January 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January 2003 Current Issue
January 2003 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


The legal ins and outs of moving meeting materials between two countries

Planners rarely think of themselves as importers and exporters, but that is precisely the role they fill when bringing meeting materials into the United States through customs or sending them overseas for an event.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the regulations for importing goods for trade shows and meetings have been tightened, and new U.S. Customs requirements and inspections are slowing down the process. Taking goods and materials out of the States to a foreign destination, however, is more than slow; it can be downright complicated.

When moving commercial samples and products into another country, the best route is to get an ATA Carnet, named for an English-French amalgam for “temporary admission.” This document allows for the duty and tax-free importation of merchandise while avoiding many of the usual customs paperwork and formalities required for entry into 87 countries. The carnet also provides a guarantee against any duties that might be charged if you fail to re-export the materials.

A list of all countries that accept the carnet can be found at the U.S. Customs Web site ( or through the United States Council for International Business (

The carnet covers commercial samples, professional equipment and advertising materials. In most countries it also will allow for the importation of computers, electronic equipment and other support materials for temporary use. The carnet does not, however, allow any goods to be brought in for reselling.

In the shipping process, the carnet is presented along with the goods to a customs officer. The document is reviewed for completeness and specificity. The customs officer then validates the document and certifies other appropriate exportation documents, such as packing lists.

It’s the duty of the holder to present the carnet to customs when entering or leaving a country. Those who fail to do so might have to pay duties, taxes and penalties.

The three basic components to the carnet application process are a list of items to be exported/imported, a security deposit and the application itself. The amount of the security deposit will vary. A carnet generally can be obtained through the USCIB in New York City either electronically or by mail.

The carnet is valid for the entire year it is issued, allowing for multiple entries into various countries. It does not require that all of the goods be shipped at the same time to the same place. The carnet also can be used by those bringing similar goods into the United States.

Some countries have further imposed limitations on the carnet. Exportation of goods under a carnet to India, for example, can be used only for a government-sanctioned exhibition or meeting.

Smart meeting planners will retain a qualified professional representative, such as a customs broker or freight forwarder, to handle all aspects of the paperwork, to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and to get the goods to the venue on time.

The above applies to materials that will be used during the meeting, with leftovers carted back to the United States. For speaker gifts and attendee giveaways, your best bet is to buy them locally, thus avoiding tariffs and more complicated customs rules.

If you are planning to give away awards and plaques, take a picture of the item and show it on a screen. Send the award itself directly to the recipient, so he doesn’t have to lug it home and declare it at customs.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at

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