How To Use A Carnet

by May 7, 2024

Travelling overseas for your photography is super exciting, but taking a tonne of expensive camera gear with you can cause issues with customs when you land in another country. That’s where carnet’s come in.

If you don’t know what a carnet is why you need one or how it works, I highly recommend you check out this post. But in short, it’s a temporary import and export document that makes it easier for you to transport your camera gear (and other business-related equipment) across international borders.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s take a look at how you use a carnet in somewhat simple terms.

Applying for the Carnet

The process starts with obtaining your carnet. At least two weeks before you intend to travel, you should talk to your local chapter of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). You’ll find a list of the ICC’s National Guaranteeing Associations (NGA) on its website to see who will issue a carnet in your country.

After reaching out to your local Chamber of Commerce branch or the equivalent NGA, they will send you an application form to complete so you can be issued a carnet. Part of the application will include information about your destination and the duration of your overseas trip to help determine how much of a bond you need to pay (more on this shortly).

You’ll also be sent a spreadsheet to complete (known as the ATA Carnet General List) with a list of items you intend to travel with. In this, you will need to include all of your camera, lenses, and other significant camera gear you will take overseas. As a rule of thumb, if the item has a serial number, I’ll include it in the carnet application. If it doesn’t, as an example, things like charges, cables, spare batteries, etc, I don’t tend to include, and I haven’t had any issues so far.

To be fair, customs officials are really only concerned about you selling high-value items without paying the import taxes associated with those items. So, trivial accessories don’t really grab attention unless you have a significant number of the same items.

As part of the ATA Carnet General List, you will need to include what the item is (make and model) and its serial number/s. The number of items, particularly if you are travelling with multiple camera bodies, the item’s weight, current retail value (in your home country) and country where the item was manufactured.

It’s good to have this information in advance (particularly the retail prices and weights) handy before you make the request for a carnet application, especially if you are in a hurry so that you can complete the carnet application as quickly as possible.

You can organise a carnet at the last minute, but there are extra fees attached to this, which you can easily avoid by planning ahead.

Upon completing your carnet application, you’ll be advised of how much of a bond you will need to pay to secure your carnet. The bond depends on the value of the equipment you are travelling with and where you intend to travel. It could be as much as 50% of the value of the gear, but it’s worth checking when you make your initial request to get an idea of what percentage you can expect to pay. Then, you can tailor your item list accordingly.

It is worth noting that the carnet won’t be issued until the carnet fees and bond value have been paid. Given that the bond is often a significant amount of money, this could take a couple of days to clear.

Collecting the Carnet

Once the application has been completed, you will need to collect your carnet. This will most likely require a visit to the local office of the Chamber of Commerce branch or NGA issuing your carnet. Otherwise, you’ll have to organise to have it sent to you via registered post.

Remember, the value of the carnet document is the bond that is being held. It can be quite a significant amount of money and needs to be treated as such. If the carnet isn’t completed and returned, you will most likely lose your bond.

Starting the Carnet

The carnet is not officially active until you visit your local customs office before checking into your flight to head overseas. Yes, that’s right before.

Most international airports will have a customs office where you can activate your carnet before you check in for your flight. Again, the best thing to do is ask the person helping you organise your carnet where you will find this office for your departure. It’s also worth confirming what hours they are open. In some instances, particularly at smaller airports, the office may not be staffed at all hours. You might need to activate your carnet the day before if you have a particularly early (or late) flight.

Once the first part of your carnet has been completed (the customs staff will help you with this process), it is active, and you are ready to head overseas.

Just remember that this part needs to be completed before you check in for your flight, so allow extra time to find where the customs office is and complete the document in addition to the normal time you need for checking in and going through security and immigration for an international flight.

Arriving at your destination

Upon arriving in your destination country, you’ll most likely be asked to declare if you are travelling with items for business or of high value as part of the process of proceeding through customs. Obviously, you point this out and let them know you have a carnet, and they will take you off to the side to check and complete their part of your carnet and potentially verify the items you are travelling with.

I’ve found that if you have a carnet, they want to check to make sure the serial numbers match up. But having the carnet saves you from many unnecessary issues (including having your camera gear confiscated), and you are typically through customs fairly quickly considering the paperwork that needs to be done.

Be sure to ask the customs official when they check and complete your carnet what the procedure is for leaving their country, particularly for the airport you intend to leave from. This will help when you know what to do before returning home.

Departing your destination

Again, you must complete the next section of your carnet before you check in for your flight back home. This is why checking with the customs official upon arrival is handy to see where you need to go or to whom you need to talk to complete this step.

It’s basically the same process you must complete when you depart your home country. But this is where you will likely face the most intense scrutiny to confirm what you’ve listed on the carnet is actually leaving with you. If you have all the items listed, you won’t have any issues, but they will likely want to double-check at least some of the serial numbers to confirm.

Once this part of the carnet is completed, you’ll be able to check in for your flight home. Make sure you give yourself a bit of extra time to go through all of this on top of the other things you need to do for an international flight.

Arriving back home

To complete the carnet, customs in your home country will need to complete one last part of the documentation. It’s a very similar process to what you will have completed when you went through customs at your travel destination. You need to ensure that you declare that you have business or expensive equipment, and then you’ll be directed off to the side to check and complete the carnet document.

Once you’ve done this and entered your home country again, the carnet is technically completed. But you still have a couple of steps to go.

Returning the Carnet

Once you are back home, you need to return the completed carnet to the local office of the Chamber of Commerce branch or NGA issuing your carnet. If everything has been completed correctly, they will advise you on the process of having your bond refunded. It’s another form you need to complete, but it’s really simple.

Please keep a record of your carnet number before you return it so you can include it on your carnet bond refund form.

If everything has been completed correctly, the bond should be refunded to you within a week or two of returning the completed carnet.

Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

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