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). 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 Asian elephant ivory, 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, monitor lizard (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.

    Note that under a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife order, most instruments containing African Elephant Ivory that were purchased after February 25, 2014 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.

    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 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 allows 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 permits. Here in the U.S., a new form is now in use for issuing multi-year passports. The passport process is still in its infancy.

    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 (also known as a passport) 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 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/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 just 18 U.S. ports for traveling with animal material (such as ivory or sea turtle shell) or both plant and animal material (such as ivory and Brazilian rosewood), and 15 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 is 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. 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 and before the new U.S. musical instrument certificate form 3-200-88 was created. 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.

    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.

The content of the League’s Advocacy & Government webpages is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any subject matter. This website should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.