International Travel- Do you confess you are on photo business?

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by bluewaterjon, Feb 9, 2010.

  1. bluewaterjon

    bluewaterjon TPF Noob!

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    I travel a lot internationally on business shoots (mostly to Central America, including Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemela, and Costa Rica) and the last time I came back from Panama - as in, when I was re-entering the US-the guys at customs pulled me aside and gave me a hard time. They wanted to know if I was on a business trip.
    I have never had a problem coming back into the States (I've always said I was a hobbyist and never been bothered), but this time they were not happy. They didn't believe that I was a hobbyist, and I can't blame them, I simply have way too much gear- 4 bodies, maybe 8 lenses, and an underwater housing as well, plus enough stuff like chargers and supporting gadgets to make it look like I just robbed a store.
    I have never been stopped before, I just simply declare that I was on vacation and if they ask ( this is when re-entering the US) why I have the gear, I say that I am an avid shooter. Until last time....
    I want to know what you do, if you lug around a ton of gear. My photogear backpack and two pelican cases have my url and business name on them also. Am I supposed to tell them I am on a business shoot by indicating that on the blue customs form they give me on the plane, and then pay a tax, or what? What do others do who bring so much gear that they are beyond the point of being able to deny they are on a photo business trip to the people at US customs? Was the only reason they seemed to hassle me because I was obviously not being straightforward, or was I suppoed to be doing something to make it legit with them?
    Thanks very much in advance
    Jon Schwartz
    Jon Schwartz: Fishing and travel articles, photography, and big fish photos
    Blog: Jon Schwartz's Blog: Fishing Articles, Photography, and Travel
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2010
  2. andrew99

    andrew99 TPF Noob!

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    Wow, 4 bodies for a vacation? That *is* hard to believe! :D The most I ever carried was my backpack containing 1 body, 4 lens, several filters, 1 flash and my Cybersync transmitter/receiver, and in my checked luggage was one light stand and umbrella, and this was going to Mexico City from Canada. I didn't have any problems, although they did request to open the backpack after seeing it go through the x-ray. They seemed to be more concerned about the car keys than the gear, maybe they look weird on the x-ray or something. Anyway, you really are bringing more stuff than a lot of pros would!
     
  3. bluewaterjon

    bluewaterjon TPF Noob!

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    Andrew, thanks for the input. I am actually a pro myself, I am on shoots for travel and fishing magazines or private PR shoots for regional business bureaus and resorts, etc. I have one D700 on the boat dedicated to my u/w housing with my 14-24, one D700 with a 70-200 on it, another with a 28-70, and then another body as backup, or I may have a fixed 20 or another 14-24 on it.
    It's a lot of gear but then again I need to cover a lot of different bases all in the space of a very short amount of time. Imagine you are on a boat in choppy seas, there's a marlin jumping far off in the distance (long lens), closer to the boat (28-70), at boatside (fixed 20 or another 14-24), and then I jump in sometimes with it before they let it go ( u/w setup), all in the space of maybe ten minutes. The fish is spazzing out all over the place in midair ( hopefully!) and changing lenses will always result in key missed shots and likely saltwater getting where I can least afford it. Where I go the places are remote, so if a key lens fails like a 70-200 ( being on a heaving boat w/ saltwater spray ups the odds of that possibility) and I don't have a backup, I'm up a creek and the trip is effectively ruined.
    In either case tx for offering your input, I appreciate it.
    Jon Schwartz
     
  4. Mulewings~

    Mulewings~ TPF Noob!

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    The only comment I had while traveling last year was after searching my bag the Security Officer only asked if I'd had a good time and did I 'get a lot of photos?

    I had one film camera [2 lenses], one DSLR [2 lenses], and of course my tripod and other misc. stuff.

    Maybe you 'fit' some profile they were checking on. Who knows?
    Hopefully you won't have any more hassles.
     
  5. bluewaterjon

    bluewaterjon TPF Noob!

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    That is possible, maybe they had a bad day, but my guess is that when they see someone with that much gear, they want to know why I am not declaring my trip as business, and I wonder if it's as simple as saying "OK yeah, I am a working pro" or if they will tell me I need to register and pay this and that fine and have all this stuff done.
    [​IMG]
     
  6. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    You're asking questions that need really should be answered by a qualified attorney.
     
  7. msf

    msf TPF Noob!

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    You could probably ask some customs agent, im sure they know their stuff since its what they do. :)

    Im actually curious about the same sort of thing, but more about doing business in canada and coming back to the states. Just in case I ever get a wedding up there.
     
  8. bluewaterjon

    bluewaterjon TPF Noob!

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    Thanks KmH. Before I shell out a whole bunch of dough, though, on a lawyer, I'm betting that that there are some of people in the same boat who have some plain answers that I won't hold them to, like "Yeah I have a lot of gear and when I travel and I am returning to the States, I simply x, y, and z"..
    I looked at a sample customs form on the internet and found the one question that is an issue with me. It's #10., which asks, "The primary purpose of my trip is business" and then one has to answer yes or no. I have always said no because I'm afraid they will make me register and pay fees and it will delay me. But after doing research on the net, I am beginning to think they don't really care how I answer, they are more concerned about whether I am importing gear. To that end it may be a good idea to have a list of my eqip and the serial #'s, I hear there is a form available at customs' offices that you only need to fill out once, that details this infp- equipment and serial #'s.
    Thanks,
    Jon Schwartz
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2010
  9. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    This thread has a bit of a bad feel to it. It's like you are asking people 'what is the best way to lie to customs?'
    If that's the case, the answer is probably that you shouldn't lie to customs. :er:

    However, I too am wondering what the difference is between declaring whether or not you declare that you are traveling on business or pleasure. Of the top of my head, I think that they are more concerned about any importing or exporting of goods that you might be doing. I remember being asked about the value of what I was bringing with me (on a business trip) and what, if anything will be left there and/or brought back.

    Now since you're talking about photography, you really aren't importing or exporting any tangible goods. So that shouldn't be an issue.
    Maybe they are concerned about income tax...as in, are you traveling to another country, getting paid there, and then bringing that money back without having to pay tax?

    As mentioned, this could probably be made clear if you talked to a lawyer, or maybe an accountant or customs official.
     
  10. SpeedTrap

    SpeedTrap TPF Noob!

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    Whenever I work out of the country, I have always been upfront with customs and never had any problems, but I am in Canada. They have just wanted to check if I was bringing anything back with me that should be taxed or I may have to pay Duty on. I also tend to carry a customer declaration with all my serial numbers on if for insurance as well when I re-import my gear there is no question if I purchased any out of the country.
     
  11. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    Many times, people find out that a 30 minute consultation with an attorney qualified in the aspect of law you're interested in, is much less costly than they thought.

    Edit: A visit to the local ICE office could also be useful or a visit to their web site www.ice.gov.
     
  12. bennielou

    bennielou TPF Noob!

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    Yes, do it all legit. You get a write off. Why not do it?
     

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