Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

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Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.

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Home » Traveling Musician » Avoid Border-Crossing Gear Glitches with an ATA Carnet


Avoid Border-Crossing Gear Glitches with an ATA Carnet

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by Anya Craig, Membership Services Administrator, Canadian Federation of Musicians

It’s the stuff of nightmares for the travelling musician: you’re headed out of the country for a big show, your precious instrument in hand, but when you get to the border, you’re gruffly told that you can’t bring your gear across—not without a bunch of hassle and some hefty fees, if at all!

Performing outside of Canada can be a headache; securing work permits and negotiating with purchasers abroad isn’t always a picnic. The last thing a musician needs, after wading through the process, is to be barred from entering your destination country with your gear.

This sort of gear-related border issue is becoming more common, unfortunately, and although veteran border-crossers know to bring a detailed manifest of all their instruments and accessories, some border agents will only accept one kind of gear documentation: the ATA carnet.

The ATA carnet is an internationally recognized customs document that acts as a sort of passport for all your professional tools. It is your best defense against the stickiest of border officers, who are typically trained to assume that anyone entering their country with gear intends to sell it and abscond with the profits. The carnet proves that your instruments and gear are the tools of your trade, and that they will be brought back to Canada with you after your gigs.

The ATA carnet program was established in 1961 by the World Customs Organization, and is accepted in 71 countries worldwide, including the US. Here in Canada, the carnet is issued by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. When you travel with a carnet, your goods are inspected every time you leave or enter a country and you escape the potential hassle of having to pay duties or temporary importation bonds on your professional gear. In some cases, travellers have been denied entry until a valid carnet could be produced.

Getting the carnet is not particularly difficult or time-consuming as long as you are able to provide detailed information about the instruments and gear you intend to travel with. Along with the application, certain fees are required, which are based on the total value of your tools. The Chamber of Commerce asks applicants to allow five business days for processing, but three-day or even same-day service can be had for an extra fee. After the carnet is issued, it must be validated by Canadian customs, which can be done any time prior to your travel date or on the day you cross the border—just be sure to leave home extra early if you choose the latter option. Once you’ve got the carnet, it’s valid for a year. After a year, you will need to reapply.

You may grumble at the prospect of having to fill out yet another application in order to perform outside of Canada. You may wonder if an ATA carnet is really necessary, especially if you’ve taken your gear across borders successfully without one. Your best bet, if you’re planning on travelling across the border, is to call up the foreign port of entry where you intend to enter and ask them what their policy is. Different border stations have different ways of dealing with gear and goods. If the agent you speak to is not clear about their expectations, or if you’re in any doubt, obtaining a carnet is your best option to avoid disappointment. Keep in mind that the border agent you encounter when crossing may not abide by what you were told over the phone by another officer; another agent may insist on a carnet, regardless of what their colleague told you.

However you choose to document your gear when crossing the border, make sure you’re confident in your choice, and err on the side of caution. Doing paperwork and paying fees may be a hassle, but it’s vastly preferable to missing your gigs because it was barred entry, or spending hours at customs tied up in red tape. As a musician, you’ve got better things to do!

If you’re interested in obtaining an ATA carnet for future travel, visit the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Carnet Services site: http://www.chamber.ca/carnet. A list of countries that accept the ATA carnet can be found at: http://www.chamber.ca/carnet/carnet-countries/. To get the contact information for US ports of entry, visit the US Customs and Border Protection site:  http://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports.







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