Since the United Kingdom left the European Union, moving goods and equipment across borders has become more complicated for British passport holders. What are the rules, and will you need to spend more than £300 on an ATA Carnet to take your camera gear across the channel?
A lot of the rules surrounding the U.K.’s status now that it has asserted its independence from Europe remain unclear, and the consequences are still being realized. The fishing industry appears to have been among the hardest hit, and logistics companies have also struggled with the new levels of bureaucracy required when transporting goods in and out of the country.
Some of the chaos has been deferred given that very few people are traveling in and out of the U.K. at present due to the global pandemic. For example, hardly any British people are applying for work visas in European countries, and often, the processes involved are complex and time-consuming. There appears to have been little preparation for many aspects of the U.K.’s new relationship with Europe; as noted by Aodhan Connolly of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium when speaking to BBC radio last month, the year-long transition period leading up to the finalization of the U.K.’s departure was in effect little more than an extended negotiation period.
One area that is still a cause of confusion is whether photographers and filmmakers are able to travel freely with their equipment. For example, this government webpage suggests that you may need to apply for and purchase an ATA Carnet at a cost of several hundred pounds:
A carnet costs more than £300 and lasts for one year, and it needs to list every single item that you will be carrying, including serial numbers. Under certain circumstances, you may be required to visit an office to get your Carnet endorsed in the event that you are driving to Europe. A carnet covers you for multiple trips to all European Union countries, and the LCCI reports that it will cover Switzerland and Norway as well.
If this sounds like a nightmare for self-employed photographers and videographers working alone on small jobs, it isn’t as serious as it might first appear. I spoke to the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry who told me that anything carried in your luggage (including bags checked into the hold of an airplane) should be ok:
Our current understanding is that hand carried photographic equipment / equipment carried in baggage will most likely not need a Carnet. However, there is the potential for different interpretations by different member states, so London Chamber of Commerce and Industry will revise its guidance depending on feedback received from traders visiting the EU over the coming weeks and months with different types of equipment.
While this comes as a relief, my conversations with those dealing with the new border arrangements made it clear that the situation is still clouded by uncertainty. There’s a hint in the above statement — “our current understanding is” — that no-one is entirely sure how it all works, with lots of phrases such as “it depends,” “gray areas,” and “that’s what we’ve been told, at least” being used. From what I could gather, if you’re carrying a lot of kit on you, it may vary from border to border and could depend on the mood of the customs officer that’s decided that the tripod sticking out of your bag looks rather expensive.
According to the LCCI, ATA Carnets are required when you’re carrying larger amounts of gear around, although there is currently no clear distinction as to when this kicks in. Certainly, if you’re driving a van stuffed full with lighting and audio rigs, you will need a Carnet which is one of the reasons that the U.K.’s music and theater industries are crying out to the British government to find a better arrangement or risk destroying the prospects of countless bands, orchestras and theater companies.
The LCCI recommends having an ATA Carnet for any goods that are transported under a transport — i.e., anything being carried by a freight carrier or hauler. In addition to the ATA Carnet, you will also need to organize safety and security declarations.
With these barriers to travel, touring across Europe is simply too challenging and expensive, and you can get a sense of the frustration in this open letter by British composer Howard Goodall listing all of the new hurdles that musicians and their teams now face.
Goodall isn't the only established creative that has put pen to paper. More than 100 actors including the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, and Dame Julie Walters wrote to the government last month appealing for them to renegotiate the deal with the E.U. that currently makes working in Europe almost impossible. Dozens of major musicians — including Sting and Elton John — wrote a similar letter the month before.
In addition to Carnets, work visas for Europe are also complex. British citizens will require a visa for every country in which they wish to work, but there’s very little guidance for what this means for short visits, and this will vary from country to country. If you are sent as a solo photographer by a U.K. magazine to photograph in Paris, you probably don’t need a visa, and declaring yourself a tourist and keeping quiet about your professional activities is probably the best option (though obviously, you do this at your own risk). However, if the magazine that commissions you is based in France, a temporary work permit might be necessary.
British creatives working on larger projects face being overlooked for work in Europe as companies will prefer to hire creatives with European passports that aren't subject to the same restrictions. In February, experts in the creative industries — which contribute £13 million ($18 million) every hour to the U.K. economy — reported to the government that actors and musicians were already losing out on work as a result.
Does the change in the U.K.'s relationship with Europe have implications for your work? Has the British government avoided criticism for some of the consequences of its post-Brexit arrangements due to the impact of the global pandemic? Does the U.K. risk diminishing the global impact of its precious cultural exports unless it can negotiate a better position? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.