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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.


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!