DV101: The Carnet Chronicles: Intelligence on International Production

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This month’s DV101 will deviate from my normal technological diatribes into logistics. I’m currently producing and directing a reality show called My Hollywood about kids pursuing their dreams to break into show business. The major leg of home visits for this show has me on the road for 25 days from Alberta, Canada, to Manhattan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and Florida.

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Returning home from Canada. From left, camera operator Rachel Lippert, story producer Brittany Flickinger, producer’s assistant/data wrangler/DIT McKena Maltby and (bending over) director of photography Benjamin Molyneux

Although I’ve shot in Canada once before, I did it a little surreptitiously, flying into New York and driving across the border with an SUV full of equipment, a producer and a cameraman. This show is a bit bigger. I’ve got a crew of six: a DP, camera operator, sound mixer, story producer, my assistant/DIT and our supervising producer. We’ve got a substantial amount of equipment (16 checked bags for each flight) and I’ve learned a ton while trying to negotiate the logistics of moving the crew and equipment across the border.

My first concern: Did I need to get permits for my crew to enter and work in Canada? In short, no. As a television production from America, with an American crew being paid by an American production company, we were free to enter Canada without a permit. Section 187 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulation lays out the general criteria for entry as a business visitor.

As was explained to me by a representative of the Canadian General Consulate in New York, the general criteria is as follows: “There must be no intent to enter the Canadian labor market, that is, no gainful employment in Canada. The activity of the foreign worker must be international in scope, that is, there is the presumption of an underlying cross-border business activity. There is the presumption of a foreign employer: the primary source of the worker’s remuneration remains outside Canada, the principal place of the worker’s employer is located outside Canada, and the accrual of profits of the worker’s employer is located outside Canada.”

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Loading the van with gear. We needed to remove two rows of seats from a 15-passenger van to fit 16 checked bags and 10 carry-ons—the sum total of our personal and production equipment for the trip.

Basically, since my crew is American, they are paid by an American company, and they aren’t attempting to take Canadian jobs, they don’t need a permit. For some businesses in Canada, you have to apply for a Labor Market Opinion, which evaluates your impact on the Canadian business market. If you’re a benefit or are judged to have no impact, you’re allowed to operate with the LMO.

I was elated to learn I didn’t need an LMO or a work permit for my crew. What I didn’t know was that I needed a carnet (pronounced kar-nay).

It was actually my sound mixer, Kevin Bellante, who asked me, “Are we doing a carnet?” just two days before we were getting on a plane. He asked that and sirens went off in my head. I knew I had heard that word before. I knew it had significance, but I couldn’t remember what. A quick Google search revealed that we were potentially in trouble.

A carnet is commonly known as a “merchandise passport.” It is, more or less, a passport for your equipment. Countries frown on individuals traveling abroad, purchasing expensive items like jewelry and electronics, not paying sales tax, and then bringing those items back into their home country.

The carnet, a customs document, helps smooth the process of bringing professional equipment temporarily into another country. The carnet declares the ownership of equipment that is crossing borders—proof that you had all the equipment before you left the country, when you entered the new country, when you left the new country and when you re-entered the home country.

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The carnet. The front includes the holder information (owner of the goods) and lists the ATA carnet countries. It must not be altered or amended in any way. The back is a general list of merchandise and equipment. This list cannot be amended, but it is possible to travel with partial shipments.

Carnets facilitate international business by helping travelers avoid extensive customs procedures and eliminating the payment of duties and value-added taxes (minimum 20 percent in Europe, 27 percent in China) on some items.

While researching the carnet process, I was fortunate to find a wonderful service: CarnetsXpress.com, run by Tiffany Peterson. She was able to facilitate a carnet for me same-day. I provided a list of the equipment we were traveling with, along with serial numbers and monetary value.

The carnet consists of a folder of paperwork that lists all of the equipment that is going to travel with you. Before you leave, take the carnet and the equipment to your local Customs and Border Patrol office, where an officer reviews the carnet and examines the goods to ensure they match the carnet list. The officer then validates the carnet document. I recommend doing this at least one day before you travel.

A carnet is valid for one year from the date of its issuance. Merchandise listed on a carnet can be imported to and exported from any of the member countries as many times as needed during this time. The carnet can include more items than you’re traveling with. If you are making several trips within the year that the carnet is valid—one is a big trip, others are smaller—you should list all of the equipment necessary for the big trip on the carnet and then note the items that are on the list but not included on a specific trip.

Equipment covered by carnets includes commercial samples, professional equipment, and items for tradeshows and exhibitions, as well as ordinary goods such as computers, tools, cameras and video equipment, industrial machinery, automobiles, clothing, and gems and jewelry.

Basic processing fees are determined by the value of the shipment. Fees range from $225 to $380. Standard processing time is between one and two working days, if the application and security deposit are received according to the service provider’s guidelines.

We needed to take all of our equipment and the carnet to the U.S. customs office at the airport before we checked in at the gate. This was a struggle: we were flying out of terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport and the customs office is in terminal 4. The customs officer needs to see all of the equipment so he can certify that it’s in your possession when you leave the country.

When you arrive in the new country, that country’s customs officer needs to sign the counterfoil, a document in the carnet, to acknowledge that the equipment entered the country.

When you leave that country, take the equipment to the local customs office so officers there can inspect your equipment and sign the counterfoil. One final signature is required by U.S. customs when you re-enter the country—although this step was done for me in Canada by a U.S. customs officer and I didn’t have to do it after landing in the United States.

It’s a somewhat confusing process the first time, but if you understand why it’s necessary, following the steps will be a lot easier. The alternative is that the foreign country may make you post a bond (up to 50 percent of the value of your goods) on entering their country; that bond is, theoretically, returned to you on your departure.

If you’re planning on traveling abroad with expensive equipment, be sure to look into a carnet for your gear. Having one will save you a lot of headache.  

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