International Violin Travel

August 23, 2009 at 03:50 PM ·

Hello -- I have a question about travelling internationally to Asia on vacation with my violin.  I live in Los Angeles, CA USA.  In October 2009, I will be travelling to Seoul, S.Korea for 10 day vacation.  I would like to take my violin with me on my vacation so I can play chamber music with family and friends.  Is it true that I won't have to pay any VAT or customs tax if I declare my violin upon entry into the country and bring it back with  me to the USA? 

(Note: I am not moving there permanently or doing a paid gig performance.  I'm just on vacation)

Has anyone here on travelled internationally with their violins to another country?  If so, any advice is appreciated.  (Note: The airline already gave pre-approval for my violin as a carry-on but I'm worried at customs -- what do I do and/or say?) 
Thank you for your tips...

Replies (20)

August 24, 2009 at 02:01 AM ·

Are you selling a violin in Korea?  Are you purchasing a violin, and bringing it back from Korea?


If the answer is no the the above, then you don't need to worry about customs taxes on musical instruments. 

August 24, 2009 at 03:36 AM ·

If you have some proof that you owned the violin before the trip (appraisal, cert, receipt, or maybe just a Made in USA label), you should be OK with getting back in without paying duty.  Be careful about tortoiseshell, ivory, etc., which are not OK to bring in.


Taking the fiddle into the foreign country should also be no problem, if you intend it for personal use.  Although I'm sure regulations and taxes vary by country.

August 24, 2009 at 09:26 AM ·

I've travelled with my violin internationally through Canada, the U.S., the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany.  I've never had any problems, I've also had various friends who have travelled to Korea and other areas of Asia with their violins, and not had any problems.  My only area of concern would be traveling with frogs made of tortoise shell, or ivory.  

August 24, 2009 at 07:59 PM ·

 I've just returned from a trip around Europe flying in and out of Manchester, GB and JFK in NY, carrying my fiddle on my back.  Nobody gave me any grief about the violin, they scanned it along with the rest of my carry on stuff and customs asked no questions.  Traveling with the violin was a total non-issue.

August 29, 2009 at 09:35 AM ·

I travel internationally with my violin quite often.  I've never had a problem with it but I've used a backpack type case anyway just in case there might be an issue with overhead storage.

I'm travelling with a violin right now, this time with an electric (NS WAV) since it's narrower and won't disturb others in the hotel.  I didn't have any trouble going through customs in Moscow or in Kazazhstan, except I had to open it once going into security since being long and narrow, it didn't look like a typical violin - did they think it was a weapon maybe?  I think violin is  pronounced "skrinki" in Russian and I should have said "electriski" so they knew what it was.

August 29, 2009 at 07:45 PM ·

One thing to consider is that, for a while, Heathrow was limiting carry-ons to one piece (not one bag plus a personal item as we have here).  I don't think that is still current there or anywhere else, but it's worth investigating in advance.

August 30, 2009 at 01:48 AM ·

  1. ensure your case is BELOW the minimum dimensions for carry-ons.
  2. check with the airline prior
  3. expect additional times for check-in and security, as each peon needs to check with his superiors before proceeding
  4. expect many inspections by security and questions about the origin of your woods, frog, etc, and even expect to have your rosin confiscated as a flammable material. 
  5. always be pleasant and patient
  6. check with hotels prior for permission to practise in the room
  7. get extra insurance

good luck!


August 30, 2009 at 02:44 AM ·

Check your  nail clippers and extra strings through.  In the right circumstances, they can inflict bodily harm.

August 30, 2009 at 12:32 PM ·

Has anybody had personal experiences with travelling internationally with TS frogs? How knowledgeable are the customs inspectors in that regard, if you told them it was some kind of resin-based fake TS?

August 30, 2009 at 01:04 PM ·

I have traveled many many times with my violin to different countries. I have only had a problem once with declaring the instrument. In general, since you are not selling merchandise and it is your own personal property, you do not have to declare it. The only time I was given a hard time was when I was leaving Poland. Apparently, there is a law that all antiques going into the country must be accounted for and made known to the government. They don't want people leaving Poland with their antiques! I was told this at the border on the way out, on a flight to Germany. They wanted proof that the violin belonged to me. Since I didn't have the certificate with me, I was a bit frazzled. The officer took pity on me and actually let me go!

September 1, 2009 at 05:24 PM ·

In and out of three countries (UK, France, Italy), two trips, a few years apart, never a problem. I agree that if it is in a backpack style outer case (for mine, it was a cheapie "backpack" zipping thing that my case fit into), there's even less of an issue. I've flown Air France which is a Delta affiliate and I was worried about the 'one piece of carry on, please,' but it wasn't a problem. The carry-on was a strap over my shoulder and the violin on my back. In customs there was even less of an issue. Neither my fiddle nor the case look valuable; it was never "tagged." I should mention that I travel with a cheapie student instrument and bow, so there's not the element of worry involved. I'd highly recommend this.

Have a fun trip!

September 1, 2009 at 07:02 PM ·

You should be fine, but i find the bigger the airport, the scarier and more picky the customs people are.  I was in England for 3 weeks in August and traveling was fine, though it was a little scary.  I kept being afraid that the customs people would suddenly say that I'd have to put my violin in the hold.  AAAACCK!  Luckily, no such thing happened.  But you may have to give up a bottle of polish or something thats in your case if it's over a certain amount.  I think you should be fine.

September 2, 2009 at 03:45 PM ·

please ask your customs office or look at their website.  The advice given from anecdotal evidence is often wrong. Just because they didn't check you doesn't mean that you did right. For example, depending on the value of the goods and the country you import into, it may happen that you have to pay import VAT on goods that you bought abroad, even if the imported goods are for your personal use, and you don't intend to sell them after importing.

Recently David Garrett was held at a German airport when returning from a trip with a 850000€ violin with him, because he couldn't prove that he didn't buy the instrument during the trip. Only after bringing documents proving that he had already owned it before leaving the country, he could avoid import VAT (

September 4, 2009 at 03:21 PM ·

Be aware that the typical violin case is a few inches longer than the carry-on specifications of most airlines.  Using a back-strap masks the appraisal of length from the clerk.  Also, in my case I keep a a letter from AFM, which I laminated,  that states musicians are allowed to carry on instruments. Remember to remove sharp objects like nail clippers, files, chin rest wrenches, along with bottles of liquid, like polish/cleaner. Finally, when putting your case in the overhead,make sure no one stacks something heavy on top of your violin case. 

best wishes,


September 4, 2009 at 03:52 PM ·

OK..just ridiculous...Your case doesn't have to be below a certain measurement requirement. It's incredible what some people will say in a forum (not you Jason, someone else)! Airlines are used to people bringing instruments as carry-on. I do it all the time and for overseas visits also (China, Tibet, etc). Plus, you can bring it and another carry-on (like a small backpack) that you can put under the seat in front of you. It's best to take everything out of your case and put it into your suitcase (not carry-on).

You asked about customs anyway. It's simple. You won't have a problem. Just bring something that proves the violin was yours when you left the USA. There are many different ways to do this and one is that you can go to Customs at the airport  before you leave and get a US Customs Form 4457 (bring proof of ownership if you have it; an estimate, sales receipt; etc). It takes about 10 minutes to fill out. There are no customs due on your own possessions so it's free.

September 12, 2009 at 12:46 AM ·

Immediately after 9/11, musicians were being hassled about carrying on their instruments.  There were stories of musicians that were forced to cancel gigs! Forgot the name of that Russian trumpet player who got his arm busted fighting with security, who demanded that he check his horn

Obviously the climate has calmed since then.  Thought I've had nail clippers confiscated by security, I never had a problem carrying my violin on board... I recently flew on Lufthansa. My violin case is a few inches longer than their carry-on requirement. I take what precautions I can because let's face it, there is the occasional unhappy officious clerk that takes joy in ruining someone else's day (or gig). C'est la vie.

September 12, 2009 at 12:48 AM ·

 He was a Russian-American jazz trumpet player, Valery Ponomorev.  Here's the story of his airline hassle and broken arm:

September 12, 2009 at 01:34 AM ·

One time I built my own violin case so that it would fit in the stupid carry-on rack. Of course, this was an electric violin that I was traveling with. I still have the case!

I was using a carbon fibre bow, and that's NASA material - so I figured it would be fine in a suitcase. It was! The hair even withstood the trips. Yes trips! I must have flown on like 8 airplanes across the Pacific Ocean that time!

September 12, 2009 at 04:35 AM ·

 My daughter's flown a lot with her violin and has never had a problem. But last weekend, while alone  attempting to board a domestic flight in Atlanta, the gate attendant sternly insisted she would have to stow her violin. She protested and he told her "all musical instruments are carried below." Remembering my admonition that, if given trouble she should refuse to board the plane, and being very tired after a long festival, she surprised herself by bursting into tears.

This turned out to be the perfect response. The (male) flight attendant threw his arms into the air and said, "Oh, now don't CRY on me!" and stomped away.  And that was that. To her amazement, she had no trouble boarding the flight (there was plenty of room in the overhead bins.)

So my suggestion is: don't argue. Burst into tears. I think this should work for just about any age and gender, not just a teenaged girl. 

September 12, 2009 at 02:30 PM ·

I fly into Seoul two to three times a year, and I find it to be the trickiest country to fly into with an instrument. I have only been asked to open my violin case at customs in Korea. This is probably because of so many so-called black market instruments in Korea.. there were a number of incidents involving foreigners bringing in fine instruments, selling them for 10 times their value, and walking away without paying a dime of taxes. Anyways, if you have any sort of documentation that the instrument belongs to you, you should be fine. Actually, even if you don't, you'll be fine- they'll just give you a hard time and ask a lot of redundant questions. I've started to just avoid the problem by walking very swiftly to the exit sign after picking up my bags, before the second round of immigration police or whoever they are have a chance to even see me. If you do get stopped, just stress that you are on vacation.

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