Okay Canadians. Listen up. There's a right way and a million wrong ways to ship work to the States. I am an authority on the subject because I have never had a shipment go wrong because of something I did, which means that my shipments still go wrong about 50% of the time because of something someone else did; but if you've been in the business for a while I think you'll appreciate a good statistic when you see it.
1. Packaging: Click this link, drool all over the place, and then get over it. Airfloat boxes are amazing, but the cost is prohibitive for Canadians when you factor in the expense of having them shipped up here. If you want to ship in a cardboard box, you can probably find a local business that makes cardboard boxes to your specifications and have it delivered within a couple of days. Otherwise, cannibalize the box your neighbour's flat screen TV came in, or even better, offer to fight your framer for the boxes her glass or Foamcore comes in (she probably won't want to give them to you); avoid the flimsy mirror boxes at moving supply companies. Don't waste your money buying foam to pad your work. Scrunched up newspapers are free and what do you think people used before foam, anyway? You can also get a crate built and have your work professionally packed by a bunch of attractive young men in uniforms by a company called something predictable like ArtCrate or BuffDudesMakeBoxes, but when I had this done I was amazed to see them use chip board and MDF. Of course, the crate burst open during transit and the box arrived at my gallery caved in and cinched with a belt to keep its guts from pouring out. Best bet: make your own crate. If you don't have a table saw, either get one or get someone at your local hardware store to cut down your boards for you to the correct size. Use plywood for the narrow sides and if you must keep the weight down, MDF for the larger top and bottom panels. Drill your holes carefully to avoid splitting before you sink your screws. If you want to be really slick, attach metal handles so that the delivery boys have no excuse for dropping your crate, and to make it impossible to rest the crate on one of its wrong sides.
2. Carriers: Canada Post doesn't like packages over a certain size and they don't help you out by providing all the necessary documents. Brown uniforms make me depressed so I go with FedEx. They're pretty terrible, but terrible's still better than a lot of other options. Open an account so that you are eligible for reduced rates and home pick up. Cardboard boxes can be shipped either ground or express, but cargo is cheaper and takes the sturdier wooden crates. In Toronto, before Dave and I graduated to crates and cargo and home pick-up, I would go to the FedEx/Kinko's near the U of T campus because they were open 24 hrs and at 10pm the only customers I had to compete with were bleary-eyed frat boys on red bull printing their sociology essays. There were two representatives working the FedEx at the time and I kid you not they were identical twin sisters. Every time I said anything like "But the last time the computer crashed and you had to re-write all my info by hand, you did it this way...", whoever was helping me would say, "I think you're thinking of my twin sister..." HOLY COW. I wish I had a twin sister I could blame everything on. After two years of this nonsense I graduated to preparing my shipment for pick up at home and I strongly recommend that everyone reading this skip dealing with the unaccountable twins at Kinko's and do the same.
Tip for dealing with FedEx: you need to know that the truck drivers are not employees of FedEx; they are contractors and are not accountable in the same way as employees and the level of communication between FedEx and these contractors is done using tin can phones or something. That's the only explanation I can come up with. Also, the customs broker, although affiliated with FedEx, regards fellow FedEx workers with complete disdain and when she encounters any problems with your shipment because of an internal FedEx problem, she will tell you to complain to FedEx independently and sort the problem out on your own (they're not on speaking terms these days).
3. Preparing the Shipment: There are three things you need to include with your shipment: A. a Commercial Invoice B. a barcode, and C. an Original Works of Art Statement. The commercial invoice is pretty easy to fill out. Really important: when describing the commodity, INCLUDE THE TARIFF NUMBER, also known as a harmonized tariff. This number has been kept secret from artists for eons but I am about to share it with you. Paying attention? It is 970110 for paintings and drawings. Once you have successfully filled a commercial invoice, I suggest you keep a copy. Start a folder that says something like "Artwork Shipments" and keep your prototype, along with your copy of documents every single subsequent shipment you make, inside. You'll need to keep track of things like how long a gallery has had a painting or how long it actually took the package that was supposed to arrive in five days, to get to its destination (probably closer to two weeks). The second item, the barcode, is printed off from your computer once the FedEx website generates one. The final element is vewy, vewy important. It is called an Original Works of Art Statement. Go steal a million copies from FedEx because they're free and printing new ones gives the twins something to do. Under the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), we are entitled to ship work made in any North American country over any North American border free of duties.
Final tip for dealing with FedEx: call them up on the phone to double check that your documents are in order. Pretend you are not now an expert from having read this posting and ask them to explain how to complete the paperwork for your shipment from scratch. Then hang up, and call back and interrogate a different representative. If her story matches the first guy's story, you're good to go. If, more likely, it doesn't, call back a few more times and go by the best out of five.
4. Ship your painting by the fastest method you can afford. This is easiest to do with small cardboard packages, and harder to do with heavy wooden crates. The faster the box needs to get to it's destination, the less likely the customs officer will open your box, shuffle the contents around, and then strip the screw holes when she tries to reassemble it. Also, if your box is in transit for two days instead of two weeks, it passes through fewer hands and has less opportunity to meet with total destruction.
5. Insurance: what's that? I never buy insurance for our work for two reasons: 1. I don't declare the actual value of the work because frankly, it doesn't make any difference to customs fees, but it does mean that the customs officers HAVE to open your package, which causes delays. 2. If your painting is lost, good luck proving to FedEx what it was worth. You have to prove the item's value to be reimbursed, and unless you already sold the painting and have a copy of the receipt, you probably won't get a dime.
Finally, expect to pay around $30 in brokerage fees. This fee is thrown in as a bonus to lighten your day and put a spring in your step.
Attention American artists shipping to Canada: all of this applies to you too. The tariff codes are the same and the paperwork is too. Only real difference is you can afford the Airfloat boxes so you have a lot less to worry about when it comes to customs agents manhandling your package and reassembling it upside-down and backwards. Randomly, certain packages are selected and slapped with Government Sales Tax, which is 5%, which either you or the recipient must pay. Discuss this possibility with your gallery/collector beforehand. If you're really lucky, you may get dinged with Harmonized Sales Tax, which varies from province to province but is as much as 15%. And as a representative of Canada, I would like to thank you for helping to pay for our universal healthcare.