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Getting the show on the road – how ATA Carnets facilitate cultural exchange

It’s the season of theatre. Christmas is around the corner and whether it’s your child’s school nativity, the local amateur dramatics or a full-blown orchestral performance. If you would like to take your show on international tour don’t risk a pantomime with custom procedures.

What is an ATA Carnet?
An ATA Carnet (pronounced car-nay) is a temporary international customs document for importing and exporting. When bands or productions embark on international tours their equipment and all the necessary kit they ship out for touring must clear customs without any delays, import tax, or duty fees. An ATA Carnet is a passport for instruments, stage equipment, lighting, cameras and even the costumes.


If you are producing or arranging the transportation for a performance or filming project overseas, the consequences of not carrying a carnet can be very costly. You are generally charged import duty at a set percentage of the equipment’s value, so if you are carrying lots of specialist equipment this adds up every time you leave and enter a country, as well as time wasted at the airport.

There are 87 countries and territories including Europe, America, Asia and Africa in the ATA Carnet system who allow this shipping document to enable travel across borders without paying import duty or taxes on any equipment.

ATA Carnets can be used for hand-carried instruments and equipment as well as freight, and are frequently used by the following industries –

• Film and video production companies,
• Symphony orchestras,
• Dance troupes,
• Rock and pop bands,
• Opera companies,
• Theatre productions,
• Corporate businesses for exhibitions and product samples
• Circuses, and
• Museum exhibits

Here’s our guide on how, when and where to use an ATA Carnet

What is covered by an ATA Carnet?
All professional equipment, staging items, or goods for exhibitions. There are 38 categories covered by ATA Carnets that range from sports equipment to antiques, and from theatre props to security camera equipment. This means guitars, stages, lighting, trailers, electronic equipment, wardrobe, and set designs for the stage are covered for a long trip or multiple tour stops.

A carnet can be issued in the name of an individual or company and can be used by any person providing the user carries a letter from the holder authorising such use. This would apply when cargo handling agents, haulers, freight forwarders etc. are appointed to act on your behalf.

How do I obtain a carnet?
A carnet can be issued and delivered to an applicant within 1 day. You can apply online or by post, if you are using a freight forwarder they will fill this in for you, and at TPS Global we offer an in-house printing service as well to make the process as quick and easy as possible. The freight forwarding company generates the right carnets based on the freight and the country of entry to ensure temporary imports and re-importation are met with speedy ease and incur no monetary expenses.

You can fill in the application yourself, and to do this you will need to gather the information listed on the application checklist, register for an account, log in and submit the online carnet and bond application.

The costs vary depending on your home country, who you are using as an issuing agent, the value of the equipment you are taking with you, where you are going and the level of security deposit. A good freight forwarder or logistics provider can advise you and estimate the costs involved.

If you need to do it yourself, bear in mind it can be a laborious task, so don’t leave it until the last minute, it is best to add to the list gradually as the production is making progress. When preparing your list of goods, items of the same description can be grouped together but only if they are of the same value, weight and country of origin.

ATA Carnets are usually valid for 1 year.

What Won’t ATA Carnets Cover?
Basically, ATA Carnets will not cover consumable or agricultural items. You also can’t bring explosives (some pyrotechnic equipment is allowed into certain countries), nor can you take postal traffic under the canopy of an ATA Carnet.

How to avoid unexpected customs charges with a carnet

There are three reasons why you might be subject to a claim against your carnet.
1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Finally – What do I do if I lose my carnet documents?
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 a reminder to carry multiple copies with you at all times and distribute them within the travelling team if necessary.

Please speak to one of the team if you have any questions regarding ATA Carnets or transporting production equipment. Katie Town can help on 01622 237979.

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