Playing music gigs in Canada just got easier thanks to a new law, but crossing the border with your instrument still requires preparation and organization
O Canada! So close… yet sometimes so far away. Music flows freely across the border, but there are times when musicians and instruments have a little more trouble. If you’re planning a trip to play music gigs in Canada, here’s some advice and a few online resources to help make your border crossing smooth and easy.
Document your gear
At the border, you will be asked to document the instruments you’re taking in so customs can be sure you aren’t buying or selling (without paying duties) your goods while visiting. GearTrack makes it easy to export and organize your gear library to a spreadsheet and print that out to go.
Recent restrictions have made it even tougher for folks whose gear contains Brazilian rosewood, tortoiseshell, and elephant ivory. You’ll need very specific documentation to gain re-entry into the US with instruments and bows containing these banned materials. Learn more about that at the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s website.
US musicians traveling in Canada to play festivals, non-profits, and house concerts do not require a work permit to enter the country. You will, however, need documentation – e.g. a signed contract or a letter from the host.
Take note that in June 2014, Canada repealed laws that leveled a hefty permit on both the venue and the artist (every member) playing short-term gigs in bars and restaurants (Operational Bulletin 580). This bulletin “exempts foreign artists entering Canada to perform in a bar, restaurant or similar establishment from the requirement to obtain a work permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), and consequently from the requirement of employers to seek a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from Employment and Social Development Canada.” You may still need signed contracts or letters for these engagements, but they just got a whole lot easier!
Permits and visas are sticky territory, so know before you go. The Canadian Federation of Musicians is a great resource for AFM members (and non-members).
You may be asked if you are transporting goods for sale in Canada. Lying about it won’t do you any favors. You will need a full inventory of your merch, the wholesale cost for each item, and the price you are selling it for. You will likely be asked to pay 5% tax on these items. It’s a good idea not to take in your entire stock of merch, just what you hope to sell.
Here’s a funny and informative post on this from frequent border jumper Chris Jones at The Bluegrass Blog.
Your crossing will be smoothest if you print and prepare all related documentation to present to the CIC. It also doesn’t hurt to tidy the van before you hit the checkpoint. Here are some things to have in a folder ready to go.
- Your Passport (check that expiration date!)
- Signed contracts with venues or letters from the host clarifying your R186(g) status
- Addresses or contact info for your accommodations while in Canada
- A copy of Operational Bulletin 580 or other applicable laws and statutes
- A manifest of your instruments and gear, including serial numbers
- A bill of lading for all merch (CDs, T-shirts, thongs, etc.)
- Any documentation regarding rare and endangered materials in your instruments/bows
What about my kids? My dog? My chia pet?
Learn about what can and can’t go with you at the Canada Border Services Agency website. Also, if you have a criminal record of any type, be sure and investigate any paperwork or clearances required.
Canada is a warm and welcoming nation, even in winter. Embrace their appreciation for music and art (and don’t forget to pack a sweater), but don’t take their borders lightly and treat your crossing with care, preparation, and respect.
GearTrack is an online registry that aims to deter music instrument theft and aid in recovery. Instrument owners can itemize their collections and victims of theft can send stolen alerts to the WatchDog network and access tools for search and recovery. Buyers and sellers can easily search serial numbers before trading and selling their gear. Learn more and register your instruments at Gear-Track.com.
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