NO 1– 2009



What not to do when transporting items via hand-carry

     Declare all hand-carries

On a recent Saturday in January at JFK Airport, two British travelers coming into the US were stopped and searched by US Customs and Border Protection in what was likely a routine random inspection.

The search revealed that the travelers had in their baggage eleven antique Fabergé ornaments. The travelers carried invoices for the items showing their aggregate value to be over $250,000. According to the travelers, an art-dealer and his female co-traveler, they were headed to an auction house with the items, likely to put them up for sale.

Because of the nature of the infraction - it was found that the art-dealer was aware of the requirement to declare on entry and had even enlisted the assistance of a customs broker in the past to do so - the Fabergé items were seized by US Customs officials and the travelers were denied entry into the US on the Visa Waiver program. They returned to the UK the next day. The travelers will not be able to enter the US under the Visa Waiver program in the future due to their failure to declare the items upon entry into the US.

The OFO Public Affairs Liaison at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Lucille Cirillo, said that often travelers fail to declare items because they “don’t want to be bothered” but the motives for neglecting to do so run the gamut from ignorance to malfeasance. What they should have done, she clarified, was to inform the CBP officers that they had items to declare. The CBP would have advised them of the procedures they should then follow and held the items under Customs control until they had been properly cleared for entry into the USA. CBP officers cannot assist passengers in completing a declaration properly, which is why in cases like these Officer Cirillo advises travelers to enlist the help of a qualified customs broker.

Entry upon arrival at the destination country isn’t the only consideration regarding customs when doing a hand-carry. This was illustrated in a recent situation experienced by an ICEFAT member company, Atthowe Fine Art Services in San Francisco. Atthowe was providing the US-side services for a San Francisco museum that was expecting items to be returned from a Canadian borrower. The return shipment involved some items that were being returned via hand-carry, and Atthowe had all the crew and vehicles ready to meet the courier upon her arrival.

Two hours prior to the flight’s departure, Atthowe received a distressed phone call. The courier was being held back from boarding her flight because the Canadian shipper (not an ICEFAT member company), who had arranged for her transport and documents for departure from Canada, had not prepared the US Customs pre-clearance of the hand-carry shipment prior to the courier boarding the plane.

The courier was also accompanying crates that were already loaded onto the lower-deck of the plane she was intended to take. She was in a tough position as she needed to board the plane to accompany the lower-deck crates to her institution, but she could not board with the objects she was hand-carrying. Ultimately, a connection was made from the lending institution to US Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who personally called the US Customs Office and resolved the matter.

Another important consideration is export clearance of hand-carry shipments. It is a commonly held idea that Customs have no interest in what is taken out of the country however there is a procedure and process in place for the export clearance of goods. In the event that hand-carry goods have not been cleared on export, it is likely that on re-import they may be classified as a definitive import and Customs may assess them for applicable Duty and Taxes. The export clearance is a simple procedure that can be easily managed by your ICEFAT agent.

The above instances demonstrate how critical the participation of a qualified art shipping agent and customs broker is in circumstances of transporting artwork, even when it is just a small object being carried by a courier. These agents are aware of the specific procedures required to have the shipment safely pass through all checkpoints in order to arrive at its destination safely, handed as little as possible and without delays.

Nicole Bouchard, Operations Manager
Crozier Fine Arts, New York

Some of the stolen Faberge items

Some of the stolen Faberge items
In researching this article US Customs and Border Protection advised that since the seizure and their original press-release they have discovered the Fabergé items were stolen. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is currently working to return the stolen items to their rightful owner(s.) If anyone reading this article recognizes the items or has additional information they should contact US Customs and Border Protection. The original USCBP press release concerning the Fabergé Seizure can be found at:

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