What Is A Carnet? And Why Do You Need One

by May 1, 2024

If you are planning on taking your camera gear overseas to work at a motorsport event (or for any other work-related reason), you will need a carnet.

Being able to travel around the world to photograph motorsport events at some of the most iconic race tracks is extremely exciting, but it does also add some extra logistical considerations. Especially when bringing your expensive camera gear.

Take it from me: a Pelican case of equipment will always draw extra attention to you as you pass through a country’s border control. So you need to make sure you have everything in place to ensure that you don’t have any issues and get your camera gear confiscated at the border. One of those things is a carnet.

What Is A Carnet?

A Carnet, also referred to as an ATA Carnet or a merchandise passport, is a document that helps facilitate the temporary importation of goods into a foreign country without having to pay duties or taxes on those goods. The purpose of a Carnet is for goods that will be re-exported out of the country you are visiting after a short period of time. Like taking your professional photography equipment to and from an international event.

As an official document, a carnet serves as a guarantee to the foreign government that the goods will either be re-exported or that any applicable duties and taxes will be paid for those items. The carnet contains a detailed list of the goods being transported, and it is validated by customs officials each time you pass through customs, both in your home country and destination country.

Carnets are issued by National Guaranteeing Associations (NGA), which are organisations authorised by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), typically your local chamber of commerce, and are valid for up to one year.

There are two types of carnets, but the only one that applies to photography equipment is the Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission (ATA) carnet.

Why Do I Need A Carnet As A Motorsport Photographer?

As a photographer travelling internationally, particularly with a lot of expensive professional camera gear, you will need a carnet to take with you into another country for a short period of time.

Without a carnet, you may be required to pay customs duties or taxes on the equipment you are travelling with. Either when you arrive at your destination (and possibly when you return home). Additionally, you may encounter delays and difficulties when trying to clear customs, as customs officials may need to verify the value and origin of your equipment.

While you might draw too much attention if your camera gear is compact and fits into a backpack. The second you start travelling with something like a Pelican Case to keep your gear properly safe and secure, you will start to draw the attention of customs officials.

A carnet simplifies the customs process by serving as a temporary import-export document that allows you to enter a foreign country with your equipment without paying duties or taxes. The carnet acts as a guarantee that you will re-export the equipment within a specified period of time and pay any applicable duties or taxes if you do not.

If you are travelling with business-related equipment, using a carnet can save you time. Instead of being held up and being questioned about your gear, they simply check what you have, complete the carnet and send you on your way.

A carnet also ensures that you’re not permanently out of pocket and helps you avoid potential legal issues that can arise when travelling with professional equipment internationally.

Just note that not all countries require a carnet, and it’s typically only required for equipment you are bringing for professional use and not for personal use. However, it can be hard to justify personal use if you carry multiple camera bodies and lenses.

How Can I Get A Carnet?

The process of obtaining a carnet seems complicated, but it is actually fairly straightforward. But you will need to follow these steps:

Find A National Guaranteeing Association

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) maintains a directory of National Guaranteeing Associations (NGA) on its website that will issue a carnet in your country.

Typically, your local branch of the Chamber of Commerce, the NGA, is an organisation authorised by the ICC to issue and guarantee carnets within a specific country. NGAs serve as your local point of contact for carnet applications, and they provide support to individuals and businesses seeking to obtain a carnet.

NGAs are responsible for processing carnet applications, collecting associated fees as well as providing guidance on carnet usage and regulations. In my experience, they know the ins and outs of the carnet process and are very easy to deal with, so make sure you ask any questions you have to get all the information you need to ensure that your travels are as smooth as possible.

If you can’t find an NGA for your country, you can also contact your local customs authorities and inquire about the designated NGA for issuing carnets.

Provide Required Documentation

The process of obtaining a carnet can sometimes require a fair amount of supporting documentation. What this includes exactly varies from country to country. You may be asked to complete the following:

  • Application Form: You will need to complete the application form provided by the NGA. This will typically require information about yourself, your travel plans, and details about the equipment you intend to travel with.
  • Equipment List: As part of the application you’ll need to prepare a detailed itemised list of the equipment you plan to bring, including make, model, serial numbers (if applicable), and values. The values should reflect the current market value of the equipment.
  • Proof of Ownership: You may also need to provide receipts/invoices as proof that you own the equipment listed on the carnet application.
  • Valid Passport or Identification: You may also need to provide a copy of your valid passport or identification document as part of the application process.
  • Travel itinerary: The application will request the country you plan to visit and the dates you intend to travel, but you may also be required to provide a more details copy of your travel itinerary.
  • Insurance Documentation: Some NGAs may require proof of insurance coverage for the equipment being transported. This can include a copy of your equipment insurance policy or a letter from your insurance provider.
  • Security Bond: Depending on the NGA’s requirements, you may need to provide a financial guarantee, such as a bond or cash deposit, to ensure payment of any potential customs duties or taxes if the equipment is not re-exported. This could be up to 50% value of the equipment.

Just keep in mind that this process can take up to two weeks, so make sure you plan well in advance of your trip.

Validate The Carnet

Once your application is approved and you’ve received your carnet, there are a few more things you need to do. Before leaving your home country, you must have the carnet validated by customs officials, which involves the document being stamped and authorised at your point of departure.

Most of the time, this can be done at the airport just before you leave, and Customs officials will need to inspect your equipment and verify that the items listed on the carnet match the equipment you are carrying. Your local NGA will be able to tell you where to go to have your carnet validated either before or during check-in for your flight overseas.

Your carnet will also need to be validated by customs officials each time you enter and exit a new country. This part is a little easier, as customs will typically ask you to declare whether you are travelling with equipment for work or business purposes and then direct you accordingly.

Remember that once your carnet is validated, it is equally as important as your passport for transiting through countries and should be protected as such.

Return The Carnet

Once you’ve completed your travels and returned to your home country with your camera equipment in tow, you must return the carnet to the issuing NGA within the specified time frame.

You will be motivated to complete this as quickly as possible on your return home so that your security bond can be returned to you. Upon return of the completed carnet, you will be asked to complete a security bond request form to have it returned to you.

Carnet Bonds

The biggest issue with carnets is the bond. Depending on where you are travelling, you may have to pay a bond of up to 50% of the value of the equipment in order to facilitate the carnet. Although, specifically, how much varies depending on the country/countries you are visiting with your gear.

Now, the bond is such that you will get the money back after you return the completed carnet to the issuing NGA, as long as all the equipment has been returned to your home country. This should be verified by the successful completion of the carnet by customs upon arrival in your home country.

That said, it can still be a significant amount of money in holding that you can’t get access to for at least a couple of weeks upon returning home.

There is also an obligation on you to complete the carnet each time you enter and exit a country. If the document isn’t completed properly each time, you might have issues getting your bond back.

As an alternative, some NGAs will offer an insurance option to cover the bond, which is less, but you’ll not get that money back at all. Something to keep in mind.

Conclusion

It does sound like a complicated process, but it will save you a lot of heartache going through customs when you arrive at your destination. The last thing you need is to have all your expensive camera gear confiscated by customs officials for illegal importation.

And if it makes you feel any better, Formula 1 teams need a carnet to cover every piece of equipment they travel with for each and every Grand Prix. A camera bag of gear is much easier to manage.

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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