Transport and Customs » Shipping companies and courier services

Shipping companies and courier services

Who carries out the transport? Shipping companies and courier services

When it comes to transport, questions about the customs rules to be observed are not the only ones. Whenever extensive stage décor or fragile and valuable works of art or design objects cannot be moved independently, it must be carefully planned with whom to entrust them to so they arrive at their destination safely and intact. A certain degree of wear and tear is hardly avoidable during transport: Some theater companies even say that damage of the stage design must be expected from the outset. In case of art works with high ideational and financial values, transport is a particular risk-phase, so that time and distance between safe storage locations should be kept as short as possible.  

Before a decision is made with regard to the mode of transportation, the following questions should be answered: 

  • How much personal contribution is possible and how much support is needed; i.e. can the transport be carried out independently or does it require a shipping company or courier service?  
  • Is the transport volume or the distance so great that the objects have to be transported as cargo by sea, by train or by plane?   
  • How fragile are the objects to be transported and how will they be treated during transport?  
  • How should the goods be packaged and who will package them at the destination for their return?   
  • Which customs formalities must be observed?
  • And above all: How much time and money is available? 

It is advisable to seek advice from experienced colleagues, both at home and abroad. 

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Shipping companies

When considering shipping companies, one can distinguish between those specialized in fragile and valuable goods and those that transport any goods and commodities imaginable.   

Specialized shipping companies such as SchenkerHasenkamp/Cologne, Tandem Kunst GmbH/Frechen, DART Cologne/Berlin, and HEED! Eventlogistik GmbH/Erding frequently offer personalized service: The whole project is planned and supervised from door to door. Object-specific packaging systems are made available, the staff is specialized in dealing with objects of art and insurance coverage is guaranteed. The customs formalities in the country of origin and the destination country are also handled by them. Necessary accompanying documents (customs declarations, (pro-forma-)invoices, etc.) still have to be provided personally, however. 
Unfortunately, such specialists are rather expensive and thus are often not an option. 

Non-specialized shipping companies are usually cheaper and just as reliable. The fact that the staff is not trained to handle, for example, works of art or design objects, can be addressed by carefully securing the package.  

It may be worthwhile to inquire with local companies. They frequently offer transport services within Europe; to what extent they offer services outside of Europe and on what terms must be researched. Some organizers also report that working with foreign shipping companies - with the help of the cooperation partner abroad – is often a viable alternative.  

If one is flexible in terms of schedule, one can inquire about additional cargo for previously planned trips. Shipping companies often offer the remaining free space at a cheaper rate. This is also possible for transports abroad, at least for routes between major cities. 

If the goods are so extensive that they must be transported as cargo by sea, by air, or by train, cooperation with a shipping company (or a courier service) is recommended. For transports by ship, train, or plane, container space must be purchased (complete or part load), which is handled by the shipping company. The transport process is less flexible and a period of several weeks should be allowed for.  


The following applies when working with a shipping company: Several quotes should be requested in advance, as the price difference between providers is very large. 
In addition, it has to be taken into account that transport companies are bound to national standards, so that the return transport may have to be organized differently than the outbound transport or that the costs may vary.  

Overview of specialized transport companies in the art sector at or

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Courier services

Alternatively, a courier service such as DHL or FedEx can be commissioned for the transport. These services also handle international shipments within a few days and different shipping methods are available, depending on the urgency. The more urgent a transport, the higher the cost. Various tracking tools and an individual tracking number allow for tracking the status of the shipment online. Both companies provide detailed information on their websites and over the phone. 

Couriers have different limitations on the goods they transport. Due to the high risk, not all companies offer the transport of works of art, for example. 
Art objects are among the approved valuables at DHL, which accepts packages with a value of up to 25,000 euros. The shipments are insured up to a certain value. Not all courier services accept bulky items!

For shipments outside of Europe, the courier services handle the customs clearance. To ensure proper processing, a number of documents must be provided:

  • a customs declaration including indication of the value; the information should be formulated as clearly as possible, as it serves as a basis for calculating the (country-specific) import duties;
  • an invoice or, in the case of temporary use abroad, a pro-forma invoice (with the comment ‘value for customs purposes only’). 

The respective forms are available for download on the company websites. 

It is also recommended to learn about import regulations of the destination country and to assess the need for an export declaration. The companies are of limited help concerning this issue. A DHL overview of 'Einfuhr- und Zollvorschriften Länder international’ can be found here (in German only!).

Express shipments are usually delivered directly to the recipient. The company pays any import duties in advance and then collects them from the recipient. Alternatively, the sender can pay the import duties. This should be coordinated with the cooperation partner in advance, so costs can be calculated accordingly. 

Transports for temporary use abroad can also be organized with the help of a courier service. The company has to handle the round-trip transportation and it is usually necessary to set up a customer account.  

Courier services also handle heavy and extensive shipments. Air and sea transportation using containers (full or part loads) is possible.  

All shipping methods are often associated with considerable costs that should be considered and calculated as exactly as possible in advance.

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If possible with regard to time and distance, self-transport is the cheapest option. However, all customs formalities must be handled independently as well if the transport crosses the EU border (see Export of works of art, design objects, stage décor etc. and Temporary use of works of art, design objects, stage décor etc.).

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