Art For A Peaceful And Flourishing World

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!


  1. 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.

  1. 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:



BUCKLAND 1-810-966-1480

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


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!


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″

  1. Wholeness – Oil on canvas
  2. She Awakens – Oil on canvas
  3. He Awakens – Oil on canvas
  4. Sacred Change – Oil on canvas
  5. Our Journey – Oil on canvas
  6. Her Journey – Oil on canvas
  7. Equilibrium – Oil on canvas
  8. I Have a Dream – Acrylic on canvas

Large  paintings 20″ x 40″

  1. Solar Awakening – Oil on canvas
  2. Lunar Awakening – Oil on canvas

Medium Paintings 24″ x 24″

  1. Spirit of the Forest – Oil on canvas
  2. She Flourishes – Oil on canvas
  3. 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!


  •         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
  •         Passport
  •         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)


  •         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!



  1. The only thing I would add is that you can take your work to a Canada customs outlet and get it stamped there for no charge.
    There are many other worthy reasons to join CARFAC

    • Hi Margaret, thanks for your note. It would be useful for all of us if you could explain a bit more what you have done to cross the border with your artwork. How many pieces did you have? Where were you heading? Anything else you had to cross the border?

  2. So a further question, when the gallery sells a piece and you get the 50% or whatever, how does that go down with the USA?
    You declare it and pay tax in the US? You declare it at Canadian border coming back and pay tax?
    Great article but some things are still not clear?

    • If you are a Canadian citizen you should not be paying taxes to the US. I do not charge taxes on items that are sold outside of Canada, I just declare it on my income tax at the end of the year (with no tax collected). As far as I know and from experience selling in the States there is no need to declare sales at the border when coming back. Good luck!

  3. hi gaia! this post has been my go-to resource the last two days now that i am getting the logistics in order for a fair in the us coming up. can you share the name of your broker? there are so many and i’d prefer go off a referral. thank you so much for sharing these resources and insight!

    • Thanks for your note, I am happy to hear that my article is helpful. That is exactly why I wrote it, I literally found nothing online and had to figure out everything myself and it all went smoothly. I used Buckland from Detroit, the man that helped me was Girish 1-810-966-1480 x5085 I called around, they were cheaper, knew what I was talking about, and had a very supportive customer service (I asked a lot of questions!). Have a successful trip!

  4. What happens when you return with one or two fewer paintings to Canada because of a sale. I shipped the art by UPS when I ship it back by UPS with one less painting will there be problems?

    • As far as I understand they don’t care about the way back. Just make sure you write ‘Goods returning to Canada’ on the UPS package so that you do not pay taxes on your work!

      • Why custom duty is not changed when the artwork enters USA with you or being shipped separately?

        If I sent the work by UPS, what other paperwork is needed to avoid duty?

        • From Canada, when entering the US, you always pay for custom duty whether it is with you or not (If you ship the package and it is small, value declared under $100, and marked down as a gift it could pass by without paying customs). On the way back, by UPS, if you say ‘artwork/goods returning to Canada’ then this should exempt you from taxes. I hope this answers your question. I am not a border officer, just sharing my experience so always double check the information with an official source!

    • Sorry Pepe I realise I didn’t answer your question. First of all I don’t think they will care and then if they did as far as I understand you should not be paying any taxes on those sold paintings in the US.

  5. Why custom duty is not changed when the artwork enters USA with you or being shipped separately?

    If I sent the work by UPS, what other paperwork is needed to avoid duty?

  6. Hi Gaia!
    Thank so much for this info page!
    I am being invited to participate in a show in the US. It would be works for sale. I won’t be going because of the pandemic, do I still need a work permit for my artwork to be exhibited since that technically could be taking the spot of a US citizen?
    The gallery is not buying the work upfront as a good, it would be displayed for sale, therefore — that would be considered my labor.
    Do I need a permit in this case? Thanks!

    • Hi Luke,
      Congratulations on the invitation! Your case is totally different. You only need to ship the artwork with a trusted shipper. Note that if you pack the item yourself (versus paying the company) the shipper’s insurance will not cover the damage. I recommend putting a low value on the item so that you do not get hit with border import fees on the way back. Well, let’s hope that you sell the artwork and that won’t be a thing! I hope this helps, I never had a problem mailing paintings for international shows. Good luck! Gaia

  7. Hello ,
    Thank you so much for creating this article!!
    My question is, when you sell a painting to a USA gallery, are you suppose to pay taxes to Canada or the USA ( if you are a Canadian citizen per say? ) to be totally legal that is…

    • Hi Claudine, 70% of my sales are outside of Canada and I do not pay taxes on these sales (except on income at the end of the year).

  8. Hi Gaia
    Thanks for this excellent summary. I have found it very useful. I am a jewellery artist and I am planning to go to the US in early 2022 to do a demonstration at a US jewellery school of my techniques for hand fabricating Filigree Jewellery. There is no compensation paid to me for the demo. I will also be doing a trunk show at the school. The value of jewellery that I will be travelling with is well under $10,000. Your blog is very clear on the steps to take. As your blog is a few years old, I was wondering if you have any new information on best border brokers to talk to. Thanks in Advance

    • I haven’t done any traveling to the USA since I wrote that article so I have not had the chance to update the article with more info. Since jewelry is a small item, if I were you I would ship the jewelry (it’s much more costly to ship paintings) as samples/gift ahead of time. It will save you all the hassle of hiring a broker and do all the paperwork! Congratulation on your gig in the US. Good luck!

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