Import of cultural heritage objects into Australia

Other countries also have export regulations to protect their cultural property. You may be able to buy some items of cultural property quite freely in some countries, and they might even be targeted to tourists. These items can be marketed as souvenirs, antiques or collectibles. However, some foreign cultural property such as pottery, antiquities, artefacts, fossils and art may require a permit to be exported from their countries of origin. Without the correct permit issued from the country of origin, these objects could be treated as illegal exports.

International trade and export controls

Australia helps protect foreign countries' cultural property. Under Australia's Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, foreign governments can request the return of cultural property which has been illegally taken from their country of origin and imported into Australia.

Foreign cultural property—your responsibilities

As a buyer, you are responsible for ensuring you purchase legally and your seller is above board. If you are travelling overseas and intend to buy cultural property, check the requirements with embassies of the countries you are visiting to find out if you need a permit to export their cultural property to Australia. If requested, you must produce this permit issued by the government of the country of origin, or the objects may be detained by the Australian Customs and Protection Border Protection Service (Australian Customs).

There are substantial penalties, including seizure of objects, fines and imprisonment, for persons importing into Australia foreign protected objects that have been illegally exported from their country of origin. If you purchase illegally obtained objects, you are participating in a major international crime, the illicit trafficking of cultural property. Even if you did not acquire the objects in the source country, you need to be confident they were not illegally exported from that country prior to your purchase.

Importing Australian protected objects

Certificates of exemption allow Class A and B Australian protected objects, which are currently overseas, to be imported temporarily into Australia and subsequently re-exported.

A copy of the Application for a certificate of exemption from Australian export control can be downloaded from the Exporting cultural property from Australia page.

Please direct all enquiries regarding Australian cultural property and completed forms and templates using the details available on the Movable cultural heritage page.