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EU Provides Clarity Regarding Portable Musical Instruments and Associated ATA Carnet Requirements

The additional information from the EU Commission on touring with portable instruments and supplementary equipment will provide some clarity for MU members.

Published: 04 May 2023 | 4:39 PM Updated: 05 February 2024 | 5:55 PM
Three people sat in an airport with suitcase and an acoustic guitar.
If you should encounter any difficulty when crossing a border with your portable musical instrument, please let us know as soon as possible. Image credit: Shutterstock.

Updated 15 May to include link to revised text in the European Commission's Special Procedures guidance.

This information does not constitute legal or immigration advice. It is accurate at the time of publication but may be subject to change without our prior knowledge. Check with your regional office if you have any concerns.

The key qualifying question being: Can you carry it?

Both UK and the EU authorities have stated that portable musical instruments carried by the traveller are permitted to enter their respective territory, without the need for an ATA Carnet, via the green “nothing to declare” channel.

In the UK, the Government has confirmed that the same applies to supplementary equipment necessary for that instrument to work (e.g. an amplifier or microphone) whilst maintaining that other non-portable equipment (e.g. staging or lighting) requires an ATA Carnet in order to enter. The key qualifying question being: Can you carry it?

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Further clarification on supplementary equipment

Until now EU legislation has only specified ‘portable musical instruments,’ however following enquiries, the EU Commission has now agreed to append the Special Procedures guidance with the following:

‘In the case of accessories such as amplifier or microphone, as these items would be required to make the instrument produce a sound, they would be eligible to temporary admission as ‘musical instruments’ provided such accessories are carried by the traveller together with the musical instrument.’

It has also been clarified that:

‘An instrument carried by a firm in a truck would not be considered portable and therefore require an ATA Carnet.’

PLEASE NOTE: This relates to portable musical instruments that are accompanied by the traveller and carried across the border.

The revised text is available via the European Commission Special Procedures document on page 54.

Response and feedback

Thomas Dayan, Deputy General Secretary at the Federation of International Musicians (FIM) says:

"Mobility and cultural exchange across the channel is vital for musicians and audiences. Following the disturbance caused by Brexit and Covid-19, it is time for the UK and the EU to roll up their sleeves and lift any obstacles to musicians' mobility. This small step forward, shows that UK musicians are welcome in the EU countries and vice versa. We appreciate this effort, but we'll remain vigilant. "

MU member and founder of ukeartswork, Ian Smith says:

“This in very real terms is great news and thanks to Dave at the MU for navigating this clarification. It’s a game changer for smaller bands and musicians who do not have the budget to pay for a carnet, when in fact they're only taking over an instrument or two and an amp/mike.”

Dave Webster, MU Head of International says:

“We are grateful to FIM for their assistance in this matter and to the EU for providing this useful clarification. We are very pleased that this will provide some clarity for our members”.

The MU and FIM see this clarification as a step in the right direction for small sized groups and individual musicians, travelling with just their instruments and associated equipment carried by hand. They also reasonably believe such an exemption should apply to musical instruments and accessories carried in personal vehicles. However, since the SPE Guidance remains silent on this point, it remains subject to the interpretation of national customs authorities and therefore cannot be relied upon.

Further advice

If you are unsure or are taking more equipment than can be carried, then the advice remains to obtain an ATA Carnet before travelling. The MU has negotiated preferential rates with several Carnet providers for its members.

When travelling, musicians are advised to carry copies of engagement contracts, proof of ownership of instruments and accessories and to ensure they accompany their own instruments at all border crossing points. Comprehensive advice from the MU regarding working in the EU can be found via our dedicated information page.

If you should encounter any difficulty when crossing a border with your portable musical instrument, please let us know as soon as possible.

The Musicians’ Union and FIM are grateful to DG Taxud in the EU Commission for their assistance in providing this important clarification.

FIM logo with the letters FIM in blue over a white background, a gold star sits over the I.