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MIC and Border Crossing Explained: Webinar Recordings and Q&As

The Animal Plant Health Authority (APHA) and UK Border Force joined forces with the MU and held a webinar in March 2021 to explain the latest guidance on MIC, and how to travel with musical instruments containing CITES-listed controlled endangered species.

Last updated: 12 July 2021

The Animal Plant Health Authority (APHA) and UK Border Force joined forces with the MU and held a webinar in March 2021. Rewatch the webinars and read through questions and answers from webinar participants.

Webinar on the MIC's purpose, use and how to make an application

Musical Instrument Certificates (MIC) enable unlimited travel with your musical instrument containing CITES listed controlled endangered species, across country customs borders without the need to apply each time for separate import & export certificates. They are valid for 3 years. CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

This presentation was produced with APHA and Border Force and introduces the new guidance.

Watch the recording

Webinar on the practical considerations of travel and designated ports of entry

This presentation provides practical advice from UK Border Force on how to travel with your musical instrument containing CITES-listed controlled endangered species, and on how to present your MIC to customs at country borders including the mandatory designated ports of entry that must be used to enter or leave the UK. 

Further details about designated ports of entry for moving CITES-listed specimens through UK ports and airports can be found on gov.uk website.

Watch the recording

Questions and answers from the webinars

Questions and answers from webinar participants have been recorded as written questions and answers.

General questions

What is the cost of obtaining an MIC?

As of March 2021 there is no charge for an MIC.  Fees are likely to be applied from April 2022.  So it’s advantageous to apply and obtain your MIC beforehand.

How long does an MIC last for and how many times can it be used to cross borders?

It is valid for 3 years from the date of issue.  There is no limit to the number of border crossings in the 3 year period.

Which countries is it valid in?

An MIC should be recognised by all 183 CITES signatory countries.  A list can be viewed here: List of Contracting Parties | CITES . See also this question. Always check with the country that you are travelling to will accept a MIC, and for information on customs procedure when you get there.

How do I apply for the Musical Instrument Certificate (MIC)?

Please follow the guidance note on how to apply for the MIC. You may also find it helpful to watch the narrated presentation on the how to complete an MIC application form.

How long does it take to get an MIC?

If all the information requested in the application form is supplied, then most applications are processed within 30 days.

What items need a MIC? Are there any 'grey' areas?

An MIC is required for any musical instrument that contains a CITES listed species of plant, animal or a derivative from them included on the CITES list and designated Appendix A, B or C or EU Annex I, II or III, that does not have an exemption when used in a finished instrument. Learn more

There are no grey areas, a species is either CITES listed or not. So it’s important that you are certain of the scientific name(s) of the species of plants or animals and any derivatives from them, contained in the instrument. You can research scientific species names on the internet and check if they are included on the CITES list by searching for them on the Species plus website. See also this question and this on researching species.

Does one MIC cover multiple items?

No, one MIC is issued per instrument. If you wish to travel frequently with many instruments that you personally own, you could instead apply for a Travelling Exhibition Certificate (TEC). This is normally used by orchestras or bands that transport all their instruments together, but it could be used by an individual travelling with several instruments. But having a separate MIC for each instrument would allow maximum flexibility when making frequent trips, especially if taking different instrument combinations each time. TEC’s also last for 3 years and are also free of charge as of March 2021. But applicant for a TEC must own all of the instruments its lists, it cannot list multiple owners.

Do you need a MIC if you hold an EU passport?

Yes, CITES regulations are worldwide, it does not matter what type of passport you have you will need an MIC if your instrument contains a CITES listed species as defined in this question if you wish to travel in and out of the EU/Northern Ireland/ rest of the world.

If you are resident in the EU then you would not require an MIC or normal CITES Import/export permits to move your instrument between EU member states as there is free movement within the EU.

Do I need a MIC to move my instrument just between the EU member states?

No, if you are resident in the EU you can move your instrument between EU member states without an MIC.  If you leave the EU you will require either an MIC or normal Export/Import permits. If you live in the EU you would apply to the CITES management Authority in the EU member state that you are resident in for your MIC. You cannot apply to the UK CITES management authority for an MIC if you do not live in the UK and have a UK address.

The MIC allows you to export or import your instrument to and from the UK. Do you need separate import or export certificates to enter and leave the country you are travelling to?

An MIC will enable you to travel with your instrument across any of the borders of the 183 countries that are signatories to CITES.  So if you have an MIC no additional Import/export or re-export permits are required for movement between these countries’ worldwide. See also this question.

I am travelling with multiple instruments due to sharing instruments across the company and using instruments for workshops, how do I manage this?

As in this question above and here, you can apply for an individual MIC for each instrument or providing that you own all of the instruments, you can apply for a Travelling Exhibition Certificate (TEC), which is also valid for 3 yrs.  This could be useful if travelling with a large number of instruments, all together. But individual MIC’s maybe more flexible if all the instruments listed, are not transported together at the same time, or where they are owned by different people or organisations.

What materials need the certificate? Is that any part of the instrument, however much or little used?

As in this question above, no distinction is made in regards to the part of the instrument, how much it is used or in the quantity of a CITES listed specimen contained within the instrument.

I am transporting a high value instrument (Stradivarius violin) which has a bow with tortoiseshell frog, how do I know if its CITES listed?

Before travelling we recommend that you determine the scientific species name of the tortoiseshell used to see if it is CITES listed. If it is listed, you will require an MIC.

The tortoiseshell component may be too small to identify to species level and most of the tortoise/turtle family are listed on CITES Appendix I or II. If you are not able to identify the species, you can apply for a MIC with the species name Cheloniidae spp or Testudunidae spp.

High value rare instruments tend to come with good provenance and details of the materials used have often been researched and included in an insurance valuation description, or in auction sale descriptions.  You can attach these to your MIC application if a species name is shown as technical evidence, or obtain a letter from a specialist music shop confirming the species used. 

If you have evidence of this type confirming that the tortoiseshell used is not a CITES listed species, then you will not need an MIC.  If this is the case, we recommended that you travel with this so that you can demonstrate this to customs, if asked when crossing borders.

Do older instruments which may contain rare hardwoods, need an MIC?

Yes, if the species of wood in the instrument is CITES listed and does not carry an exemption when used in a ‘finished musical instrument’, the age of the instrument is irrelevant.  Brand new instruments would also require CITES paperwork if they contain CITES listed species.

I had my ivory bow tip replaced by a plastic one, however, it looks exactly like ivory. How can a border agent make the difference?

To avoid difficulties we suggest you carry the paperwork confirming replacement with the instrument as evidence.

What happens if I do not know the answer to various questions relating to the composition of my instrument?

An MIC cannot be issued without the scientific species name of the listed species being included on the certificate. You may need to do some research on the internet to determine this.  You can ask the opinion of a specialist retailer and get this in writing, the original manufacturer, or even a current musical instrument manufacturer or dealer in hardwoods, as they will be used to working with and identifying species of wood.  Some instruments have serial numbers and well known manufacturers, especially if still operating can trace exactly, the materials used and date of manufacture.

Species and instrument specific questions

I have a bow with some mother of pearl in the frog, is this CITES listed?

Mother of Pearl (MoP) can be used to refer to the white inlay of any shell, however the UK interpretation of CITES is that controls only apply to MoP known to have come from a CITES listed species. The MU advises that the usual sources of MoP used in musical instruments are not from CITES-listed species. Moreover, MoP pieces used on musical instruments are often too small to identify. As such, unless there is specific evidence to suggest the MoP in an instrument derives from a CITES-listed species, MoP can be considered outside CITES controls as interpreted by the UK.

Do you have any information on ‘Tone Wood’?

Tone wood is not a CITES recognised species name. Research on the internet suggests this refers to hardwoods used in instruments, since density qualities affect tonal sound – for example, our internet search found this specialist website, just one of many. All CITES listed species can be found on the Species Plus website Species+ (speciesplus.net)

Do you have any specific information on Wooden Clarinets?

You need to determine the wood species used. A search on the internet shows for example, that Clarinets have often been made from African blackwood/granadilla/Mpingo/ - Dalbergia melanoxylon (but there are other species too).  This is CITES listed but no CITES permits are required for all of the Dalbergia Spp. (Appendix II), species, when used in a finished musical instrument. Except Dalbergia nigra (Appendix I, Annex A), for which CITES documents are required.  You can do some internet research for instance, searching for ‘African blackwood’, and or then use Species plus e.g. our search for African Blackwood came up with this webpage, which referred to its scientific name Dalbergia melanoxylon we then found it on Species plus.

If you know the manufacturer of the instrument, check their website and contact them to ask what materials are used.

Do I need a MIC for an instrument containing Mammoth Ivory?

No, but we recommend you carry evidence with you that it is Mammoth ivory in case you are challenged. Extinct species are not listed on CITES.

How do I tell the difference between mammoth and elephant ivory?

Only an expert, or the manufacturer that sourced the ivory could tell you for certain.

My Bass bow is made of pernambuco wood and the tip is Mammoth Ivory, so do I need to apply for an MIC for the bow stick?

Pernambuco wood or Brazil Wood is CITES listed Paubrasilia echinata Appendix II. Annex B.  The Species Plus website notes that the listing includes: Logs, sawn wood, veneer sheets, including unfinished wood articles used for the fabrication of bows for stringed musical instruments.  So as the instrument is a finished article no CITES paperwork is required.

Do leather valves in an accordion need a CITES certificate?

As in this question aboveyou need to determine the scientific name of the species to see if the species is CITES listed.

I play ethnic instruments such as sitar, tablas, and various percussion drums which use vegetable or animal skin heads, do I need an MIC for these?

As in this question aboveyou need to determine the scientific name of the species to see if the species is CITES listed.

Border control and logistics

I am a musician performing on a cruise ship boarding in the UK and travelling around the world. Would I need an MIC?

If you board the ship in a UK port you would not need an MIC unless you disembark in another country outside of the United Kingdom.  So if you’re travelling around the world and do not take the instrument off the ship crossing a customs border, no MIC would be required. However it might be prudent to apply for an MIC to prevent difficulties should you later decide to disembark in another country with the instrument at some point.

I play vintage guitars from the 1950’s made with Brazilian Rosewood. I have heard of instruments being confiscated. Assuming I can travel again can I get some solid information on this?

The common name ‘Brazilian Rosewood’, is not specific and covers numerous Dalbergia wood species. When part of a finished musical instrument only the inclusion of the rosewood with the scientific name (Dalbergia nigra) would require an MIC. Other (Dalbergia Spp.) species are exempt from CITES control. As mentioned in this question above, you must determine the scientific name of the species to see if the species is CITES listed.

Do I have to use any specific port of entry and exit into the UK when travelling with my MIC and instrument?

You can only enter and leave the UK with an instrument containing a CITES listed species that is not exempt from CITES control, at a UK designated port of entry. These are listed here: Trading or moving CITES-listed specimens through UK ports and airports - GOV.UK. Currently there are none in Sheltand or the Orkneys.  This issue has been raised with DEFRA so we hope a new port of entry will be created in due course.  Until that time you would need to travel one of the existing ports listed.

When travelling by different means of transport (plane, ferry, rail) how likely is it you'll need a MIC?

At a UK designated port of entry you must use the red customs channel and declare your instrument, presenting your CITES paperwork MIC for endorsement.  You must present your MIC at each customs border and make sure it is endorsed with a customs stamp, otherwise it may become invalid. If stopped by customs without the necessary CITES paperwork the instrument could be seized and you may be subject to a penalty. If travelling within the EU member states you would not require your MIC to be endorsed, only when you enter and/or leave the EU.

What is the process if you are stopped at customs?

If you are stopped at customs you must present your CITES paperwork or evidence as to why your instrument does not require it.

What are the customs procedures at the border if I am travelling with my instrument?

At UK customs you must walk through the red customs channel declaring your instrument and presenting the MIC with its continuation sheets for endorsement and stamping by Border Force.  There will be similar channels at customs borders in other countries. When travelling within EU member states see also the question above.

For designated ports of entry see also this question mentioned above.

The MIC is issued with a covering letter explaining how to use it. You may find it useful to watch the narrated presention where this is being explained. 

What are the customs procedures at the border if I am using a courier or logistics provider to transport my instrument?

If you are using a courier service or other logistics provider things are more complicated as the company will have to lodge an import or export declaration to HMRC on your behalf, the original MIC will need to be presented by the courier/company to Border Force to endorse prior to shipping or on return to the UK. Designated CITES ports of entry would have to be used at all times. See also this question mentioned above.

What materials used in violin and bows are controlled - as customs officers aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about instruments is it possible to have a CITES certificate to show the absence of endangered plant or animal content?

We cannot generalise. You need to tell us which species are used in your specific bow. The MU website gives some general information on commonly used species. CITES do not issue certificates to confirm an instrument is exempt or contains non-CITES listed specimens. Listing changes over time so this could easily be superseded.  You could obtain a letter from a reputable dealer or manufacturer to confirm the species names used within the instrument as evidence they are not CITES controlled. This should satisfy any customs officer if you were asked.

Where do I find customs on leaving the UK? I have never seen custom channels at the airport when I travel abroad, just on coming back?

It will not be Customs Channels as you have on entering the country. There will be a general Border Force desk that deal with all export enquiries. This desk may be airside, (after the security checks) or landside (before the security checks) depending on the airport. Please check before you travel.

I live in Orkney, how do I get my MIC stamped when flying to Norway from Orkney or Shetland?

See this question mentioned above

Can I take my instrument on Eurostar as a foot passenger?

Yes, if the instrument is exempt from the CITES controls. No, if your instrument requires an MIC, as Gare du Nord, St Pancras, Lille, Brussels Gare du Zuid, Rotterdam, Amsterdam Central are currently not designated ports of entry for CITES specimens.

If customs seize my instrument is there an appeal process to get it returned?

In the event your instrument is seized by Border force then you will be given the necessary seizure paperwork with a unique reference number. Public Notice 12 A. This guidance explains the procedures to follow, the paperwork to complete and the address to send any correspondence, this will not be the seizing officer but an independent review team.