I was recently returning from a shoot in Mexico when the customs agent stopped me and gave me some grief over the gear I had with me. He was unsure himself, which was a bit perplexing, of the form I needed to have filled out prior to leaving the U.S. with my gear, but still gave me a hard time for not having it. Of course he made a good point that how was he to know that I didn't purchase the equipment in Mexico and should be paying tax and/or duties on it.
Has anyone done this the correct way and filed with customs prior to leaving the country and can help me make sure I get it right next time? I've heard mention of a "carnet" as well but the research I've done seems like that is for large shipments.
I appreciate the help.
If you are doing large amounts of gear that would NOT be passed as "personal" you should definitely file for a ATA Carnet through the USCIB (http://www.uscib.org/). It costs some money, and is a bit complicated, but the alternative is that customs agents charge you a higher tax fee or confiscate your gear.
If you are traveling w/ gear that could be passed as "personal"... laptop, DSLR Camera, lenses, etc. You should go to your local customs office with the gear and fill out a "Customs Form 4457" or "Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad." The customs agent will have you write down the make, model, and serial number of each piece of equipment. They will verify that it is correct, then stamp and sign it. The process is free, and gives you proof that you owned the equipment when you left the US.
If you are traveling with professional looking gear, that does not pass as personal, and into a country that is not a Carnet country... then you should hire a local Fixer to make sure you get through customs. If you are in this bind, get recommendations from other production companies, and use someone that is trusted. Proffesional fixers know how to get crews through the system.
I work as a Fixer in Chile & Easter Island, so if you ever travel down there let me know and I'll give you more info.
Good luck & watch out for those sneaky customs agents!
Thanks Sergio. I may be going to Ghana next year and this gives me some things to be thinking about, like not bringing as much gear. I may be in touch again to get more details.