Carved whalebone necklace
Image: DOC


Without permits, there is a risk personal taonga made from, or with, animal parts such as feathers and bone or kākahu (cloaks) will be confiscated during your travel.

To make sure your personal taonga (cultural treasure) arrives with you safely when you travel, you may need permits from one or more agencies. DOC, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, and/or the CITES authority in the country you are going to, can help you with the right documentation.

Before you travel, you will need to contact each to confirm what you will require. They will need to know:

  • what item you are leaving and/or returning with, including what it’s made from
  • how old the item is if known (or first known date of acquisition)
  • where you are going and if you will return with the item to New Zealand.

When you have your documentation, carry it with the item and show this to border officials when leaving and if returning. Border officials will need to keep your original documentation, so take an additional copy for your records.

When returning to New Zealand, declare the items on your arrival card under ‘animals and animal products’. Show these items and your documentation to border officers.

Documentation you may need from DOC

DOC issues many permits needed to travel with personal taonga. These include permits to leave or enter New Zealand with taonga and documentation confirming how and where it you received it.

  • CITES export and import permits: You may require these permits to leave and enter New Zealand with your taonga.
  • CITES pre-Convention certificate: If you got your taonga before it was listed on CITES, you may qualify for a certificate that can sometimes be used instead of a permit.
  • Sworn affidavit: Affidavits may sometimes be necessary to support where and how you gained your taonga. For example, whether you gained your item in New Zealand can affect whether you need a permit.
  • A Wildlife Act Authority to Export: You may require this if you plan to take animals, plants or their products. This includes taonga containing feathers, such as kākahu.
  • A marine mammal permit: This is usually required to import or export marine mammals or marine mammal products.

How long will my permit take?

If required, marine mammal permits and Wildlife Act Authority documentation must be obtained before you apply for CITES documentation.

Documentation you may need from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

In New Zealand, the export of protected objects is regulated by the Protected Objects Act (1975). 

To leave New Zealand with your taonga, you may require a Certificate of Permission from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. This will apply if:

You won’t need a Certificate of Permission if your kākahu or craft is less than 50 years old. If your kākahu or craft looks over 50 years old, request a letter from the Ministry confirming exemption of the item.

Contact the Protected Objects team to check if you will need to apply for a certificate to travel with your personal taonga.

Documentation you may need from CITES in other countries

Before travelling, you will need to check the permitting requirements of the country you're travelling to. If you are travelling to multiple countries you may need a permit for each country. Many countries have strict permit requirements to travel with taonga items such as whalebone.

The CITES website lists all CITES national authorities who can also help to make sure you have the correct documentation for when you arrive.

The New Zealand government has very limited ability to help in having items returned once they have been seized in another country, so make sure to travel with the correct permits.


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