If you live in the USA and you plan to leave the country on the photo trip, know that you may find getting back in to be more challenging than ever. There’s never any problem leaving. But when you want to cross back into the USA they pay lots of attention to you. If you’re a photographer, they pay lots of attention to your gear.
You see, if they can figure out a way to tax you – they will. And unless you can PROVE you had the gear BEFORE you left the country, they WILL tax you when you try to bring it back in.
I know, you’re thinking – “Well I have receipts and/or a copy of my insurance policy – I’m okay.” Nope. Note the U.S. Customs people often aren’t reasonable and don’t have to be. They MAY accept receipts but they don’t have to. They don’t have to do anything and they may be quick to let you know that if you cross them. And if you quote their own rules, regulations, statutes and policies to them they will just laugh at you. You see – They have badges and guns and can and will pretty much do anything they want to. On paper you have rights. But when you’re standing there in front of them – you got nothing.
So be prepared.
First, visit the CBP.Gov website and look at this checklist. It’s full of valuable information that may at least make it a tad easier to navigate a border crossing back into the USA.
Next, and this is VERY important, download this form. Form 4457.
Fill one out for each piece of gear you plan to take with you. Then go to a port of entry and have an agent sign the form and verify your ownership prior to leaving the country. Don’t try to do this last minute. Plan ahead and call the POE if you’re bringing anything more than a camera and lens so they can schedule time to help you. Otherwise you may be there a while.
Also if you’re bringing laptops or other electronics, make sure to get Form 4457 filled out for these items as well.
The U.S. government is hurting for cash right now and charging you a customs duty for gear you actually bought in the U.S.A. won’t bother these folks a bit. They can do pretty much anything they want so don’t mess around. Get the proper forms and fill them out. And before you fire off an e-mail to me telling me that you’ve crossed the border lots of times with no problems, know this. For every one of you who sends me that e-mail I’ve received three with horror stories of people having gear confiscated or taxed that shouldn’t have been. Even if you’ve been lucky, why not just take care of it the way you’re supposed to? Get the forms, fill them out, have them signed. Then make two copies. Keep the original with your gear. Send one home. Keep the backups in your suitcase or wallet. This could save you a whole bunch of heartache.
Hat tip to my pal Arthur Morris who reminded me about this situation. He recently took about $15,000 worth of gear out of the country and documented the need for all these processes.