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The 'when' and 'how' of using a carnet

If you are travelling with professional equipment abroad, you should always check before leaving if the country you are setting off to, or any of the countries you are travelling through for that matter, takes part in the ATA Carnet system. If this is the case you must have a carnet.

What is a carnet?

A carnet is actually a simple but very detailed shipping document that allows you to travel from country to country with all your filming equipment without having to pay import duty or taxes every time you cross a border.

The consequences of not carrying a carnet with you while you travel vary per country, but if you are working on a big production with lots of crates, carrying lots of equipment, the bill will be very high. Generally you will be charged import duty at a set percentage of the equipment's value (if you quickly do the maths you might understand the importance of carrying a carnet).

Note here the use of the phrase “carry with you”; if you are travelling with the equipment you must always carry it with you – a tangible copy of the document.

Aside from having to pay the bill, risk halting a production, losing your insurance for example, you could also end up at the airport for hours on end.

Where do I go to get a carnet?

After checking that the country you are travelling to or through is one of the around 80 ATA Carnet countries, you can either contact your local film commission or the film commission of your destination, they should be able to advise you on where to go. Generally this will be your local Chamber of Commerce or an equivalent thereof.

The suitable organisation can help you with the details and provide you with the documents you need to complete.

A key piece of advice we heard from a variety of producers who no longer wish to get stuck at airports is: don’t just assume other people take care of the carnet but check and double check before you set off.

Another word of advice is to make sure you are not waiting to create your carnet until the last minute but add to the list gradually as your production is making progress. Lost or unlisted items could cost you a large slice of your budget which is certainly not in anybody’s interest.

If you need to do it yourself, bear in mind it can be a laborious job with your kit coming from a whole bunch of suppliers but with enough time scheduled for the job it is always doable.

What does a carnet cost?

Getting a carnet put together (even if you do it yourself) will cost you some money. Make sure you don’t forget to budget for this. These costs will depend on your home country, who you use as an issuing agent and what you are taking with you and where you are going. Your local advisor can give you an estimate for this though.

As a guarantee, to cover any customs claim that might result from a misused or incorrect carnet, the issuing body will require a deposit, often worth around 40% of the shipment value.  This is normally done using surety bonds (bank guarantee) or cash deposits. The cash deposits will of course be returned in full if no claim regarding the carnet is being made and the surety bonds will be terminated in this case.

A carnet will be valid for the period of one year and only for the countries mentioned on the document.

What if your carnet gets lost or stolen?

There are three reasons why you might be subject to a claim against your carnet.

The first thing to remember, and this is a controllable factor, is to ensure none of your equipment gets lost or stolen. Lost or stolen equipment can and will cost you import duty (as you are seen as having left it at the country you were shooting in or travelling through). Make sure every item gets packed and packing is checked against the carnet.

Another reason is an incomplete list or missing stamps from customs. With some border crossings it might be impossible, for whatever reason, to get the necessary stamps proving customs have checked your carnet against your actual equipment. If this is the case the country you are leaving does not have a record of you exporting what you brought in at an earlier date (or vice versa) and they might claim import or export duty on your items.

If this happens you need to contact your issuer as soon as possible to find a way to prove to that authority that paying import or export duty is not relevant. For example, upon return to your home country, you will acquire a stamp from customs showing you have returned all the goods you carried with you. This stamp could be sent over as evidence.

If you've completely lost your carnet and a foreign authority makes a claim, then your issuer can set up a ‘physical check’ with customs officials, meaning they come to your premises and check all the serial numbers of your returned items against the serial numbers on the issued carnet. Do keep in mind though that although these solutions will save you money, they will also cost you in admin fees and perhaps penalties from foreign authorities. The best thing to do with this information is to see it as another reminder to carry multiple copies with you at all times and distribute them within the travelling team if necessary.

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