How to get an ATA CARNET for Camera Equipment in Australia
The ACS thanks Liam Brennan for the research and writing of this article.
I’m an Australian Cinematographer, and I am lucky enough to travel outside of this beautiful country for work. Although I absolutely love the opportunity, International travel with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of camera gear can be an absolute pain!
The most important piece of documentation you need to have when traveling with camera gear is an ATA Carnet , so you ask, How Do I get an ATA Carnet for Camera Equipment?
After asking the brain’s trust of all my contacts in the Film Industry in Australia, and having to apply for ATA Carnet in Australia myself, I’ve learnt a lot.
I put this article together to outline the simplest steps to take in order to get an A.T.A. Carnet in Australia. Good luck!
What I do (in brief):
For a large budget overseas job, in one location with good rental house options, I would always opt to hire gear in that location. For a travel job where I fly into one city, and out of another, or a 2-3 day shoot, I’ll organize an ATA Carnet for my gear.
Recently I travelled to New Zealand with $75,000 worth of gear. I applied for my ATA Carnet through AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS CHAMBER in my home town of SYDNEY. They prepared the Carnet and I picked it up from their office.
It cost me $544 for the Carnet, $250 quick processing fee (2-4 business days), and I had to put an $18,000 security bond down that was returned to me in full once the gear was signed back into Australia.
When I returned to Australia with my completed Carnet, I took it back to the AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS CHAMBER office, they refunded my $18,000 deposit within 7 days.
WHAT IS AN ATA CARNET?
Simply, an ATA Carnet (pronounced KAR-NAY) is an Internationally Recognised “Passport for your gear”.
It is a document that shows when your gear leaves its country of residence, where it goes, and when it comes back home. And it shows that it’s been with you the entire time, and proves that you haven’t bought or sold it tax free.
WHY DO I NEED AN ATA CARNET?
You would never travel internationally without your passport, make sure your gear doesn’t either!
An ATA Carnet will stop you getting slugged with import and export taxes for your gear! A customs official will take one look at your expensive, non-carneted gear, and immediately think “This person is importing/exporting this item, and will sell it, and not pay import/export tax, NOT ON MY WATCH!!!”
A Carnet will prove that everything you have taken with you to/from a country has been with you the entire journey.
HOW DO I GET AN ATA CARNET?
It’s surprisingly simple, but it does take time. You can do it last minute/get fast tracked in 2-4 business days, sometimes even 48 hours, but it will cost you more for being last minute and unprepared, and you’ll be stressed. Allow 5-10 business days when doing a Carnet .
All states of Australia have different Carnet approaches. Some you apply by email (NSW), some have a handy website (VIC). Each State Authority will require you to fill out their Spreadsheet.
On the spreadsheet you record the weight, serial number, and the purchase price of each piece of gear (just put what it would be to buy new, or, if you bought second hand, keep a digital copy of your receipt somewhere easily accessible, google drive or similar to prove the price if asked)
- If you are traveling by yourself, and only have a case or two of gear (a camera, some lenses, a few batteries), just apply for a Carnet directly.
- If you are traveling with a production company, and have a lot of gear in the kit, get the production company to hire a CUSTOMS BROKER to sort it out, and get the Production Company to front the costs and the Security Bond, they have more money than you!
- If you are traveling to a major city, with some decent rental houses, just rent the gear! It will be far less of a pain in the long run, and you will be supporting the local film economy in that region, good work!
Order of events when applying for and traveling with an ATA CARNET
- Submit your application to your relevant state authority (allow 5-10 business days processing before your travel)
- Pay your ATA Carnet fee once approved (these rates are all over the place, expect a transaction/application fee of anywhere between $350-$1000) and pay your Security Bond
A security Bond can sometimes be 50% of the value of all of your gear. EG: Your gear is worth 100,000 they may hold a $50,000 security bond until your gear returns home. Yikes! If you don’t have that sort of cash, go through a customs broker, sometimes a broker will have third parties to front the security bond for you , they will charge you a smaller, non-refundable cost!
- Collect your ATA Carnet documentation from the Authority.
- When exiting your Home Country, get your Carnet viewed and signed by Customs
- When Entering the Country you Visit, get the Carnet signed at Customs.
- Shoot your project. Make sure you don’t lose any of the gear on your carnet, otherwise Customs will think you have sold it, and will take the tax cost out of your Security Bond. If your gear is stolen while in transit, make sure you get a police report!
- When Exiting the country you Visit, get the Carnet signed by Customs
- When Re-Entering your Home Country, get your Carnet viewed and signed by Customs.
- Return your Carnet form to the same place you got it from
- Get Security Bond back, by filling out a security bond request form from the company who supplied your Carnet.
NOTE: Every country you visit on the way, and check out/check in your luggage through, will need to view and sign your Carnet .
TIP: Travel with your gear neatly packed in heavy duty cases
Don’t be a grub, and don’t look like a shitshow. Keep your gear neat and organized in heavy duty cases like Pelican Cases with your Name and Contact Details clearly printed on the outside in case they get lost, put an APPLE Airtag in there too so you can track your luggage.
Customs Officials will ask to see certain items from your Carnet . Make it quick and easy for yourself to find and show these items. And yes. You need to put the actual Pelican Case on the Carnet .
How specific does my Carnet need to be?
I have a general rule: If it has a Serial Number, and isn’t permanently attached by a tool to a bigger item, it goes on the Carnet .
I don’t put cables, magic arms and cages attached to camera, sd cards, camera tape on a Carnet . I have not had an issue yet.
I do put expensive recording media and card readers on a Carnet .
Customs probably aren’t going to worry about a bunch of ratty sdi patch cables, lens cloths and micro-sd cards. If you’re traveling with 20x SDI patch cables in their own little case, maybe they will. But if I have a couple attached to cameras and monitors, I don’t bother. So I don’t put those sorts of “Expendables” on.
Big ticket items, and things that look like their own “item”, that’s what you need to be covered for. Put yourself in a Customs Official’s shoes!
What about the PL Mount for my camera, or the Viewfinder/Monitor? Do I need to take it off and treat it as a separate item?
Maybe? But I don’t, I treat them as the “Camera Package”. Even though these items may have separate serial numbers, it’s part of the camera package that I purchased, on the receipt from the Store/Manufacturer it’s a package.
If I keep the item attached for travel, I just treat it as 1 item. eg: “RED Gemini Cinema Camera Package” and in the Serial Number Column I put “Body S/N: xxxxx123 + Screen S/N xxxx321”.
What about things that aren’t as clear/don’t have serial numbers like cages, handles and magic arms? Do you need to Carnet them all?
Maybe, I don’t know. But here’s an example of what I do:
I have a Small HD Cine 7 Monitor that has a third party cage and handles. I put “Small HD in Cage with Handles” on the Carnet. Weigh the entire rigged monitor package, put the serial no. from the Small HD Monitor on the Carnet. If a customs official asks me about the handles (which I usually take off for transport to make the package fit in a pelican case, I say they are part of the Monitor and Cage, which they are, and show them, by attaching the handles to the cage.
Do I need an ATA Carnet if I’m just taking a small camera like a SONY A7 and a couple of lenses in a backpack?
Technically, yes, but also, I don’t bother with small packages like that. General tourists travel with those sorts of kit all the time and it’s never an issue. Use your big kid brain. A RED DSMC2 or an ALEXA Mini camera don’t look like a tourist camera. A bunch of Cine Primes do not look like tourist lenses. Customs will always open Pelican Cases, Pelicases scream “I AM HOLDING EXPENSIVE STUFF”. No tourist travels with a pelican case unless they are a James Bond Villain, and Customs are DEFINITELY stopping those chumps!
Where can I apply for an ATA CARNET directly?
Where do I get my ATA CARNET signed, when entering and leaving Australia?
***Details may have changed since I posted this article as of 17/10/22***
Each State or Territory within Australia has different processes and procedures for assessing Carnets once they arrive. Carnets that arrive in the passenger environment or as cargo may be processed at the airport on arrival.
Not all ports and airports within Australia are permanently manned by Customs and Border Protection officers’. Check their operating times below. If your flight doesn’t allow it, you may have to go to a different customs office a day prior to leaving to get your equipment signed off.
I have included each major State and Territories Airport Customs operating hours where Carnets may be checked and signed off. The majority of these are processed by Client Services at the airport or at Customs House.
IF YOU’RE FLYING INTERNATIONALLY WITH YOUR GEAR, GET YOUR CARNET SIGNED AT THE FOLLOWING CUSTOMS LOCATIONS IN AUSTRALIA BEFORE YOU LEAVE AND WHEN YOU COME BACK:
(OPENING/CLOSING TIMES as of 17/10/22):
Canberra Passenger Processing – International Airport – 24 hours 7 days a week (on call)
Melbourne Passenger Processing – Airport 6:00am – 11:00pm 7 days a week
Sydney Passenger Processing – Airport 6:00am – 11:00pm 7 days a week
Northern Territory Passenger Processing – Airport 24 hours 7 days a week
South Australia Passenger Processing – Adelaide Airport 7:30am – 4:30pm Mon – Fri: Weekends and Public Holidays 7:30am – 3:00pm (The operational hours at the Adelaide Airport for carnet processing do vary in the winter period).
Western Australia Passenger Processing – Perth Airport 24 hours 7 days a week
Brisbane Passenger Processing – Brisbane Airport – 5:30am – 1:00am 7 days a week
Hobart – Customs House – Mon – Fri 8:30am – 4:51pm
HERE’S SOME MORE HANDY ATA CARNET INFORMATION:
I am not a Customs Official, I am not a Customs Broker, my knowledge of this subject is based purely on experience.
The information on this page is of a general nature. It does not take your specific needs or circumstances into consideration, so you should look at your own position, objectives and requirements and seek professional advice before making any customs related decisions.