Transport and Customs » Transport beyond European Union borders

Transport beyond European Union borders

A co-operative gallery in Berlin agrees on a joint project with a gallery in Yerevan, Armenia. The galleries plan to organize two exhibitions: one of German artists in Yerevan and at a later time one of Armenian artists in Berlin. 

The transport of works of art, musical instruments and stage décor is more complicated when leaving the customs territory of the EU or when entering the EU from outside its borders. Customs regulations are introduced at different political levels: International and European customs laws, as well as national regulations, are interlinked and accordingly complicated. No exceptions can be expected for the exchange of cultural assets.  

International organizations, such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), lobby for the elimination of barriers and the exchange of cultural assets. The Florence Agreement of 1950 – Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials – and the complementary Nairobi Protocol of 1975 aim at facilitating the transport of cultural assets: They provide for the elimination of customs duties on the import of art works of living artists. To date, about 100 countries worldwide have joined the agreement. Nevertheless, it is insufficiently known and often of little help in practice. Possible support for visual artists comes from the customs certificate of the International Association of Art (IAA).

All transports beyond the borders of the EU customs territory are subject to customs regulations, i.e. all goods must be cleared by customs. 

Usually several customs offices are passed in transit: during export, those of the home country or the EU member state through whose border the goods leave the EU customs territory; during import and later during re-export, again the customs office of the country of origin or that of an EU member state. If other countries, so-called transit countries (see Transit traffic), and thus additional borders are crossed during transport, the question regarding the payment of import duties arises once more.

What are import duties

Import duties are duties, taxes, and other charges levied by the customs authorities upon importation of goods. Relevant to cultural institutions and persons engaged in the cultural sector are import VAT and duties, if applicable. 

Import VAT largely corresponds to the VAT tax of the country of importation. VAT rates are different throughout the world: In Germany they currently amount to 19 percent of the product value or 7 percent in case of goods that are subject to a reduced rate. An overview of the VAT rates in different EU countries is available here.

If and when import duties are incurred depends on whether the transported goods will remain abroad forever – as is the case when works of art are sold – or whether the goods are brought into the country for temporary use - for example, in case of guest performances or art exhibitions. 

Generally speaking, the procedural steps to be followed when dealing with the customs authorities to allow smooth processing in case of self-organized transport are often difficult to generalize – due to special national regulations and the discretion of customs officers (see Dealing with authorities and customs officials). 

The administrative effort and time expenditure for completing the formalities is high and can be nerve-wracking. It is worthwhile, however, to comply with them in order to avoid difficulties, delays, and higher costs. It is recommended to plan the transport early: Planning phases of one to one and a half years are not uncommon for international collaborations with inexperienced parties. 
The necessary steps and regulations should always be discussed with information providers and local cooperation partners - whose active participation one often depends on - to clarify in advance as many questions as possible.  

Initial contacts in Germany

Regarding customs regulations in Germany: the Central Information Unit of the Generalzolldirektion and the main customs offices and handling customs offices that exist in most major cities.

Regarding questions on export and import rules relating to the protection of cultural assets visit the webpage (German language only).

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