Guidance

Exporting or importing objects of cultural interest

What you need to know and do to export or import objects of cultural interest.

Exporting objects of cultural interest from Great Britain

  • You need a UK licence to export cultural objects from the UK to any destination outside the UK.
  • You do not need a licence to move objects of cultural interest from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

How to apply for a licence

The licensing system is administered by Arts Council England (ACE), and the form can be downloaded from ACE’s website. You can also find more information about procedures and guidance for exporters, including information about when a referral to expert advisers is needed, the Open General Export Licence and the statutory guidance.

EU licences issued by ACE before 1 January 2021 will be valid for export at UK borders after the end of the transition period. The validity period for standard EU export licences is limited to 12 months. The offences, rights, obligations and restrictions relating to licences still apply after 1 January 2021. For example, the conditions of a temporary EU licence issued by the UK before 1 January 2021 (such as a deadline for the return of the object to the UK) will continue to apply and be enforceable after that date.

If you hold an EU licence issued by the UK authority before 1 January 2021, you cannot use it to authorise exports from EU Member States to destinations outside the EU after 1 January 2021. In this case, you should also seek advice from the licensing authority in the relevant EU Member State in order to ensure uninterrupted compliance with the EU and individual EU countries’ licensing regimes.

If your licence is approved

The issued licence will be posted in hard copy to the name and address shown in the Applicant box. You will need to attach an electronic copy of the issued export licence to your Export Declaration and send it to HMRC’s National Clearance Hub through CHIEF.

Officers at the National Clearance Hub will check the licences and declarations and if all is in order will notify ACE that Permission to Proceed (P2P) has been given so that the ACE can close that licence.

Exporters are advised to retain a physical copy of the licence and present to Border Force Officers if requested to do so.

Exporting objects of cultural interest from Northern Ireland

The requirements for exporting objects of cultural interest from Northern Ireland are different to those for Great Britain. Some exports of objects of cultural interest from Northern Ireland will require an EU export licence.

  • Exports from Northern Ireland to EU Member States require a UK export licence.
  • Exports from Northern Ireland directly to non-EU countries require an EU export licence.
  • Exports from Northern Ireland to Great Britain do not require an export licence issued by the UK. This includes objects from Northern Ireland which are being exported to a non-UK destination through a port or airport in Great Britain, which will require only a UK export licence for their final export from the UK.
  • Exports from EU Member States which are in transit through Northern Ireland, which have not been definitively despatched from the EU or which have not entered into free circulation in Northern Ireland, may require an EU export licence issued by the relevant EU Member State to permit them to be exported to Great Britain.

EU and UK export licences for objects of cultural interest from Northern Ireland are also issued by ACE. Information and guidance on export licences for objects of cultural interest is available on ACE’s website.

If you are in any doubt as to whether you require an export licence or which export licence you require, you are strongly advised to contact ACE at: enquiries@artscouncil.org.uk

Importing objects of cultural interest

There are no licensing requirements for importing objects of cultural interest into the UK.

However, if you are importing items from the EU to the UK or another country outside the EU you’ll need to comply with the EU and individual EU countries’ export licensing regimes. You should check with the licensing authorities in the country of export to find out what you need to do.

Importing objects of cultural interest into Northern Ireland from a country outside the EU, including from Great Britain

It is prohibited to bring into Northern Ireland (and the EU) cultural goods listed at Part A of the Annex to Regulation (EU) 2019/880 on the introduction and the import of cultural goods which have been removed from the country in which they were created or discovered in breach of the laws and regulations of that country. This prohibition includes cultural goods brought into Northern Ireland (and the EU) from Great Britain. It does not apply to cultural goods which were created or discovered in an EU Member State or Northern Ireland. The prohibition will be implemented by the UK border authorities for Northern Ireland on the basis of intelligence, and there are no changes to the way in which cultural goods are handled when they are lawfully brought into Northern Ireland.

This prohibition does not apply to cultural goods brought into Great Britain, including from Northern Ireland, as the EU Regulation has been revoked from UK law. This does not affect its continued application to Northern Ireland through the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol.

Published 31 December 2020
Last updated 15 October 2021 

New rules for January 2021

The UK has left the EU, and the transition period after Brexit comes to an end this year.

This page tells you what you’ll need to do from 1 January 2021. It will be updated if anything changes.

Check what else you need to do during the transition period.

During the transition period

If you’re exporting objects of cultural interest from the UK, two licensing regimes are in place:

  1. UK law applies for exports to any foreign destination
  2. EU regulations apply to objects travelling outside the EU

In the UK, exporters usually only need to obtain one specific individual export licence, which may cover more than one object.

Both licensing systems are administered by Arts Council England (ACE) and you can read ACE’s Procedures and Guidance for Exporters. This guidance advises you which licence to apply for and outlines the lead times for issuing licences.

There are no licensing requirements for importing objects of cultural interest into the UK or EU at present.

The Statutory Guidance and the Procedures and Guidance for Exporters has further information about when a referral to expert advisers is needed.

From 1 January 2021, you should send in your application by using the UK export licence form, regardless of the destination.

Exporting objects of cultural interest from the UK from 1 January 2021

From 1 January 2021 you will need a UK licence to export cultural objects from the UK to any destination. You will no longer need to apply for the EU licence. The form can be requested by emailing: elu@artscouncil.org.uk.

EU licences issued by ACE before 1 January 2021 will be valid for export at UK borders after exit day. The validity period for standard EU export licences is limited to 12 months.

The offences, rights, obligations, and restrictions relating to licences will still apply after exit day. For example, the conditions of a temporary EU licence issued by the UK before exit day (such as a deadline for the return of the object to the UK) will continue to apply and be enforceable after exit day.

Draft amended versions of the existing statutory guidance and the existing Open General Export Licence are available on ACE’s website. These are for information only, and may be subject to minor changes.

Importing objects of cultural interest from the EU into the UK or a country outside the EU now and from 1 January 2021

There is no licensing requirements for importing objects of cultural interest into the UK.

However, if you are importing items from the EU to the UK or another country outside the EU you’ll need to comply with the EU and individual EU countries’ export licensing regimes.

The licensing authorities in the country of export will be able to advise you on what you need to do. If you hold an EU licence issued by the UK authority before 1 January 2021, and plan to use it to authorise exports to destinations outside the EU after exit day, you should also take any further steps to ensure uninterrupted compliance with the EU and individual EU countries’ licensing regimes.

Published 16 October 2020
Last updated 11 November 2020 
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