Rules for Exporting Culturally Significant Artifacts from Georgia

Learn how to obtain permission from the Ministry of Culture for border crossing
November 16, 2023
Nato Kavtaradze, lawyer, lawyer of JUST Advisors
If you plan to export paintings, antiques, and precious items from Georgia, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the law "On the Export of Cultural Valuables from Georgia." The document mandates obtaining permission when crossing the border with culturally significant works of art.

Why This Might Concern Everyone

Leaving Georgia with commemorative gifts, many are unaware that souvenirs or paintings may have historical or cultural significance, and exporting them from the country without permission could lead to criminal prosecution under Article 259⁴ of the Georgian Criminal Code. However, enforcement under this article is quite rare: no such violations were registered in 2022 or 2023, according to statistics from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

To ensure you avoid unpleasant surprises when crossing borders, follow these simple guidelines:
  • 1
    Research the antiquity’s origin. Before purchasing, make sure you have information about the artwork’s age. This helps determine if it should be considered a cultural heritage item.
  • 2
    Consult local experts or antique dealers to learn more about the value of the items you’re interested in. You can also seek their evaluation if you have doubts.
  • 3
    Clarify the laws regarding exporting valuables from Georgia, both domestic and international.
  • 4
    Document your purchases: keep receipts and contracts to present them to customs and other authorities if needed.
Remember, preserving cultural heritage is important for Georgia and the world. Be vigilant, respect local laws, and traditions. Now, let's delve into the laws in more detail.

What Constitutes Cultural Valuables

According to the Law on Culture, cultural valuables can encompass any samples of creative activity, created from any materials and by any means across historical epochs. The issues concerning the export and import of cultural valuables from and into Georgia are regulated by a separate law bearing the same name. It complements the aforementioned definition and underscores that cultural valuables constitute objects related to archaeology, prehistoric periods, history, literature, art, science, and possess either religious or secular value. They:

  • Were discovered within the territory of Georgia.
  • Were created within the territory of Georgia by the Georgian people or other groups who lived earlier or continue to live within this territory (including stateless individuals of Georgia and foreign citizens).
  • Are gifts or were acquired (including by archaeological, ethnographic, and natural science expeditions of Georgia) with the consent of the relevant authorities of the foreign state where they were created.
In turn, a collection of cultural valuables constitutes a group of homogeneous or heterogeneous cultural objects gathered based on a certain criterion and collectively hold historical, artistic, scientific, or other cultural significance.
The fourth article of the Law on the Export of Cultural Valuables also aids in identifying cultural valuables. For instance, it includes written materials, coins, seals, furniture items over 100 years old, rare musical instruments, withdrawn postage stamps, archaeological findings, and so forth.
As evident from the law, art items can possess cultural value, hence, the import and export of such objects from Georgia are subject to state control.

How to Obtain Permission for Exporting Art

The Ministry of Culture issues permits for the export of cultural valuables from Georgia, which serves as the basis for moving the valuable items through customs and the state border. The permit is standardized, and it’s a one-time authorization valid for three months, priced at 14 lari.

It’s important to note that exporting cultural valuables from Georgia without permission from the Ministry of Culture constitutes a criminal offense under Article 259⁴ of the Georgian Criminal Code. Violation of this regulation can result in a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

To obtain the permit, one needs to provide the Ministry of Culture with the following documents:

  • Written application.
  • Copy of the identification or passport of the person carrying the cultural valuables.
  • Three color photographs of the object believed by the applicant to represent cultural value (photo size: 9×13 cm).
  • If the valuable item is a printed publication, the application should include a copy of the title page of this publication (in three copies).
  • If there are multiple cultural valuables, the application should include a list describing each one (in two copies).
  • If determining the age, material, or other parameters of the cultural valuable from the photos is impossible, the applicant must provide the original item for identification.
The relevant body within the Ministry of Culture (National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation) will review the application within 15 days. If no obstacles arise, the authority will issue the permit for exporting the artwork from Georgia. Depending on the item’s cultural significance, the Agency may request additional documents.
Recently, we released material on a similar topic: how to coordinate property renovation if it is a cultural heritage site. The article will provide a closer look at Georgian legislation regarding cultural monuments.

Nuances of Exporting and Importing Cultural Valuables

Cultural valuables can be exported from Georgia by their lawful owner or their authorized representative acting based on a notarized power of attorney. It's also important to consider:
  • When exporting cultural valuables, a legal entity must documentarily confirm ownership rights to the item being exported.
  • A natural person relocating permanently abroad must also provide documents confirming ownership rights to the artwork if claimed to be held as a family memorial or relic rather than in a state museum, archive, or other public institution.
  • If the item is designated as a cultural heritage site and is being exported from Georgia for sale, the owner must inform the Ministry of Culture. In such cases, depending on the historical, artistic, and/or cultural value of the heritage site, the Ministry has the preferential right to purchase it or sell it at auction to keep the object within Georgia’s territory.
Regarding imports, cultural valuables undergo mandatory customs control and registration upon entry into the country. The customs authorities of Georgia adhere to both domestic codes and international agreements. They verify the lawful basis for the object’s entry into the country and check if it is listed in international databases. The customs service informs the Ministry of Culture of the inspection results within a week.

During the transit of cultural valuables through Georgian customs territory, documents specified by customs legislation and the country’s international obligations are submitted to the Revenue Service of Georgia. Based on this information, a decision is made regarding the import of the specified cultural valuable for transit purposes.
Lawyers at JUST Advisors will assist with the preparation of any documents within the territory of Georgia. We will draft private agreements, provide consultations in family or inheritance law, which may also be related to art items. Learn more about our services at this link.

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