Leaving the U.S. with lots of Camera gear and returning

Discussion in 'Travel' started by Sandy Vongries, Nov 28, 2017.

  1. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Been decades since I left the U.S. with a bag full of cameras and lenses. Back then, there was some sort of "registration" process and documentation that was suggested to avoid U.S. Customs issues on return. A trip coming next year, so would like to be prepared. What is the current situation? Suggestions?
  2. That registration process is apparently still in place: How and why to register your photo equipment when you leave the US – part 2 and Registering equipment, computer, camera, laptops, etc. prior to traveling

    Until your post and a quick google search, I wasn't aware of the customs forms; my wife and I never had an issue leaving/coming back with our camera equipment. I read sometime someplace that having copies of the sales receipts with you might be a good idea (might have actually been referring to entering Germany rather than the US). Most of our equipment is insured and I have the documents available on my iphone to show what we own; whether or not that will suffice in case we are questioned I don't know.
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Dieter, thanks - should have done the search myself, but didn't really think it would still be in place. I suppose I could have a shot of each of the bills on a spare or large SDHC. I will likely go through the process.
  4. In 2008, a trip to Alaska involved travel in Canada, so I went through the registration process and took the right forms with me. No one ever asked to see them or questioned me about my backpack full of cameras and lenses.

    After hearing that the system still existed but was being ignored, I didn't bother to register anything in advance of our trip last summer to Canada. Again, my backpack full of gear attracted no attention at all at the border coming back.

    So when we flew to Copenhagen for a cruise back to NY in September, I again skipped the registration process. This time I took just one camera and 2 lenses, and again, no one at US Customs gave them any notice at all.

    Coming back from Canada last summer, we re-entered the US at a remote crossing in Montana (near Glacier NP), and I wasn't expecting a major Customs process at such a small crossing. The return to NY (by cruise ship) involved Customs at the dock in Brooklyn, where I suppose I might have been subjected to more scrutiny, but there was none.
  5. Let me add an afterthought.

    I can see where the anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that registration isn't really going to be necessary. But if registering your gear isn't going to be much of a hassle, why not? It would eliminate any question.

    But I think there's a potential trap door. If you register your gear, be sure to register everything you take on the trip. Imagine being asked at Customs about your gear, and you happily present your registration forms, except that there's no form for the new lens you got just before leaving on the trip. That could cause the Customs agent to zero in on that lens as a potential foreign purchase. So I strongly recommend that if you do register your gear, include every item you will take. If you are undecided on whether to take a specific piece, register it, too - there can't be a penalty for having an extra item on the form that you never brought with you.
  6. I have never been asked anything about my camera equipment upon clearing customs, either at the airport or the Canadian border. The US is usually the cheapest place to buy most camera equipment so it is unlikely people are buying it offshore to save customs fees..
    Roger G and tholte like this.
  7. Yes, it is still in place. And it covers electronics too like laptops. Art Morris wrote about his experience when he return to the US without the forms on his site, Birds in Art. I do not do it, but I do carry copies of invoices with me showing that I bought it in the US.

    Check to see if there is a location in your city where you can do it that is not the airport. In Houston, at the
    Airport I can,t figure out how to get to customs when arriving at the airport.
  8. The form is CBP 4457. You can find out about it at the US customs and border patrol website.
  9. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    You can find it more quickly in the link in the #2 post Dieter provided.
  10. I just returned from a 2 week trip to China and had no problems with US or Chinese customs. I did not know about registering my equipment with customs but it sounds like a pretty good idea to do it just in case any problems arise. I was using film cameras and had no problems having my film hand inspected instead of x-rayed. In some instances I was required to remove the equipment from my camera bag and other times they just left it in the bag. I did carry a list of all of my equipment and the serial numbers of everything but never had to use it. I visited Shanghai, Zi'an and Beijing. The subways in each city have x-ray inspections at each stop. Sometimes they would want me to x-ray my stuff but I found that if I opened my bag and showed them my cameras they would just wave me wave me through. Sometimes they did not even stop me. If they insisted on x-raying my stuff, I had all of my film in a clear plastic bag and they would hand inspect it. The only real problem I had was that I underestimated how much film I would need to take with me. It is not easy to find film in China. I did find a great camera shopping mall in Shanghai. It is 2 six story buildings of nothing but photography shops of new and used equipment. I can't remember the name but it is located on Luban Road and is a short walk from the subway station. If you ever get to Shanghai you should really check it out.
  11. This brings back memories - - - about 40 years ago, a colleague and I were traveling to Venezuela on business and had a few hours to kill at Kennedy Airport. I decided to register my 'travel camera' (Olympus 35RC), and found that there was an unmarked window in a back hall in the international arrivals area where you could request and process the form. After filling out the form, the agent took a quick glance at the camera, and then applied a rubber stamp certifying that the camera had been inspected inside the US.

    That was the last time a customs inspector every saw that form. I traveled extensively, and I was never asked about that camera.

    The other thing I remember about that trip was that about 20 minutes into the flight, the plane returned to Kennedy for an emergency landing, and we evacuated using the emergency slides where we had to wait on the runway in the rain for a bus back to the terminal. Someone had called in a bomb scare - - -

    Anyway - the more pertinent point is that finding that hidden window at the airport takes time, and I suspect that not every airport has one. But you can visit an ICE office at any prior to your departure - with the equipment since they have to actually see it - to get the form sealed.
  12. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I registered my equipment once, around 20 years ago. I have made over 20 trips overseas with camera gear since and never once been asked to show anything anywhere. I wonder if the customs people even know about it.
    tholte and Sandy Vongries like this.
  13. When traveling to China with a musical organization, I was advised to register my recording and photographic equipment through CARNET. Perhaps the tight control (aka manipulation) China maintains on their currency and import/export situation is different from that in Europe. I registered my equipment with US Customs before traveling to Europe in 2001, but not when traveling abroad since. Customs and security officers in any country may question items you carry, sometimes at random.

    There is a story about a man who traveled regularly with valuable items in his luggage. Customs never found anything amiss. Years later he confessed that he was smuggling luggage.
  14. Forgot about those days yonder. Have not done it for many years and there have been no issue. But found it's important to carry the gear in a backpack - If it's not big enough, get one. Used to use an "airport roller bag" and almost got into trouble en-route to Tanzania when the airline personnel demanded to have to check it in as luggage. Fortunately I got out of the predicament, but not before panicking and a lot of arguments. So now I never use the Think Tank International roller bag anymore for air travel.
  15. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Matter of usage and personal taste. I do quite nicely with my ThinkTank Suburban Disguise 30. Don't / won't own one among many kinds of camera cases. I find back packs to be slow, clumsy, and far from stylish. You can carry a nice shoulder bag wearing a suit without looking foolish - back pack not so much. But as to the original topic, registration of equipment when traveling, I plan to fill out the proper forms and get it done prior to my trip. Seems a simple enough precaution.
  16. The last time I filled out US Customs forms, I was required to go to the Customs office in person. That was 2001, so things may have changed. CARNET was required for China (2007) but for different reasons. Foreign imports are vary expensive in China, so there's little incentive to buy there and carry home. They don't want you smuggling goods into the country and selling at a profit.
  17. Good for you - I just wanted to warn against taking a roller carry-on to avoid potential problems. If you can fit all your equipment into a shoulder bag, then you probably would not need a roller camera bag anyway. That said, I never had a problem with it until that one time that I mentioned. For me a shoulder bag is not big enough for the wildlife lenses + other paraphernalia. The big Nikon wildlife lenses can never get into a shoulder bag. For the M43 suite, I tried the Think Tank Retrospective (the biggest one). When I loaded it to the hilt, carrying on the shoulder is highly uncomfortable.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2017
  18. Wow, the first time I heard about this. I traveled to South Korea, Japan, and Australia in 2016 and Indonesia in 2017 with a DSLR and lenses and came back to US with no problem.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
  19. I used to register my cameras and lenses on leaving the USA, but more recently I've simply carried a printed list of my equipment, serial #s, etc.

    No one has ever asked to see the list/registration, now or then.
  20. Anything can happen but I have not bothered to register anything for years and years. Just came back from the Philippines and Hong Kong with a back-killing weight of gear with no problem. Registering never crossed my mind. As I mentioned before, the only thing I avoid is to use a roller bag due to a bad experience.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018

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