Office of Law Enforcement
Protecting Wildlife and Plant Resources
Traveling Overseas with Eagle Items: Guidelines for U.S. Native Americans

Can Native Americans travel overseas with eagle items?

Enrolled members of U.S. federally recognized tribes who obtain an eagle transport permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may legally travel overseas with eagle items for religious purposes.

What is an eagle transport permit?

An eagle transport permit is an authorization for the temporary international movement of eagle items. This authorization makes it possible under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act for enrolled members of U.S. federally recognized tribes to travel into and out of the United States with legally possessed bald or golden eagle parts or items.

What is the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act?

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is a Federal law that helps conserve bald and golden eagles. It makes it illegal to take, possess, sell, purchase, transport, export, or import bald and golden eagles, their parts, nests, or eggs. It authorizes the Service to issue permits allowing these birds to be taken, possessed, or transported within the United States for the religious purposes of Indian tribes. The Act’s protections have applied to bald eagles since 1940 and to golden eagles since 1962.

Why did the Service introduce eagle transport permits?

For decades, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibited anyone from bringing eagles, eagle feathers, or eagle parts into or out of the country for any reason. This prohibition on “import” and “export” was intended to protect eagles from possible commercial exploitation by preventing any international trade in eagles, eagle feathers, and eagle parts.

Under this law, even Native Americans who used eagle feathers and parts for religious purposes could not legally travel with these items outside of the United States. Eagle items that were taken out of the country for any reason were subject to seizure by law enforcement officers. Native Americans traveling internationally faced two unappealing alternatives: either leave eagle items at home or risk having them confiscated.

In 1999, the Service introduced eagle transport permits to address this problem. This transport authorization recognizes the religious and cultural significance of eagles to Native Americans and makes it possible under the Eagle Protection Act for enrolled members of U.S. federally recognized tribes to travel overseas legally with eagle items.

How does this transport authorization work?

With this authorization, you can obtain the permits required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to lawfully leave the United States and enter other countries with eagle items. You can take these items with you when you visit foreign countries without violating Federal wildlife protection laws or this international treaty. You can clear customs in other countries more easily and keep your eagle articles from being seized overseas for CITES violations. And you can help maintain safeguards that protect eagles.

What is CITES?

CITES is a global agreement through which some 160 member nations work together to protect animals and plants and ensure their continued survival in the wild. The treaty controls trade in listed species, including parts and products, through a system of permits. Species are listed at one of three levels of protection, which are referred to as Appendices I, II, and III; each has different permit requirements.

How are eagles covered by CITES?

Bald eagles are listed on CITES Appendix I. Bald eagles and bald eagle items may only be moved from one country to another if the country of origin issues a permit allowing departure (i.e., “export”) and the destination country issues a permit authorizing entry (i.e., “import”).

Appendix II species, such as the golden eagle, must have a permit from the country of export to move internationally.

Do CITES permit requirements apply to my personal travel with eagle items?

Yes. CITES permit requirements apply not only to commercial trade, but to all international movement of protected species, parts, and products, including personal travel. If you bring bald or golden eagle items into a CITES member country without the required permits, customs officers may confiscate them.

The authorization you receive when you obtain an eagle transport permit makes it legal under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act for the Service to issue you the CITES permits needed to protect your eagle articles when you travel overseas.

Do I need an eagle transport permit to travel overseas with my eagle items?

Yes. You need an eagle transport authorization and a U.S. CITES permit to safeguard your eagle items overseas. Your eagle transport authorization will be recorded on your CITES permit. Customs officers around the world will require you to have a CITES permit from the United States for eagle items. If your items contain feathers or parts from bald eagles, you will also need a CITES import permit from the country you are visiting.

Do I need an eagle transport permit to go to Canada or Mexico with my eagle items?

Not at this time. Under current Service policy, you may travel within North America with eagle items for religious use without an eagle transport permit. You must be an enrolled member of a U.S. recognized tribe and you must declare your eagle items on a Service wildlife import/export declaration form (Form 3-177) when you leave and return to the United States. See our public bulletin on Transport of Eagle Items within North America and factsheet on Traveling to Canada or Mexico with Eagle Items.

Who can obtain an eagle transport permit for religious purposes?

You must be an enrolled member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe (25 U.S.C. 479a-1) who wants to travel overseas and carry and use eagle items.

If I obtained eagle feathers from the National Eagle Repository and already have an eagle permit from the Service, do I still need to apply for a separate authorization for overseas travel before taking these items out of the United States?

Yes. The eagle permit you already have only authorizes you to possess the items you received from the Repository and transport them within the United States. An eagle transport authorization and CITES permit are needed to accommodate overseas travel.

Do I need an eagle transport permit if my eagle items pre-date the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act?

You need an eagle transport authorization from the Service to obtain CITES permits and travel legally overseas with pre-Act items.

What items can I take out of the United States under an eagle transport permit?

You can obtain authorization to transport dead bald and golden eagles; eagle mounts, parts, feathers, and nests; dead eagle eggs; and items made from or containing these materials that you legally possess. Transport permits will not be issued for live bald or golden eagles or eagle eggs.

How do I apply for an eagle transport permit for religious purposes?

Contact the Migratory Bird Office that serves the State where you live or the Service’s Division of Management Authority (1-800-358-2104), which issues U.S. CITES permits. Service staff will send you an application package and answer any questions you have about completing it.

What forms will I need to fill out?

The application package includes two forms: a certification of your tribal enrollment and a CITES permit application. The CITES permit application will ask you to list your eagle items and identify them by species. It will also ask you to identify your destination country and the port from which you are leaving.

How far in advance of my trip should I apply?

Although we will try to process your application as quickly as possible, we recommend that you submit your application at least 30 to 60 days before you plan to leave.

Do I need to obtain certification from a tribal religious leader to show that my eagle items are intended for religious use?

No. We no longer require certification from tribal religious leaders for permits that authorize Native Americans to take, possess, or transport eagles and eagles parts in the United States. Nor do we require such certification from applicants who want to travel overseas with eagle items.

Should I list only the eagle items I plan to take with me on this particular trip?

We recommend that you list all the eagle items you own that you might potentially ever want to take overseas. Providing a complete list will help us process CITES permits for any future trips you make with any of these items. You do not have to take every authorized item with you each time you travel.

What if I acquire new eagle items after receiving an eagle transport authorization?

You will need a new authorization to cover items acquired after we process your first application. We will need to amend your CITES permit before you leave the United States, if you have not yet used it and will be traveling with these new items.

What type of documents do I get back from the Service after my application is processed?

You will receive a U.S. CITES permit. Your authorization under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act to travel internationally with eagle items is recorded on this form. You will not receive a separate piece of paper that says “eagle transport permit” on it.

Is this the only CITES permit I need?

No. If your items contain bald eagle parts or feathers, you also need a CITES permit from your destination country. If your application to us indicates that you do not have this permit, we will contact you and tell you what you need to do to comply with CITES requirements and protect your items while you are overseas.

Under the CITES treaty, your departure from the country you are visiting is treated as a separate international transaction. In most cases, you will need a permit from that country’s CITES permitting authority to leave with either golden or bald eagle items.

How to I get the foreign CITES permits I need?

You must apply to the CITES permitting authority in your destination country. You can obtain contact information for the foreign agencies that issue CITES permits by calling the Service’s Division of Management Authority at 1-800-358-2104 or by checking the directory of national contacts on the CITES web site.

We also recommend that you check with your destination country to see if any of its domestic laws will affect your ability to bring in or leave with eagle items. Many foreign countries have their own wildlife rules and regulations; these laws may be more restrictive than the CITES treaty.

How do I use the CITES permit I get from the Service?

Before you leave on your trip, make two copies of your CITES permit. Keep one to serve as your personal record showing that you have received authorization under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act to travel overseas with eagle items. This copy is, in effect, your “eagle transport permit.” You can use this authorization again if you apply for CITES permits for additional trips overseas with your eagle items.

Take the original CITES permit and the second copy with you when you travel. The original permit will be validated by Service wildlife inspectors when you leave the country. Show it to customs officers when you arrive in your destination country. They will cancel it and take it from you. When you come back to the United States, show the copy to Service inspectors.

What happens if I change planes in another country on my way to my final destination?

You do not need to show your permit to authorities there since you will not clear customs and officially enter that country.

Is the CITES permit I get from the Service only good for one trip?

Yes. The treaty does not allow member countries to issue permits that cover multiple trips. CITES permits must also be used within 180 days after they are issued.

What if I want to go overseas with my eagle items on more than one trip during a 180-day period? Do I have to file a separate application for each trip?

No. If you have multiple trips planned during a 180-day period, you can submit one application requesting permits for all of these trips. Tell us where you are going each time. We will issue you a separate CITES permit for each trip.

Do I need to get a new eagle transport permit each time I want to leave the United States with eagle items?

No. The authorization recorded on the first CITES permit you receive is not tied to a specific trip. You will, as explained above, need a new CITES permit for each trip. Send us a copy of your first permit (which shows your eagle transport authorization) with your application to expedite our processing of your CITES permit. We will also have a record of your transport authorization in our permits database.

Do other Federal laws with permit requirements also apply to eagles?

Yes. The Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act also regulate the international movement of eagles. The application you file for an eagle transport authorization will provide all of the information needed to meet other applicable permit requirements administered by the Service. We will coordinate permit issuance to limit the administrative burden on you. We will note on your CITES permit that you have met the requirements of these other U.S. laws.

If my religious articles contain feathers from migratory birds in addition to eagles, do I need to apply for a separate migratory bird permit?

No. When you submit your application for an eagle transport authorization, specify that your items also contain feathers from other protected birds. Service staff will coordinate the issuance of your permit in accordance with all applicable U.S. laws and regulations.

If my religious articles only contain feathers from migratory birds other than eagles, do I need a Service permit to take these items out of the country?

Yes. You need to obtain a migratory bird permit to travel overseas with items containing migratory bird feathers. You may also need U.S. or foreign CITES permits depending on the species. For example, virtually all raptors are listed on either CITES Appendix I or II and require CITES permits to be moved from one country to another. You will need a U.S. CITES permit to take items containing raptor feathers overseas; you may also need a permit from the country you’re visiting depending on the species, its level of protection under the CITES treaty, and the domestic laws of that nation.

Are there any fees for obtaining an eagle transport authorization or any of the other U.S. permits mentioned above?

No. The Service has waived all permit fees under its control.

How long will my eagle transport authorization be valid?

Under current regulations, this authorization is valid for up to three years. You may apply for CITES permits for as many trips as you want during this period without renewing your transport “permit.”

What conditions affect my transport of eagle items?

You are the only one who can use your eagle transport authorization and CITES permit. Permits are issued to specific individuals and cannot be transferred to other people. Your transport authorization and CITES permit may contain special conditions unique to your situation. Under no circumstances, however, may you transfer your items to anyone else for gain or profit. Nor may you travel with items that are not listed on your permit.

How long can I remain out of the United States with my eagle items?

Service regulations now stipulate that no trip can last longer than 180 days. We realize that this provision does not address the needs of tribal members who are temporarily living overseas (for example, individuals serving in the armed forces). If you know that you will be out of the United States for more than 180 days, let us know; we will accommodate your special circumstances while we work to solve the underlying problem through the regulatory process.

May I leave an eagle feather or item behind in the country I am visiting?

Our regulations presently require that all items remain in your possession. If your religious practice conflicts with this requirement, please inform us of your specific circumstances when you apply for your transport authorization and CITES permits so that we can accommodate you.

May eagle items be altered while they are out of the United States?

There is no prohibition regarding alterations. If you plan to have eagle feathers or parts made into a religious article or have an existing ceremonial item refashioned while you are out of the United States, you may want to bring your plans to the attention of our permitting office.

Are there other Federal regulations that apply when I travel overseas with eagle items?

Yes. Because your transport of eagle items is authorized by a Service permit, certain wildlife inspection requirements apply. Specifically, you must

  • Travel via a designated port or arrange with us in advance to use a non-designated port.
  • Notify Service inspectors at the port you’re using at least 72 hours before you plan to leave or return to the United States so we can arrange to clear your items.
  • Declare your eagle items to the Service by completing and filing a Form 3-177 , Declaration of Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife, with us or the U.S. Customs Service before you leave.
  • Show your CITES permit to Service wildlife inspectors or Customs officers when you leave the United States to obtain clearance.

Will Service or U.S. Customs inspectors ask to see my eagle items?

You may be asked to present your items for inspection. If you have concerns about the sacred or ceremonial nature of the items you are transporting, discuss them with the inspecting officer. Although you may still be asked to show the items, inspecting officers will avoid handling the articles and make every effort to show respect for your religious or cultural traditions.

Do I have to declare my eagle items each time I leave the country?

Yes. You must file a declaration form (Form 3-177) every time you transport eagle items out of or back into the country.

How do I get permission to use a non-designated port?

When you apply for an eagle transport permit (or any subsequent CITES permits after receiving your transport authorization), identify your planned departure location. We will note on your CITES permit that you are authorized to use a non-designated port.

All fees normally charged for using non-designated ports will be waived.

How can I find out more about wildlife inspection requirements?

Contact a Service regional law enforcement office or wildlife inspection office .

Who can tell me more about application procedures for obtaining an eagle transport authorization?

Check with the regional Migratory Bird Office that processes permit applications for the State where you live. You may also contact the Service’s Division of Management Authority (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Management Authority, 5275 Leesburg Pike, MS: IA, Falls Church, VA 22041; phone 1-800-358-2104).


Last updated: February 14, 2013