Navigating Temporary Imports: ATA Carnet

By | 2018-08-22T14:54:19+00:00 August 22nd, 2018|Forms and Documents, U.S. Customs|

Temporary imports, while generally not what most people would think of when they think about imports, are a key kind of import that allows companies and professionals to bring in samples, equipment, and prototypes without being charged duty they otherwise would have to pay. Because a temporary import will not become part of American commerce, the importer legally doesn’t have to treat it like it will.

Last week, we explored temporary imports in the context of Temporary Importation Bonds. A TIB, however, is not the only way you can temporarily import something not intending to become part of American commerce. For instances where a Temporary Importation Bond doesn’t quite fit, there is the Carnet program. As an international customs document, Carnets like the ATA Carnet can be used in different contexts than, or even alongside, a TIB.

What is an ATA Carnet?

An ATA Carnet is an international customs document used for duty-free temporary importation. Holding a Carnet allows you to enter and re-enter the country with your goods as many times as you want without paying duty, because — like with a TIB — the Carnet itself exists as a guarantee against payment of duties.

An ATA Carnet has more limitations on application categories than a TIB, but its categories are more broad. Generally, a Carnet is used to import professional equipment, advertising materials, or commercial samples temporarily. Consumable items cannot travel an ATA Carnet — this includes any agricultural products like fertilizer and pesticides — and the Carnet is good for up 1 year, with no possibility of extension. The only exceptions are Carnets issued for the Exhibitions & Fairs convention, like those issued for China, but their time period is shorter — 6 months — and they also do not allow extensions.

There are currently 87 countries involved in the Carnet system; 86 of them will accept ATA Carnets, while Taiwan only accepts a separate document called a TECRO/AIT Carnet. Unlike a TIB, an ATA Carnet is always issued by the exporting country, never the import destination. In the United States, you need a legal residence and Taxpayer ID in order to obtain a Carnet.

ATA Carnet vs Temporary Importation Bond

ATA Carnets and TIBs are not necessarily in opposition to each other; they work together in some instances, and operate in overlapping spaces. For example, you can file for a TIB while your goods are still under the jurisdiction of a Carnet if you need them to stay in the country temporarily for longer than a Carnet allows, as you cannot get an extension on a Carnet. Still, there may come a time when you need to decide between an ATA Carnet and a TIB.


ATA Carnet

Temporary Importation Bond

  • Issued by a company in the exporting country
  • Issued upon application in the destination country
  • Three broad categories with a restriction on consumables
  • 14 specific subheadings
  • Valid for 6 months to 1 year with no possibility for extension
  • Valid for 6 months to 1 year with possibility for extension up to 3 years
  • One-time fee per year
  • Need to buy new bonds for each country
  • Unlimited uses within issuing period
  • Limited uses within issuing period
  • No deposit made
  • Full refund of deposit
  • Must be an American citizen to apply for a US ATA Carnet
  • Do not need to be a citizen to apply for a US TIB
  • Can be expensive
  • Comparatively inexpensive, with the possibility for heavy penalties if voided

Essentially, a Carnet is easier to obtain and can be used more within a year with less hassle, while a TIB is less expensive to obtain and can be extended past the original expiry date.

Deciding which temporary import method is right for your needs can be tricky — why not contact a customs broker for guidance?