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Latest advice to musicians from German Customs. Even more confusing.

One of our readers, Boris Kupesic, sought clarification from Zoll headquarters about what he should do when carrying a musical instrument into Germany. Here’s what he was told. 

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

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

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
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
Central information unit
Carusufer 3-5
01099 Dresden

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

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  1. Quote: “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.”

    This is the key phrase from my own personal point of view. The previous document made it seem that even musicians travelling within the EU would have to go through all this palaver, but the above statement would appear to be 100% clear. If one is a pro musician travelling on a flight from London to Berlin, there would be absolutely no problems in transporting one’s instruments. In fact given the regulations on freedom to travel/work etc within the EU, surely it would be illegal anyway if one is an EU citizen.

    Obviously this doesn’t help those coming from outside the EU…

  2. Doesn’t look all that complicated to me, Get a carnet or fill out one of those forms, 0747 or 0790, whichever applies to the situation. And when you travel within the EU, none of the above is required. Could it be simpler? I think people in the EU easily forget that the great freedom of travel within the EU and how easy it is to live and work in any member state, back and forth across more than two dozen countries, is something which is pretty unique anywhere in the world. Just go from the US to Canada and back to see what I mean. So I don’t think it’s such a drama that people who want to enter the EU with valuable instruments or equipment have to comply with some basic formalities in order to gain exemption from import duty.

  3. I assume that German customs rules would apply only if one were entering the EU at a German point of entry. Is there any problem with instruments when arriving in, say, France or other EU country and then proceeding to Germany?

  4. I dread to imagine that nightmare scenario where one would in fact, have to pay a deposit equivalent to the potential tax and duty, even though it would be refundable, or how that would complicate travel and raise its cost to a prohibitive level. Oy vey. (For example, would a foreign string quartet with instruments valued at, say $2 million, be subject to a withholding of $450,000?- in effect, an interest-free loan to the impoverished German government? Given the appreciation in the market value of instruments, and the values which are declared for insurance purposes, $2 million could well be a very low customs valuation for some chamber groups.)

    One wonders it this could be, in part, a response to Machold’s machinations- it was, after all, a high profile case and one could visualize any number of shady instrument dealers and/or instrument thieves (and there are so many of both types) using a “mule” posing as a player, to smuggle illicit “goods”. Yet, if these deposit provisions were enforced, even just once, it could have a chilling effect on foreign artists wishing to perform in Germany; alternatively, might it be a way to exclude foreign “competition” (something the British are already doing administratively)? How would one handle it? Could it result in a renaissance in the insurance industry and the creation of a new product, for example, a new type of bail bond for Mr. Cello?

    Like the fear that under every neighborhood mushroom there dwells “a sleeper elf” ready to detonate its little abode into an atomic cloud- something that our nutty leaders so often cite to rally support for their endless “war on terra”, or for locking up some unsuspecting schlemazel- who knows when some nutty customs agent, or worse, the whole nutty customs office will decide to clamp down and force an unsuspecting fiddle player to cancel a trip and concert.

    So, my untutored sense is that the player should be prepared to present documentation from the host theatre or organization, preferably notarized, and also some documentation proving title to the instruments, i.e., to validate the purpose of the travel, the traveler’s ownership rights and the reason for importing the instruments- a simple but complete explanation and package; and, maybe, it would be a good idea to work from a checklist based on the information provided by German customs and the travel agencies (i.e., what you have included above and in your previous posts concerning this problem) to cover all bases.

    Norman- do you think one of your readers might be interested in creating such a checklist, and also a generic/pro forma letter in German and English that the host organization could provide in advance to musicians traveling to Germany, leaving blank spaces for the specifics? Or is this overkill?

    This is why I appreciate this blog. You not only provide useful information about the trade, and interact in a positive way with your readers- it’s a great group of professionals (young and old, and well established or not), students, and amateurs, including those of us who are aging kibitzers- you go to great pains to solve real life problems that your readers might be facing. (Could it be that your mother always wanted you to be a doctor?)

    • In general when transporting – say – expensive equipment, you will find that there are organisations who will put up the “bond” (or promise to do so, and if they are large and respectable enough that suffices). For example, the London Chamber of Commerce offers this service to its members.
      Seems reasonable that the Musicians’ Union in the UK, and similar bodies elsewhere, might offer to take up this function, if they don’t already.

  5. Nandor Szederkenyi says:

    It seems that none of the commentators of this blog have had any personal experience yet. I still read that to get a carnet is so simple, however for a private person the limit is 5000 Euros, and we are talking about much more valuable instruments.

    Recently I was on tour in Japan with a group of musicians, and at the same time there were at least five other similar groups, where the tours were set up by private organizations. Therefore a carnet for a group was not applicable. Imagine 100 players having to go through the process, possibly having to pay a deposit that is much higher than what they earn in several months.

    There is also no mention of a procedure for EU residents returning from abroad.

    • Eh? I think you will find that any large organised group of players – e.g. a Symphony Orchestra – DOES go through this process when they go on tour; and have done so for years.

  6. Nandor Szederkenyi says:

    Sorry, I’ve been a member of a number of touring groups from Vienna, that are not “full-time” orchestras, just a group of free-lance musicians calling themselves an orchestra, where the group carnet registering instruments is definitely not an option. Each player is responsible for themeselves.

  7. Much appreciated that persons with experience have commented. (I’ll sleep better at night and not worry about having to bring my Tyrolean fiberglass Gibson or the balsa wood model, instead of the Goffriller.)

    • What’s a Tyrolean fiberglass Gibson?

      • It’s a metaphor for the cheap substitute for the Goffriller or other valuable instrument that could, under the nightmare scenario, make a German gig unaffordable. (I’ve seen an instance of a dealer discrediting the provenance of a great Italian instrument and destroying its value by referring to it as Tyrolean.)
        FIberglass? Well, fiberglass is fiberglass, and maybe some guitars are made of fiberglass.
        Gibson? a guitar that any self respecting teenager from the 70′s had to have.
        Balsa wood? What drones should be made of so that they could decompose in space before descending below 10,000 feet.
        Model? what any self respecting octagenarian lusts after.
        Goffriller? Matteo of course, and the gold standard of cellos- apologies to Francesco G, Stradivarius, Guarnerius (though I don’t think there are any known del Gesus, so maybe that is ok if we insult the relatives),
        and the Amati family (Rose had a great Amati, but his Goffriller, if you hear his earlier recordings was something else).

  8. And how do you think the “pen-pushing nutcases with an inflated sense of their own importance” would carry out random customs checks if there are no customs checkpoints that one has to go through while traveling within the EU?

  9. Nonsense. Inner-EU customs checks are still completely legal. Just the rigid border regimes were abolished but in the same time customs authority extended. They can check anyone anywhere now.

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