Friday, March 9, 2012

Shipping work from Canada to the US

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.

13 comments:

  1. I am SO freakin' happy that I live an hour's drive from my gallery.

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  2. One tip;
    I always take photos of the completed package to prove it left in perfect condition.

    I sent wooden crates from OZ to Canada with a major carrier and yet they managed to damage one of the works in a wooden crate. Evidence... 4 different sets of footprints on the side of the wooden crate, proving the crate was not transported vertically, in fact it was laid flat and and walked all over.

    The letter of complaint & demand for compensation started with the words "What sort of animals do you have working for you....."

    They paid up after seeing the before and after delivery photos.

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  3. I can offer another suggestion for inexpensive padding. Insulating spray-foam. The stuff you find at the hardware store in a can (for filling a gap around a pipe in the wall, etc). Best of all, because it dries rigid, this also makes the inside of your box perfectly fitted for the painting. Just make sure to put something other than the actual painting in the box when you spray the foam (and wait for it to dry - then take that thing out and put in your painting).

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  4. @Thomas. That is a very cool idea. Never heard of that before.

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  5. Thanks so much for this post. I'm venturing into exhibiting my work in the US this year for the first time and trying to learn as much as I can, but still feel very in 'the dark'. I'm planning to cross with my work first but will have to ship it for one trip. My work is really large, so I appreciate the advice on large work and crates. I'm a bit unclear as to how to do customs yet- if I'm crossing myself, I'm still learning what I'll have to do. I was glad to read that I can think about not declaring the 'full value', which means I might not have to make a 'formal entry'. Any words of wisdom are appreciated! ie- what if a piece sells while it is on display? What do I do when I return without it...

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    Replies
    1. A--It is really easy to find all the information you need if you're prepared to sit down with a phone and a laptop and call all the right numbers. Please refer to the Canadian Border Services Agency website (http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/menu-eng.html) and the American equivalent (http://www.cbp.gov/). They are extremely helpful because let's face it, it's a lot less work for them to answer your questions on the phone today than it is to arrest you and detain you tomorrow. I will do another post on this sometime, but for now please be careful about going across the border with artwork. It is far easier to ship it. If you cross with it and want to officially import it, you will have to make arrangements with a broker beforehand and pay them a fee. I also advise you play it safe when you cross the border with artwork and don't give them any wishy-washy answers about what your plans are for the paintings. American border agents are very suspicious of Canadians entering the US and stealing jobs/art sales. I mean, everyone knows that Canadians are all just dying to escape their socialist ghetto of a country.

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    2. Oh Kate, I so, so wish I had known you had posted this so quickly after I wrote. It may have saved me the 3 hour delay at the border, and a sketchy cross. I did everything I had carefully researched to do, and it was a mess. I've learned now, and this time I've shipped and used a customs broker, and it was so ridiculously simple. At least for now- I'll be meeting my work in California in a couple weeks.

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  6. I ship all of my paintings to the USA and since I'm lucky enough to live close to the border, I drive my car across with my paintings aboard. I have no trouble at all as long as I do the following: Two forms must be filled out and if you need help, the border guys will show you how. They are "Entry and Manifest of Merchandise Free of Duty - Carrier's Certificate and Release" and "North American Free Trade Agreement - Certificate of Origin". Google to find these and you can print them off the web site. The only time you will need a broker is if the painting is valued over $2,000.00 so don't declare the full value. They will ask you for $10.75 because you are making a commercial transaction. The "blanket Period" will say that the importer (Gallery) will have it on consignment for one year after which time they will return the painting to you. Once across the border, I head to the nearest UPS or FedEx depot and fill out the paperwork for shipping. Its as easy as that and a fraction of the cost of shipping from Canada using FedEx or UPS .
    I have never found the American border agents to be suspicious of me bringing work for sale into the USA. This is all done legally so why would they make an issue out of it?

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    Replies
    1. Liz, thank you for contributing. I was trying to figure out the best way to drive my stuff over

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    2. Liz, from what I've learned, when the work crossing is less than 2000 it's considered an informal entry and you can do that yourself. I think it gets complicated when there's multiple paintings- I was crossing with a trailer-full of large paintings. I also didn't have a gallery I was sending it to, but going to a conference and exhibiting them. It was ridiculous.

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  7. Maybe I am a little older, but I remember the days before NAFTA when crossing the border was so easy. It used to be called the longest undefended border in the world. Now it is defended with red tape. Now you even need a passport and God forbid you try a little humour with the customs and immigration officials. I now live in Europe where most borders simply have disappeared. So much easier.

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  8. I'm about to ship my first painting within Canada and am nervous as all get out however these tips have certainly helped devise a secure plan.One thing I do which takes the worry out of whether a painting will arrive in one piece is I will drive within a hundred miles (within Canada) and deliver the painting myself. The price of gas is included in the sale of the piece which is nothing compared to mailing it. I can't always count on a sale close to home but it has paid off several times.

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