Travel, Transport and Customs » Shipping companies, courier services, self-transport

Shipping companies, courier services, self-transport etc.

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 especially regarding Berlin at

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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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Travel and transport by car, truck or bus

If a rental car is to be used for transport, it should be noted that some car rental companies have entry restrictions for certain countries.
In its Conditions of Entry, AVIS, for example, points out that “due to an increased accident and theft risk for certain brands/types,” certain countries are off-limits. These countries include Turkey, Greece, Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, etc. Entry restrictions may also apply to the UK, Ireland, and Italy, for example, when using Europcar.
If the restrictions for travel abroad are violated, all insurance policies and limitations of liability are rendered void.

Old driver's licenses issued in the EU and new plastic card driver's licenses are valid without translation in all EU countries. However, an International Driver's License is required for holders of driver's licenses from non-EU countries wishing to rent a car abroad.
If the rental car is to be driven by more than one person, e.g. the band or theatre group, each driver must be specified on the rental contract, otherwise the insurance policy will be invalid.
When renting a car, it is advisable to take out comprehensive coverage without an excess, as this covers most damages and helps avoid possible disputes concerning liability and the assumption of costs between the driver and the artist (ensemble) in the event of an accident. However, there are certain damages which are not covered by comprehensive insurance, e.g. when culpable misuse is involved, e.g. filling up the car with diesel instead of petrol. The resulting engine damage and repair must then be paid for by the person responsible for the damage. 

Provided that it is feasible in terms of time and distance, transport by car, truck or bus is certainly the more cost-effective option. In this case, however, all customs formalities must be completed by the driver himself/herself, if the transport is to leave the EU.

Traffic laws in other EU states
Different traffic laws apply in different countries; you should be aware of this before travelling in the EU by car. The network of European Consumer Centres has published information brochures for individual EU states in which the most important things are listed that drivers should know: speed limits, special traffic rules, toll roads, parking information, etc.

Car and truck tolls
On January 1, 2005, the federal government introduced a truck toll for heavy-duty commercial vehicles (over 12 tons admissible total weight) on German highways. Fees are based on the route, number of axles, and emission class of the vehicle. For this purpose, a system has been established that combines satellite positioning and mobile communications technology, so stops at toll booths on the highway are avoided and drivers only pay for their individual use. This system is operated by Toll Collect. Registration is possible via the Internet.
The EU ministers of transport are seeking to establish a uniform toll system for trucks. So far, the member states are free to select their preferred technology but the systems have to be compatible. 

The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (German language) and the Toll Collect website offer comprehensive information about truck tolls.   

Germany does not charge car tolls. However, other European countries have been levying tolls and congestion charges on cars for some time now.

Truck driving bans
In Germany, trucks over 7.5 tons admissible total weight and all trucks and cars with trailers are subject to a driving ban from midnight to 10 p.m. on Sundays and on legal holidays.
Legal holidays (information in German) differ in the various federal states. If a day is not a legal holiday Germany-wide, the ban is limited to the states in which it is a holiday: Transit is thus not possible unless the route is subject to a blanket exception.
Likewise, a driving ban applies to certain routes on all Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the period from July 1 to August 31.

The Federal Office for Goods Transport provides further information about the German truck driving ban (German language). Bans also exist in other EU countries. Further information can be found here (German language).

Environmental zones
Since March 1, 2007, a regulation has been in force in Germany that allows federal states and cities to set up so-called environmental zones. Within these zones, measures may be established that aim at improving air quality, for example, limiting harmful particulate emissions. This includes traffic restrictions.
Such zones are marked by signs. Motor vehicles require a so-called pollution badge that allows them to enter these zones: Vehicles with 3-way catalytic converters or particulate filters may enter the environmental zone, provided a clearly visible pollution badge is attached to the windshield. The environmental zone is off-limits to all other vehicles.
Entering the zone without a pollution badge is subject to a fine of 40 euros (German citizens will also get a point in Flensburg). Even vehicles from abroad require a German pollution badge, which can be obtained on the Internet. 
Environmental zones also exist or are being planned in other EU countries. The concepts and rules differ greatly and cannot be generalized. 

More information can be found here: Umwelt-Plakette (environmental badge) or Low Emission Zones in Europe.

Nightliners, tour buses with driver
Under certain circumstances, a trip in a tour bus with driver or in a nightliner (also called a sleeper bus or entertainer coach) could be an option. Nightliners are coaches that are specially converted for tours, featuring comfortable sleeper cabins. In most cases, the artists can travel with all of their luggage, technical materials and instruments, which can also be stored in a special, lockable trailer, if necessary.
However, due to special speed limits for coaches, trips in a tour bus or nightliner may take longer than with a van.
Many smaller venues do not have parking space for larger tour buses/nightliners or are located in narrow streets or streets with restricted access (e.g. low-emission zones), meaning that they cannot be accessed directly. 

When travelling and transporting equipment in a nightliner, it is also important to bear in mind the following:

  • The costs are relatively high, even if you are saving the cost of a hotel because everyone sleeps in the nightliner. However, a so-called buy-out for hotel costs can be agreed with the organiser, which can then be used to pay part of the bus rental.
  • A nightliner can make it easier to organise a tour, as all members of the group always sleep in the same place (the bus), which is parked in close proximity to the venue. The risk of leaving behind technical equipment, instruments or personal belongings in hotels is lower. 
  • Nightliners can be useful if the tour route leads through regions and countries with lots of traffic and few hotels and the schedule is tight. In such cases, it is often less stressful for drivers and artists to drive to the next destination at night, right after the performance.

Transfer by taxi or transfer service by the organiser

When artists travel by train or plane with their equipment and instruments, it is important to organise transfers between the train station/airport and the hotel or venue.
It cannot be guaranteed that a sufficient number of taxis will be available everywhere at all times, especially taxis with sufficient luggage storage. In some places, taxi drivers only accept passengers with a limited number of luggage pieces and charge an additional fee for large suitcases, instruments or several pieces of luggage per person. Taxis may also be reluctant to drive to destinations close by, even if it is too difficult to walk this distance with the luggage.
To ensure a successful transfer by taxi, it is advisable to book a suitable car in advance. You can research the corresponding costs and companies in almost all cities and regions on the Internet.

Alternatively, the transfer can be arranged with the organiser of a guest performance. It is important to inform the organiser of the exact number, size and type of luggage items as well as the number of persons to be transported so that the transfer and pick-up service can be arranged accordingly.
It is also important to communicate the exact time and place of arrival and to ensure that the artists and drivers have each other’s' names and mobile numbers.

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Travel and transport by plane

Hand luggage and customs

What has to be done upon leaving or entering the EU when carrying one’s own camera equipment or computer?
When transporting valuable personal items, it is recommended to keep a record proving the origin of the goods to avoid possible import duties upon return. Prior to departure, the customs office should issue an identification document in compliance with the procedure for returned goods. This identification document may be issued by any customs office (If the value of the goods does not exceed 3000 euros, the document can be issued directly at the border. Please make sure to allow sufficient time!). For this purpose, the items in question must be presented and should be described in sufficient detail so as to enable problem-free identification upon return: Photos and specifications of the models or serial numbers of electronic devices are helpful.
Proof of purchase can be presented as an alternative to the abovementioned identification document if the receipt adequately describes the item and shows that it was purchased in the home country (or in the EU). However, an identification document is a much more certain option.
The Chamber of Commerce recomments the use of a ATA Carnet when temporarily using professional equipment (e.g. photography equipment) abroad (also see the detailed information on Temporary use).

Visual artists often opt to transport their works in their hand luggage? What is the procedure in such a case?
In the case of works that are taken to a country outside the EU to be sold, it is technically correct to declare them upon import and to pay import duties (import VAT and customs duties, if applicable). 
If the plan is to return these works to their country of origin, documents should be kept that demonstrate that they are one's own works: A list of the works and their values, an explanation of the reason for the temporary export, an invitation letter from the gallery or the organizer, etc. are helpful. The safest way to transport such objects is to follow the procedure for returned goods (also see the detailed information on Temporary use).

Air travel with musical instruments

There are two main points to consider when traveling by air with an instrument: booking a ticket and checking in at the airport.
In Europe, there is no general legislation with regard to luggage on flights (apart from security regulations), so airlines are free to determine their own rules. Nevertheless, the EU has issued some recommendations: the carrier should accept musical instruments as carry-ons (details can be found in the General Conditions of Carriage (GCC) of the respective airline) and no airport tax should be charged for the additional seat booked for the instrument. The airline should mark the instrument to indicate how it should be transported in the cargo hold, e.g. if it is to be transported in the heated part of the cargo hold (Pearl Report: Carrying of Musical Instruments on Airplanes, 2015). 
See also the list published by the International Federation of Musicians comparing airlines' policies regarding the transport of musical instruments

In the United States, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a regulation regarding the carriage of musical instruments in 2015 (Section 403 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Pub. L. 112-95, 49 U.S.C. §41724) regarding the carriage of musical instruments as carry-on baggage or checked baggage on commercial passenger flights operated by air carriers), according to which small musical instruments may usually be carried on a flight if they can be stowed safely in an overhead compartment in the cabin or under the seat.
Several airlines have joined forces in the "A4A"; they recognise the value of musical instruments for their customers and have expressly included this in their conditions of carriage. Here you can find the comparative list of the conditions of carriage of "A4A" airlines regarding the transport of musical instruments in the U.S.

Some airlines allow guitars to be transported free as hand luggage in soft cases, which are slightly larger than the standard luggage dimensions but still fit in the cabin overhead luggage bins.
Some airlines require that requests to carry a musical instrument in the cabin as hand luggage be made by e-mail at least 24 hours before departure. Whether permission is granted to do so depends on the capacity available on the flight.
This is particularly important on flights for which small aircraft are used and on which hand luggage is transported free of charge but not necessarily in the cabin. Carry-on cases and other hand luggage are often collected upon boarding and stowed in the cargo hold, which may not be air-conditioned. The very cold temperatures during the flight may damage instruments.

Transport of instruments on an additional seat
An additional seat must be booked for all instruments that are larger or heavier than the permitted carry-on allowance. Size and weight restrictions apply and vary from airline to airline. It is essential to contact the airline before booking additional seats.
Due to general safety regulations, additional seats for instruments must always be window seats. When booking online, it is therefore essential to select the seat for the instrument immediately, at an additional charge if necessary, as a suitable seat may no longer be available when checking in at the airport if the flight is fully booked. In this case, the airline may refuse to transport the instrument despite the fact that a ticket has been purchased.
Booking two additional seats for two different instruments belonging to the same musician can be problematic, as an airline's booking system automatically cancels requests of this kind as double bookings. It is therefore advisable to book by phone via the airline instead of online in such cases.

Transport of instruments in the cargo hold
All other instruments must be transported as checked luggage in the cargo hold. It is advisable to use sturdy cases and to check the instruments in as bulky luggage. It gets extremely cold in the cargo hold and temperature-sensitive instruments should be transported in the air-conditioned part of the cargo hold.

In any case, when flying with instruments, you should be sure to arrive and check in at the airport in good time. You should also bring along a printed copy of the airline policy, especially if it refers to travelling with musical instruments. Not everyone at the counter works exclusively for one airline so the staff at the desk may not know every detail of the conditions of carriage.
You should also try to be one of the first people to board the aircraft (e.g. priority check-in) so that there is still enough space in the cabin overhead storage bins to safely store your (small) instrument. If you have any difficulty, you should always remain calm and respectful and communicate with the staff in a cooperative manner to find a solution.

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Travel and transport by train

In Germany, a passenger is allowed to carry a large piece of luggage in addition to a piece of hand luggage on Deutsche Bahn trains. Large pieces of luggage are items (suitcases etc.) that can be carried by one person but are not hand luggage. Items that could obstruct passage for or inconvenience other passengers or cause damage may not be transported. Passengers are responsible for supervising their own luggage. In principle, carrying instruments on trains is no problem as long as their size and quantity complies with the conditions of carriage.
In some European countries, an additional charge must be paid for larger items or instruments, for example when traveling by Thalys or Eurostar.

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