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Selling in the US Made Easy

"Making it" in the United States has always been a kind of ultimate test for many professionals including visual artists, but the process of setting up your practice to accommodate international sales prevents many Canadian visual artists from even considering entering one of the word’s great marketplaces. The biggest obstacles to participating in the US marketplace, however, come from perceived challenges rather than real ones—plus the bad word of mouth about the process from those who attempt it without doing the proper preparatory work.

Whereas specialty markets were once tiny, they are now immense. If you are a passionate painter of uniqueness (either by technique or subject material—equine painting, for example) your market may have once been a small one—confined to a tiny percentage of the population of Canada. Now, however, with the Internet, the market for your product has become enormous.

Basically, Canadian artists have three options to consider for moving artwork across the border. One option is to transport your work with a specialty shipping service such as PACART or TransArt. If you need other resources, try contacting the art gallery or art auction company closest to you for their recommendations.

Your second option is to use regular freight transportation delivery services that are listed online or in your local directory, or you can use the fast delivery services of companies such as UPS, FedEx or Purolator. The third option is, of course, transporting the work across the border yourself.

Regardless of which method you choose, you will be dealing with the Canada Customs & Revenue Agency (CCRA) and the US Customs Service and, this is the greatest area of concern for many artists.

The critical considerations when deciding what to do are these:

  1. The value of the work(s) that you are shipping. If the total declared value of the work(s) that you want to transport is under $2,000 (in US dollars), you can access the “informal entry” route. And worthy of note is the fact that you can ship work worth much more than that if—and only if—it is being shipped to multiple destinations with no single destination receiving work worth more than $2,000.
  2. If the declared value of the work(s) that you want to transport is more than $2,000 (in US dollars) to a destination, then you should use a Customs Broker. (You do not have to if you can complete all the forms yourself and post an appropriate bond.) If you like peace of mind, use a broker. They are licensed by both ours and the US government to do all the complicated work for you—for a fee, of course, that is usually calculated as a percentage of the worth of your shipment. And shop around; not all brokers charge the same. Part of their fee includes the posting of the bond required for your work to enter the US. Ideally, you will use the same broker if shipping your work back to Canada is required.

All this is in theory. But as Victoria artist Maria Lawrence found out, sometimes even when we do things correctly as best we can, we encounter problems. And just when she needed a Good Samaritan, Raymond St. Arnaud came to her aid.

The individual who works hard to learn about something and subsequently puts out an effort in order to share their learning with the collective is an excellent community member. Such an individual is Raymond St. Arnaud. A long time ago, we exchanged emails, but he recently wrote to me about crossing borders with your art:

This issue came up again here in Victoria because of the problems one artist had with UPS and brokerage fees and other charges. She had to put out $300 to get her own art released and after some negotiation using CARFAC, she will maybe get back $200.

I was asked to make a presentation on the subject, which I did on Monday evening at the Community Art Council of Greater Victoria gallery space.

I have been shipping art for exhibition to the USA and returning it to Canada for several years, perhaps 70 odd shipments, and was invited to share my experience on avoiding brokerage fees. I learned some difficult lessons but [found] some solutions [so] I have posted a "Guide for shipping art to the USA" on my website, under the "Services" tab, that was the basis for my presentation.

I reference CARFAC in a few locations. But, I feel that the CARFAC information doesn’t come to grips with the practicality of an artist faced with the … shipping and returning of art. So my guide is a step by step on how to fill out the UPS waybill and examples of completed documents for the export and a set of separate documents for the return of art to Canada.

It really is not a complicated process and with the help of Raymond’s guide and a good broker, a rich market—certainly facilitated nowadays by Ebay, Etsy and the like—is far more readily available to those Canadian creative artists for whom international sales is relevant or desired.

Comments

I received a comment from Daphne at my office address, so I am posting it here.

"Gentlemen,

I have a story to tell - about travelling to the US to a trade show with sample fibre art pieces. I am a fibre artist, author and pattern designer. My purpose for going to the US was to attend and host a booth at International Quilt Market, the largest wholesale trade show for the fibre arts in the world. I take orders for my patterns and display the finished pieces in my booth so shop owners and distributors can see the actual quilts their customers can make.

I shipped my booth supplies and took my display quilts with me. I was stopped at US Customs in Vancouver and was forced to deface my quilts by writing the word 'sample' across them. If I had not done this I would not have been allowed to enter the US. I missed my connecting flights but did arrive in time to attend the show.

So….I would hesitate to tell anyone to take their work with them when travelling to the US. The border agent said I had to do this in case I sold the work. He did not tell me about any forms that would certify Canadian origin and that the works were returning with me. I DO complete an E15 Canada Customs document whenever I take these items to the US and it is certified by Canada Customs at my local Airport (Sidney, BC). It states that the articles are samples only and that they will be returning to Canada. US Customs would not pay any attention to that form but I do know that Canada Customs will accept it as proof that the articles are mine and are returning to Canada (hence not purchased and subject to import taxes and duty).

More info on my blog:

http://daphnegreig.blogspot.com/2010/05/quilt-market-report.html

Daphne Greig
Designer, Author, Teacher"

I have heard of this problem before from an artist who subsequently started discreetly numbering each work with indelible ink and declaring her sample items upon crossing the border with their identity numbers. When returning to Canada, she would show the samples and their identity numbers to the satisfaction of border guards. Her identity numbers did not deface her samples.

She did not invent this method, she was advised to take this route by someone who handled her complaint when she called the border agency in response to an incident similar to Daphne's. She got her direction in writing and took the instructions with her to the border.

Because this was a while back, I would suggest people who might create a situation for themselves similar to Daphne's experience do as my friend did and see if there is a less intrusive way of marking your samples.

Here is a link to the Canadian Border Services Agency's contact information page: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/contact/menu-eng.html

Chris

Another comment to my office from helpful reader, Gregg Simpson.
THANK YOU Gregg, for sharing this information with us!

Chris

"Hi Chris,

Enjoyed your article on shipping art to the USA.

Canada Customs regulation #9813.00.00.00 allows you to re-import your work back into Canada if it was out of the country on consignment. This might be worth a mention sometime in the newsletter.

When I do shows in Europe I always use an ata carnet. Then all you need to do is pay customs and duties on what sells, not the whole shipment.

I will be doing an in store demo in North Vancouver this winter when I return from doing a couple of solo shows in Paris and Lisbon.

Cheers,
Gregg Simpson
www.greggsimpson.com"

Raymond St. Arnaud replies to Daphne:

"Hi Daphne

Sorry to hear your story. I agree with the posting "Sometimes we do dumb things" from your blog. I think you just ran into officers that did not understand what they were doing. I cannot fathom the difference between carrying the quilt and shipping it, as it pertains to potential sales in the US.

I have never had problems with the, entry into the US, portion of the equation. I'll save your story and see what else comes up. If there is a common thread, maybe something can be conjured to solve the issue.

Regards
R. St. Arnaud
--------------------------------------------
Raymond St Arnaud
Visual Artist - Photographer
Victoria, B.C., Canada
starnaud@shaw.ca
http://www.raymondstarnaud.com"

Hi,

Thanks for all of the great tips everyone. I've had various difficulties in the past and all have been with different border guards that had a different approach do dealing with me. In 2007 I was refused access and finger printed, with a warning that if I tried to enter again with product I would be denied access for life. The main problem here was that I had smaller paper prints, which were for sale. Though I had crossed with them before and simply filled out an inventory list, this time they had a different method. I phoned Border Control and when through a chain of 12 people, and at the top the spokeswoman said, "it depends on what guard you get, and how much they know or don't know can affect your crossing. It's up to you to convince them of what you are doing or not doing in the US.". So after that I didn't go back until this year(2011). This time I pre-shipped everything, and it worked out fine. I'm mostly working with canvas prints anyway.

I'm wondering if anyone has had experience with bringing over items that are already purchased and you are just making a personal delivery?

thanks,
Simon Haiduk
http://simonhaiduk.com

The bulk of the information provided doesn't pertain to selling a painting to a US resident and shipping it to them... I sold a painting and now I want to ship it without duty, it's not being returned, is that going to be a problem?

If I say the value, which is under $2000 but way above $100 am I or the customer going to be hit with a charge?

How am I going to ship it correctly?

I cannot reply to this question, I am sorry to say. I write what I feel capable of writing and deal with subjects that are asked of me, but I am not an expert. For this question you need legal and professional advice. I must be careful not to delve into areas about which I am not well enough informed. I think you need to ask a broker this question. Sorry. Chris

I was wondering if it is legal as a Canadian citizen to participate in American artist shows where I am selling to the public? As a Canadian I cannot accept credit cards but could have a friend take them and then work out the money exchange afterwards. Is this legal?

Hello Len,

Thank you for your question. I forwarded your comment on to Chris Tyrell, but this is a complex issue and difficult to answer in a few sentences without all the details.

Chris recommended that you visit the CARFAC website for information. Their "Tools for Visual Artists" page has some great links to get you started. If you need further information, they may be able to point you in the right direction.

Another step could be to ask whether any of the spaces where you hope to sell your work have previously sold work by Canadian artists. Perhaps they could offer some guidance based on their experience. If they are unable to help, it may be worth it to speak with a lawyer.

You could also try to speak with someone who has experience selling online; this could be a platform on which you could avoid issues with the border.

I wish you the best of luck with your situation!

Regards,
Aska

Hey Len, did you get any information regarding this? I am set to go to some US festivals this year and was wondering what Canadians did for POS. I also called cafac on an unrelated issue and they mentioned Canadians can't sell their own work in the US which I have a really hard time believing is true, especially in the context of an art fair. Did you come across anything about that? Thanks!

My wife just passed your question on to me this morning, I hope that I am not too late.

I found that as a Canadian I am not able to accept credit cards or debit cards because I am not an American citizen and therefore don't have an American bank account. I did do cash sales but most people now don't use cash that much. If you can find someone that lives there that can do all of that for you then try that.

Every item that goes down to the US needs to be photographed and a form filled out for that piece.

I sent my merchandise down by Canada post both times to the people in charge. Sending by Canada post takes care of getting it into the US and I did not have to pay a broker to get it in. My work is mixed media sculpture and sculpture in any medium and size is duty free.

Do not go down with the stuff in your car expecting to get over the boarder, I have heard horror stories about not being able to get into the US and missing the show that you have paid to be in.

I don't do the US show any more because it was such a hassle.

I hope that this has been of some help.

My wife just passed your question on to me this morning, I hope that I am not too late.

I found that as a Canadian I am not able to accept credit cards or debit cards because I am not an American citizen and therefore don't have an American bank account. I did do cash sales but most people now don't use cash that much. If you can find someone that lives there that can do all of that for you then try that.

Every item that goes down to the US needs to be photographed and a form filled out for that piece.

I sent my merchandise down by Canada post both times to the people in charge. Sending by Canada post takes care of getting it into the US and I did not have to pay a broker to get it in. My work is mixed media sculpture and sculpture in any medium and size is duty free.

Do not go down with the stuff in your car expecting to get over the boarder, I have heard horror stories about not being able to get into the US and missing the show that you have paid to be in.

I don't do the US show any more because it was such a hassle.

I hope that this has been of some help.

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