LEGAL PAD: Tips for International Touring

by | May 8, 2013 | Booking Gigs & Touring, Music Contracts & Law

No matter what side of the spectrum you are on, touring in a foreign land can be complicated.  If you’re considering your first tour or festival overseas, here are some things to keep in mind:

Foreign Artists Touring the United States:

Obtaining a work visa in the United States is not easy.  Couple that difficulty with a minimal (or non-existent) payday, and the prospects can seem even more daunting.  This has been a hot-button issue for bands trying to get to the States for popular festivals. British newspaper The Guardian discussed the red tape prohibiting some UK bands from performing at SXSW, stating: 

“Artist manager Peter White, of Fear and Records, says the process of getting visas to play events such as SXSW and CMJ) can be quite confusing. Simply having an invitation to play does not guarantee you a visa; you also have to prove that you’re a professional band, serious about its career. According to White, there doesn’t seem to be a set formula for demonstrating this. He says one UK band that has had quite considerable success was recently denied US visas after they were deemed insufficiently famous. Meanwhile, American bands playing events such as Brighton’s The Great Escape have no problem getting visas, unless they have criminal convictions.”

So what can you do to make it to next year’s festival in the States?  All international acts performing for a paying public audience are required to obtain a work visa regardless of compensation.  To do that, you need to go through a few steps (below are the basics – for specifics, you’ll want to go visit your country’s checklist at the Department of State

Visa Type: You’ll be coming to the US as a non-immigrant, temporary worker, and required to get a Category P-1 or P-2 visa type, which is designated for individual or group artists and entertainers.

Pre-Requisites: Before you can get a visa, you’ll need the Department of Homeland Security and Citizen and Immigration Services to approve an application form I-129.

File Online: You can complete the visa application form DS-160 online at the U.S. Department of State.  Make sure to have a current picture (within the past six months) ready to upload.

Schedule & Attend an Interview: You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview, generally, at the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you live.  During your interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa. You will need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.

Make sure you have all required documents: This will include:  (1) Passport valid for travel to the U.S. (must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay).  (2) Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-160 confirmation page. (3) Application fee payment receipt.  (4) Receipt Number for your approved petition as it appears on your Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, or Notice of Action, Form I-797, from USCIS.

From there, after processing, you will receive confirmation of visa approval or a denial letter.  Under some circumstances, you may be able to travel to the U.S. without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. For more information on this program visit

Here are some other helpful links to get you on your way:

US Citizen & Immigration Services:

US Department of State FAQ:

US Citizens Touring Abroad:

For acts from the States, touring abroad can be more straightforward, but not without its complications.  The most popular destination for American bands abroad is the United Kingdom.  Here are the basics if you plan to tour there.

Get a valid passport:  New passports or renewals can be obtained online through the U.S. Department of State’s website: The cost varies between $55 and $165 depending on if you’re a first time applicant, renewing, or obtaining a passport book or card. Check out to view the passport facilities nearest you and apply at least two months in advance of your trip.

In order for your group to perform in the UK, you need the requisite permits or visas.  Here are the most popular options:

Work Permit: If you are planning a traditional tour, you’ll need a work permit, regardless of the duration of your stay or how many gigs you’ve lined up. Your work permit will be applied for by your employer – most likely your promoter or, in rarer circumstances, the club/booking agent. You’ll need a strict itinerary locked in prior to your employer applying for permits. If your band is less than 19 people, you’ll need a work permit for each member. Your UK-based employer can find applications for work permits for musicians specifically under the Sportspeople and Entertainers work permit category.  There is a fairly short turnaround for the work permit application process, generally around two weeks.

Entertainment Visa: An entertainment visa is the way to go if your band is (a) heading to the UK to perform in a music competition; (b) taking part in a cultural event sponsored by the government, or (c) taking part in a charity concert. These are generally good for six months and afford you the luxury of staying abroad without the same restrictions you’ll encounter with a work permit. Of course, an entertainment visa is essentially predicated on the basis that you (i) are not paid for performing; and (ii) can include proof that you can support yourself during your time in the country.

Adam Barnosky is a Boston-based attorney and writer. For music industry news, entertainment law updates, or to suggest an upcoming Legal Pad topic, find him on Twitter @adambarnosky.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this column is general legal information only. Consult your attorney for all specific considerations.