements for both commercial and noncommercial movement of finished musical instruments, parts, and accessories made from non-Brazilian rosewood. For touring orchestras, this means that larger items, like xylophones, may now travel on tour without a CITES permit. The exemption will become available 90 days after adoption. Until late November, permits will still be required. Note that musical instruments containing Brazilian rosewood will continue to require CITES permits for noncommercial travel.

    In addition to species protected by CITES, it is important to consider the additional rules for species protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

    Instrument makers and appraisers may help with the identification process.  Differentiating types of ivory can be difficult.  Here is some deep background on this topic from the Fish & Wildlife Forensics Lab.

  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 relatively recently, countries issued only single-use permits for travel with instruments, requiring new, multiple documents for each international trip. A 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 allows a single document to be recognized by multiple countries, good for travel for up to three years.  While the passport process was to go into effect in June 2013, each country adopts its own procedures for issuing and recognizing the documents, and some still only issue single-use permits. Here in the U.S., a specific form is now in use for issuing multi-year passports.

    Important note: Musicians who do not have a primary residence in the U.S. must apply to their home country for a multi-use passport. Musicians based outside the U.S. will need to contact their country’s CITES authorities to inquire about permit and passport procedures, and may need to obtain single-use permits if a multi-use permit process is not available. Foreign-based musicians should also note that CITES permits issued outside the U.S. may not comply with additional U.S. domestic rules related to protected species policies.

    U.S.-Issued Multi-Use Musical Instrument Certificates:

    A musical instrument certificate good for up to three years will allow musicians to meet the CITES requirements for travel through multiple countries.  To qualify, a musician or group must have a primary residence in the U.S.  The application fee is $75 per application.  The estimated timeframe for processing an application is 60-90 days.  In the case that instrumentation changes after a group certificate has been issued, amendments to group certificates are available with an added $75 fee per amendment request. 

    Applications for single or multiple instruments traveling as a unit (such as in cargo), containing plant and/or animal material use the form 3-200-88.

    We’ve assembled this Sample chart showing the required instrument information needed for CITES permit applications for groups of instruments. Applicants should expand the columns in the chart as needed to include all covered species.

    Note that a musical instrument may only be included in one CITES permit at a time.  So, for instance, if a musician’s instrument is included on a group permit, that permit must be returned to USFWS for voiding before the musician’s instrument may be included on a subsequent individual or group permit.

    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. .

    U.S.-Issued Single-Use Permits:

    Those unable to apply for the three-year passport may still make use of the single-use permit forms.  This may be required, for instance, for foreign-based musicians that are not able to obtain a multi-use permit from their home country.

    A single instrument containing animal material (such as ivory or sea turtle shell), or animal and 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 may use a single permit, called a “traveling exhibition” permit, using Permit application form 3-200-30 (Disregard that the form says it is for “circuses and traveling animal exhibitions!”)

  3. Consider the 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/or Department of Agriculture officials are on hand to inspect and credential 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 18 U.S. ports for traveling with animal material (such as African elephant ivory or sea turtle shell) or both plant and animal material (such as African elephant ivory and Brazilian rosewood), and 31 ports for traveling exclusively with CITES plant material (such as Brazilian rosewood). While this limitation is challenging, 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.

    Declaration Form and Procedures for Wildlife Material

    Fees and Inspection Overtime Charges

  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.

    Note that certain countries may allow musicians to travel without CITES permits if their instrument contains a species listed in Appendix II and is checked in luggage, or hand-carried as a “personal effect.” At present, exemptions from the CITES process are not available for cargo.

    Always consult CITES Authorities prior to international travel.

  5. Learn more background and stay tuned for updated information. The League and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon host a webinar, describing improvements to the musical instrument permit process that were adopted by the 18th Conference of the Parties to CITES on August 28, 2019. On December 7, 2016, the League of American Orchestras, in partnership with the American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, Carnegie Hall, Chamber Music America, 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. 

    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 December 7 webinar. Review the Q&A from Fish & Wildlife related to new rosewood rules updated on April 6, 2018. 

    For a quick overview of of developments that lead to implementation of the CITES Musical Instrument Certificate, check out this Summer 2013 Symphony article on the permit process.

    For a comprehensive overview of how the League and the international music community prepare to improve CITES policies in the most recent round of treaty negotiations, see the Spring 2018 Symphony article, "Conserving Endangered Woods, Advocating for Orchestras and Musicians."

    Stay informed of the League’s ongoing efforts to improve policies for travel with musical instruments by checking out our overview of the latest policy developments.



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