Detail of a Chinese porcelain famille rose vase

Buying fine art or antiques for export is relatively straightforward in the United Kingdom.

Buying for export - Antique export licences

Export licences

Following the end of the Transition Period in the relationship between the UK and the EU the arrangements for export licences have been simplified in respect of cultural property leaving mainland Great Britain. 

The restrictions to consider are solely the UK's export thresholds, not those of the EU. However, in respect of cultural property located in Northern Ireland, both the UK and European Union licensing systems' thresholds will need to be considered if the goods are destined for a non-EU country.

Under UK law there is an Open General Export Licence (O.G.E.L.) covering the majority of categories of antiques, works of art and collectors’ items over 50 years old, if the value per article, or matching set of articles is less than £65,000.  This means that it is not necessary to apply for an export licence in order to be able to export the items.

In addition, in Northern Ireland, under European Union rules, for most items the EU threshold is £44,236. (In countries which operate the euro this is 50,000 euros.)

The thresholds for some categories vary between nil and £180,000. Items with values above the O.G.E.L. threshold will always require an export licence if leaving the UK.

Export licence applications

Further details of the export licensing system are available on the Arts Council website.  A good dealer should be able to help you with this but should you wish to make the application yourself application forms and a full list of thresholds are available from:

Export Licensing Unit
Arts Council England
21 Bloomsbury Street
London WC1B 3HF

Telephone: +44 (0) 20-7268 9606

Email: [email protected]

Buying for export - Endangered Species

The movement of endangered species of flora and fauna across international borders is governed by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which treaty the United Kingdom is a party.

Consequently antique items containing elements of endangered flora or fauna, such as ivory, rosewood or tortoiseshell usually require a permit, known as a CITES re-export certificate, to be exported from mainland Great Britain to all other destinations including transfers to Northern Ireland, member states of the European Union and non-EU countries. Such items located in Northern Ireland will only require a CITES re-export certificate if they are to be sent to mainland Great Britain or to countries outside the EU.

Imports into Great Britain from other countries (including from member states of the the EU) also require a CITES import permit. 

The movement of such items from Northern Ireland to Great Britain require a re-export certificate to leave Northern Ireland and an import permit to enter Great Britain.

A separate permit may also be required by third countries to import antiques containing such specimens. These can usually be readily obtained, providing the piece is a genuine antique that has not been worked (i.e. carved or repaired) since 1947.

Those moving such items between different countries are strongly advised to ascertain the customs requirements for the country of export, as well as the country of import, in advance of shipment.  An experienced shipper should be able to provide you with advice about this.

BADA dealers will often be happy to apply for certificates on your behalf as part of their service. Alternatively, application forms in relation to movments into and out of the UK can be obtained from the CITES licensing unit of the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) +44 (0) 3000 200 301 or click here   APHA is an agency of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

We have also published a page on this site covering the current legal position in respect of the import, export and sale of antiques incorporating antique ivory.

Buying for export - Antique firearms

Firearms more than 50 years old may require a cultural goods export licence (see above). Additionally another open general export licence (OGEL) allows, subject to certain conditions, the export of historic military goods from the UK, providing the goods are worth less than £35,000 and were manufactured before 1897. It also covers reproductions of muzzle-loaded weapons based on originals manufactured before 1897.

Your antique dealer should be able to advise you about a licence, or alternatively contact the Export Control Unit, on +44 (0) 20 7215 4594, send an email to [email protected] or see the following link.


For advice on buying antiques and fine art click here

For advice on choosing an antiques or fine art dealer click here

For advice on selling antiques and fine art click here

For advice on caring for antiques and fine art click here

For advice on insuring antiques and fine art click here