Shooting abroad can be a serious hassle if you don’t prepare properly. If you follow a few guidelines, travelling with kit can go smoothly.
Prepare and be prepared. The tips below address the most frequent problems we see and how YOU can easily avoid them…
The countries listed below require ATA Carnets if you’re traveling with location production equipment. A carnet is essentially proof that a bond is held in your home country on the equipment and the bond will not be released until the equipment is returned to your home country. It is meant to stop people from taking goods from a country where they are relatively cheap and selling them in a country where they cost far more because of duties, taxes or other reasons.
A carnet is a passport for the equipment you’re traveling with. Without one, every time you entered a country that requires a carnet you’d have to declare the equipment to Customs, fill out forms, leave a deposit against the value of the equipment and then go through more bureaucracy when you left that country to get your deposit back. A carnet allows you to clear Customs quickly and return the gear to the UK without hassle. It can be used to travel from the UK to other countries as many times as you need for up to one year.
A few comments. If you travel from the UK to other countries in the European Union you don’t need a carnet. However, even though the Canary Islands are part of Spain and Spain is in the European Union, authorities there require a carnet if you visit with television camera equipment. This may change so check before you go.
|Algeria||Cote d-Ivoire||New Zealand||+Switzerland|
|*Canary Islands||Japan||South Africa|
The countries with a + beside them are countries I have personally traveled to and from with television production kits without a carnet. I used a UK Customs form (see below). I am not suggesting you do the same but I would ring a fixer in the country you’re visiting or someone whose advice you can trust and confirm you will actually need a carnet. If you don’t need a carnet, avoid the cost and hassle.
The carnet required for the countries above is known as an ATA Carnet. If you’re traveling to Taiwan from the UK, you will need a carnet but not an ATA Carnet. It’s very similar and the conditions and procedure for its use are the same but it has a different colour code. So if you go to Taiwan, make sure you have the right type of carnet.
Important – be aware of this. Regulations and requirements are changing all the time. New countries are joining the EU. This means you should always confirm the policies of the country you are traveling to. Also some countries seem to have no clear or fixed rules. They can accept an ATA carnet or just a duplicate list - Russia and China are good examples. You need to double check with the Chamber of Commerce or the fixer you have hired in the country you’re visiting. Just make sure you can trust the advice or whoever you contact.
Getting A Carnet – The Easy and the Hard Ways
There are two ways to get a carnet:
1) Go to your local chamber of commerce, complete the carnet forms, take them back to the chamber, pay the fees, post the bond and then return the carnet once you’re finished using it.
2) Go to a company that will do everything for you. This includes posting a bond for a fee so that you don’t have to come up with a hefty deposit against the goods. I recommend this approach.
Now for the details:
Doing It Yourself (Not recommended)
Carnet forms are available from your local chamber of commerce or from some web sites. A good web site to visit for information is www.londonchamber.co.uk You can fill the carnet forms in yourself with details of your company, the person(s) responsible for the equipment, a full list of the equipment (manufacturer, model, country of manufacture, value and weight) and then pay the chamber the required fee to process it.
However there’s a big catch. In addition to paying the processing fee, you have to post a bond with the chamber. This is a percentage of the value of the equipment. The percentage varies depending on the country or countries being visited. For example, let’s say you’re going to a country where the bond required is 60 percent of the value of the equipment and you’re traveling with equipment worth £50,000. Sixty percent of that is £30,000 so you will need to pay that amount. You do get the money back once you return the carnet to the chamber but that’s a lot of cash to have tied up.
Doing it yourself has many drawbacks and, from my experience, no real benefits. You have to fill out all the forms, get them to the chamber, pay the fees and come up with what is often a big deposit and spend all the time it takes doing this. It’s far easier to make a phone call to a company that will do it for you and then fax or e-mail them your equipment list. Yes there is a fee for this but the hassle it saves is more than worth it.
Get A Company To Do It (That’s More Like It)
The easiest way to get a carnet is to phone a company that processes them and have them take care of it. You just send them a list of the details needed for the carnet and they’ll handle the rest. If you don’t know a company that offers this service, ask for a recommendation from someone who does and who can vouch for speed, reliability and efficiency. The charge varies depending on how quickly you need the carnet, which country or countries you’re visiting and how long you need the carnet. Typically the charge will include:
Administration fee charged by the company processing the carnet
Local Chamber of Commerce fee
Charge for posting the bond
Remember the bond required varies from country to country and is a percentage of the stated value of the equipment. Likewise, the charge for posting the bond depends on the declared value of the equipment – the lower the value, the lower the charge for the bond. The charge also depends on how long you need the bond for. The minimum period is two months and the maximum is one year.
Different people take different approaches to the declared value of the equipment. The carnet form requests the “commercial value.” Some people use the new value of the equipment. Some list the used value. Some use an artificially low value to save on the charge for the bond. I suggest you seek advice on what value to declare. The values declared on a carnet have no bearing on the insured value of the equipment and many people have saved considerable money by giving a low declared value. I’m not advising you to do this. I’m just saying it is a frequent practice, it doesn’t affect the insured value and it does save money.
Using A Carnet (Miss one step below and you’ll have a problem)
Once you have a carnet, make sure you have it signed and stamped on the right page every time you enter and leave a country. If you fail to do this, you will have to present all the equipment on the carnet to a Customs inspector once you’re back in the UK. If you’ve hired the equipment, you’ll need to hire the identical equipment to show Customs. This will mean more hire charges and arranging for the exact kit with the serial numbers listed on the carnet to show the Customs inspector on a particular day can be a major hassle. This can easily be avoided by ensuring the right forms are signed and stamped on every entry into and departure from each country visited.
To make sure your crew understands how to use the carnet, give them a written set of procedures to follow. Most will likely know. But we’ve seen experienced crews return to the UK without having the carnet properly stamped.
Also extremely important is returning the carnet documents to the issuer immediately. If you send them by post, send them registered and phone to make sure they have been received. I know of a couple of cases of carnets apparently being returned to the issuer and apparently not received. The result was a hefty bill for additional charges and a lot of trouble trying to reassemble the equipment on the carnet for a Customs inspection to prove the kit was back in the UK. The best way to return a carnet is to have it hand delivered and get written confirmation it’s been received.
Another warning. If you lose the carnet, you will need to keep paying the bond charge for up to 33 months. This happened to us once and cost more than three thousand pounds in additional charges. You will also have to organise a visit by Customs to verify the kit has been returned to the UK. If this isn’t done, the fines can be very high. In the case where our carnet was lost, we were told U.S. Customs could charge us £42,000 for duty, tax and a fine. Fortunately the kit was verified to have been returned and we didn’t have to pay.
The bottom line is the bond is only released once the equipment has been returned to your home country and the carnet has been returned to whoever processed it with all the paperwork correctly done. This is essential.
Countries That Do Not Require Carnets
If you’re traveling to a country or countries outside the EU that do not require a carnet you should take a pro-forma equipment list. This is a list of all the equipment you are traveling with and should include the manufacturer and model number, the serial number, the country of manufacture and the value. Once again the value can be replacement value, used value or an artificially low value – at your discretion. This list should be on company letterhead. Take several copies of it with you, ideally with a company stamp on it.
In addition to the pro-forma, there is one other piece of paperwork you’ll need - an HM Customs and Excise C & E 1246 form. The heading on this form is “Returned Goods Relief: declarations to be made when using duplicate lists.” These can be downloaded from the HM Customs and Excise, now part of HM Revenue and Customs, web site www.hmce.gov.uk. On the home page, click onto Forms, leaflets and booklets. Once there, go to “Forms published in respect of matters formerly dealt with by HM Customs & Excise.” Follow the list down to C & E 1246 and print it out. You can also get these forms at the VAT offices at UK airports.
Always provide the VAT number for the company you work for because it is required on the 1246 form. Many production coordinators and managers have received phone calls during unsociable hours to get this number.
If you download the form, complete it and take it and several copies of the equipment list on letterhead with you when you go to the airport you’re leaving from in the UK. The list should include the equipment make and model, serial number, country of origin and value. When you get to the terminal, go to the VAT desk before you check in and let the Customs officer know you have a “Returned Good Relief” list and need to have it stamped. Customs will generally only want to see the highest priced items such as the camera, which you should hand carry (if security regulations allow), and you may need to take these items through the boarding pass checkpoint and to the Customs counter on the other side to get this stamped.
Another heads up. Always go to Customs before you check in. Do not go the airline check-in counter and release your kit to be taken to the hold until Customs says it’s okay to do so. They might want to check the serial numbers on equipment that you want to check into the hold.
If you get the form at the VAT desk at the airport, you’ll need to fill it out and then give it to the VAT officer with the equipment list on your letterhead.
The stamped form and list prove you left the UK with the listed equipment so that when you return to the UK you can show it to Customs and you won’t have any problem getting the equipment back into the UK.
Visiting the U.S.? If you’re not flying non-stop you will need to get your carnet stamped at the first point of entry. This means you should allow at least three hours between the time you land and the time your connecting flight leaves. The airline will tag your equipment through to its final destination but you will still need to collect your kit to present it to U.S. Customs and have the carnet stamped.
A similar policy applies in South Africa. For example, if you’re flying to Durban via Johannesburg you will need to collect your equipment at the airport in Johannesburg, present it to Customs so your carnet can be stamped and then deliver it to the correct place to be loaded onto the connecting flight to Durban even though Durban is an international airport.
Once again, regulations change so confirm the policy on how to deal with kit at the first point of entry to a country.
Cheap Ticket or Open Return?
More and more people are opting to buy their airline tickets on line and going for the cheaper non refundable-no changes allowed fares. Many of these people then go on to pay extortionate prices for return flights when the shooting schedule changes along with their travel arrangements. Consider getting an open return. It could save you money and gives you flexibility.
Excess Baggage (Flying the kit can cost more than flying you)
Excess baggage charges can terrify a production. They can be outrageous. For example, BA charges £30.89 per kilo for all baggage above 20 kilos if you’re flying economy class to Sydney. That’s each way. So if you’re travelling with 150 kilos of kit and personal luggage and there are two of you with 20 kilos of baggage allowance each, that’s 110 kilos of excess baggage at £3397.90 each way. Sometimes you can negotiate but often the person you’ll be talking to will apparently take great delight in the pain these charges can cause.
So how do you beat these charges? First, travel lightly. If it won’t compromise your shoot, consider taking a light LCD monitor instead of a heavier CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor. If you can, keep your lighting kit portable. If possible, carry on the camera with the wide angle lens attached and wrap the standard lens in something protective so that it can be carried on in a separate small bag as well. Then send the case for the wide angle empty – this also reduces the chance of losing your wide angle lens to theft or mishandling. If possible, try to carry one or two camera batteries onto the plane as well. And make sure you have one tape in the camera and at least one spare in the carry bag. This means if your luggage gets lost, you’ll at least have a camera with lenses, some batteries and two tapes to buy a little time.
A quick point on hand carrying cameras on planes. Since August 2006 security regulations have tightened at UK and many airports abroad. Previously you could easily hand carry a camcorder with the lens attached in a Portabrace carry bag. You can still carry a camera and lenses on board but you have to do the following:
Put the body alone in a carry bag just big enough for the body itself
Carry the lens (or two lenses) in a carrier bag with bubble wrap
Doing this ensures you’re within the size and weight limitations of each airline and saves you having to check the camera and lenses into the hold. I always strongly advise that you never check the camera into the hold. Why - because if it goes missing your shoot is in a lot of trouble. So is your wallet. And occasionally the camera can get damaged in handling.
Carrying the camera and lenses on board also saves money on excess baggage charges.
Saving Money on Excess Baggage
Ring the airline you plan to fly with ahead of time to tell them you will have excess baggage and would like to prepay. Try to negotiate a better rate, particularly if you fly with that airline frequently. If you have no luck, ask for a manager or see if they have someone who routinely deals with media companies.
Do not pay for your tickets until the airline agrees to reduce your excess baggage charges. If ringing ahead doesn’t get you a reduction, try another airline. If using a different airline isn’t an option, you can take your chances at the airport. Just hope that whoever you deal with when checking in generously reduces the amount of excess baggage you have to pay for. Always be charming.
When you pack your kit, remember BAA regulations require no piece of package weigh more than 32 kilos. If any item exceeds this weight you will need to repack so it’s within the limit or you will not be allowed to check it in.
Whatever you do, make sure the crew has some idea what the excess baggage charges will be and that you have made arrangements on how this charge will be paid. This prevents another problem I’ve seen many times. The crew arrives to check in and no provision has been made for excess baggage costs so they’re faced with putting significant charges on their credit cards. A few times I’ve seen this happen and no one in the crew had a credit card that could handle the charge so they missed their flight.
Use a Specialist Company
Another option is to use a specialist company that guarantees to save you serious amounts on excess baggage charges. One such company some clients and we have used with great results is called Screen and Music Travel. It is a specialist travel agency that deals exclusively with the film and television industries. The company has solid expertise in travel for film and television crews and is able to negotiate discounts on air fares and excess baggage charges with many airlines. It offers a 24-hour service and their support has frequently been invaluable. Their phone number is 01753 764 050.
Among airline alliances, Star Alliance is the most media friendly. It operates a service called Media Onboard that was specifically designed for “passengers travelling with tools of their trade.” The member airlines include Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, United and Air Canada and the list is growing. Clients who use this service have changed the way they plan and budget for overseas productions because of the serious savings it offers. The service also makes things easier for travelling crews. A representative meets the crew at the airport, helps them deal with carnets or similar documents, takes them to a dedicated check-in desk and offers promotions such as free upgrades. Their web site is www.mediaonboard.com and their phone number is 0870 225 7747.
No Excess Baggage Allowed
Some airlines will not allow excess baggage to selected destinations during certain periods. They are primarily American carriers. Some destinations affected are Mexico City and Cancun, Mexico; San Jose, Costa Rica and Managua, Nicaragua. This policy generally applies in August and from November to January.
Lost Baggage (Oh No!)
If you arrive and all or some of your equipment doesn’t, don’t leave the airport! Go immediately to the relevant airline counter and file a “Baggage Irregularity Report” or BIR. You will need to provide the baggage tag number, a detailed description of the item and any other information you’re asked to give. Make sure you get some contact names and numbers so you can follow up by telephone. And get the airline’s reference number for the report.
Oddly enough, many people don’t do this. Make sure your crew knows to follow this procedure.
Transport to and from Airports (Be sure to budget for this)
If your crew is flying, make sure you budget for the cost of getting them to and from all the airports they’ll be using. These costs can be high in some places, especially if the crew is travelling to several airports on the same trip. Some hotels will provide complementary transport to and from the nearest airport – just make sure you confirm this service and book it in advance. If you’re lucky enough to fly business class, some airlines include a limo to and from your hotel. Again, book in advance. If you need to use a taxi, make sure you check what the fare should be from the airport to your destination and make sure the crew knows this before they fly. Ideally, provide the crew with some local currency so changing money doesn’t become a last minute hassle.
Local Equipment Hire Facilities (Good ones can save your shoot)
It’s a sad fact but equipment does break down or get lost or damaged in transport or stolen. When this happens, it helps a lot if your crew has a list of local equipment hire companies, contact numbers, maps on how to get to them and a list of kit they offer. Before the crew flies, check with others you know for references of companies operating in the places the crew is visiting or go on the internet to find them. For a quick check, go to www.mandy.com. Phone or e-mail these companies before the crew leaves to confirm what they have, what they charge and how you can pay them. The easiest option is to deal with companies that accept credit cards. Also, have your crew take photocopies of your equipment insurance policy pages that outline the equipment hire coverage you have and some business cards of whoever will be processing payment in the UK if it’s not done by the crew on location.
Our Top 10 Tips
I’m sure much of this is obvious, especially to anyone who’s travelled, but we still see things go wrong or budgets unexpectedly increase because some of these tips weren’t followed. The main points are:
1. Get a carnet if you’re flying to a country that requires it.
2. Make sure the crew knows what to do with the carnet.
3. Make sure the carnet is stamped and signed by customs every time the equipment is taken into and out of a country.
4. If the country or countries you’re visiting do not require a carnet take several pro-forma equipment lists on letterhead and a C & E 1246 form (except within the EU) and get the form stamped at the UK airport you leave from.
5. Make sure you return the carnet to the issuer promptly once the kit is back
6. Pack the camcorder body and lenses so you can hand carry them onto the plane.
7. Sort out excess baggage arrangements before the crew gets to the airport and try to get the best deal possible.
8. Consider using a company that specialises in reduced charges for excess baggage.
9. Travel as lightly as you can.
10. Identify the equipment hire companies in the places in the places the crew is visiting and make sure the crew has contact details for them.
Follow these tips and your shoot outside the UK should go smoothly.