A number of artist art fairs (I will use the term ‘entretive fair’ from now on) and gallery fairs have been advising exhibitors to import goods into their respective countries using an ATA Carnet. An ATA Carnet is a type of international passport for goods. It means that exhibitors can bypass import tax and duty at the border. Without this document, the exhibitor must pay a percentage of the shipment’s value in import tax.
Using an ATA Carnet, so it is suggested by these entretive and gallery fairs, means that exhibitors can avoid the usual two ways of importing legally. Now, it should be said, that some countries and companies (like Parallax in the UK) have a third way of importing without paying import tax, which means you do not need to do either of the following ways below or use an ATA Carnet (please contact Parallax if you need more information). The two usual ways of legally importing artworks into a country are:
1) Permanent Import
If an event provides no information about importing (or exporting) and expects you to travel with your art, then it is likely you will end up declaring a permanent import at the border. It is important to remember that there is a difference between import tax and import duty. They are not the same thing. For the UK and USA, there is no import duty for contemporary handmade art, so you do not need to worry about that. You only need to focus on the import tax. So, when you arrive at the airport of arrival, customs will ask you to pay a percentage of the value of your shipment, usually by credit card. Percentages vary but in the UK it is 5%. The problem arises when you wish to take unsold work back home. Because you have declared your artwork as a permanent import, it means that you must now pay import tax in your home country when you take unsold work home (if you do not declare and pay it in your country, your artwork is effectively ‘illegal goods’). Therefore, it is important to ask the fair about import policies. If you do not get an adequate answer, avoid that fair.
The other main legal way to import your artwork into a country but this time without paying full import tax is called TIBs (Temporary Admission on Bond). It means that you pay a percentage of the value of your shipment but it is only on bond. Any artwork you do not sell, you can reclaim back. You also do not need to pay import tax on unsold artwork when you return home. Before we discuss import regulations, it is important that you grasp that you are ALSO exporting from your home country when you travel abroad. This is important because you may need export paperwork that is important for re-importing later on when you return home (if you are from Italy, you also need licences to export art works). For importing into the country where your exhibition is being held, there are different rules and paperwork depending on the country but you will always need to hire an import agent or broker. They can cost anything between £45 - £150 ($60 -$190). Governments usually produce an official list and you will find that some art fairs may have selected some agents from the list for you already. The process is straightforward and you normally give the agent your name and address plus an inventory, which includes everything you are bringing, weight, value, and the number of containers. They will declare your work in advance of travel (minimum 48 hours) and give you a certificate. At customs in the airport, you show the certificate and pay the bond amount. After your exhibition, you inform your agent what you did not sell and wish to re-export. They re-do the paperwork for exporting the unsold items. The certificate is also important for re-importing back into your home country because it proves that your artwork was made in your country and not from the country where you had your exhibition.
Can I use an ATA Carnet?
Given the two main ways of legally importing art works, it becomes clear why some entretive and gallery fairs have been advising their exhibitors to use an ATA Carnet. It simplifies the process and saves money. However, it is actually illegal to use an ATA Carnet for commerce. An ATA Carnet can only be used to import goods that will be re-exported. You are not allowed to sell those goods during the exhibition. The ATA Carnet, then, is not for artwork for sale but other items necessary for exhibiting, like furniture, banner stands, leaflets and catalogues (if not to be given away). Art work that will not be for sale would be legal under an ATA Carnet (though customs may still ask you to pay import tax as a precaution). If you are told that you are fine to bring your artwork for sale using an ATA Carnet you are being advised wrongly by the entretive or gallery fair. It may be that the fair does not understand the import process and the relationship of ATA Carnets, or it may be that they are deliberately breaking the law, though it would be you who would be ultimately breaking the law. In the USA, if caught, you would be liable for 110% of the value of the shipment and your artwork could be impounded. The answer is clear: never use an ATA Carnet to import artworks that will be for sale in an exhibition. If an entretive or gallery fair asks you to do this knowingly, the right move is to report them to customs to protect other artists in future.
Dr C G Barlow. Copyright © 2024 C. G. Barlow.