Travelling With Equipment

Hello All,

I need to know where I can find info about leaving the country w/ equipment. I have a shoot that is headed for St. Lucia. If someone could put me in the picture regarding who to contact about tariff and so forth, it would be appreciated.

You can email me directly, or post if you have general info on travel w/ equipment outside the U.S. that may be helpful to others.

Roy No
Student; DP w/ training wheels.


Depending on the amount and type of equipment, you generally only need to have it inspected by US customs before you leave. Have a detailed list of the equipment including serial numbers.

When I took my Aaton film camera and accessories to Germany last year, I took the equipment to the US Customs office with a list and filled out some general paperwork. The inspection itself consisted of the agent going though the list and randomly asking for pieces of equipment. She confirmed the serial numbers of the pieces and stamped my paperwork which she handed back to me and told me to be sure to have that paperwork with me when I returned into the US. This paperwork confirmed that I was returning into the US with the same equipment that I left with.

This way I would not incur any tariffs on equipment possibly bought outside of the US. However, upon my return home, NO ONE asked me anything about my equipment or the contents of my cases, but I have had friends who have.

So it is best to have customs clear the equipment before you leave.

All best,
Raoul Germain
Los Angeles

Travelling with equipment is a pain in the ass. Having lived in Miami, I've taken equipment to the islands many times. First getting it there is a problem. Your choices are cargo - slow and difficult to trace, but cheap.

If you bring it with you as luggage, it will most likely get there but it can be expensive. The days of slipping the guy a $20 to charge less are gone. Now anything past two bags are anywhere from $50 to 100 a bag. They're also getting tougher about weight. It just cost me $130 for two cases on America West. But if there are a lot of people flying in your party, and you keep each bag below 75lbs (check with your airline on this), this is the best way. The other way, if you can spare 3 days each side, is FedEx. I haven't done it International, but Domestic, this is frequently the best way.

BTW, UPS just lost my tripod on a job and wouldn't deign to give me news until 10 days. It eventually showed up.

The other problem is Customs and Carnets. The was some question about posting a cashiers check equal to the value of the gear, that would be returned when the equipment was taken back out of the country in question. We finally got around this problem by hiring a "customs house broker."

For $75 a job, all carnet problems went away. One of your production people should be able to find one, or any of the rental houses in Miami should be able to recommend someone.

Good Luck.

Marty Mullin
Los Angeles


I've travelled a lot with gear and have been fortunate to work with productions that the have the financial resources to go with a carnet.

While you may be perfectly fine going overseas by just having customs check and write down serial numbers, that information may not be recognized by say, French customs, as having any validity to them.

A foreign country has no reason to recognize a u.s. customs document, however, the document may help you re-enter the u.s. with your gear, but you may have difficulty entering a foreign country and leaving from that foreign country. You may also have difficulty transiting between foreign countries.

The problem is this : there is nothing binding you to the foreign country not to sell your gear in their country.

A carnet on the other hand is recognized by different foreign countries all belonging to a council on international business. You have to take out a bond for a percentage of the gear you are travelling with. If you don't return with all the equipment you leave with then you are penalized. When I have arrived at a foreign customs office in an airport with twenty cases of gear I have most often been waved through to the carnet office, had my carnet validated in two minutes and passed through without ever having opened a case or attempted to communicate in a language other than my own.

Other times I've had serial numbers checked or had to show a randomly chosen piece of equipment from the list. on the other hand, there was once a French customs agent whose "1" looked too much like a "7" on his hand written validation of items which caused a small problem, but it all turned out OK.

If getting the gear to a foreign country were my responsibility I'd go with a carnet and fly with it myself on a non-stop flight if possible. If it's up to someone else I would advise them the same even though I may not have any real influence in the end.

Travelling domestically I have had gear go by Fedex and it has always arrived -ultimately. On the other hand, I have had things that have gone missing for a week travelling via Fedex.

If this is all too much to worry about I’d just consider renting gear wherever I'm going, or at least renting the gear that will be more expensive to ship (tripods for example).

Good Luck,

Darren Lew

If you search the archives under "carnet," you should be able to find a couple of very thorough discussions of this subject over the past couple of years.

My personal experience is that it really depends on which countries you're visiting, and how many countries you're visiting in the trip. Some countries REQUIRE carnets, and you're asking for trouble if you show up without one. If you're travelling to multiple countries on a single trip, a carnet is more important than if you're only visiting one country.

Carnets seem to be a lot less expensive in the USA than they are in Canada. If I was American, I'd use a carnet all the time. When I'm asked if we REALLY need a carnet, I always ask my clients if they're comfortable losing several hours at each border crossing while I "chat" with the officials, vs. walking through in 15 minutes with a carnet.

George Hupka
Downstream Pictures
Saskatoon, Canada

>When I'm asked if we REALLY need a carnet, I always ask my clients if >they're comfortable losing several hours at each border crossing while I >"chat" with the officials

George has a great point, Between Canada and the US, I have had a bitch of a time getting across, even with a simple video Package. A carnet REALLY saves time, but when I was in Europe, it was a cake walk. Europe is now an open border type of country, and when I bounced around between Germany, Holland, and France, I literally never even knew when I was in one country from the next…much like driving across state borders here in America.

When I arrived in Germany(from the states,) NOT ON SOUL could care less about what baggage I had…perhaps if I had 20 cases of equipment...but a simple 2 case Aaton package raised no eyebrows.

All best,
Raoul Germain
Los Angeles

>Europe is now an open border type of country, and when I bounced >around between Germany, Holland, and France, I literally never even >knew when I was in one country from the next

My exact sentiments, except that it wasn't so when you got to the Swiss border…

John Babl

>Between Canada and the US, I have had a bitch of a time getting >across, even with a simple video Package. A carnet REALLY saves time

And that's the one border where I've never used a carnet, and I've never had trouble! But that seems to be luck of the draw...individual border guards seem to have so much discretion in our countries, it's impossible to get consistent results.

The sports mobile trucks that are across the border all the time definitely carry carnets!

George Hupka
Downstream Pictures
Saskatoon, Canada

I agree, get a customs representative. They make it so much easier and you can hire them on the foreign end where they will meet you at your destination and help you get through customs there…same language etc., and it’s easy to talk to some guy from long island and explain that you're tired and just want to get home, but when you show up in Venice and you don't have the answers they want...and that's a friendly country.

However, if you don't hire anyone, please note that when you return from your trip you are going to want to seek out a customs official and make sure that they sign and stamp your carnet, even if you don't get asked to show it. if not, you may get a phone call in six months asking why you left the country with two hundred thousand dollars worth of gear and returned with none.

When that happens, you have to go back to customs with the same gear and show serial numbers etc. to prove that it wasn't sold abroad. not fun with rented equipment :

"Hi Gary? this is Jason Kollias, yeah I’m gonna need to take those cameras I rented from you six months ago to, the exact same actual cameras...yeah, I'll hold."

Jason Kollias
New York, NY

Thanks Raoul and Marty,

This is the kind of info that I was looking for. I've heard something about carnets, but never enough to understand them. In fact, I didn't know what they were called. I do know that once your equipment is in someone else's control, before or after the shoot, they call the shots.

Roy No

Hey Everyone,

Thanks a bunch. We cannot afford a carnet, it is an ambitious student project already, but I know what I won't be doing (shipping Fedex). The Director has spoken with the Head of Tourism for our intended destination (St. Lucia). He has assured (let's hope his word is his bond) that customs there won't be a problem.

Worst case scenario : we shoot everything hand held w/o grip equipment!

I know, only students!

Roy No

© copyright CML all rights reserved