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hitekmastr

Bringing Back Fossils From Overseas - How To Do It Legally

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hitekmastr

I've read a lot about collectors with finds from Scotland, Canada, Morocco, Mexico and other places. I would like to know:

1) which countries are the most "fossil friendly" in terms of allowing people like us to go there and collect - and more important - to legally bring back some finds?

2) what are the procedures and legalities we need to be aware of when bringing back specimens from specific countries? We all know about the ban on fossil exports in China - what other countries do we need to be aware of in terms of restrictions and which countries have clear policies that allow us to go there, collect, and bring stuff back?

3) what hassles can we expect from U.S. customs upon return and what documents should we have?

This is especially important for those of us who take annual trips to Canada, Mexico, etc. and may want to visit a fossil site during our vacation. We had never considered including fossiling in our vacation plans until recently when we got involved in this hobby, and we would like to know what we need to be aware of, plan for, and what to worry about.

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Malcolmt

I am in Canada so I have the opposite problem , bringing fossils back from the US to Canada. What they seem to be paranoid about is dirt. They want to prevent the import of any new pests. I always make sure the fossils I collects are very clean of any dirt. They don't seem to have an issue as long as it looks like a clean rock and is not a dinosuar. Many collectors take eurypterid fossils back from Canada to the US as the locality is right near the border crossing. The officers at that crossing seem to be fairly familiar with the Americans bringing back the fossils. Technically my understanding is that Canada has no issue with you taking up to 50 pounds of non vertebrate fossils out of the country as long as they are not of scientific importance and are not for commercial purposes.

I generally get hassled everytime on the dirt issue when coming back into Canada. If I am at a river I wash them before putting in the car, If not I have a hand brush that I use when putting them in my trunk. I always leave them in plain site and never try to conceal them. It is kind of silly because the outside of my car and wheel wells are generally full of dirt and mud from the Canadian quarries I have visited.

I have never been asked for any type of fossil documentation when coming back into Canada.

On any specimens that I get shipped to me (I do prep for trade sometimes for others) I always label and have the people sending label as "Mineral Specimens for Educational Purposes" "Gift" Value $20 . I have never had an issue with customs by doing this. I send multiple packages per month to the States this way and have never had a problem. Although it can be expensive if there is any weight involved, you can always mail to yourself labelling as I indicated.

Edited by Malcolmt

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hitekmastr

I am in Canada so I have the opposite problem , bringing fossils back from the US to Canada. What they seem to be paranoid about is dirt. They want to prevent the import of any new pests. I always make sure the fossils I collects are very clean of any dirt. They don't seem to have an issue as long as it looks like a clean rock and is not a dinosuar. Many collectors take eurypterid fossils back from Canada to the US as the locality is right near the border crossing. The officers at that crossing seem to be fairly familiar with the Americans bringing back the fossils. Technically my understanding is that Canada has no issue with you taking up to 50 pounds of non vertebrate fossils out of the country as long as they are not of scientific importance and are not for commercial purposes.

I generally get hassled everytime on the dirt issue when coming back into Canada. If I am at a river I wash them before putting in the car, If not I have a hand brush that I use when putting them in my trunk. I always leave them in plain site and never try to conceal them. It is kind of silly because the outside of my car and wheel wells are generally full of dirt and mud from the Canadian quarries I have visited.

I have never been asked for any type of fossil documentation when coming back into Canada.

On any specimens that I get shipped to me (I do prep for trade sometimes for others) I always label and have the people sending label as "Mineral Specimens for Educational Purposes" "Gift" Value $20 . I have never had an issue with customs by doing this. I send multiple packages per month to the States this way and have never had a problem. Although it can be expensive if there is any weight involved, you can always mail to yourself labelling as I indicated.

This is very helpful - a VERY good start to answering our questions. I especially like the advice about labeling mailed packages as "mineral specimens for educational use." The "dirt" issue is ironic considering there is more dirt on your tires than on your specimens. By the way, any advice on good sites to visit that would be a reasonable drive from the Thousand Islands bridge? Just beginning to plan a trip for next year. Long drive for us (from Pennsylvania) but everyone keeps talking about Canadian fossils so we're intrigued by that and like to combine cool trips with our new fossil hobby.

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Malcolmt

I am not familiar with that area for specific sites to collect as I live about 4 to 5 hours drive from there. I did live in Kingston as a child which is just west of there and there where lots of common fossils to be found. There is an out of print government publication book by Ann Sabina that does describe that area for rock and foossil collecting. Better sites closer to the Bufflo , Detroit or Sarnia crossings.

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Auspex

Mexico is a no-go; even modern beach shells are considered "cultural artifacts" or "national treasures", and the penalties are severe. All you can bring back is a tan.

Elsewhere, in general, invertebrate fossils are not problematic, but getting the specific legalities first-hand from the official source would be the best idea.

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erose

I've never needed to do it but folks have suggested shipping things home via an international carrier ;like UPS, FedEX or DHL. But there are also stories of fossil packages sitting in US customs for months on end.

MalcolmT did some excellent prep work for me (pic to come) and we kept the package small and labeled it as he suggested. Going in each direction it took a short week. No hassles.

I also think a trip abroad could be a good reason to invest in a good camera and then you do your collecting digitally.

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Kosmoceras

Here in Europe it is not a big thing taking rocks or alike across borders. In mainland Europe, most borders you just drive across, no need to stop for any customs or anything. When taking a ferry you don't need to either, they do not have a problem with it, as long as it is not a dangerous item. They do not normally check all your stuff in the back of the car; you just need your passport and ticket. I have never had any problems with any European country, though I know you cannot take cultural artefacts out of Turkey.

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Coco

Hi,

In France, we aren't authorized to collect, and thus to go out of the country :

- Any object having a relationship closely or remotely with the history of the human (points of arrows, cut flints, but also jaws of bear or other animals found in caves, because we consider that they were able to be the preys of the human people),

- Stalactites and stalagmites (I don't know the English words to indicate the concretions limestones which fall vaults of caves, or those who settle on their ground).

Except for these two types of objects, I don't think that it is forbidden to import or to export fossils. I never had any problem.

Coco

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Malcolmt

Just a caution when you ship from the US to Canada by UPS 100% of the time you get a brokerage fee and duty. There is no brokerage fee with Canada Post or USPS. I have never been charged duty on packages with a declared value of $25.00 or less shipped by the post office. I often get packages from ebay that have declared value of $80 to $100 and as long as it is USPS from the States I and don't get charged any duty. It just depends on how they label it as there is supposed to be no duty on anything entering Canada that was manufactured in the States but is not alchohol or tobacco related.

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Uncle Siphuncle

we took 4 big pcs of luggage full of fossils out of germany last year , no problems. driving across borders is easy over there as mentioned, but i'm more curious about airport customs in various countries, specifically portugal as we may fly in and out of lisbon with fossils going both ways on our honeymoon coming up soon. not sure if risk of confiscation is greatest in shipping stuff home vs carrying it on the plane. scrub all dirt! i think microbes in the soil are the concern, diseases from animal excrement, etc. wash those fossils for best chances of hassle free fossil transport!

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sward

... What they seem to be paranoid about is dirt. They want to prevent the import of any new pests...I generally get hassled everytime on the dirt issue...

danwoehr wrote:

"...scrub all dirt! i think microbes in the soil are the concern..."

I really get a kick out of this one.

I never knew it, but there must be some form of barrier in the soil all along the border between the US and Canada that keeps these pests/microbes from crossing the border. :zzzzscratchchin:

This seems especially "odd" for those of you who live near the border, as if the soil that may be on a fossil is much different than the soil in your yard.

I realize the reasoning for it, I just get a kick out of it every time I hear something about it.

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jpc

Canada is not a one law fits all country on this. Alberta has strict rules about collecting fossils there and stricter rules about taking them out of Alberta.

Here is what I learned last year in doing my European trip...

France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, netherlands and UK are all OK to collect fossils and bring them home. The UK has certain SSSI sites that are off limits and has rules against digging into cliffs on the coast. Switerland's rules are different by canton (their equivalent of states/provinces). Spain and Italy are no collecting zones.

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Kosmoceras

The UK has certain SSSI sites that are off limits and has rules against digging into cliffs on the coast.

More information about SSSI sites here.

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Malcolmt

Please someone jump in on this , my understanding was that Alberta did not have a ban on invertebrates and plants outside of government property and posted areas. Not that I am going to get to hunt in Alberta any time soon.

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FossilDAWG

All fossils in Alberta are the property of the province. You can surface collect (no digging without a permit, which requires a graduate degree and proof of a funded research project), with the provision that articulated specimens, bone beds, rare species, fossils in generally unfossiliferous formations, and all other "scientifically important" specimens must be left in place and reported to a museum or the Geological Survey. The kicker is, although you may keep common, surface collected fossils, they cannot legally be removed from the province without first obtaining a "certificate of disposition", which transfers legal ownership from the province to you. I have no experience with this, and I have no idea how convoluted/time consuming the process may be. So, if you live in Alberta and don't plan on moving, you can surface collect and keep common fossils. If you're visiting the province from Ontario (or anywhere else), legally much more complicated.

More info here.

Don

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Down under fossil hunter

Australia is also pretty strict, from what I know you can collect common fossils and take them out of the country however verts and anything pre/cambrian as well as excessive amounts are not allowed out it is covered under our "moveable cultural heritage act".

Not that this stops items appearing on ebay and in the collections of overseas buyers.

From an importing point of view, Australia recognises the laws of most other countries so if it is illegal to take it out e.g. China, South America, Spain etc you can bet that it is illegal for us to bring it into the country.

What a shame.

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FossilDAWG

Australia is also pretty strict, from what I know you can collect common fossils and take them out of the country however verts and anything pre/cambrian as well as excessive amounts are not allowed out it is covered under our "moveable cultural heritage act".

Not that this stops items appearing on ebay and in the collections of overseas buyers.

From an importing point of view, Australia recognises the laws of most other countries so if it is illegal to take it out e.g. China, South America, Spain etc you can bet that it is illegal for us to bring it into the country.

What a shame.

What is it that is "a shame"? That Australia has some measures in place to protect scientifically important fossils? Or that Australia recognizes other countries rights to pass their own laws to protect their own resources?

We can bemoan the overly restrictive laws some countries/provinces/municipalities have in place, and perhaps try to work with those governments to develop more reasonable laws (though I doubt that has ever worked once laws are in place). However, if we expect our own laws to be recognized elsewhere, aren't we obligated to return the favor?

We should also bear in mind that sometimes the legal banning of collecting or exporting fossils has resulted directly from abusive practices by commercial and amateur collectors. Alberta's laws resulted from wholesale raiding of the provinces dinosaur resources by natural history museums, primarily from the US, and by commercial collectors who harvested mainly whole, articulated skeletons to sell to museums worldwide. While the response (severely restricting the collection of even common invertebrates, and banning their movement out of the province altogether) seems to be over the top, it isn't easy for a law to define "a priori" exactly what is and what is not a scientifically important fossil, and it is easy to legislate a blanket ban.

There is a self-destructive cycle at play here. By paying the equivalent of a year's income or more to some Chinese farmer (as an example) for a specimen of a Jurassic or Cretaceous dinosur or bird, we encourage them to tear up the outcrop, destroying less valuable but still scientifically significant specimens and also losing the information to be gained from careful study of associated fauna/flora, lithology, etc. Then the government is more or less compelled to step in, which often results in overly draconian laws. A better course might be to use the sale of common fossils to fund the careful scientific study of the site, but that rarely seems to happen. The Green River fish fauna is perhaps the only example I can think of where that approach has been fairly successful.

Don

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Down under fossil hunter

What is it that is "a shame"? That Australia has some measures in place to protect scientifically important fossils? Or that Australia recognizes other countries rights to pass their own laws to protect their own resources?

We can bemoan the overly restrictive laws some countries/provinces/municipalities have in place, and perhaps try to work with those governments to develop more reasonable laws (though I doubt that has ever worked once laws are in place). However, if we expect our own laws to be recognized elsewhere, aren't we obligated to return the favor?

We should also bear in mind that sometimes the legal banning of collecting or exporting fossils has resulted directly from abusive practices by commercial and amateur collectors. Alberta's laws resulted from wholesale raiding of the provinces dinosaur resources by natural history museums, primarily from the US, and by commercial collectors who harvested mainly whole, articulated skeletons to sell to museums worldwide. While the response (severely restricting the collection of even common invertebrates, and banning their movement out of the province altogether) seems to be over the top, it isn't easy for a law to define "a priori" exactly what is and what is not a scientifically important fossil, and it is easy to legislate a blanket ban.

There is a self-destructive cycle at play here. By paying the equivalent of a year's income or more to some Chinese farmer (as an example) for a specimen of a Jurassic or Cretaceous dinosur or bird, we encourage them to tear up the outcrop, destroying less valuable but still scientifically significant specimens and also losing the information to be gained from careful study of associated fauna/flora, lithology, etc. Then the government is more or less compelled to step in, which often results in overly draconian laws. A better course might be to use the sale of common fossils to fund the careful scientific study of the site, but that rarely seems to happen. The Green River fish fauna is perhaps the only example I can think of where that approach has been fairly successful.

Don

Or perhaps the shame lies in seeing scientifically priceless specimens aforementioned up for the highest overseas bidder to add to his/her collection despite it not even represented, in the museums of its country of origin.

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FossilDAWG

Or perhaps the shame lies in seeing scientifically priceless specimens aforementioned up for the highest overseas bidder to add to his/her collection despite it not even represented, in the museums of its country of origin.

I agree that that is "a shame". If that was the intent of your post, I'm sorry that I missed it. I reread your post and I still don't get that meaning from it. Nevertheless, we agree that scientifically important specimens should be available for research, and they should stay in the country of origin (assuming that country has the facilities to curate and care for the specimen).

Don

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Kosmoceras

It is Illegal to collect and take dinosaur fossils out of Hungary.

Edited by Kosmoceras

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jpc

It is Illegal to collect and take dinosaur fossils out of Hungry.

Hungry or Hungary? Do you know about other Hungarian Fossil laws?

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Kosmoceras

Hungry or Hungary? Do you know about other Hungarian Fossil laws?

Hungary, sorry I missed a letter - now eddied my post. No I don't, I just know that dinosaur fossils can only be found in one quarry there, and removing them is against the law unless you are with a specieal team doing research there. So they are not allowed to be collected by collectors or taken out of the country.

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Auspex

So, does the ban apply to all fossils?

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Kosmoceras

So, does the ban apply to all fossils?

I don't know that far. I will try get some more information.

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Kosmoceras

It is just dinosaur fossils and private land, other than that no restrictions! :D

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