Before you export artworks, it’s important to know the rules governing the circulation of cultural goods to avoid incurring unpleasant criminal penalties.

In this regard, we must refer to the Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape which, in Articles 65 and following, identifies the steps necessary to be able to export artworks legally. In this context, the legislator identifies the goods which, according to their characteristics, cannot be transferred abroad permanently, those which can only be exported definitively with prior ministerial authorization and those which can exit the country freely. More specifically, the provisions in question stipulate that:

  • assets not allowed for permanent transfer abroad means all assets which, by specific decision or following checks as to whether they are publicly owned, were declared to be of particularly important cultural interest. As a precaution, before the above mentioned check takes place, the legislature prohibits the export of all public property or assets held by non profit making entities regarding works by authors who are no longer alive and which were made more than fifty years before.
  • Besides the cases mentioned above, it’s indeed necessary to obtain prior ministerial authorization for permanent transfer abroad: a) of assets belonging to anyone which are of cultural interest, and which are the work of an author who is no longer alive and were created more than fifty years before; b) archives and individual documents, belonging to private individuals, of cultural interest; c) some assets listed in article 11 of the Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape. In such cases, if there are no impediments, the Exports Office issues a certificate of free movement of works, valid for 36 months from the date of issue.
  • The authorisation doesn’t cover the transfer abroad of work made within the last fifty years by an living author, but the concerned party still has to prove these requirements to the relevant export office.

In any case it’s important to point out that all cultural property, withdrawn or not from permanent transfer abroad, can temporarily leave the national territory for the purposes outlined in prevailing legislation. In this case, the legislature requires the person to obtain the correct certificate of temporary registration.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, we should keep in mind that in the event of transfers of assets outside the European Union, we need to refer to the provisions of Regulation (EC) No. 116/2009 regarding the licenses of non-EU exports, particularly regarding the value threshold of artworks in order to determine when to apply for such licenses.

Finally, draft legislation is underway to raise the notification threshold for artworks from 50 to 70 years. The amendment also addresses the issue of the value threshold for works for export purposes established by Regulation (EC) No. 116/2009.
In any case, before transferring a piece of art abroad, it’s always a good idea to contact the local Export Office for objects of art and antiquities in order to avoid incurring legal proceedings with consequences, under article 174 of the Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape, that may lead to imprisonment from one to four years or a fine from €258 ​​to €5165, in addition to the confiscation of property.


Luca Poli
Maelström Art Gallery


The information contained in this article is to be considered general and therefore does not replace the specific advice of a professional. The author cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions.

Cover Image: David Zwirner, © Art Basel

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