How and why to register your photo equipment when you leave the US – part 2

Jun 1, 2017

Diego Waisman

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How and why to register your photo equipment when you leave the US – part 2

Jun 1, 2017

Diego Waisman

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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A few months back, I wrote a post about how to register photography & video equipment before USA departure. This post attempted to answer most of the questions regarding the forms and the procedures necessary to register your gear prior to an international flight.

On that same post, I wrote what I knew and could gather at that time on the subject, so it could serve other photographers and videographers traveling with their equipment oversees.

I was resolved to do this since, after returning from a photography tour in Argentina with a cornucopia of cameras and lenses, I was prompted to present equipment’s registration to a customs officer at MIA International.

Needless to say, I was totally clueless on the topic but determined to find some definite answers.

After some extra research, and another trip, I’m trying to fill out all the gaps from where we left off at the previous post, and share what I learned so far after several conversations with the Miami Customs office, here, at Miami International Airport (Thank you for all for your patience! And no, I don’t plan to smuggle photo equipment from South America!)

Register Photo & Video Gear

Ideally, you would be taking your personal photo and video equipment to a casual trip or vacation, but we photographers know otherwise. The CBP FORM 4457 is tiny – even the customs officers I talked to agree – yet that’s the one you have to fill out if you’re taking your valuables abroad (tablets, computers, electronics and cameras) This is a one time registration form. This means that you’re the sole owner of the equipment you’re taking, regardless of its use.

It’s of note to say that the form has to be filled out by including the description of the items – Ex: Sony A6300 camera Serial #223123 – so be careful filling it out. As a recommendation, only include lenses and camera bodies, also drones and/or personal computers, make sure you add them and list their model and serial numbers. I did not added any tripods, memory cards, readers or external hard drives.

You, and only you, the owner, are liable for presenting this form at your return.

The lack of documentation to support that you’re the rightful owner of this equipment can result in the confiscation of your gear.

Although no electronic versions of the form can be accepted as evidence of ownership, It’s highly advisable to snap a quick photo of your form in case it gets lost of stolen (I specifically asked this and I recommended to do so as valid suggestion)

No electronic versions are kept at the customs office, so your paper copy is the only valid copy that is acceptable for claiming ownership at the time of re-entrySafeguard it!

Personal vs Commercial

Now, if you have equipment that belongs to a company, or your personal photography and video equipment exceed the value admitted at the registration of CBP Form 4457 (I believe that’s about $1500), you need to fill out CBP Form 4455. This is a much bigger form, reserved for commercial products and equipment taken abroad.

This form is also unique and in contrast to its personal sibling, it has to be filled out every time you travel. It cannot be kept after returning to the US. At least this form has enough space to list multiple items and it’s a better layout in general.

Regardless of where you go, I strongly recommend you also take some equipment insurance for your travels. It does not cost much, and releases the anxiety of any damage to your gear.

Take info at what it’s to register photography & video equipment when you travel and remember that this might change in the near future due to new security measurements.

Safe travels!

About the Author

Diego Waisman is a freelance print, interactive, and motion graphics designer based in Miami Beach, Florida. He has extensive experience collaborating with clients and brands from all around the world. You can find out more about him on his website. This article was also published here and shared with permission

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One response to “How and why to register your photo equipment when you leave the US – part 2”

  1. Erik Westby Avatar
    Erik Westby

    I’ll have to look into this. On my return from my first international shoot (Korea) 7 years ago, I was questioned by US Customs at SFO airport. The agent told me the same thing … that my gear could be confiscated if I travel again without the proper paperwork proving that I was not illegally importing the gear on my way home. It was recommended that I use a Carnet in the future. Luckily, I work for a large biotech company with an import/export office, so they have handled the applications and fees for the past 7 years. A carnet works like a passport for your gear, listing serial numbers, value, etc., and you have your gear inspected and your carnet stamped by customs at each entry/exit point. Lots of extra time and effort, but you’re guaranteed safe passage with your gear. However, when I entered China I learned that they are not a signatory country to the carnet process. Instead, they have their own system where you are supposed to leave a deposit for the value of your gear, and then you get a refund when you leave …. or something like that. I managed to play dumb and skirt the process, checking my bags as personal items and ignoring the whole thing. And now that I’m traveling smaller … with a DSLR for my video work instead of a large and obvious video camera … it’s easier to claim I’m a tourist traveling with personal gear. (Unless they look closely and see my expensive audio and lighting gear!!) I’ll be looking into Form 4455 to see if it’s possibly a simpler way to travel. Thanks for the tip!