Importing and Exporting Your Work


The transportation of works of art can be a complicated and costly business involving a variety of factors such as art handling, packaging, customs’ paperwork, shipping and insurance. Museums and larger galleries often employ the services of a variety of companies with expert knowledge in each area, and extraordinary measures of care are taken in order to protect priceless works of art.  When art movers Rock-It Cargo transported Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine in 2003the painting, crated complete with a homing device, was flown with its own seat in first class and two armed guards on either side. It is not only the old masters that get armed protection. All works valued at over €15 million are required to have armed escort. For the 2006 Ned Kelly exhibition at the James Joyce House of the Dead in Dublin, the shipment of artefacts, including Ned Kelly’s suit of armour, required a police escort from Australia and then a Garda escort to its destination in Ireland.

For most artists, the transporting of their work is a less dramatic affair, but one riddled with pitfalls nonetheless. Reasons why you may want to transport your work could include selling to an overseas client, participating in an exhibition or competition or sending a piece of your work as a gift. In general, if you are represented by a gallery they will look after transportation of work. If you have been invited to participate in an exhibition or art fair by a gallery or organisation then the consensus is that it is their responsibility to organise and pay for transport. Always ask the gallery or organisation involved for as much information and advice as possible if they expect you to organise transport from your side. This also applies to entering competitions or open submission exhibitions. Competitions such as the BP Portrait Award usually provide clear guidelines about collection points and details of how to send your work. For less well organised events it is always worth contacting the organisers directly for advice.

Choosing a Shipping Company 

On the high end of the scale, art movers listed on the ICEFAT website: (The International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Art Transporters)are experts in their field, offering a wide range of services including packing, storage, insurance and customs and security expertise. Irish company Maurice Ward & Company Ltd. are ICEFAT members and regularly handle the shipping of artworks provide a personalised service depending on your requirements.

Gereon Krebber, a German artist based in London, has exhibited extensively throughout Europe and often arranges transport himself. “To keep costs down, I usually try to find a transport which is already scheduled and where they offer the remaining space at a discount rate,” says Krebber. Krebber tends not to use art specialists. “They are too expensive,” he says. “Furniture and freight forwarders usually work alright – especially if you know them. Krebber currently exhibits with a gallery in Cologne and uses a company that drives on a weekly basis between London and Cologne. “You can phone up and say – do you have a bit of space available?” he says. “Within the centres I think it is still possible to get a good deal.” Krebber usually ensures that he transports his work on pallets: low, portable platforms on which goods are placed for storage or moving. ”There are some thumb rules,“ he says. “On pallets is cheaper. The faster, the more you pay.”

Before deciding on which transport option to take, it is advisable to get recommendations from artists, curators and local galleries both at home and in the country to which you are shipping. Get a range of quotes, and provide the shipper with details such as the size and weight of work, when it needs to get to its destination and access details for the venue. Your choice of transport will depend on how fast you need to get your work to its destination, how much money you are willing to spend, and how much time and effort you are willing to commit. Transporting by road and sea is cheaper, but by air is quicker. Depending on your experience and where you are shipping to, it may be advisable to consider the services of a reputable shipping agent.

Factors to take into consideration:

  • How fragile is the work and how will it be handled in transit? Who will be supervising the loading of work?
  • Will you (if exporting work) or the person on the other end (if importing work) provide packaging? How much does the shipping company charge for packaging?
  • If you are shipping outside the EU what documentation are you required to complete and how much will the shipping company charge to co-ordinate this for you?

Go to the additional information at the end of this article for details of selected shipping and transport companies.

Courier Companies
Using a courier company can be a fast and reliable method of shipping work provided your work is adequately packed. Parcels have a track and trace number which makes it easy to confirm that they have reached their destination. The simplest way to send work by courier is to choose a company that sends one off shipments without the need for opening an account. Both DHL and Fedex have this facility, whilst TNT only deal with company accounts. Most courier companies will not open an account for an individual unless registered as a business. Fedex is an exception, but opening an account requires your credit card details going through a credit check, and then filling out a form. This can take time; so if you are in a hurry to send a package, send it as a one-off shipment.

Not all courier companies will transport works of art. Many view artwork as high risk, and companies such as UPS and TNT refuse to ship it. DHL and Fedex will ship works of art, but require documentation including:

* An independent proof of value before pick up, e.g. the value of the work printed on headed paper from a gallery or auction house.

*Insurance documents for the value of goods. The courier company that you are shipping with will provide these documents if you take out insurance with them. If you do not require insurance then you need to state this in a document.

There can be confusion as to whether you are required to provide this information or not when talking with courier companies. It is important to remember that most courier companies are not experts in sending art and that you will be dealing with unpredictable factors such as how knowledgeable the representative is that you are speaking to and their interpretation of your definition of what it is that you want to ship. The mere mention of the word ‘artwork’ can make some companies assume that you are trying to send the equivalent of the Mona Lisa and immediately complicate matters. A clear description of what you are sending, using simple language – e.g. a framed drawing that I have made – can make the process easier and cut down on unnecessary costs.

Nevertheless, some artists have found it costlier to send works labelled ‘artwork’ than normal goods. Others have found it complicated to obtain a valuation of their work and have chosen to not declare that their package contains artwork. For example, artists have sent crates of paintings and labelled them ‘catalogues’ or ‘materials’. Others have sent drawings under the guise of documents. This is a high-risk strategy. If anything happens to your package, you will only be covered for the contents that you stated it held. It is also inadvisable to wrongly label your package when sending work outside the EU, as all packages are subject to the scrutiny of customs and will be x-rayed.

A list of courier companies can be found in the additional information section at the end of this article.

Documentation required for sending by courier
– outside of the EU:
If importing or exporting artwork outside of the EU, an awareness of customs procedures and documentation is essential to ensure that your shipment reaches its destination. When sending work within Europe no customs documentation is required to be completed. However if sending outside of the EU you will be required to complete either a Commercial Invoice if the work is to be sold or a Pro-forma Invoice for non-commercial shipments. Essentially these documents are the same and you can either use invoices provided by the courier company or make your own based on their templates.

Click for an example of a proforma_Invoice.
Click for an example of a commercial_invoice.

Whether you will be charged VAT and duties on your package depends on whether the work is being temporarily exported or permanently exported. For example, a painting that is being sent temporarily for an exhibition to the USA technically is not liable for VAT and duties, whilst a work that has been sold to a client outside of the EU is. Goods travelling outside the EU will go through customs and customs officials will decide, based on the documentation provided whether VAT or duties are due. If VAT and duties are due, the courier company will pay on your behalf. By default, the receiver of the package will be required to pay any costs covered by the courier company on delivery. Most courier companies allow you to pay estimated VAT and duties by prior arrangement so that the receiver will not be charged.

See the additional information at the end of this article for selected courier companies.

Customs Paperwork

Importing and Exporting within EU
If shipping within the EU, no specific customs documentation is required. “Once you are travelling within the EU and the item is a work of art originating within the EU then it is not under any form of customs controls,” says Ken Mills of Aquaship. “It can move in what is called ‘free circulation’.” See here for a a complete list of current EU Member states and Territories.

Importing and Exporting to outside of the EU
Customs rules and regulations are set by bodies such as the European Union, the World Customs Organisation and national governments. All carriers are legally bound to comply with these rules. Packages and shipments going outside of the EU will pass through customs and must be accompanied by customs documentation. This is usually in the form of a Pro-forma InvoiceCommercial Invoice,Single Administrative Document (SAD) or ATA Carnet. Based on this documentation, the customs team overseas will decide whether any customs duty, excise duty and VAT are liable on the package. In general terms, a Commercial Invoice is used for goods that are to be sold, a Pro-forma Invoice for non-commercial goods. Further details about ATA Carnets can be found in the next section.

VAT and Duties
Goods are liable to VAT at the same rate as applies to the sale of similar goods within the country they are entering. This varies for each country. In Ireland, the rate is 21% See here for a complete list.

Your liability for VAT and duties on work that is to be shipped depends on whether it is being temporarily or permanently exported. For example, a painting that is being sent from Ireland temporarily to an exhibition in the USA technically is not liable for VAT and duties, as long as Ireland is its country of origin and that it is returned within a certain time limit. For goods being temporarily imported into the EU the time limit is two years, but varies outside of the EU. If in any doubt of time limits it is advisable to contact customs in the country that you are sending work to for clarification. If a work which has been temporarily exported to an exhibition or art fair outside the EU is subsequently sold, then VAT and duties will now be due to be paid. For the main this will be handled by the gallery or organisation showing your work, however if you sell work whilst outside the EU, customs within that country should be contacted for details of how to pay any VAT and duties that you may be liable for, as this varies from country to country.

A piece of work that has been sold to a client and that has to be shipped outside of the EU, for example from an online sale, is liable for VAT and duties. It is important to factor these costs when giving a quote to a client before shipping. VAT and duty payments are due at the point of customs clearance and are usually covered by the company that you have chosen to ship your package. By default, the receiver of the package will then be charged any costs covered by the shipping company on delivery. Most shipping companies allow you to pay estimated VAT and duties by prior arrangement so that the receiver will not be charged.

Whether temporarily or permanently exporting goods, it is always advisable to follow the law. Wrong paperwork can result in fines, delays to your package being delivered and extra charges for storage whilst it is waiting to be cleared by customs. If in any doubt as to whether you have all the necessary paperwork, contact customs either in Ireland or the country to which you are sending goods to.

Documents and Gifts
Documents are usually allowed to pass through customs without any duties and taxes being applied, but this may vary from country to country. Gifts sent from one private individual to another up to the value of €45 are exempt from VAT and duty. Whether sending documents or gifts, a Pro-forma Invoice is still required stating the contents of your package, country of origin, estimated value and reason for export. You can either use documentation provided by your shipping company or make your own invoice. See example of a standard proforma_Invoice.

Carrying Work in your Suitcase to Countries Outside of the EU
Many artists choose to travel with their work, carrying it within their suitcase. Legally if you are carrying work which is to be sold outside of the EU, it must be declared in the Red “Goods to Declare” Channel, or Red Point in the customs area of the airport on arrival at your destination where any VAT and duties due will be collected. Even for works which are not intended for sale – e.g. samples of your work to show a potential client or gallery – it is advisable to carry relevant documentation. This could be in the form of an invoice stating the contents of your package, the country of origin, estimated value and reason for export. Any other documentation, such as letters of invitation if participating in an exhibition, documents showing when the work will be returned, or letters confirming meetings if showing your work to a gallery, will all help if, on the off chance, you are stopped going through the “Nothing to Declare” channel at customs. Similarly if you are returning back to Ireland with work in your suitcase from a previous journey, keep copies of the original invoices created for taking the work out of Ireland alongside new ones stating the reason for bringing the work back.

For further details on carrying merchandise in your baggage. click here:

Further sources of info on customs and excise relating to Ireland and the UK can be found in the additional information at the end of this article.

ATA Carnet
An ATA Carnet is an international customs document that can simplify customs procedures for the temporary movement of goods to countries that are signatories to the ATA or Istanbul Convention. (Seehere for a full list of signatories). Goods brought into a country on a carnet are exempt from Customs duties and VAT under the condition that they are re-exported within a specified timeframe. Carnets are valid for up to one year and can be used for unlimited exits and entries into participating countries. Carnets can contain multiple vouchers, which allow items listed to move between numerous countries, so may be an option, for example, if organising a touring exhibition that will travel to more than one country. Additional items cannot be added to a carnet once it has been issued.

Carnets can be used for commercial samples, professional equipment, and goods for exhibitions and fairs. They are not intended to be used for works which are to be sold, however if this happens you may be liable for VAT and duties. “You need to check your tax liability,” says Noel Kelly, Curator with Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, “because if it’s coming in from America and you’ve sold it here, even with the carnet you are now liable to the revenue commissioners for tax.”

A carnet is not required for goods originating in the EU that are temporarily imported to or exported from another EU country. So where can you obtain a carnet? “There is one national, guaranteed organisation in every country, “says Richard Brown Export and Consular Manager for the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, “and we’re the one for Ireland.” Carnets are issued by the Dublin Chamber within 2-3 days and currently cost €120 for Dublin Chambers members and €200 for non-members. There is also a 24 Hour Service, costing €180 for members and €260 for non-members. Non-member companies will have to supply a Certificate of Incorporation or Certificate of Registration of their Business Name. In addition, you are required to complete an application form supplied by the Chamber, provide an itemised list of goods being carried abroad and a bank guarantee or bank draft, which is calculated at a set percentage, based on the kind of goods being carried and where those goods are going. If you require a carnet, talk with your shipping agent. They may co-ordinate the necessary paperwork on your behalf. Whilst most courier companies such as UPS and Fedex do not generally work with carnets, some do, so it is worth enquiring with their customer service. Overseas artists requiring a carnet should contact their local chamber of commerce or equivalent.

Other sources of info on carnets can be found in the additional information at the end of this article.

Whether using a specialised fine art shipping agent, courier or general removals company, correct packaging will limit potential damage that could occur to your artwork during transit. At the top end of the scale, companies such as Constantine and Momart will work with you to create a bespoke packaging solution. But what if you have limited funds and are transporting your work using a non specialist fine art shipping agent?

Berlin based artist Ulrich Vogl, whose works include fragile, large scale, engraved glass panels, transports his work using crates which he constructs himself. “It is important for the crates not to be heavy but stable”, says Vogl. “I use a frame construction and only very thin panes of wood to fill the space in-between. The object inside should neither be pressed nor able to move around. If you screw the cover and the box together, it gives you extra stability.” Using screws rather than nails also makes crates easier to open and close and limits the potential of damage to work. “Besides bubbles wrap I use isolation tubes (that are used to isolate hot pipes) to keep the wooden frame from being damaged” says Vogl. “For Frames with glass“, he adds, “it is good to put tape over the glass so that if the glass breaks the pieces stick together and do not destroy the artwork inside the frame.”

Artist Gereon Krebber also builds his own crates for both transit and storage of his often massive sculptural works. “I do recommend crates, in terms of when you have pieces that travel without you,” says Krebber who builds his crates from plywood. “Bubble wrap is still the best for padding,” he adds, “but you need some kind of Styrofoam to fill the hole.”

Packaging Tips:

  • Whilst building your own crates can be cost effective, especially if your work is unusual in shape or use of materials, for some works, sturdy cardboard packaging with good padding will suffice.
  • Unframed drawings can be safely transported if sandwiched between two pieces of plywood to avoid being bent.
  • If sending more than one painting, they should be packed surface to surface, frame to frame.
  • Ensure that your painting is dry well in advance of your deadline for shipping.
  • Due to changes in temperatures and depressurized environments during the shipping process, bubble wrap should not be placed directly on the surface of a canvas as it may leave marks. A layer of cardboard packing between the surface and bubble wrap will prevent any damage.
  • Protect from damage and shocks caused by movement and pack your work to endure being dropped, bent and pressed against. Assume that your package will be dropped several times in transit and that heavy objects will be placed on it.
  • Clearly mark your address and telephone number on the outside of the package so that if it gets lost, or is wrongly delivered you can be contacted.
  • Include correct handling procedures, and a packing plan to assist the person sending your work back to you.

Customs and Excise Regulations Related to Packaging
If sending work to a destination outside of the EU, you should ensure that your packaging complies with customs and excise regulations for that country. “Any article of wood going into the United States, has now by law to be heat treated,” says Ken Mills of Aquaship. “The same rule prevails in Australia and China. Ireland and the EU have not adopted that policy yet but I imagine that that is not too far down the line.” Exemptions to this rule include manufactured wood, materials such as fiber board, plywood, and veneer. Stretchers and frames are not considered packaging so do not fall under the Wood Packaging Materials (WPM) regulations. Specialist art shippers should be aware of this issue and advise you accordingly. If sourcing your own packaging, companies such as Precision Box Company Limited andAtlas Box & Crating Co. manufacture heat treated timber crates to order.

Further information on wpm_regulations and FAQ’s here wpm_faq.

A selection of packaging suppliers can be found in  the additional information at the end of this article.

By Jacqui McIntosh


Additional Information:

Selected Shipping and Transport companies:


Maurice Ward & Co. Ltd
Unit J10, Swords Business Park, Swords, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Tel: +353 1 8409099

Maurice Ward are the only Irish based company accrediated by ICEFAT and provide air, road and ocean transport, dedicated and consolidated art transport solutions
for artists and institutions. Other services include crating, packing, installation, customs clearance and logistics in Ireland and worldwide. MW will move a single painting, handle and international exhibition, ship to art fairs worldwide and look after each client every step of the way.

UK Companies: 

Art Move Ltd
Unit 3 Grant Road, Clapham Junction, London, SW11 2NU
T: +44 (0)207 585 1801

Art move operates a fleet of unmarked vehicles specially designed for the transport of artwork. Also provides storage facilities which offer climate control, 24 hour high security, viewing area and trained art handlers

Constantine Ltd
Constantine House, 20-26 Sandgate Street, London, England, SE15 1LE
T: +44 (0) 207 732 8123

One of the UK’s leading packers and shippers of fine art. Specialised in packing and co-ordination of all types of exhibitions for museums and galleries worldwide.

199-205 Richmond Road, Hackney, London , E8 3NJ
T: +44 (0)208 986 3624

Momart is an acknowledged authority on the handling of fine arts and antiquities. Their expertise with fragile, rare, valued or monumental objects has established Momart as one of the largest specialists worldwide – from moving a single picture to handling an international exhibition or corporate collection.

Other Sources of Information:

*Search for local removal and transit companies using The Golden Pages or online

*Local galleries and museums

*Cultural Attaches at the relevant embassy of the country you are sending work to

The International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Art Transporters. The official, worldwide democratic organization representing 79 independent art transportation firms from over 34 countries. Each member specializes in handling and shipping works of art, artifacts and antiquities for museums, galleries and dealers, corporate and private collectors and the premier auction houses.

*The UK Registrars Group – a forum for communication and co-operation between museum registrars and professionals in other fields related to the work undertaken by registrars. See UK  courier_guidelinesdocument.

The British International Freight Association is the primary body representing the UK international freight services industry.
Selected Courier Companies

Customer Services: 1890 725 725
(From outside Ireland + 353 1 8700 700 )

Customer services: 1800 535 800

Customer Services: 1800 57 57 57

Customer Services: 1800 400 600

Customs Paperwork:
Further information about customs and excise related to Ireland can be found a `

For specific queries the UK HM Revenue & Customs National Advice Service is an excellent telephone advice service with knowledgeable representatives who can answer all queries related to customs and excise. The service is available between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday on 0044 845 010 9000.

The UK’s HM Revenue & Customs website provides comprehensive documentation on all areas of importing and exporting relevant to all countries within EU. Useful documents include: Importing ,Temporary Importations and Customs: Importing returned goods free of duty and tax

ATA Carnets 
Where to obtain a carnet:

Dublin Chamber of Commerce, 7 Clare Street, Dublin 2
T: 01 644 7204

The Chamber provides a range of business services, including visa and export documentation.

Other Sources of information:

TEG is a professional group in the UK concerned with all aspects of organising and touring exhibitions. TEG is an independent membership network of galleries, museums, libraries, art and science centres and other organisations committed to exchanging exhibitions as a means of sharing ideas, materials and resources.

Visiting Arts’, a UK based group whose purpose is to strengthen intercultural understanding through the arts, linking England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with prioritised countries around the . Notes for producers, promoters, and agents wishing to present foreign artists in the UK with a section about ATA Carnets can be found here: visitingarts_carnet

United States Council for International Business

For further information of Carnets and how to use them:

Selected Packaging Suppliers

Specialists in packaging for works of art:

Kent Services Limited
Unit 3, Phase 2, Grace Road, Sheerness, Kent ME12 1DB, United Kingdom
T: +44 1795 660812

Provide extensive range of types, styles and sizes of containers for sale or lease for inland or overseas loans

Non Art Specialists:

Propac Limited
Units d8 + d9, Ballymount Cross Ind. estate, Ballymount, Dublin 24
T: 01-4564652

Crating and packaging materials.

Smurfit Kappa Ireland
Boland Ind. Pk. Mallow Rd, Cork
T: 021 4307122

Provides a wide range of packaging including pre-assembled composite packs, specialised crates and pallets, foam packaging. Locations throughout Ireland.

Suppliers of heat treated timber crates suitable for shipping to US:

Precision Box Company Limited
Unit 2, Bluebell Avenue, Bluebell Industrial Estate, Dublin 12
T: 353 1 4298744 / 4298745 / 4298746

Services include in-house crating, on-site crating. Heat-treated timber crates suitable for shipping to the US manufactured to order.

Atlas Box & Crating Co.
3 Eastgate Avenue, Eastgate Business Park, Little Island, Cork
T: 021 4355631

Provide everything from standard pallets to custom engineered skids & crates built on-site. Heat-treated timber crates suitable for shipping to the US manufactured to order.

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