Carnets - Passports for Merchandise

In an era of automation, US and other national customs agencies are increasing pressure on importers and exporters to use purely electronic transactions for their customs activities.  However, a few purely paper documents and processes are still going strong.

One of the least-known but most useful of these purely paper documents is the carnet (pronounced car-nay), a “passport for merchandise” that helps importers and exporters save time and money in ways that no other process does.

By its nature, a carnet is an alternative to filing a regular customs entry to get goods into a destination country.  Goods entered under a carnet are not subject to national customs duties or taxes in the destination country.  All goods entered under a carnet are expected to be re-exported within the period the carnet remains valid, which is normally a maximum of one year.

Carnets can be used for a single trip, or to move goods through multiple countries on a “world tour” designed to fit the specific needs of your business.  Some of the most common carnet uses are:

  •  Materials (including show booths) for trade shows and exhibitions

  •  Samples for international sales presentations and demonstrations

  •  International tours by musicians and other entertainers

  •  Tools and equipment for professional use abroad

Since carnets are accepted by over 100 countries, they can be used for shipments to most locations where your company does business.  Each country has its own specific rules about how carnets are used, so careful planning well before shipment is important to prevent last-minute surprises.

As issued, each carnet typically includes:

  • A “general list” of the items covered by the carnet

  • One or more sets of “vouchers” to be executed and retained by the customs authorities of each destination country, each time the carnet shipment arrives in, transits, or leaves that country

  • One or more sets of “counterfoils” that remain part of the carnet, to be signed off by the customs authorities of each destination country, each time the carnet shipment arrives in, transits, or leaves that country

Items intended to remain in a destination country may be included in the same shipment as items covered by a carnet, but must be separately declared and entered.  Similarly, items purchased in a destination country may be included in the same return shipment as items covered by a carnet, but must be separately declared and entered.

The cost of a carnet depends primarily on the value of the merchandise to be shipped.  If the shipper plans to send most or all of the same items to more than one show or exhibition, or to more than one location for sales presentations or demonstrations, additional sets of vouchers and counterfoils can be added at little or no cost, compared to the cost of a new carnet for each shipment.

Basic information needed to issue a carnet includes, for each type of item:

  • Brief description

  • Serial numbers for items that have them (especially high-value units)

  • Number of pieces or packages

  • Weight or volume

  • Value

  • Country of origin

When all necessary information has been received, a carnet can usually be issued quickly – sometimes as soon as the same business day, and even couriered for receipt the following business day.  (Expedited handling charges apply, according to the degree of urgency required.)

Transmark Customs Brokers will gladly help you identify opportunities for carnets to enhance your business, simplify your international shipping operations, and maintain your competitive advantage.  We appreciate the opportunity to help you accomplish these objectives.