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Exporting Cultural Goods and Antiques

You need a licence to export certain cultural items once they reach age and monetary value thresholds (even if it is temporary). This section explains the special rules for exporting cultural goods (e.g. art, antiques, furniture) from the United Kingdom.

How to Export Cultural Objects from the UK

Typical examples of cultural items that exporters send abroad are:

  • Antiques
  • Archaeological items
  • Furniture
  • Manuscripts
  • Methods of transport
  • Works of art

Note: During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Export Licensing Unit (ELU) is operating new temporary procedures for the issuance of export licences.

The Export Licensing Unit (ELU)

In the United Kingdom, and on behalf of the Secretary of State, the Export Licensing Unit (ELU) issues individual licences for exporters.

As such, this system of export control provides opportunities to keep cultural objects in this country. Their work focuses on goods that are judged as being of ‘outstanding national importance’.

In a nutshell, the ELU aims to strike a fair balance between a variety of diverse interests during the applications for export licences.

Note: The Arts Council England website contains more details about applying for an export licence using the new digital procedure.

Cultural Goods Export Licence

There are special rules for exporting art, antiques, and cultural goods to countries outside the United Kingdom.

In most cases, you will need a licence to export cultural objects even when exporting them inside the European Union (EU).

You also need to check whether the country you are exporting to will place any specific import rules on goods of significant importance.

The importer may be able to provide you with additional information. If not, another section explains more about researching export markets and how to find overseas customers.

Important Information Supplying antiques, art works, and other collectors’ pieces to North Korea and Syria is banned.

How to Apply for an Licence to Export

The Open General Export Licence (OGEL) covers some types of cultural items. Hence, there is no need to get an individual licence. You should check whether the goods you want to export fall under this licence.

You can download the PDF application form and read further guidance about export licensing on the Arts Council England website.

What Happens at the Reviewing Committee?

Applications for licences to export cultural goods get passed to an expert adviser (e.g. from a national gallery or museum) for a review.

They will send it to a Reviewing Committee if they decide not to grant the licence. As a rule, decisions are based on grounds of national importance.

Often, the committee will put the final decision on hold for a while. This provides an opportunity for an individual or institution to raise funds to purchase the item so it can remain in the United Kingdom.

It usually takes around four (4) weeks to get a decision from the committee. But, you may need to comply with certain terms and conditions even if your application for an export licence is successful.

Help Guides for Exporters

UK Rules to Export Art, Antiques, and Cultural Goods