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Latest advice: instruments may have to go through RED channel in all EU airports

We have received the following advisory from a leading touring agency:

We have been informed by the German customs that it is necessary to declare instruments brought into Germany for professional use even if travelling within the EU. The RED channel must be taken at all times.

We are also informed that this is actually a law that applies to the entire EU even if it hasn’t been enforced recently.

If the wrong exit is taken the instrument is subject to seizure.

Here is a useful translation of the German diktat, made by one of our readers:


The Commissioner of the Federal Government for Culture and Media

Re: Customs Procedures during the International Arrival and Departure with valuable Instruments
Information for legal behaviour with Instruments carried as Luggage

Concerning; Instrument confiscations by Customs in August 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In August 2012, as a result of random checks at a German Airport, Customs officials (temporarily) confiscated 2 historical musical instruments. Two professional musicians had, rather than walking through the red gate for wares to be declared, walked through the green gate for wares that needn’t be declared, with their instruments. With the choice of the wrong gate, they had violated Customs regulations.

The Federal Finance Ministry reminds, once again, that professional musicians should always declare the instruments in their luggage in the red channel. The green channel may, regardless of the value of the wares, only be used with objects that do not have a commercial use. This does not include objects that are used in the perusal of a profession, and is why these Musicians were obliged to have used the red exit. In both cases it was possible to achieve a belated registration of the instruments after documents had been presented later.

Since the question of instrument transportation plays a role in pursuit of your profession, I would beg to indicate with the following suggestions for your behaviour in Customs s and hope, with your support, to prevent the occurrence of similar cases.

Professionally used objects are, on arrival in the Federal Republic of Germany, always to be brought through the red exit for goods to declare, even when all (still necessary) documents proving the freedom from Customs and the legality of the bringing into the Federal Republic are carried with the instrument. To speed the process of bringing professionally used instruments, and avoid the necessity to prove the customs freedom and legality of use in the EU, musicians can apply for a so called “Carnet ATA” for their instrument. With this document, one can enter, exit or travel through with the item of cultural or scientific use, and document the customs status with simplicity. The “Carnet ATA” is valid in all countries that are signatories to the ATA-Treaty. In Germany it is issued by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. More exact information is to be found on the web site of the Customs (link) or by googleing “zoll carnet ata”.

As a further information, I would like to direct your attention to a Online-Handbook from the International Theatre Institute, together with the International Society of Visual Art. The Online Portal is programmed to be opened by Secretary of State for Culture, Neumann on 18th April 2013, and will contain further interesting information

With friendly Greetings
Martin Eifler


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  1. Well, that’s what I always said. Neither is this a German issue only, nor is it about high-handed customs officers. The point is rather that according to European law, all goods of certain value (including instruments) have to be declared, but this has apparently not always been enforced. (By the way: I suppose this is more or less the same in the rest of the civilised world.)

    If you are unhappy with this, blame the lawmakers, but not the customs officers, who simply do their job.

    Hoping for laws not to be enforced is never a good idea. This is rather what opens the door for arbitrariness.

    • Couldn’t agree more. When I show up at a country’s border, I want to know exactly what is going on, what documentation I need, what procedures are necessary if I want to bring stuff in. I don’t want a customs officer to kind of make up the rules depending on how he feels that day.

  2. Nandor Szederkenyi says:

    I had previously addressed this issue and made further inquiries:
    In Austria, the maximum value of a Carnet ATA is 5000 Euros. If travelling in a group, the value may be higher.

    However the more complicated issue is the value of a stringed instrument – generally these instruments are not purchased in a store, receiving a bill of sale, to be declared for taxes and insurance. One can go to a dealer, who may or may not be trusted, (see the report on, probably one of many similar dealers). Old instruments may have a genealogy with papers attesting the heritage, however this too changes with research.

    Another alternative is to find a private person, where a price is negotiated -see – here too see
    Or instruments are handed down in the family, found at flea markets, and later are identified as valuable instruments – Would the price paid be sufficient for the tax authorities? Therefore the value of an instrument is estimated by comparing prices at recent auctions, but since the violin is a unique piece of fine craftsmanship, one will never find another with identical characteristics, so a price can only be set approximately. It would furthermore be impossible to get an up-to-date valuation before every trip, aside from the cost of such a valuation.

    It is a very complex issue, and a suitable resolution would be in the interest of travelling musicians.

    • I don’t think it really is all that complex. If you have a valuable string instrument, just go to a reputable dealer or luthier and have the instrument appraised. I am sure that kind of documentation will satisfy any customs agency. Besides, if you have a valuable instrument, you will very likely want to get insurance for it, especially when you travel around with it a lot. In that case, you have to have the instrument appraised or document its purchase price anyway. I don’t see why this is such a big deal.

      • Miles Golding says:

        “Reputable dealer” in whose opinion? One’s own? The German customs officer? The manager of the touring group who has had to collate and vouch to the customs officer every valuation certificate of every instrument in the band? Anyone can mug up a fancy-looking certificate of authenticity in MS publisher or Photoshop or something. The EU will be looking for something more watertight than that.

        Stand by for EU legislation that requires instrument dealers to be appraised and licensed for accurate and honest valuation, and to register with the Home Office, or equivalent, and for such an approved dealers list to be the only list that Klaus in the Red Channel may consult. Guess who’ll carry the cost.

        • Seeing how much damage can be done by a “reputable” dealer who abuses that good reputation and his clients’ trust, as in the Machold case, that is probably not a bad idea at all. I don’t know how regulated that currently is when it comes to musical instruments. Probably very different from country to country.

          For instance, in the US, in order to be considered a professional and reputable art appraiser, one has to be a member of one of three appraisal organizations which also control their members, and there is a standard test they have to take to show they know what they are doing and they understand common appraisal standards. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

  3. José Bergher says:

    I hope the portal to be opened in April 2013 by His Excellency the Honorable Secretary of State for Culture contains sufficient footnotes. I further hope said footnotes contain sufficient footnotes.

    • Why do you blame the messenger?

      • José Bergher says:

        Dear Simon, I forgot to add I also expect commentaries and flowcharts; footnotes are very dull. And I’m not blaming neither the messenger nor the author of the message.

        • Well, you’re obviously angry with the Minister of Culture, who is not at all responsible for any customs regulations.

          And I think we’d all have better discussions here if everybody (including Norman) avoided insisting on negative national clichés.

          • José Bergher says:

            Dear Simon, I happen not to be angry at anybody. And, as a matter of fact, I hold the Minister of State for Culture in the highest esteem. He’s one of the kindest, most sensitive, warm-hearted human beings who ever graced Europe and probably the rest of the world.

          • Er, Simon, I think maybe José is making fun of the EU bureaucracy (since this is, in fact, an EU rule).

          • Oh, don’t be daft. There are only a handful – not even – of occasions to which you refer, which is nothing compared to the volume of goods going in and out of the country daily.
            Why would you expect to know when a German has their instrument seized anyway? Just because something isn’t reported on this blog or mentioned to you hardly means it hasn’t happened.
            If the rules are as stated, then the seizures are probably not illegal either.

  4. Wow, what a shock! So this is not something the evil Germans came up with randomly, but an existing EU regulation. Like pretty much everything that has to do with Eu borders and customs is not something individual countries regulate randomly, but that the EU standardizes.

    Norman – I love how you still manage to give it an anti-German spin by calling it a “diktat” even though the text doesn’t impose any new rules, it merely explains them, and the rules aren’t even German, they are EU regulations.

    One minor correction to the translation: it doesn’t say google “zoll carnet ATA” but to enter the search terms on the website. One minor addition: the link to that online portal that will be available in April is

  5. Since the letter I translated above is addressed to the Fedral Concert Directors Assn., it is obvious that it is directed at professional musicians and is a polite appeal to them to adhere to the rules, that have applied for years, to avoid unneccesary unpleasant situations. Since it wasn`t directed at amatuers/tourists it is unsurprising that they are not mentioned. In so far, it merely describes the long standing status quo in the EU (not just Germany).

  6. Nandor Szederkenyi says:

    It seems that an important point is being ignored…

    This is not about Germans, messengers, customs officers, EU bureaucrats, or whoever, it is about travelling musicians. There is a need for a resolution for this indeed complex issue instead of arguments and useless suggestions, including the carnet, because none of them work.

  7. José Bergher says:

    Very soon my great-grand-uncle will be traveling to Switzerand, Germany, Austria, England, France, and Belgium (possibly Holland also). I have no reason to worry. He’ll be carrying with him a diatonic harmonica made by Stradivarius (Michelangelo Jones Stradivarius, of Brooklyn, N.Y.) and a hurdy-gurdy that is a rare specimen anywhere in the Western Hemisphere and, therefore, a very expensive example of the work of Maledetto Guarnerius of Ottawa, Canada (Maledetto is the late Benedetto Guarnerius’ first-cousin). Both instruments are always accompanied by the respective, stamped wrapping papers, bills of sale, and amazingly authentic photographs of my beloved relative performing solo on each of the instruments and also duos on both simultaneously in front of customs officers who appear to listen in deep reverence, admiration, and silence.

  8. Here is what Zoll sent me.

    below please find some guidelines for the (temporary) import of music instruments into the EU/Germany. For you the first section applies.
    During the customs declaration the travelers may be asked to show their instruments (e.g. to open the violin case). But the instruments will not be improperly handled by the officers.

    Instruments for professional use:
    The instruments can be imported under the procedure of temporary admission, free of import duties.

    The temporary admission may be used by residents from outside the EU, who return with their instruments to a place outside the EU; citizenship is not relevant.

    You (or a representative) may declare the goods for “temporary admission” according to articles 569 of Regulation (EEC) No. 2454/93. You have two options.

    Temporary admission by oral declaration
    Usually, the declaration for portable professional equipment can be made orally when passing the RED exit at the airport.
    In addition you should provide an informal document stating the following information:

    a) name and adress
    b) usage of the instruments during stay
    c) customary and/or technical labeling of the instrument,
    d) suggested way of proper identification (e.g. pictures, serial numbers) of the instrument,
    d) timelimit of re-export,
    e) suggested office fort he re-export (airport for return trip),
    f) place of usage during stay,
    g) suggested requirements for transportation (violin case)

    Nevertheless the customs office MAY ask for a written declaration (form 0747) and a deposit equivalent to the potential duty and tax (for a violin: 3.2% duty plus 19% import VAT).

    Temporary admission with formal declaration (ATA carnet)
    For the import and export declaration you may use an ATA carnet issued by an association in the third country you are coming from. The associations that issue ATA carnets and their costs may be found on No additional deposit is necessary.

    An ATA carnet is the easiest way to apply for temporary admission.
    But you may also apply for it with a Single Administrative Document (SAD; Form 0747), which also has to state place and period of use in Germany. A deposit is obligatory (equivalent to the potential amount of import duty and tax on the imported goods).
    When re-exporting the items you need an electronic export declaration (e.g. on and the “Verwendungsschein” (Form 0790, issued at import).
    Please note: These imort and export declarations are to be made in German.

    You may use photos of the picture for identification purposes if no other identification is suitable (like customs seals) when using an ATA carnet or when using the SAD to apply for temporary admission.

    Instruments for private use/ no professional use/ holidays etc.
    Travellers, who have their normal place of residence outside the European Union, may import their personal belongings -including musical instruments- in temporary admission, i.e. free of duty and tax. Of course the goods have to be re-exported.

    Normally the declaration may be made by just passing the green exit at the airport. Nevertheless the customs office MAY ask for a written declaration (form 0747) and a deposit equivalent to the potential duty and tax (for a violin: 3.2% duty plus 19% import VAT).

    Traveling within the EU:
    Within the European Union there are no customs checks. So neither a declaration in the red exit nor an ATA carnet is necessary.

    Coming from abroad as an EU resident with an (abroad) bought instrument:
    If somebody is or becomes resident of the EU, they have to declare the instrument in the red exit and usually pay duty and tax.

    There are exemptions for
    - scholastic material (e.g. students at a music academy in the EU),
    - miltary personnel
    - persons changing their place of residence (see

    Please note:
    There’s also an exemption for returned goods (goods from the EU which have been outside for less than 3 years and have not been changed)

    For legal reasons this information can only be given to the best of our knowledge and is non-binding.

    Yours sincerely


    Informations- und Wissensmanagement Zoll
    (Information and Knowledge Management section of the German customs administration)
    Central information unit
    Carusufer 3-5
    01099 Dresden

    Enquiries in English:
    Tel.: 0351/44834-530
    Fax: 0351/44834-590

    • How will this affect not only single musicians and casual travel with an instrument, but larger touring ensembles like orchestras?…….

      • Lord Montague says:

        It WILL not affect them, it HAS affected them… for decades…
        Orchestras on tours (abroad from customs POV) have all their instruments declared, carnets, pictures taken for insurance etc. etc.

        Only the single individual musician was given a lax treatment in the past, while ALL other professions always had to declare their tools. This special treatment for musicians seems to be coming to an end apparently.

  9. In Russia they have a passport for instruments, an official and standard document stamped by the Ministry of Culture. Russian players crossing the Russian border get this stamped at the red channel going in and out. Wouldnt this be an option internationally? Its similar to a carnet, but its compact and includes all info about the instrument like photo’s, value, owner and space for stamping. It is also valid for a long time.

    • Lord Montague says:

      Perfect idea but too easy and very irresponsible socially. It would kill a lot of jobs in government custom agencies all over the EU.

      [irony off]

  10. Ah! So I suppose I now ought to start going through the red channel and declaring my Throat, especially as it is now ageing and becoming almost antique! :-)

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