Export art, antiques and cultural goods: special rules

How to apply for a licence to export cultural goods, including antiques, furniture and archaeological items.

Please note that due to the coronavirus the Export Licensing Unit is closed until further notice.

On 20 March 2020 the Export Licensing Unit (ELU) closed until further notice. Unfortunately, that means that no export licence applications will be processed, and no export licences will be issued during this period.

Please do not submit any applications until the ELU has reopened.

Applications which were in progress at the time of closure will be put on hold until the ELU reopens. When this happens, we will continue to process licence applications which were put on hold as a priority, and then process new ones in strict order of receipt.

If you have items outside of the UK on temporary export licences which are due to expire soon, but you are unable to return them in time, there is no need for you to contact us to request an extension. All temporary export licences will be extended automatically and there will be no sanctions for non-return before the original expiry date.

Thank you for your understanding and please continue to monitor our website for any updates. We will aim to give as much notice as possible about when the ELU is going to reopen.

You may need a licence to export certain ‘cultural goods’ over 50 years old. Whether you need a licence depends on the age and value of the goods.

Cultural goods include:

  • works of art
  • furniture
  • antiques
  • means of transport
  • manuscripts
  • archaeological items

Check if you need a licence by reading the Art Council’s guidance.

You may need a licence even if you’re exporting inside the EU, or on a temporary basis.

There’s a ban on supplying art works, collectors’ pieces and antiques to North Korea and Syria.

Some countries may have import rules for certain goods. You can check by talking to your importer or getting help researching your export market.

How to apply

  1. Contact the Export Licensing Unit to get an application form.

  2. Complete your application and send it to the Export Licensing Unit. If the object arrived in the UK in the past 50 years, include proof of import. Otherwise, include proof that it’s authentic (full provenance) and a photograph.

If you plan to export an item temporarily, you must include the date it will return to the UK on the application.

What happens next

Your application may be passed to an expert adviser in a national museum or gallery. If they’re against the export on the grounds of national importance, your application will be sent to the Reviewing Committee.

The committee will recommend whether the decision should be put on hold to let a UK institution or individual raise funds to buy the item.

You should get a decision within 28 days of your application being received.

If your application for an export licence is accepted, you may need to follow certain conditions.


Export Licensing Unit
Arts Council England
21 Bloomsbury Street
Telephone: 020 7268 9606
Find out about call charges

Published 7 November 2016
Last updated 27 March 2020 + show all updates
  1. Please note the important coronavirus update to this page

  2. First published.