Few things can ruin your day more than when your brand new purse worth tens of thousands of crowns ends up in the trash at the airport. It would probably only be worse if traveling with it landed you a huge fine. This isn't just paranoia, either. Products made out of snake or reptile skin get confiscated at airports multiple times a year.
Permit or bust
Surely you have noticed the recent case that shook the world of many handbag lovers. A woman at an Australian airport had a luxury purse worth 20,000 dollars confiscated because she did not have the appropriate permits. Customs officers were fully entitled to do so - trade of many plant and animal species is internationally regulated.
The import and export of specific species may thus require a permit, and in some cases may be illegal. And fines are not usually low. It is therefore worth it to avoid such a risk and make sure that the new snakeskin wallet you bought in a boutique in Abu Dhabi is not made from a species that are prohibited or regulated to trade. In the first case you will not be able to travel with it, in the second case you need a permit.
"In the case of imports from third countries, it is not a decisive factor which chain sells the thing in question,"
explains Martina Kaňková, spokeswoman for the General Directorate of Customs. The term "third country" refers to a non-EU country (with the exception of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). A product made from a protected animal must always meet the same conditions when imported from this area, regardless of whether you buy it at a luxury boutique or at the market.
Thousands of protected animals
One of the most important instruments of world nature preservation is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which, among other things, regulates the import of objects made from animals into the Czech Republic. Its aim is to control and manage international trade in selected endangered species.
It protects approximately 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants. For example, some species traditionally used in Chinese medicine are included in the Convention. An example is the pangolin, whose scales are said to cure cancer, or seahorses, which are supposed to serve as an aphrodisiac. From the plants, for example, there are some types of cacti from which rainsticks are made, which are one of the most popular souvenirs from South America.
According to the degree of endangerment, animals and plants are divided into three categories - I., II. and III. Category I is the most strictly protected, which includes species endangered by extinction. The European Union also has parallel legislation, which essentially corresponds to CITES (the individual categories are called A, B, C and D).
The division according to EU legislation is similar, but stricter. For example, the category of the most strictly protected species is more extensive than that of CITES. Similarly, European legislation protects species that do not fall under CITES.
Several confiscated pieces per year
"The year 2020, with regard to the measures related to COVID-19, is not entirely representative in terms of detained, subsequently confiscated, CITES specimens. If we're talking about products made from the skin of protected specimens, such as watch straps, belts, handbags and the like, there are less than ten pieces per year, "
added Kaňková. In 2019, for example, five crocodile products and two snakeskin ones were confiscated. However, this is still a relatively small number compared to previous years. In 2012, customs officers confiscated twenty-seven reptile skin products, in 2017 sixteen. Several furs are confiscated regularly every year.
"If we were talking about luxury goods, then in the past, shoes, wallets, crocodile handbags, python and monitor lizard skin or, for example, an engraved leather jacket were confiscated."
said Dominika Pospíšilová on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment.
How to take your Birkin made from crocodile skin on vacation?
To travel around Europe, a receipt or other document that proves that the item has a legal origin is enough. However, it is more complicated with third countries. Even though you do not need a CITES permit for some species of crocodiles (there is an exception for them up to 4 pieces), you can still find yourself in a situation where you have to prove that the handbag is not made from a strictly protected animal.
Therefore, when buying an exotic leather handbag, for example in a luxury boutique, it is extremely important that you ask for a CITES certificate. Even if you buy the item in the Czech Republic. It will come in handy if you want to take your favorite handbag on holiday outside Europe.
However, luxury boutiques usually attach certificates to exotic goods free of charge on request. Hermès specifically explains this on their website:
"Some of our goods made from rare materials cannot leave the country of purchase without a CITES permit. Upon request, your Hermès store will issue you a certificate, but this may take several weeks."
Pospíšilová also confirms that you should receive a certificate with your purchase:
"In the case that these products have been imported into the EU with a CITES authorization, the seller should hand over this document and a copy at the time of sale to the new owner so that they can prove the legal origin of the goods in the event of an inspection."
However, if you do not have a permit and need it, you can try contacting the store where you purchased the item. Otherwise, it is also possible to contact the Ministry of the Environment, which will issue it to you for a fee.
Don't bring a Shahtoosh shawl from India
On top of everything, each continent has the conditions set a little differently. In many countries, exports are severely punished under local law. So what to do? Find out where the product falls within CITES, but also what the legislation of the country of origin is.
India, for example, has very strict nature protection legislation. Although the Shahtoosh shawl is a famous luxury souvenir, it is made from the wool of a very rare Tibetan "chiru" antelope, which is on the verge of extinction. It is also necessary to be careful with products made of feline fur or snake skins. They are protected in India and can not be exported.
In China, for example, you will need a permit for most snake and lizard skin products, such as briefcases, handbags and shoes. On the other hand, you can bring crocodile skin products (from the species of crocodiles listed in Annex B of the EU regulation) without a permit, up to a maximum of 4 pieces per person.
Specifically because of crocodile and alligator skin, protests also happen regularly. PETA activists, for example, have protested in front of Hermès branches around the world in the past against killing reptiles for luxury accessories. According to PETA, crocodiles and alligators are often still alive when skinned. The organization also released a video from a farm in Texas showing the methods.
That's not the end of the protests against the Hermès brand. Jane Birkin herself subsequently asked Hermès not to use her name in connection with handbags made from crocodile skin. Hermès themself then apologized for the wrongdoings on the Texas farm, and Jane Birkin withdrew her request.
So how is it exactly?
Finally, a small summary: What do you need if you want to bring a luxury item made from the skin of an exotic animal from Paris or Milan? In theory, a receipt is enough because you do not need a CITES permit for intra-EU trade. However, it is still useful to ask for it with your purchase. You can use it in the future.
However, when you shop in Hong Kong or Singapore, for example, a CITES permit is usually necessary for import into the Czech Republic (including the reptiles mentioned). Fortunately, most luxury boutiques, do not hesitate to include them with the purchase free of charge, especially for foreigners.
And if you are still lost, you can always look in the database to see what specific conditions apply to the species from which your item is made.