Transport beyond EU borders - from Germany abroad

Export of works of art, design objects and stage décor etc.

Export is considered to have occurred when, for example, a German artist sends a drawing to a buyer in Japan or takes it to Japan himself/herself. 

All goods that are taken to a country outside the EU must be cleared by customs. This process requires a customs declaration
The following must be noted concerning export and import duties and customs formalities: 

  • Items of a value of 300 euros or more (travelers’ allowance) must be declared for export. Oral, written or electronic declarations are possible, depending on the value: For amounts of up to 3,000 euros, the item may be registered directly at the customs office at the border. The creation of an electronic export declaration is required. The local chamber of commerce (IHK) will assist with further information. An oral declaration is sufficient for amounts of up to 1,000 euros (upon presentation of a pro-forma invoice). Objects worth 3,000 euros or more must be registered with the inland customs office in advance. 
  • Export from Germany and from the entire customs territory of the EU to a country outside the EU is VAT-exempt; also export duties are not levied.
  • Cultural goods having reached certain age and value limits are subject to an export authorization requirement, thus require a specific export license according to EU law. Legal basis is the Council Regulation EC No 116/2009 on the export of cultural goods to non-European countries.
    Art works older than 50 years and having a value of more than 150 000 euros are subject to the issue of an export permit, provided that the art work is no longer property of the author.
    Concerning musical instruments the reference value is an age limit of more than 50 years and a minimum value of the musical instrument of 50 000 euros, both for temporary as well as for permanent export. However, in case the musical instrument is exported only temporarily, e.g. for the occasion of a concert tour, another more musician-friendly regulation comes into work: the 'specific open license'. This license is valid up to 5 years and allows the export of a certain instrument from Germany to another country as often as desired within the time scope. Detailed information for musicians and cultural professionals is provided here (German only).
  • Import duties, i.e. import VAT and possible customs duties, are levied on imports into the destination country. The amount conforms to the national regulations and import VAT rates and is calculated based on the specified value of the items. Information about national legislation should be obtained in advance – for example through the customs administration of the destination country with the help of the local cooperation partner. The embassies of the destination countries and the offices of the chambers of commerce abroad usually also provide information.
  • Presentation/attachment of an invoice is required for calculation of import duties (preferably in English, addressed to the recipient abroad).
  • If the transport is carried out by the artist himself/herself, for example, using his/her own car, the import duties are collected by the foreign customs office at the border. In case the goods are being transported by a shipping company or courier service, the recipient has to pay the fees. This should be discussed in advance with the recipient, so that costs can be calculated accordingly. Alternatively, one can arrange with the transport company to have the charges invoiced to the sender (see Shipping and courier services). 

Information about German customs regulations is available from the Central Information Unit of the Generalzolldirektion and the inland customs offices.
Information on the export regulations of cultural goods according to EU law is provided by the webpage (German only).

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Temporary use of works of art, design objects and stage décor etc. abroad

Temporary importation refers to, for example, when a street theater group commissions a transport company to ship part of its stage décor to Venezuela and later back to Germany, or if a designer brings his works to another country for an exhibition or a fair and later takes them back to his home country. 

If goods that will later be returned to their EU country of origin are taken outside of the EU for temporary use, this is considered temporary importation abroad and the items are considered returned goods upon re-import into the customs territory of the EU

As a general rule, import and export duties are due even in the case of temporary use in non-European countries. These are usually temporarily collected at the customs office abroad and refunded upon re-export. The goods must be intended for re-export from the outset and may not be altered during their use abroad.  

Information providers recommend the use of an international customs document, an ATA Carnet, when temporarily using works of art, design objects, stage décor etc. abroad: Customs formalities can thereby be reduced to a minimum and otherwise necessary import and export declarations cease to apply. During re-import into the EU, the ATA Carnet serves as proof that the goods had originally been exported and may be re-imported into the EU as so-called return goods without the need to pay import duties (see Temporary use with an ATA Carnet).
Temporary export can also be organized without an ATA Carnet. In fact, use of an ATA Carnet is impossible in many cases - for example, when countries that have not ratified the ATA Carnet process are involved. In such cases, import and export declarations must be filed with the customs authorities (see Temporary use without an ATA Carnet).

If use of the ATA Carnet is possible, the user has full discretion to decide which option is better suited for his/her case. Costs are incurred in both cases.

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Temporary use with an ATA Carnet

The ATA Carnet is an international customs document that reduces the customs formalities during the temporary use of goods abroad and their re-importation into the EU. It serves as a customs declaration, identification document, and surety bond. The issuing institutions – in Germany, chambers of industry and commerce (IHK) – thereby guarantee the import duties due on the goods to the foreign customs administration and thus the surety charges that would otherwise have to be provided. Outside of the EU39 countries have joined the international ATA Carnet agreement.

The ATA Carnet finds application when exhibition items, samples, and professional equipment (also photography equipment) are temporarily transported abroad. It should be noted that not all countries accept all product groups and uses; special national regulations must be inquired about with the local chamber of commerce (IHK).

The ATA Carnet can be applied for by organizations and private individuals and is usually valid for one year. The objects must be returned to the country of origin within this period.  

How can I apply for an ATA Carnet and what are the key issues? 

If a shipping company is entrusted with the transport, the customs formalities are usually handled by this company. The ATA Carnet, however, must be applied for personally in most cases. If the transport is organized individually, it is advisable to make a personal appointment with the local chamber of commerce (IHK) as early as possible to discuss the procedure and application form in detail. 
All items and their values must be entered on the form. Only the local chamber of commerce (IHK) can make changes to the list should this become necessary later.  
On its website, the Berlin Chamber of Commerce (IHK) provides a short film about the use of the ATA Carnet form and information on how to complete the document (in German only!). 

After the ATA Carnet has been issued by the local chamber of commerce (IHK), the goods to be returned must be identified to the responsible inland customs office. This identification is proof that the entry in the ATA Carnet is consistent with the actual goods. This is important in order to avoid import duties upon re-import into the country of origin. 
 For this identification, the goods must be presented to the customs office, partly supplemented by photographs attached to the certificate. At the inland customs office (or at the border), these formalities are often handled by so-called customs forwarding firms that charge an additional fee. For more extensive transports, an on-site-appointment subject to a charge at the sender’s workplace (or the location of the objects) can be arranged. This should be planned sufficiently in advance! 
If the value of the goods does not exceed 3,000 euros, the identification process can be carried out directly at the border. 

Please note: 

  • When packing the goods, it should be taken into account that the customs personnel will have to be able to inspect the items.
  • Customs offices at the borders are not staffed 24/7. An advance telephone inquiry is recommended. Please allow sufficient time for customs clearance.
  • It should be clarified whether a special export permit is necessary, e.g., as is the case for cultural assets worthy of protection (see Cultural assets worthy of protection). In most cases, however, this is not relevant.

After commencement of the journey, it is important to have the customs form signed by the customs office at every border crossing. This also applies to transit (see Transit traffic). This means, the customs office must be approached at every border (import and export), even if no one asks for the customs document. If even one customs office does not clear the goods, the Carnet procedure cannot be completed by the local chamber of commerce (IHK) and complications are to be expected. It is important that the re-import of goods into the EU/ to Germany is confirmed by the customs office. This allows the chamber of commerce (IHK) to repudiate possible complaints of the foreign customs administration. 

After re-arrival in Germany, but no later than the expiry date, the ATA Carnet must be returned to the local chamber of commerce (IHK), which will keep it on file, because the foreign customs administration can claim mistakes during re-export of the goods for up to one year after the expiration.  

What costs are associated with using an ATA Carnet

Local chambers of commerce charge a fee for ATA Carnets and require surety insurance and possibly a (bank) guarantee. The cost of the ATA Carnet and the processing fee differ from chamber of commerce to chamber of commerce. 

The Berlin Chamber of Commerce is listed here as an example:

  • Carnet booklet: 3.50 euros (basic form for 1 journey)
  • Processing fee: 40 euros (30 euros for IHK members)                          
  • The deposit insurance to be paid depends on the value of goods and is on a sliding scale (it costs 35 euros for a value of up to 9,999 euros).
  • Above a certain value, proof of a (bank) guarantee might be required (15,000 euros for individuals and BGB companies; 150,000 euros for PLCs; and 250,000 euros for PLCs older than eight years). The amount of the guarantee is usually 30 percent of the value, but may be higher depending on the country. Please note that bank guarantees are subject to additional monthly fees. 
  • Companies are usually requested to leave a specimen signature (of a person authorized to sign) at the IHK.  

When using an ATA Carnet, the goods must be intended for re-export from the outset. What must be done if the goods remain abroad after all? 

The ATA Carnet is intended for the temporary export of goods. If certain items remain abroad, for example, if the return of a damaged part of the stage décor is not worthwhile or if a work of art was sold, this must be noted accordingly on the ATA Carnet by the foreign customs authority. Import duties are levied retrospectively abroad (import VAT and customs duties, if applicable) and must be paid to the customs office by the Carnet holder.  
Damaged items, the return of which would not be cost-effective due to high transport costs, can be destroyed on site under customs supervision. The destruction must also be recorded in the ATA Carnet. No import duties are levied in such a case. 

To avoid import duties, artists often choose to re-export works of art that were sold abroad because the buyer has to pay the import duties if they are shipped later. The fees are usually collected by the shipping company. This should be discussed with the recipient in advance. 

Detailed information, leaflets about individual countries, and advice regarding the ATA Carnet are available from local chambers of commerce (IHKs). Extensive information is also provided on the Internet by Euler Hermes Deutschland AG, which serves as reinsurer for the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce.

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Temporary use without an ATA Carnet

If a shipping company is hired, this company usually handles the customs formalities. However, if the transport is organized independently, the project should be discussed with the information providers in advance.
Information is provided by inland customs offices and the Central Information Unit of the Generalzolldirektion. Both only provide information about the regulations applicable to Germany, but not about rules (for example, import regulations) abroad. Information about import regulations must be obtained from the customs administration of the destination country, possibly with the support of the local cooperation partner.
The embassies of the countries also offer assistance. Members of their local chamber of commerce (IHK) can take advantage of a free consultation about temporary export without an ATA Carnet; some chambers of commerce also offer free information about the import regulations of the destination country to non-members. 

Before transporting any goods abroad, the export has to be registered with an inland customs office. A pro-forma invoice with the comment 'value for customs purposes only’ (addressed to the recipient in the destination country) should be provided.
The customs office also takes care of the procedure for returned goods. For this, a returned goods declaration will be issued, which has to be completed by the traveler in advance (the forms are also available at most local chambers of commerce, IHK). This declaration serves as identification and ensures that the same/identical goods can be returned without the need to pay import duties.  

If the value of goods amounts to over 3000 euros, the originals must be presented to the inland customs office in advance, partly supplemented by photographs attached to the certificate. For more extensive transports, an on-site-appointment subject to a charge at the workplace of the sender (or the location of the objects) can be arranged. This should be planned sufficiently in advance! 
If the value of goods does not exceed 3,000 euros, the identification can be carried out directly at the border (for example, at the airport). 

Please note: 

  • When packing the goods, it should be taken into account that the customs personnel will have to be able to inspect the items.
  • Customs offices at the borders are not staffed 24/7. An advance telephone inquiry is recommended. Please allow sufficient time for customs clearance.
  • Since the formalities are often handled by customs forwarding firms, additional charges may apply.
  • At the EU’s external border, a pro-forma invoice, an export accompanying document and an identification document must be presented to the customs office for the return goods procedure.  

Upon importation into the destination country, the objects are registered with the customs office for temporary admission. The respective national regulations apply (see, for example, the import requirements for works of art to Switzerland and also the paper Transporting works of art from Germany to Switzerland. These should be found out in advance as far as possible, preferably with the help of the local cooperation partner.  

Some countries require a deposit at the customs office. The deposit amount usually equals the import duties, i.e. customs duties and import VAT in accordance with the import VAT rate of the respective country. These rates vary greatly (an overview of the VAT rates of the EU Member States can be found here). The deposit must usually be paid cash in the local currency. The entire process is handled by customs forwarding firms which also charge a fee. 

Upon re-export, the goods, including import documents, are presented to the foreign customs office to apply for a refund of the security deposit. Support from the local cooperation partner is necessary to determine the responsible authority and complete the formalities. The refund claim does not necessarily have to be submitted to the same customs office that handled the temporary import. 
Please note: The refund is not possible on a moment’s notice; the formalities take a few days. Moreover, in some countries, the deposit will be refunded only after deduction of a processing fee.  

The identification document is important for the return goods declaration upon return to the country of origin. With this document, an import declaration can be created without the need to pay import duties.

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