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Shipping Art in The World: differences and similarities

LV News

Photo Credit: Archivio Boetti

The rules that move art are not the same all over the world

Safety and discretion are common for all logistic companies all over the world and packing procedures and materials as well.

In order to achieve a widespread high common standard in technical professions, #PACCIN organises meetings dedicated to museums and logistic companies, unveiling new and improved packing materials and methodologies for creating crates, supply cases, exhibition supports. 

There are also several International associations who organise annual Meetings inviting the sectors’ main operators to share knowledges, compare each other and improve more and more their services and their business relationships  (Icefat, Artim).

Although everyone try to be more and more professional and specialised, every Country in the world has its own regulamentation in terms of Customs and Fine Art Ministry.

For example, we know that in Italy, customs applies a reduced VAT of 10% on definitive imports (extra EEC) by presenting the certification that these are art objects. There is also a difference between permanent and temporary importation but I will deal with the customs the topic in depth in next week’s article.

It is also well known that the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage has the task of carefully supervising exports through its export offices located throughout the territory. In particular, it detains the right to bind “ancient” works that are older than 70 years which are considered of national interest – thus prohibiting export and the possibility of selling abroad- and to register the self-certification for the “modern” works that are not subject to constraints and can move abroad.

In continuity with the previous format, I asked once again to some professional “travel friends” who are either at the top of their companies or representative for their companies to tell their experience to shed light on how the movements of artistic assets abroad are regulated.

I thank them very much for allowing me their precious time. 

One of them prefers not to be mentioned so I will use the alias of MR X.


The Victoria's Cross Medals

In terms of FINE ART authorization in Australia there are 2 classes of protected objects:

Class A objects are of such significance to Australia that they must not be exported 

These include

  • Victoria Cross medals awarded to named Australian service personnel unless they are owned, or held on loan, by the    Commonwealth or a principal collecting institution.
  • Each piece of the suit of metal armour worn by Ned Kelly at the siege of Glenrowan in Victoria in 1880.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material that may not be exported (sacred and secret ritual objects,
  • bark and log coffins used as traditional burial objects, human remains, rock art, dendroglyphs (carved trees).

– Class B objects that can be exported from Australia only with an export permit granted under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

The categories are:

In terms of Custom Taxes, the other most noteworthy rules for Australian imports and exports are:

  • Any objects brought in for temporary exhibition must be applied for and approved for Temporary Securities or they must be shipped under ATA Carnet. Any objects imported as temporary must be re-exported according to the rules of the approved temporary import application or the importer of record would be required to pay GST, and possibly penalties, as determined by Australian Customs and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).  
  • Importers who are importing temporarily for the purpose of appraisal or possible purchase, etc. can apply for GST Deferral. If granted, this means the Australian importer of record may import the works in question for approximately 30 days from the date of import without being required to pay GST as long as the documented re-export happens within that period.
  • Other Goods that are not subject to payment of the GST are:
    • Goods that are returning to Australia (with proof of original export)
    • Goods that can being shipped from the importer’s overseas address to their Australian address and can be shown as being owned by the importer for at least 12 months prior to import
  • Otherwise, all imports (definitive/permanent) into Australia are subject to 10% GST based on the CIF (Cost, Insurance & Freight) value

 Australia has a very strict biosecurity policy as we’re an island nation therefore we have a fragile ecosystem. As a result, all shipments are submitted for both Customs clearance as well as Biosecurity clearance. If a shipment is reviewed by the Department of Agriculture and determined to be a possible biosecurity threat they will order the shipment inspected for any active pest infestation and if infestation is found to exist they will issue an order for the infestation to be treated accordingly. There is no way around the Department of Agriculture’s review and assessment as they act independently of any other Australian government body.


Il porto doganale di Dover in Inghilterra

Mr. X

Let’s talk about fine art

“The key form of documentation is a fine art export licence. This is still a physical licence, that needs to be issued and stamped for authorization.

The licence can require full provenance, a declared insurance value and photographs. The application is sent to the licensing authority, who then send it to an assessor in a national museum to process. The entire application process can take up to 28 working days.”


…and about custom

“In the case of permanent import of a work coming from a non-EU zone what is the procedure? And the percentage of the tax to pay to custom?

For any works coming from outside the EU, you can basically offer an immediate definitive import, upon payment of VAT or you can put the object into Temporary Admission or TA. TA is a form of bonded status, that is mainly used by Galleries and Auction Houses and allows the importer to receive the work as a temporary import. However, the controls over where and how the object is treated are strict and the work cannot be released until the VAT is paid to Customs. At present, VAT on artwork is 5% of the declared value. Museums avoid this issue by arranging to have a special status for temporary importation of exhibitions under NIRU (National Import Reliefs Unit). In order to do this, they have to apply directly to the Unit and receive an authorization code, which can thenbe used to avoid TA.”

What are the criteria to distinguish between contemporary and old artworks? 

“Fundamentally for the authorities, the criteria is literally the age of the object. A work over 50 years old generally requires an export licence, so could be considered as “historical” in that context.


Fine art licenses are requested considering age? Value?

“The licence is based on value, age (over 50 years old) and medium. I have attached a copy of previous licence threshold categories so you can see the different licence areas that have to be considered.


 ABOUT EUROPE TRAVEL: do drivers have a specific preparation? How do yr operational office prepare the schedule of the trip? And…during COVID?

“During Covid, the Transport department have had to schedule based on local lockdowns and quarantine areas; but luckily as our industry (transport) is considered “essential” and being as our drivers are in a “bubble” then they do not have to quarantine.

The Transport General Manager is fundamentally responsible for the safety and general well-being of the crew and courier. The GM will work out the most direct and yet safest form of transport, based on the stated itinerary, with input from the project manager and lender(s). Any route into Continental Europe shall be based on the legally determined number of driving hours per day, mandatory rest period and overnight stops at approved art warehouses. If the transport is being underwritten by UK Government Indemnity or has loans on-board from National Institutions, then the warehouse(s) will need to have been pre-approved by the UK National Security Advisor.

All vehicles are GPRS tracked etc and the crews are on constant contact with the GM, Project Manager and partner agent(s)”


The National Science Museum of Coimbra

Source: Joao Pratas di Feirexpo

In Portugal, and in the rest of the world I believe, circulation of fine arts is due to the import and export procedures.

Import or export operations can be done on a temporary or definitive basis, as we are talking about exhibitions in both import/export ways or, due to the purchasing or sold of artworks. 

In any cases, in Portugal we need to observe some restrictions, result of the EC rules and the Portuguese Government determinations, as follows:


  • Mainly due to the exhibitions, in or out. 

The Ministry of Culture, taking care of those movements said that, all the loans aged over 50 years old, must be communicated though the DGPC (General Direction of Heritage and Culture) as well as for the exit for a venue abroad, or the entrance in the country for  an exhibition.

In these cases we must provide customs clearance on outgoing or incoming, because an Export/Import License would be needed and, by law, can take 30 days to be obtained and signed.

If we are talking about movements within EC, a Circulation License must be applied to the same Import or Export operations.

  • The remaining works aged less than 50 years old, either on the import or the export, must be just informed by this entity regarding the exit or the entrance in the country.


  • From above, in the same way, all the artworks imported or to be exported, must have an Export License if the works are aged over 50 years old.
  • In those cases, customs clearance must be handled close to the Customs Dept. and, taxes and duties, when the importation, are due at 6% or 23% by the purchaser, before collecting the artworks from customs inbound.

Those taxes and duties are due for all the originals, signed and certified at 6% for all paintings, photos, serigraphs, etc. and at 23% for all the other kind of works like sculptures, installations, ceramics, etc.

  • However, in any case, DGPC must be informed about all the import/export movements regarding all the artworks aged more than 50 years old and, without the Export Licenses of the artworks, exportation customs clearance can’t be done.


A room of the SFMOMA

Fonte: Sarah Tedder

I would first like to say, in general, it is very important to speak to a reputable customs broker specialized in working with Fine Art well prior to the import or export of objects that can be classified as works of art. The US system is notably different than the Italian system and it is important to differentiate between “commercial” and “non-commercial” use when classifying your shipments. 

This is a link to the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) website in reference to works of art, antiques, collections, etc. This is a good reference but it is not legal advice and a good customs broker can discuss the nuance and complications within this area of shipping. 

Though I have many years of experience and the government does not change regulations very quickly, I am not a licensed customs broker, so this is provided as general information only. Due to the upheaval around the world in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, it is especially important to obtain individualized advice for your shipments. 

Your questions:

Is there any distinction between contemporary art and ancient art? If yes, could you please explain how they are regulated?

Upon importation, there is a distinction between objects which are over 100 years old, labeled “antique”, and less than 100 years old, which are not antique. Words such as “modern”, “vintage”, “retro”, “ancient”, “contemporary”, etc., are not legal terms typically used by the US customs system in this context. If it is determined that an object is not over 100 years old, and has been imported for commercial or non-commercial purposes, duties and taxes may be applicable. It is important to hold onto your paperwork for 5 years from the date of import.

Though other import charges are typically applicable (brokers fees, processing fees) artworks are generally duty-free. There are some exceptions such as any cast of a sculpture after the 12th (must be numbered one of 12) which are dutiable. Artist biography may be needed for sculptures or other media to support their status as “artwork”. 

For exportations, no US duty or taxes are applicable to works of art; however, there are special considerations for objects subject to cultural property laws and/or Fish & Wildlife regulations. 

About custom:

Do you have to present different declarations for artworks, i.e. specifying value? Or material? Or if a sculpture, a painting, a photo, an installation, a piece of furniture?

Yes, you must present a Pro Forma Invoice or Commercial Invoice specifying certain information for Customs agents to approve the classification of the objects. 

Artist, Title, Medium, Date, Country of Origin, Dimensions, Declared Value, and Purpose are a good place to start. Additional statements and declarations may be required depending on the object(s) in question. For example, you may need an artist bio for original sculptures, especially if an object is being imported as a commercial purchase. 

How long did you wait to get the authorization from custom to ship (or to import?)

For imports, in general, it is possible to file an ocean shipment entry up to 5 days before the vessel arrives and up to 4 hours prior to an air shipment arrival. This is port-specific though, and some activity has specific filing-time exceptions.

For exports, see below. In general, we do not need Customs authorization to export. 

How long do you have to wait for the authorization of the ministry of fine art to export?

We do not have a Ministry of Fine Art in the US. Shippers do not generally need US authorization to export but we do have to file electronic Export Declarations before shipment for items over $2500 USD and, as such, will require information from overseas consignees to do so. The legally required time frame for filing depends on the mode of transport and on what type of merchandise you are sending. Air shipments require filing 2 hours prior to departure of the flight.

One important note, it is also necessary for the party in the US acting as the US Principle Party of Interest to have a US Tax ID Number, usually called an EIN or Employer Identification Number. This is true even for individuals who are not acting as a business.  There are exceptions or ways to legally work around this but it is an area to discuss with a customs broker.  

What you must do in terms of security to load a crate in a plane?

The shipper must have packed the objects in proper and compliant lumber and/or packing materials and have had the package (crate, cardboard box, etc.,) screened by an appropriate Transportation Security Administration representative. The passenger airlines are required to screen 100% of freight. They must also have the appropriate paperwork to tender the freight to the airline. Freighter shipments (cargo-only flights) have their own requirements as well. 

If you want to oversee the loading of a crate onto a plane, you should work with a shipper/customs broker who can hire or collaborate with the entities at the airport responsible for building the shipping pallets and containers and loading them onto the plane.

 Are there any other issues to be aware of when discussing international shipping?

Many (!); however, one major area to consider is objects that contain any animal or plant parts which can be subject to serious restrictions, such as the CITES treaty and the US Endangered Species Act. There are both domestic and international laws in place to protect wildlife which should be considered when moving objects for sale or objects in exhibitions within the US or to/from the US.