U.S. Customs Form 4457:
Most American photographers traveling internationally for the first time know that they need to educate themselves about the customs regulations of the countries they're traveling to. After all, the last thing you need to happen at the beginning of a photo trip is to be held at the airport because you haven't properly declared the $15,000 of camera gear in your bags.
But what many photographers don't think about is how they'll get back into the United States with that gear when the trip is over. Upon re-entering the U.S., Customs officials will be concerned about one primary issue with your gear: Did you buy that overseas? Because if you did, you owe a hefty duty to Uncle Sam.
Some photographers wonder if the easiest way around this problem is to ship their gear home. In fact, that could make your situation even worse; the Customs office also inspects packages mailed from other countries into the U.S., which could delay your gear being returned while you try to prove that you owned it prior to your trip.
Though other methods exist, the easiest way to avoid a Customs hassle is to get a Customs Form 4457, otherwise known as a "Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad." Form 4457 is a certificate that lists your gear's descriptions and serial numbers. Its function is to serve as proof that you owned the gear before you left home.
Getting a 4457
You'll need to find your local Customs office. Bring all your gear to the office, request the form and be ready to have your serial numbers inspected. There is no fee for obtaining this form.
Two notes about this process:
You may want to leave your film at home, as some Customs offices are located in federal office buildings that will require you to put your bags through x-ray machines.
Rather than bringing only the gear you'll be using for your next trip, bring everything you may ever want to travel with. The form will not need to be renewed, so you can use it every time you travel.
When you travel, keep the form in your bag, and keep a copy with your passport. When you return to the U.S., if a Customs official asks about your gear, simply produce the form; he or she will most likely check just a few of the serial numbers to ensure your honesty.
You may still run into trouble if you have any of your photography equipment repaired while abroad. All repairs and alterations of any property is subject to a duty. (However, note that all duty-eligible transactions will be waived up to a limit imposed by U.S. Customs. The limit is usually $800.)
For more information about Form 4457 or any other customs matters, see the U.S. Customs website. (Of particular assistance is the "Know Before You Go" brochure, which is available for free for American citizens.)
To learn the customs laws for the countries you're traveling to, contact those countries' American embassies.
© 2002 - 2008 Chris Nicholson