How to transport Art

How to transport Art
24 May 2016


Upon arrival in a foreign country, shipments must clear through Customs. This is true regardless of the mode of transport.

If the shipment is valued at less than $2,500.00, then an informal entry can be made and the individual importer can clear the shipment themselves, although it is worth bearing in mind that this will likely be a time-consuming process. Above that value, or for any textiles and fabrics, a licensed customs broker is needed.

In order to clear the shipment, the broker will need to know personal details about the importer, social security number for individuals, and tax-ID numbers for corporations. They will also need a fully descriptive invoice, showing the supplier, nature of the commodity, value, country of origin and, if antique, the age of the piece.

Import Fees

In addition to transport costs, various fees will be due upon clearance. Most objects are subject to duty, however, objects over 100 years old, original works of art and early editions of cast sculptures are duty-free. Depending on the country certain other items may be free of duty, it is worth checking with a broker before shipping to ascertain your likely monetary outlay. Duty is charged as a percentage of the value of the merchandise and depends on the commodity, however in some countries; duty is calculated on the value of the goods and the cost to ship them there.

Other import fees and charges will be incurred too. To import into the USA, a bond must be posted. The term "bond" is something of a misnomer in that it suggests one gets the fee back. That is not the case, it is more of a surety guarantee, in the event that duty is due on the shipment the government is assured of receiving payment by a Surety Company should the importer refuse. The bond charge is for the use of that surety guarantee. Some regular importers have their own bonds, renewable yearly. The speed at which entries are processed necessitates this guarantee as most shipments are delivered long before the entry is truly signed off upon, or "liquidated". Without this guarantee, ports would grind to a halt. Bond fees vary from broker to broker but will typically be .2% to .4% of the imported value

Another US import fee is "Merchandise Processing Fee", which was implemented in the late 1980s in order to help fund the US Customs Service. This fee is based on the imported value of the shipment and is .21%, with a minimum of $ 25.00 and a maximum of $485.00, it is levied on every shipment.

Additionally, if a shipment arrives by sea, Harbor Maintenance Fee is due. This is .125% of the imported value and has no minimum or maximum charge, a worthwhile consideration for high-valued shipments.


In most countries, sales tax or "value added tax" is due before the shipment is released, unless the shipment is cleared in such a way as to defer the payment, (although this can only be done for an importer who satisfies certain stringent criteria). In the case of the USA however, the payment of sales tax is the responsibility of the individual importer and is settled with their state sales tax office after receipt of the goods. For the most part, sales tax is due on anything imported from overseas, it tends to be referred to as "use tax" and the rate varies from state to state.

Visit the U.S. Customs site

It is strongly recommended that individuals consult their own state sales tax office as failure to pay can result in fines and penalties and interest calculated from the date of entry. Ignorance of the rule does not excuse the importer from payment.

Visit the Tax Department site

Export customs clearance formalities differ with commodity and the exporting country, it is worth checking with your shipper as to what needs to be done.

If the objects to be exported contain material covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, such as ivory and tortoiseshell, then export paperwork must be completed regardless of the exporting country. CITES rules are very strict and failure to adhere to them will result in seizure and destruction of the objects by Fish & Wildlife officials, whose jurisdiction is higher than that of US Customs.

Rules of Thumb

Ensure fully descriptive invoices are available.

Be sure of all pertinent details of importer before dispatch of shipment.

Allow time for customs both on export and import.

It has been proven in the highest courts that importing is a privilege not a right.

Upon arrival in a foreign country, shipments must clear through Customs. This is true regardless of the mode of transport.