Exhibiting in the US and Crossing the Border with your Art
I recently exhibited my art in the US for my first solo show in Boulder Colorado. While I’ve been on road trips in the US many times, this was a first crossing the border with artwork in my van. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. The advice I got from artist colleagues was to ‘just say that you are going to show your art at a non-profit art event with a big smile. For me there is no way I could lie to a border officer. I feel guilty and worried when I have no reason to, it’s just the way they look at me and ask questions!
So to put my mind at ease I decided to find the proper legal way to cross the border. The main reason for this is that after months of preparing a solo show, networking, rallying partners, printing an exhibition catalog, packing 28 oil on canvas and everything that goes into organizing a show, there is no way that I would take the chance of being refused at the border and not being there for the show opening. I actually know of artists that didn’t prepare properly, were told to go back home by the border officers and were not present at the show where they were expected to be. That doesn’t look very professional, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to me.’
Even with all the research I did online I could not find one site or article that gave me all the info I needed. This article will contain all the information I gathered, all in one place!
The main reason why the US won’t want you to come in without proper papers is that they don’t want you to go in their country and make money without letting them know. If you are doing a big tour or event you may want to consider applying for a working visa called O1. The whole point is that you need to prove that you are not taking jobs away from US citizens!
GETTING A VISA
- For the O1 visa (for artists/extraordinary people) you will need a US petitioner- sponsor and it takes 2 or 3 months for approval. It’s a 2″ thick document. The petitioner doesn’t have to pay anything but needs to provide a letter with invitation, contract & agreement, date, and project description. This is valid for up to 3 years but only if it’s one project (2 projects over 3 years do not apply). Click here for the complete guide for US O-1 visa.
To pay an attorney to do the filing of O1 would be at least $2,000. You can do it yourself but good luck. I looked at the papers, it’s terrifying!
For more information here is the website to find the application form and info.
- All you really need for one show in the US is to go as a Business Visitor. You need a letter of invitation to the workshop/show. It has to say in the letter that you are not getting paid but are giving a compensation fee to cover your travelling expenses (hotel and travel). The gallery that hosted my show wrote me a letter of invitation with this info on it (with letterhead and signature).
First of all, you will need to hire a broker. The reason you want to do that is because they know exactly what to do, they fill in all the papers (or help you fill out your part) and even call the border ahead of time to announce your arrival. Passing the border with all the proper papers will be most likely very smooth. If there is any issue they will deal with the situation (as long as you cross the border during their 9-5 work hours!). I only found 3 companies that would take care of the art crossing the border:
GREEN LIGHT SERVICES 1-800-420-6217
LIVINGSTON BROKER 716-692-3100
I went with Buckland, they were overall cheaper (apparently Green Light’s Ace Manifest was $50) and I felt extremely supported.
Here is what it cost me: US$908.25 for the broker + US$65 for the ACE Manifest Code.
Here is the breakdown of the broker’s fee:
- $200 Import Entry Fee
- $0 Duties/Taxes (If NAFTA certificate can be provided
- $5.00 Entry lineage
- $600 continuous bond*
- $85 SCAC Code processing
- $45 ACE manifest processing
* This price is based on the total amount of what you are bringing in. My total value of goods was $80,000 so it was more worthwhile for me to go with a continuous bond
A single entry bond fee is $50 minimum based on value carried across $5 per $1,000 (or $600 per year for multiple entries which is the continuous bond)
Contact them ahead of time (I did it a month in advance, but a couple of weeks should be ok)!
You can do this through the broker, it’s $10 cheaper if you do it online https://secure.nmfta.org/Welcome.aspx
CERTIFICATE OF CANADIAN ORIGIN FROM CARFAC
These certificates take 2 weeks to be done (although you can pay a small fee to speed up the process). You can see below how each certificate looks like (one per original painting). You fill them out, email or mail them to CARFAC, and they return them to you signed. You print them out and voilà!
CARFAC Ontario Membership costs $85 per year.
Certificates of Canadian Origins are:
Non-members: $30.00 for the first certificate and $5.00 each for additional certificates sent at the same time.
CARFAC Members: $15.00 for the first certificate and $2.00 each for any additional certificates sent at the same time.
As an artist there are many perks for being part of this association: access to a comprehensive Canadian gallery listing, legal support, info about fees for artists, regular newsletters with call for artists etc… Your money is going to an association that works really hard to make our art practice recognized and appreciated!
That’s just obvious, you need a passport!
LIST OF ITEMS
This is a list of each original piece you are taking across the border. I created it in a Word document and printed it. It looked like this:
List of original artwork going to Boulder, Colorado
Large Paintings 36″ x 36″
- Wholeness – Oil on canvas
- She Awakens – Oil on canvas
- He Awakens – Oil on canvas
- Sacred Change – Oil on canvas
- Our Journey – Oil on canvas
- Her Journey – Oil on canvas
- Equilibrium – Oil on canvas
- I Have a Dream – Acrylic on canvas
Large paintings 20″ x 40″
- Solar Awakening – Oil on canvas
- Lunar Awakening – Oil on canvas
Medium Paintings 24″ x 24″
- Spirit of the Forest – Oil on canvas
- She Flourishes – Oil on canvas
- Phoenix Rising – Oil on canvas
Before entering the US go to the Canadian side office and fill out a form for an E-15 Temporary Exportation (No Cost for that). This will be proof that what you are bringing back is yours, ei: goods returning to Canada. The officer will inspect the content of your van and give you that paper. My officer didn’t even inspect, they just stamped the form forme at the desk. It’s super simple!
To avoid paying a broker there is one thing that you can do: Ship all your art and cross the border with nothing in your car (make sure you have no trace of the fact you are going there to make money). You would have to weigh in whether the shipping of your artwork is cheaper than the broker.
When I exhibit in France I take my paintings rolled in my suitcase, the large ones are rolled in my hands (I need to do some convincing so they let me take that extra luggage as a carry-on, I’ve done it many times, explain that it is worth $1,000’s and that I could not trust any shippers to take care of them). Sometimes I mail a whole bunch of them ahead of time. I buy the stretcher bars and the frames in Paris (some smaller stretcher bars can fit in my suitcase). I avoid all formalities this way, so far it has worked!
HERE IS THE LIST OF THE PAPERS THAT YOU WILL NEED:
- All the broker papers
- ACE Manifest Code
- $85 per year for CARFAC Ontario Membership for discounts on Certificate of Origins
- Certificates of Origin for each original painting
- List of items
- A poster, flyer, or invitation of your show
- Letter from the gallery
- E-15 to get at the border when you leave Canada (Free)
HERE IS HOW MUCH IT WILL COST YOU TO CROSS THE BORDER:
- US$908.25 for the broker
- US$65 for the ACE Manifest Code
- $85 per year for the CARFAC Ontario Membership for discounts on Certificate of Origins
- Certificates of Origin: Non-members: $30.00 for the first certificate and $5.00 each for additional certificates sent at the same time. CARFAC Members: $15.00 for the first certificate and $2.00 each for any additional certificates sent at the same time.
A few days before you depart, the broker will send you the few papers you need to show. You will have to go through the truck aisles (commercial border crossing). They will ask you why are you here (because your small van/car will be in between all the transport trucks!) and you will have to explain that your broker told you to go here because you carry a commercial load (for an art show). You will be directed to an office where you will bring all the papers, they will inspect your car and that’s it, you are on your way to your show! The border officer actually thanked me for making the effort of going through a broker. He said they have to turn people back all the time!
If this post helped you if you have additional info to share or personal stories about crossing the US border with your art, leave us a message below as it will help many others on their journey. And most of all: Have a successful show in the US!