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
Export of works of art, musical instruments, stage décor etc. from Germany/the EU
Export from Germany/the EU 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:
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 www.kulturgutschutz-deutschland.de (German only).
Import of works of art, design objects, stage décor etc. to Germany/the EU
Import to Germany/the EU is considered to have occurred when an artist in Argentina sends a drawing to a buyer in Germany or takes it to Germany himself/herself.
All imports into Germany or the EU customs territory from countries outside the EU are subject to import duties. This means that import VAT and, if applicable, customs duties must be paid on goods that permanently remain in Germany, for example, art works or design objects for sale or parts of stage sets whose re-export is not cost-effective. (Regulations regarding allowances and customs exemptions, as well as simplified calculation of duties, can be found on the website of the German customs authorities.)
The tax on imports prevents that the imported goods reach the final consumer free of VAT (see VAT) and thus distort competition. The import VAT is equal to the VAT rate. In Germany, it currently amounts to 19 percent or the reduced rate of 7 percent. The reduced rate applies, for example, to works of art (with the exception of photography).
The amount of customs duty depends on the value of goods, the class of goods, and the country of origin. Information may be obtained from the German customs authority. Works of art are exempt from customs duties upon import into the EU.
Import duties must be paid at the customs office upon arrival or by the recipient if the goods are being mailed. This should be discussed with the recipient in advance. A list of works and an invoice on the basis of which the import duties may be calculated should be supplied.
When importing cultural goods it may be necessary to take into account regulations regarding the protection of cultural assets (see Transport of cultural assets).
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 from the United States brings design objects to a fair in Germany that she will later take back to the United States.
If goods that will later be returned to Germany/their EU country of origin are taken outside of the EU for temporary use – or the other way round: goods are temporarily taken to Germany/the customs territory of the EU from a country outside of the EU – this is considered temporary importation abroad and the items are considered returned goods upon re-import into the country of origin.
As a general rule, import and export duties are due even in the case of temporary use abroad. 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, musical instruments, 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 country of origin, the ATA Carnet serves as proof that the goods had originally been exported and may be re-imported as so-called return goods without the need to pay import duties (see below 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 below 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.
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 country of origin. 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. The EU member states and outside of the EU, a growing number of 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, provided that the country of origin is also a participating party. It should be noted that not all countries accept all product groups and uses; special national regulations must be inquired about with the issuing institution, in Germany 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 issuing institution, in Germany the local chamber of commerce (IHK), as early as possible to discuss the procedure, application form and costs in detail.
All items and their values must be entered on the form. Only the issuing institution 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!).
The following section discribes the procedure in Germany:
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.
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?
Issuing institutions 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.
The Berlin Chamber of Commerce is listed here as an example:
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 in Germany 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.
If a shipping company is hired, this company usually handles the customs formalities. If the transport is organized independently, the project should be discussed with the information providers in advance.
Information is provided by the domestic customs administration. In Germany inland customs offices and the Central Information Unit of the Generalzolldirektion can be contacted. 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. In Germany 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.
From Germany abroad
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 3,000 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).
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.
The temporary export must be applied for with the domestic customs administration and the goods must be identified in line with the returned good procedure. This is important so that the goods may later be re-imported to the country of origin without the need to pay import duties.
When temporarily importing goods to Germany (or the EU customs territory), the temporary import must be registered with the German customs administration (or the customs office at the EU border). A pro-forma invoice with the comment 'value for customs purposes only’ as the basis for making the deposit should be provided or enclosed. The deposit has to be paid in cash and approximately corresponds to the import duties, i.e. import VAT and customs duties, if applicable.
National regulations apply: In Germany, the VAT rate currently amounts to 19 percent of the product value or 7 percent in case of goods that are subject to a reduced rate. The reduced rate applies, for example, to works of art (with the exception of photography). The amount of customs duty depends on the value of goods, the class of goods, and the country of origin. Information may be obtained from the German customs authority. Works of art are exempt from customs duty upon import into the EU.
Upon re-export, the refund of the security deposit has to be applied for at the German customs authorities. The cooperation partner in Germany should assist with this. The refund claim does not necessarily have to be submitted to the same customs office that handled the temporary import. It should be taken into account that the formalities may take a few days.