As not only the largest country in the world, but also one of the oldest, and an Empire that was closed to the outside world for many years, antique collectors know that Russia is a treasure trove with some of the most beautiful and undiscovered antiques imaginable.

That being said however, Russian law designates that any item over 50 years old is subject to antiquities evaluation. Failure to heed applicable laws could land anyone in some serious time in a Russian prison.

Art and antiques are still considered to be things which legally belong intellectually to all the Russian people, and not just the property of an individual artist or craftsman. Therefore, there is paperwork to produce, photos to document each piece, fees paid per export (if it is allowed for export), and procedures to be followed.

Some of the best antique collectors and dealers in the would would love to export treasures from Russia, and sometimes something slips through, but most reputable collectors/dealers have found few ways to export legally and so most don’t bother at all.

The basic guideline is to remember that anything over 50 years old is generally considered to be antique.

The law on antiquities of the Russian Federation is that export of any item of historical and/or cultural value (including antiques, art works, musical instruments, books etc.) produced more than 100 years ago is prohibited and punishable by law. This excludes prior imported items shown on your customs declaration; translation — if you brought something in then with proof upon entry, then you can take it out again.

Items more than 50 years old but less than 100 years old may (but not in every case) be exported after inspection and approval from the national Ministry of Culture. Art of any age is required to have approval although in many cases a receipt of some nice but obviously not of great importance art can slip thru in a suitcase. One must always remember that if inspected and caught, the Federal Customs Service (Russian Federation) language leaves no room for doubt–failure to declare means that you have certified by your actions that you possess nothing of value, and if demonstrated otherwise the penalties can be severe. In today’s anti corruption mood an attempted bribe is a guarantee of a longer jail sentence or fine.

Items which are mandatory for declaration according to the law include:
Other cultural valuables (pictures, sculptures, icons, old coins, military decorations, pins and medals, stamps and etc.)
Radio-TV-Satellite-Communications equipment

It is okay to take Icons (not antique) that you purchased from a monastery or church for personal use in your home, but those should include a receipt of the purchase. Antique icons are prohibited and a fast track to some serious prison time.

Not that long ago our good friend Sasha was prohibited from taking an old Samovar which he had inherited to his home in the USA.

Here is the procedure for art and antiques:
– You must have a signed receipt from the seller proving your purchase (price, date, name and address of artist, etc)
– 3 colour photos must be made and taken to the Ministry of Culture-export office for each item.
– Customs forms and a form called TD-6 must be filled out in triplicate there for each piece/item.
– The art/antiques along with the photos and forms must be left at the Ministry for professional evaluation (usually takes 1/2 to 1 day)
– Upon approval, tax stamps must be purchased from the Bank of Russia. Usually only one Bank of Russia per city handles those stamps so usually you’ll make it a “day trip” for buying the stamps once approval has been granted.

The above is generally, on routine art pieces, at best a 2 day process for 3-6 paintings. Add additional days for additional pieces.

The goal of this process is to assure that your art, old artifacts such as icons, samovars, rugs, and antiques must have a certificate indicating that they have no historical value. That kind of kills the idea of exporting antiques for resale elsewhere.

Next comes the Customs process on the day of departure from Russia:
– Arrive at the airport at least 4 hours before your flight.
– You must declare (Red Line) and have your paperwork copies, photos and stamps from the procedures above. This will be in duplicate as the Ministry of Culture office kept one copy of everything which was originally triplicate. Customs will keep one copy and the final copy is for the customs process upon arrival in your home country.
– Upon initial inspection a customs inspector will:
a) Call the airport’s resident Customs Art & Antiquities Inspector to the scene (this could take awhile).
b) Call the Ministry of Culture office to verify your document copies and photos (could also take awhile).

Hopefully this all can be done in no more than 2 hours because you still must go thru the other processes of checking in, Passport Control, etc. Don’t cut it too close on time because they’re in no hurry for you to take “national treasures” out of the country.

Once approved you’ll proceed to the next steps of check in, etc. Keep the paperwork handy because you may be questioned on the contents of your luggage/packages several more times before boarding your plane.

You will also need this paperwork to proceed through customs in your home country.

Ministry of Culture:
In most cases the necessary documents can only be obtained in the city where the export will take place. For most Westerners that is either Moscow or Saint Petersburg.

Tel: +7 (495) 629-2008
Малый Гнездниковский пер., (Little Gnezdhikovskiy, 7-6)
д. 7/6, стр. 1,2

St Petersburg
Tel: +7 (812)117-3496/5196/0302,
17 Malaya Morskaya St.

Email from anywhere:

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