Sep 11, 2020

Internationally Touring Artists – What You Need to Know

We hope that tours and concerts abroad will soon be possible again. While there are usually no major obstacles for do-it-yourself gigs or small concerts in cafés and bars, things become more difficult when it comes to more professional performances: in that case, a lot of regulations need to be considered. 

In this article, we have summarized the most important points from visa to customs, tax, insurance and funding programmes, in collaboration with Sebastian Hoffmann of the mobility information portal touring artists.


Within the EU there are no difficulties for EU citizens: due to the free movement of services, neither a visa nor a work permit is required for concerts in other EU countries. The situation for internationally touring artists is more difficult for non-EU citizens, even for those who live in an EU country with a residence permit: they have to verify individually for each country whether they need a visa for entry and a work permit for the performance

When it comes to entry, the situation within the Schengen area is straightforward, as there are harmonized rules for short stays. A short stay is defined as a maximum time period of 90 days in any 180-day period, in any of the Schengen area countries. Non-continuous stays are counted as well, so it’s not possible to set the timer to zero by leaving and re-entering the Schengen area. Depending on your nationality, you either need an entry visa (a so-called Schengen Visa) or you can enter without a visa for short stays. Check out the Pearle guide for more details on the visa application procedure. Attention: the Schengen area is not the same as the EU. Some EU countries are not part of the Schengen area (Ireland, UK, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus), while some non-EU countries are part of it (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway). However, for long stays and work permits, each country has its own rules for non-EU nationals. 

The United Kingdom is particularly strict: since it never joined the Schengen area, many non-EU nationals must apply for a visa to enter the country. They also need a work permit (even if they can enter without an entry visa), the Certificate of Sponsorship, which can often be applied for directly through the local organizers. The Certificate of Sponsorship might also become mandatory for EU citizens at the end of the Brexit transition phase in 2021. The rules for visas for concerts in countries outside the EU such as the USA or Australia are particularly restrictive. In addition to high costs, the application process takes a long time and can often only be managed successfully with a specialized lawyer. 

Transport & Customs

As far as the transport of musical instruments and merchandise is concerned, the rules within the EU customs territory are simple: there is almost nothing to be observed here, as the movement of goods within the territory is essentially free. Attention: there are some regions that are not part of the EU customs territory, such as the Canary Islands. For musical instruments which are either very valuable or old or which are made of protected materials (endangered woods or animal species), you have to pay attention to certain rules even when transporting them within the EU customs territory. 

In contrast, there is a lot to be observed when transporting goods or equipment outside the EU customs territory. The sale of merchandise in countries outside the EU customs territory is subject to the so-called import value-added tax, which is usually identical to the respective national value-added tax. For example, if you sell an LP in Switzerland, you have to pay Swiss value-added tax. When entering the country, you should always carry an up-to-date inventory list with you so that the sold items can be correctly accounted for when leaving the country. 

In addition to the import value-added tax, customs duties may also apply. In order to avoid such duties when taking equipment with you, you can make use of the so-called Carnet ATA, which many countries use. The Carnet ATA is a kind of passport for items which enables you to prove, for example, that you are bringing your musical instruments only temporarily to another customs territory and then taking them home again. In Germany, the Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHK) are responsible for issuing the Carnet ATAs. It is recommended to use Carnet ATAs when transporting valuable instruments or large equipment. It is also always worth asking the promoter in the other country about their recent experiences involving customs. It is recommended to carry invoices or documentation material with you to prove that you own your equipment and where you originally bought it. Often there are problems when returning to Germany and having to be able to prove that you did not buy your instruments abroad and import them to Germany! An appointment at German customs in advance to declare a so-called return shipment can help in this regard.

Income Tax

In general, the “world income principle” applies to income tax: no matter where your fee is paid, it is taxed in the country where you are considered a tax resident. For stage performances (music, theater, dance, acting…) there is a special rule that applies almost worldwide: fees can also be taxed in the country where the performance takes place – in other words, double taxation, colloquially known in Germany as “Ausländersteuer” (‘foreigner tax’). 

This is regulated in bilateral double taxation agreements between countries. Taxation in the country where the performance takes place is usually flat (and not progressive) and can be very high – in the US, for example, it’s 30% (in Germany, it’s 15.825%)! Promoters are responsible for deducting this tax from the fee and forwarding it onto the local tax authorities. To avoid misunderstandings, it is very important to talk about the fee during contract negotiations: is it a net fee (the tax is already deducted; the amount paid out) or a gross fee (the tax is deducted from it; the amount paid out is correspondingly lower)? 

Depending on the country, there are special rules on how to deal with this type of taxation, also known as withholding or source taxation. For example, there is often the possibility to apply for an exemption if public funding is involved, or the tax is not applicable at all under certain fee limits. Three EU countries (the Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark) have even decided not to apply withholding taxation to performing artists at all anymore. Please note: this kind of taxation also applies if you sell rights of use abroad, such as film recordings or compositions. In this case, however, the tax rate can often be reduced by filing an application first. 

If the tax has been deducted, you should get a confirmation from the promoter or your client – you can then submit this with your tax return to avoid or reduce double taxation. 

Value-Added Tax In the EU

Within the EU, there are coordinated rules for value-added tax. A distinction is made between businesses and private individuals. For businesses, which also include freelance musicians or non-profit associations, there is an EU-wide valid proof of business status: the international VAT identification number. This number can be applied for in Germany at the Federal Central Tax Office (BZSt) – even if you’re exempt from VAT in Germany. 

If you issue invoices to other businesses in the EU and both parties can identify themselves as businesses with a valid international VAT identification number, the responsibility for VAT shifts to the recipient of the invoice, for example to the venue or the promoter abroad. This type of invoicing is known as reverse charge. In practical terms, this means that the musician issues an invoice without VAT referencing the reverse charge procedure. The recipient then owes the VAT in accordance with the laws of the country in which he/she is registered. The musician who has issued the invoice must then also report this type of transaction to her/his national tax office. 

If you organize a concert abroad yourself and sell tickets or issue invoices to private persons abroad, you have to register for VAT in the other country and pay VAT there. You should definitely discuss this with your tax consultant! 

Health Insurance 

Within the EU, there is also coordination in the area of health insurance: people with public health insurance have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with which they can also be treated in the event of accidents in other countries during tourist or private trips. However, during professional stays abroad – for example, a show or a tour – another formality must often be observed: in this case, a so-called “posting” must be applied for. This is free of charge and (in Germany) is handled by the respective health insurance provider, which issues a so-called A1 form as proof. 

The A1 form is a confirmation that you are insured in Germany. This is important if you are performing in countries like France, where musicians are always employed by the hour, even for a single performance – with a direct deduction of costs for French health insurance from the fee. With the A1 form, you can avoid this deduction, because it confirms your insurance coverage at home and prevents additional insurance costs from other countries. The “golden rule” of EU coordination is that you can only be insured in one country at a time. Many promoters require an A1 form, so it is clear for them where you are insured. 

Outside the EU you have to check if there is a so-called social security agreement between Germany and the other country. If the agreement also includes health insurance, you can also apply for a posting. For countries with which there is no agreement, travel health insurance must be taken out in any case – and in the worst case, additional costs will occur if certain insurances are mandatory for performances in the other country.

Musical Instrument Insurance

In general, it is always advisable to take out musical instrument insurance for tours at home and abroad. As a rule, it covers not only the transport (where the majority of damage occurs) but also theft and your own negligence at concerts. It is important to check whether the insurance is valid worldwide and whether additional equipment (suitcases, electronic devices…) is also covered. 

Be careful with the night time clause: between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the insurance is often not effective – this can cause problems if, for example, instruments are stolen from the tour bus at night or if the performance is at night. However, the clause can be removed from the policy for an additional fee. It is also important to clarify to whom the instruments actually belong – an individual musician or the band as a partnership. It is advisable to seek advice from an independent insurance broker specializing in insurance for musicians. 


Concerts abroad can be very expensive in terms of travel and transport. There are many ways to apply for public funding for performances abroad. As a rule, you should apply for funding where you live – because the city, region or country you live in has a special interest in exporting local or national music and it is generally not possible to apply for funding abroad. In Germany, the first point of contact is the funding structure of the city or federal state. For musicians living in Berlin, for example, the Musicboard offers a support tour funding program

At the national level, music export offices are responsible for funding tours abroad – in Germany, it is the Initiative Musik with the International Tour Funding Program. The Goethe-Institut also offers a number of calls for proposals for projects abroad. It is also possible to send an unsolicited application with information materials and audio samples to the Goethe-Institut headquarters for possible future cooperation. For concrete projects in a specific country, it is also worthwhile to contact the local Goethe-Institut directly. The cross-disciplinary platform On The Move compiles updates on the topic of mobility funding – here you will find a vast amount of information and current calls for proposals. Tip: subscribe to the newsletter! 

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This article was created with the support of Sebastian Hoffmann of touring artists. The cross-disciplinary information portal touring artists raises awareness and informs on administrative regulations and, in cooperation with SMartDe – Netzwerk für Kreative e. V., also offers a free consultation service. The focus is on questions concerning international activities for artists residing in Germany, for artists residing abroad with projects in Germany, and for cultural organizations or companies in Germany working with artists living abroad. touring artists is a project of the International Society of Fine Arts (IGBK), the International Theater Institute Germany (ITI) and the German Dance Association (Dachverband Tanz), initiated and supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media (BKM). Information in the field of music was created in cooperation with the European Music Council, funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union as well as by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) and the City of Bonn. Subscribe to the newsletter and follow touring artists on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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