International Trade Show Shipments

TCB Blog International Trade Show Shipments.jpg

Trade shows, exhibitions, and professional conferences can provide great opportunities for businesses to build their customer base and sales volume.  Most industries have at least a few such events each year, many of which are located in other countries.  By attracting qualified international buyers from numerous other locations, who are all at one place (the show) at one time, these shows can provide exceptional opportunity for U.S. companies to “get the message out” to a very large number of prospective customers, at a much lower per-contact cost than with individual sales calls.

For U.S. companies to establish a presence at such an international trade show, the company must usually buy a booth space (more than one, for larger displays) and ship its display material to the show.  An experienced international freight forwarder (like Pilot Freight Services) can make this type of international shipment much less painful, and far more efficient, than it would be without knowledgeable, professional support.

Most international trade shows appoint a single freight forwarder or other logistics agent, chosen by the show manager, to handle the receiving of shipments at the show venue as the trade show is being set up, and the removal of exhibits from the venue after the show closes.  Thus, most shows will require that the exhibitor’s freight forwarder “hand off” the exhibitor’s display material shipment to the show manager’s logistics agent, either at the show venue or at an off-site staging area, such as the logistics agent’s warehouse.  When the show closes, the process is reversed, to return the display material to the exhibitor’s freight forwarder for re-export.

When a U.S. company ships its display material to a trade show in another country, the company must:

  • comply with all applicable U.S. export requirements, including Automated Export System (AES) electronic reporting of any items with values greater than the applicable reporting threshold, and any items with special reporting requirements

  • have its display material cleared through customs in the destination country, where the show is being held

  • comply with the destination country’s export requirements, when the show closes and the material is re-exported back to the original shipper

  • upon return of the material to the U.S., have it cleared through U.S. customs upon arrival

There are three primary ways of clearing display material cleared through customs in the destination country (where the show is being held):

  • regular customs clearance – includes payment of normal customs duties, taxes, and user fees to the customs authority of the destination country; in some countries, the exhibitor can file a claim for a partial refund when the goods are re-exported after the show closes

  • temporary import under customs bond – details vary from country to country, but typically allows partial or complete avoidance of duty payment, so long as the goods are documented as being exported within the bond period

  •  carnet – the “passport for merchandise” that allows cargo to be released without regular customs clearance, and usually without payment of any customs duties, taxes, or fees

If an exhibitor sends both display material that will be returned to the U.S. for re-use, and give-aways such as brochures, samples, door prizes, etc. that will remain in the country where the trade show is held, both types of material may be sent in the same shipment.  However, any items that will remain in that country must be entered on a regular customs clearance, even if the other display material is cleared as a temporary import, or on a carnet.

Because most international trade shows are very large, it is important that any shipment of display materials to the exhibit venue be clearly marked and labeled.  Every piece or package should be clearly and legibly marked, on at least two sides.  Details may vary from one show to another, but typical minimum information would include:

  • name of exhibitor

  • name of trade show

  • city and country where trade show is being held

  • address of trade show venue

  • trade show booth or space number(s)

  • name, address, telephone number(s), contact name(s) and other contact information for the local destination agent or local delivery agent of exhibitor’s freight forwarder

  • local agent’s shipment reference number, such as MAWB and/or HAWB number, trucker pro number, Pilot Freight Services file number, etc.

  • package number, preferably in “Case #1 of 12” or similar format

To minimize potential misunderstandings and confusion, exhibitors should use the same forwarder (and its local agents) to handle the return of display materials from the trade show, as was originally used to ship those materials to the show.  Normally, the same packaging materials (cases, crates, etc.) will be used for the same reusable display materials, in both directions.

Successful trade show exhibits are the result of careful planning, and the Pilot Freight Services / Transmark Logistics team is pleased to help our valued clients through their event planning processes.  Ideally, this planning should:

  • begin at least as soon as the decision to exhibit at the trade show has been made

  • involve the exhibitor’s freight forwarder, from the beginning, as part of the planning team

Transmark Customs Brokers and Pilot Freight Services can help exhibitors:

  • prepare a planning and action timeline

  • identify probable costs and trade-offs for options being considered

  • involve and inform appropriate staff from each department, to help each contribute to the success of the exhibitor’s participation

  • coordinate action to prepare display materials, packaging, and necessary documents

  • execute their sales and marketing strategies through trade show exhibition

To discuss how you can enhance your company’s international business development strategy through trade show participation, contact:


Pilot Freight Services

Tel: (206) 433-1010


Transmark Customs Brokers

Tel: (253) 893-7400    Fax: (206) 893-7403