I've never had to deal with one of these before and I was hoping someone could help me. I've been asked to shoot something in Israel and bring along my camera package. I know I need to get a Carnet for my gear but I've never gone about this before. I'm a US citizen in New York.

Can anyone inform me of where to go and what to do? Also, anyone know about what these things cost, how long they're good for, anything else?

Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Mitch "I barely even leave the house" Gross

Mitch, It's more scary in concept than reality. Contact the local Customs people in NY (preferably one that isn't too busy). Get the form from them, fill it out. What you'll probably have to do, if you are taking a large camera package is to list it out with all serial numbers, etc., etc., and attach it to the form. When they accept the form, they will also give the attached list (each page) an offical stamp. The carnet is really so you don't pay import taxes on your own gear. So err on the side of too many numbers.

Good luck,

Mark Woods Cinematographer

Stills That Move, Los Angeles, Calif.

Here in the US Carnets are handled by United States Council for International Business (USCIB). You can learn a lot more about them by pointing your browser at : Cliff Hancuff

Start by going to the web site for the US Council for International Business :

The best advice I can give is to follow the directions very carefully on the application form and be very precise with your serial numbers. There is an office in New York City.

Good luck,


What you'll probably have to do, if you are taking a >large camera package is to list it out with all serial >numbers, etc., etc., and attach it to the form. I believe part of filling out the list also requires estimating the value of each piece of gear as well as the serial numbers. My past experience has been that they never require any type of verification for these estimates. But the do want the list to be thorough and occasionally will ask to see a piece of gear on the list with the matching serial number. After you do the list, it's a good thing to have on record for the future.

Jim Sofranko NY/DP

I use a Carnet Service Bureau that handles all the paperwork for a fee that ranges from $120 to $250 depending on the value of the goods. $250 covers over $500,000 in equipment. Allow at least a week for them to process the forms or if you're in a rush they'll do a 24 hr. turnaround for $100. Roanoke Brokerage Services, Inc.

Glenn Suprenard

Wow! I can't believe things are that much easier in the US. Here in Canada, in order to get a carnet you have to post a bond for the total value of the equipment listed on the carnet. I went to Malaysia/Singapore/Hong Kong last year for a client who had to post a $150,000 bond, plus pay almost a thousand dollars (Canadian, of course) to cover the paperwork. This was a corporate job, so posting a bond wasn't a problem, but it sure can be for small documentary productions! -----

George Hupka Director/DOP

Downstream Pictures Saskatoon, Canada

Reminds me of a carnet "story" that I feel compelled to relate. About 10 years back I was doing a "round the world" job where we were carrying the camera equipment on a carnet. One of the things that is very important when traveling internationally with the equipment on a carnet is that you must continue with the same exact serial numbers and amounts of each and every piece of equipment from the beginning of the trip, until you return to your country of origin. Seems simple enough at first, but it became quite strange when, half way through the 5 week trip, we had one of the local "helpers" drop a case of 3 Arri 35-3 magazines, fully loaded, 30 stories off one of those huge container ship unloading cranes. I was standing, speechless and horrified, right above the guy when he did it. It was just like in the "Road Runner" cartoon, the box disappearing into a speck as it fell, and the the cloud of dust at the bottom. It landed about 4 feet from a poor guy who just happen to be walking by. I'm certain he had to make a quick trip home to get a fresh change of knickers after that. Anyway, to make a long story short, we scraped up all the pieces of the magazines, taped the shattered case back together, and carried that case through 4 more countries in the far east. Every once in a while the customs guy in some country or another would want to see the serial numbers on those magazines, and we would just start laughing and point at the taped together case and he would dutifully sort through the pieces, looking for the serial numbers. Yes, it was my equipment. Yes, the poor guy who dropped it felt horrible about and kept apologizing. I graciously accepted: S--t happens, no one was hurt, (thought it was close.) Yes, the company did replace the magazines when we got back home. And no, the film in those magazines did not survive the experience. Like they say in skydiving, "The danger is not in the falling, it is in the sudden stop at the bottom!"

Bill Bennett

Los Angeles

In Canada I used a (registered) broker and I daresay the same system is used in the States. You can also do the paperwork yourself but you might forget something crucial. Try the local Chamber of Commerce or call the Customs office. In the end a broker is cheaper, believe me. The broker guarantees the bond that must be posted, something similar to bond posting for accused criminals in the States. A carnet is nothing more than your proof you are the owner of said equipment so you wont be charged by customs when you return. It is also a good idea to register your carnet with the embassy of the country you visit as local custom officers are often not very well versed in the rules. Upon leaving the country, either the US or where you went, a customs officer might want to check the serial numbers against the gear so keep the carnet handy. He usually asks for the most expensive item. The camera is ALWAYS hand carried, including a changing bag and the original carnet. Copies of the carnet go with the rest of the gear. You wont believe how the rest of your gear is stowed in the plane. Don't look. Just pray. Hope that nothing gets lost. Happened to me in India: had to fill in a form with 11 (eleven) copies, by hand, and without any carbon paper available. Upon completion (3 hours), the custom officer threw 9 copies into the trash. Upon inquiring why, he stated: "Regulation, sar". Don't EVER get mad. I did. Spend 2 days in the local hog pen. No fun in India. Carry good ball points and carbon paper. Bring patience. An introduction letter from an Embassy does wonders: It states you are the owner of said instruments and you will take it with you when you leave. This letter and the carnet will help you with getting a letter for your insurance from the local police chief or magistrate if something gets stolen. It most probably will. Not that you ever get it back. But it helps with your insurance. Make sure that your insurance covers the region you will visit. Read the superfine, very light blue, print. If there is any mention of "insurrection", "acts of God", or "imminent hostilities" , make sure your employer WRITES A LETTER to you stating that he will act as guarantor. If it is really a disputed area you go to, leave your own gear at home and rent the stuff. ALWAYS hand carry your exposed stock. Upon return some idiot custom officer might want to look what's in the cans. Now you know why you carry a changing bag at all times. This very valuable information is the culmination of 35 years of travelling doing news and docs. I might send you an invoice...

Robert Rouveroy csc The Hague, Holland

Time is precious... Waste it wisely

Do yourself a very large favor. Double check what Robert R. wrote about travelling. Do what he says Insure the crap out of your gear, or better yet make the producer insure the crap out of it. If you are entering any questionable areas be prepared to give up your gear if someone points a gun at you. There's plenty more cameras back at Arri or Panavision. You want to have stories to tell, not have stories told about you. If possible, and it is strongly recommended, get local production help. These folks know how to deal with baksheesh or "tipping" which can speed things along. Don't attempt this on your own, if you are not familiar with local practices. You can definitely end up reliving all of Robert's 35 years of experience in a few days.

If you have piece of personal gear that you would not be able to live without, either keep it with you at all times or leave it at home. That's the one item that will be lost/stolen/broken/confiscated. If something does go wrong, and if you are staying at a nice hotel, the concierge can often be far more helpful than -- depending on the state of international relations -- the US Embassy or consulate. If you're not at a nice hotel then go to one and ask the concierge for help. Show him how grateful you would be if he could help you when he gets off duty. If all else fails pretend you're Canadian, everyone loves Canadians. Tee shirts and ball point pens are universally accepted international monetary units. Packing your gear in old Tee shirts can save space. Don't put them inside gear: we don't want to hear you've been busted for smuggling. That's why they should be old tee shirts.

In America everyone uses these rags for packing : " Help yourself to a couple, Officer." Going into the hinterlands? Get ALL your shots. Don't drink the water.

Brian "Listen to Robert" Heller

I always try to have the sections of the document required to be filled out by me, completed before arriving in the country. Usually on the plane as I'm about to land. I find that it's good to have the document already out and in full view of customs officers giving directions to the area for processing. Have the rest of the crew follow you and they will usually slide through the procedure in your 'wake'. You will probably know more about the procedure that the customs officer in some countries (not Isreal). Have the number of items listed (eg 1 thru 86) written clearly in that part of the document and insist on stamps where they are needed. Have the total value of the carnet written in the local currency of the country you are entering. This tiny bit of thoughtfulness impressed the hell out of tired and weary Customs officials. Typo's can be corrected on the way out with a pen and stamped by the customs people there. Don't accidentally fill out and tear off an exportation voucher instead of an importation voucher when entering the country. Done that! We lost a carnet in Italy (house keeping threw it out!) and had to wait a week to get the equipment from customs in Milan while we waited for a hard copy of the carnet to be DHL'd from Australia. Coulda been worse - a week of sitting about in Moderna drinking coffee etc! Some production companies ask you to reduce the value of your items listed on the carnet document in order to reduce the bond they have to pay to the authority. I suggest that you don't agree to do this as in the event of an insurance claim, these marked down values can be used as a guide to the replacement costs. Finally, allow 3 hours to get yourself and the gear out of Israel. You will have an extensive interview with you equipment laid out in front of you. The interviewers will be no older than 22 and be really pleasant and apologetic.

Pieter de Vries acs

Sydney, Australia

This is very very good advice, the marked down values WILL be used as the payout from the insurance company. Be aware that some airports have customs offices that close well before the last flight, Newark used to be 8 pm, so even if your flight is at 11pm, it was, you'll need to be at the airport at least 4 hours early. Also, some airports custom facilities are several miles from the gate/terminal that you are using, LAX used to be like this. Some countries won't be interested in your carnet as you leave, MAKE SURE THEY ARE!, you may have to go back there and on landing may be arrested for illegally importing kit, i.e. you didn't re-export it last time. I know of one producer who I'm just waiting to go back to......(he wouldn't listen) Lot's of extra copies of the equipment lists, make sure you have spare transit forms, you never know what may happen.


>don't ever get mad.

I did.

Spend 2 days in the local hog pen. Yes, the most valuable additional piece of equipment is a smile.

Not a permenant grin (which may be misinterpreted as the effect of illegal substances) just a gentle smile. Not easy after as 12 hour plus flight in cramped conditions and the inevitable wait for your equipment, but it is essential. Also, avoid alcohol totally. Customs officers the world over don't have a sense of humour. Well, that's not quite true, they simply leave it behind when they enter the customs hall. Thus: 'Anything to declare sir?' Me, somewhat tired and emotional 'Yes, half a kilo of uncut diamonds and six hand grenades!' Two hours later, they let me out of the customs hall, with a severe bollocking. That was at Heathrow 30 years ago and I've never forgotten it. Patience is essential. You MUST ensure that ALL the appropriate duplicate forms have been stamped. DON'T criticise (especially in LAX) rather try helpfully to explain and then be profuse with your thanks, sympathising with the Customs officer about how complex everything is. Certainly in London, you simply head for the commercial dept of customs, not the normal Goods to Declare' line. Also, as was mentioned before, don't go through arrivals without having the Carnet stamped, you can really screw up on your return or when entering other countries. Yes, it's a pain the the bum but it's far more painful (and expensive) when you return and Customs refuse to allow the equipment to renter the country. Most rental companies can help you to prepare a Carnet. Also, it may be worth while to employ a shipping agent to ensure that things go smoothly. (Also written with bitter experience in mind (in my case 24 hours under house arrest at Barhain airport)

Brian Rose

May I recommend you refer to Section 17.2, pages 374-377 of my "Hands-on" Manual for Cinematographers (second edition). Written by one who in his time took camera equipment around the world until he was dizzy, all the experience gained is there in those few pages. It is one of those things that a young itinerant camera person needs to know about yet is not taught in any film school.


David Samuelson

Poor Mitch "never been out of the country" Gross. I've been following this thread and I am really touched by the enormous amount of advice poor Mitch has to absorb. This is what the CML all is about. All these warnings are true, yet we might have forgotten the one thing I hope he will experience. Be very pleased about your assignment. Notwithstanding our cries of doom, you're going to have the time of your life. There is nothing so super fine as travelling while somebody pays you to do so and in the process you'll meet lots of people, lots of situations that'll make you aware. I'd give up at least one of my family jewels ;=}to do it all over again. Envy, envy, envy. Oh yes, take along a Visa or AE card, an iBook or Vaio on a @hotmail.account. Never know when it might be a lifeline. Have a good trip. Tell us when you're back.

Robert Rouveroy csc The Hague, Holland

Time is precious... waste it wisely

My favorite one of these was a certain Northern DP who when asked by Immigration in Sydney "Do you have a criminal record Mr D***?" He replyed "I didn't know you still needed one."

Justin Pentecost Focus Puller

I shipped several tons of equipt from multiple vendors back and forth to Australia from the US on multiple carnets and overlapping multiple shipments for a recent big (read over) budget feature. All of my vendors supplied two shipping lists, one with stated value for customs purposes, and one with REPLACEMENT value for insurance purposes. I would suggest that you submit this to your producer - it will be his insurance that will pay for your gear and it will save him considerable, as even if he uses a Carnet broker to post the bond, he will be paying a fee plus a percentage of the value as listed for customs purposes.

Mark H. Weingartner Lighting and VFX for Motion Pictures

All these warnings are true, yet we might have forgotten the one thing I hope he will experience. Be very pleased about your assignment. This is true. It's simply a fact that the more you travel about the world working and humping film equipment, the more carnet/Customs encounters you're going to have. I've left these shores on quite a number of times in the past fifteen years and only on two occasions have I had a problem with Customs in regard to my documentation. >This is what the CML all is about. I agree, a little overbearing for a first timer. Great isn't it, how a new CML subject can reign so much knowledge and interest from so many people? > There is nothing so super fine as travelling while somebody pays you to do so > and in the process you'll meet lots of people, lots of situations that'll make > you aware. I still wake up some mornings in a new country and have to pinch myself and say (quietly) "how did a jerk like me end up with a great job like this?

Pieter de Vries acs

Sydney, Australia

Last time I did this in Canada, I had to submit all the paperwork & fees directly to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Ottawa... (They're the only people who can issue a Carnet in Canada, no local offices anywhere.) And as I said earlier, the processing fee alone was close to a thousand dollars, which included a 'rush' fee for turnaround of under three weeks. This seems pretty steep compared to what our American friends have been saying... I don't know what the bond cost since my client handled that completely. > A carnet is nothing more than your proof you are the owner of said > equipment so you wont be charged by customs when you return. I've been told by Canadian customs that a carnet has no legal value whatsoever, and is certainly no better than a simple (and free) Y38 form. I have a good relationship with our local customs office, so when I acquire new pieces of gear I stop by so they can add them to my 'master list.' As I understand it, the greater value of the carnet is not so much saving you hassles with your own country's customs upon return, (which at least in Canada can be done for free with a Y38 form or by providing other proof that the equipment was purchased or legally imported into Canada) but saving you hassles with all the other countries you're visiting. It's their 'guarantee' that you're not bringing the gear into the country to sell. The reason for the bond is that if you are missing a piece of gear when you leave the country, that country will bill you for import taxes or whatever fees they may levy, and they know they'll get the money because it's sitting there in the bond. > Happened to me in India: had to fill in a form with 11 (eleven) > copies, by hand, and without any carbon paper available. Oh, yeah... the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. I had to translate the entire equipment list into Russian after hauling 14 cases of gear about 500 yards from the train to the customs office so they could spend 5 minutes giving it the quick once-over, and 6 hours debating what to do about it. > An introduction letter from an Embassy does wonders: It states you > are the owner of said instruments and you will take it with you when > you leave. Even better, introduction letters from the country's film commission or some equivalent agency. Shooting a corporate in Singapore last year, I was a bit worried because of what I'd heard about the censorship situation in that country. You show up with all this gear, and maybe the border officials get nervous because they don't know what the heck you're shooting. So I got a letter from the film commission stating that I was shooting a corporate, (which exempted me from a whole lot of local regulations regarding journalists and filmmakers) and basically directing border officials not to hassle us on our way in and out of the country. For a two-month shoot in Mexico I had a working visa and a letter from the 'department of radio, television and cinematography' certifying that I was qualified to work as a cinematographer in Mexico... I've never had such a hassle-free trip, even when I had camera problems and had to send the body back home & bring down a replacement, as soon as I pulled out the paperwork the customs guys were completely cooperative. -----

George Hupka Director/DOP

Downstream Pictures

Saskatoon, Canada

I heard of an interesting story that may be of interest here. Seems a student wanted to carry some of the university's film gear overseas. The student got a Carnet plus an insurance policy covering the equipment. He also got one additional thing. The University provided a very well written and official looking letter stating that the student was gathering footage for a film program sponsored by the university and that the equipment and the student must be returned to the university on a certain date. The letter was complete with a gold seal. Seems the carnet provided little help for the sutdent in the country in which he was traveling but the letter got him out of all his entanglements. The person telling the story suggested that an official looking letter complete with a gold seal and ribbon from a municipal official might be rather helpful in other countries.

JR Allen

I've just got to take a moment and thank all the CMLers who have been so helpful with all the great info on Carnets. I actually have been out of town before, just never carried gear to foreign lands. But the hints and war stories posted here on the list is just incredible and brings a tear to one's eye. We'll see if this job really happens, and if so I'll report back on how the customs officials handled me.

Thanks Again,

Mitch "You guys are swell" Gross

Ah yes the "additional paperwork" scam. Within certain parameters it can work very well. It all come down to the psycology of the thing. Officials LOVE paper. For instance when you stopped at Dover with a van full of equipment there is no paperwork. However you always give over a copy of the call sheet. Now we know it means nothing and in all honesty it probably means nothing to them BUT it's paper and they can look at it and say OK and give it back. I breaks the social ice for them. No not strictly customs related but there are moments when a little extra paperwork comes in very handy. When I lived in Czechslovakia (when it was Czechoslovakia) I used to get stoped by the police on a regular basis. No the papers for a Czech car and driving licence are very small and unimpressive and I got fined alot UNTIL I discovered the "additional paperwork" scam. Instead of putting the papers in my wallet (the effect of an open wallet on a Czech policeman (then not now) was an incitement to a "fine" in itself) I put them in the glove compartment but I added Certificate of importation certificate of exportation MOT (x3 all out of date) A letter (in English) form the Hradcany stating that the press office was now open on saturday morning's. (lovely presidential palace letterhead) A letter (in English) From the british embassy in Thundovska asking if I wished to register to vote in the forthcoming election, Having made 100% sure that the filth did not speak english I would decant this wad of total bollocks (with the letter from the Hradcany on top). I never got another fine

Justin Pentecost

Focus Puller

I agree with all the Carnet posts, but I have an additional suggestion. Travelling in Africa several years ago, we found that a few bottles of Scotch stashed in various equipment cases went a long way toward easing diplomatic tensions and pleasing customs officers. Cheapest insurance available. Watch out for airports in Nigeria! Bypass if possible. Carnets didn't work, cash didn't work, Scotch didn't work. Only a visit from the American Consulate helped.

Doug Hart

First Camera Assistant, NYC

Yet another point passing through customs: you are liable for any mistakes made by customs officials when validating your carnet. I had not taken all of my listed items on a trip, and so i had crossed-out the untaken items on the general list, and listed only the taken items on the counterfoil. However, the customs official mis-copied the numbers, and when the carnet was returned, it was questioned. It took quite an effort to track down the customs agent in France who made the clerical error, and ask him to write a letter stating his error in order to clear us.

Darren Lew

I say, watch out! Never try that in a muslim country, since alcohol is forbidden by the Holy Book. In fundamentalist or very authoritarian regimes, it can mean jail or expelling you from the country. Libya is one place where you get a stiff fine or a jail sentence for having even a small sample (like the ones you get on planes) in your hand luggage. Patience, respect, courtesy, extra "official looking" papers will do a better job than believing anybody can be bought with a scotch bottle.

José E. Llufrío

Oh absolutely, in all my time in Moslem countries I've never seen anyone touch a drop of alchohol or any of my part/unopened bottles vanish.


Patience, respect, courtesy, extra "official looking" papers will do a better job than believing anybody can be bought with a scotch bottle. José E. Llufrío I would totally agree with Jose. We all seem to have missed one important word - RESPECT Treat a customs officer in ANY country as if s/he is some kind of inferior (especially in developing countries) and you only have yourself to blame. My 24 hour sojurn in Barhain was mainly the result of someone on the crew attempting bribary.


Brian Rose

Respect is certainly one key and listening carefully is the other. I recall years ago when the customs officer in Ghana took me into the curtained booth and pointedly asked what I had for him. I naively told him what I was declaring and he replied 'No, I said what do you have for ME?' I learned to listen carefully and show respect by handing him $20.

Jim Sofranko NY/DP

DON"T EVER PULL THAT STUNT IN THE ARAB EMIRATES. Friend of mine nearly got his hands chopped off. Instead, he was beaten on the soles of his feet, couldn't walk for a month. I consider him very lucky.

Robert Rouveroy csc The Hague, Holland

Time is precious... waste it wisely

Regarding Israeli Customs: On arrival in Ben Gurion Airport, after picking up your luggage, go through the red customs lane (the one on the right) and ask for the customs officer to stamp your carnet. You may need some official looking letter stating the nature of your business in Israel etc., preferably from your client. They may want to see some randomly picked out items that should correspond to the serial no. on your carnet. When leaving Israel, after your very long security check, you will have to get back in to the same place.

To get back in to the arrivals area, go to the security window next to the cafeteria on the ground floor in the departures area. You must go in with all of your equipment. Once you are at the same place where you got your carnet stamped on arrival, they will gladly stamp it again. Some general tips: On arrival, do not look drunk, stoned, or too red eyed, (even after a 20 hour flight).

Try to be dressed, preferably looking like a nerd Israeli custom officers enjoy looking for drugs and will do so when they feel any need to do so. No bribes will work nor are they needed. If you have a large crew, let most of them go through the green lane with any of your private electronic goods etc. Two of you should be enough to handle the carnet. On departure: As rules change in Israel as often as the exchange rate, ask the security people if you should get the carnet stamped before or after the security check. It may save an hour or two.

It should go very smoothly, Enjoy Israel, It is a great place to visit.

Guy Livneh, LA

P.S. If you need any info about shooting in Israel, local crew, or tech support, I would be glad to . Advise you.

Any tips on what's a good "gift" for customs in Lisbon or in Israel? Not that I plan on doing such a thing ...

Mitch "Yes, I've seen Midnight Express" Gross

LA Guy Shalom! I wouldn't recommend this one!! It will NEVER work a sencond time. Several years ago, returning from a shoot in Israel a security lady came up to us and asked in Ivrit if we were the film crew. I replied (also in Ivrit) 'Yes, of course!' whereupon she proceeded to stamp all the equipment as having been checked (OK, she also asked me the normal questions about packing it myself, etc). We just sailed through, just in time to see a very angry Isreali crew having to open all their cases. I really, really wouldn't try this one these days. Israeli customs and security officers hang up their sense of humour in the locker. As Guy says, they take their job very, very seriously.


/Israel I just finished a television commercial with radio talent and had forgotten what strange nomenclature we use in our work that makes no sense to outsiders and needed to be explained. Baby legs, standards, heads, etc. (Even the most simplistic.) This experience and the Israeli travel question reminded me of the DP moving through customs at Heathrow and upon seeing a friend stated, "I'm on my way to Israel to shoot a pilot." Needless to say, the interrogation room wasn't very comfortable!

Kent Hughes

I heard a similar story about a film crew on its way to Washington DC to "shoot the President." I'm always careful to say "film" instead of "shoot."

Doug Hart

First Camera Assistant, NYC

Doug, you needed a very loud, outspoken local woman with you. I worked on a shoot years ago in Nigeria, we walked through the customs gate without pausing, Our local "guide" from IRRI ( International Rice Research Institute) just waved us through. About five minutes later we were pulled over at a military roadblock. It was quite amusing watching our "guide" argue with uniformed soldiers pointing machine guns at us. At one point she said, "arrest us or let us go" turned on her heel walked back to our small caravan of cars, and away we went.

Steven Gladstone


© copyright CML all rights reserved