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British Photographers and Filmmakers Face Costs and Confusion When It Comes to Working in Europe

British Photographers and Filmmakers Face Costs and Confusion When It Comes to Working in Europe

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:

Screengrab from gov.ukA 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.

ATA Carnet documents. Photo by ATA Secretariat.
ATA Carnet documents. Photo by ATA Secretariat, cropped. Used under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0.

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.

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Iain Lea's picture

Until the right wing idiots running the UK are voted out nothing will change... Johnson is nothing more than a mini-Trump.

A small number of skilled people have written in excruciating detail what would happen to the UK if they left the EU... the most interesting group being "retired import-export and border patrol people" who remember what it was like back in the 1970s before the UK joined the EU.

If you want to really see what was predicted _5_ years ago and what is now happening 1:1 then follow this ex-logistics guy on twitter:


Everything he has written about has now happened... every single thing... and it will get worse starting 1. April and 1. July when more stringent controls have to be implemented to match the EU controls which have worked since 1. January.

If you are a UK photographer/media person the only way to get around a lot of this idiocy is to RENT your gear from an EU company when working in mainland Europe.

ps. I still have nightmares concerning a trip from Germany to Swtizerland to Germany using a Carnet back in 2001... every single item has to be catalogued and if one single small piece is missing when you exit the country you are in for a serious grilling... which happened to us and we ended up in limbo for 11 hours until everything was clarified !

John Ohle's picture

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Oliver Clarke's picture

It's a disgraceful and terrible mess that the UK have put upon themselves - I don't know one single creative in the UK who voted in favour of leaving the EU, but now this situation is very much affecting their work in the EU, will the UK government compensate these losses? Highly unlikely! and the most ludicrous view of a lot of the UK public is that the EU are being "awkward" about the rules that non EU countries have to abide by, they expect the EU to bend the rules for this self-inflicted situation. They seem to forget that when not in the "club" you forgo the benefits of being a "club" member, it's simply pure British arrogance and stupidity. Shame on the lies and liars that lead to Brexit!

Warwick Cairns's picture

It seems to be a case of win some, lose some.

By doing its own thing with vaccine procurement the U.K. is light-years ahead of the entire EU in terms of immunising its population, which means the U.K. economy will open up much sooner and bounce bank more strongly.

Against this, not enough thought was given to the details of cross-border movements of people and goods, with the result that shipments are held up for trivial reasons, like using the wrong colour ink on customs forms.

The solution will come when the U.K. and EU authorities work to reach common solutions for mutual benefit

Costel Nicolaie's picture

What exactly did they win? It's only going to get worse as time goes by. The union was formed for some very good reasons.

Iain Lea's picture

125K dead in a country of 66M souls... average estimates state that ~50K would not have had to die if the UK had got their act together sooner and there had been less corruption with respect to PPE (masks) procurement. A vaccine will not help the dead that died due to Johnson and his cronies.

There are a number of open questions concerning the AstraZenica procurement ie. they signed the contract later than the EU and even so received priority shipments...

To your point concerning the UK bouncing back quicker than the EU... they will need to as the double whammy of covid and brexit has seen the UK hit the hardest compared to other large EU countries.

Summary: stupidity, corruption and rightwing idiots ie. the UK Govt. have caused the current situation.

ps. the UK has lost... there is NO upside. None. Unless you look closely at tax evasion (rich people) and the murky area concerning "free ports" (bonded warehouses / UK law does not apply...) etc. but that does not help 99.9% of UK population.

pps. I live in Germany and this year we have been finding summer produce in all the supermarkets here ie. strawberries / spinach / blueberries which do not usually appear for purchase until ~april/may. The Spanish growers are selling there UK destined produce to other EU countries so they do not go tits up.

Andy Day's picture

Regarding Brexit and the speed of the UK's vaccine rollout: to suggest that Brexit sped it up is misleading. https://www.bbc.com/news/55163730

Warwick Cairns's picture

Yes, the technical truth is that even as part of the EU, the U.K. could have invoked emergency legislation to stay out of the disastrous EU vaccine procurement plan.

However, no remaining EU state did that and went it alone, with the result that they are now way behind. A number of European states had started off planning their own response, but the EU stepped in and took over. Britain’s ‘speedboat’ response has been massively vindicated versus the inefficiency of the European supertanker,

Ad Negs's picture

Stupidity at its finest. I am an EU citizen, settled in the UK. I am a hobbyist photographer that shoots a lot on holiday, in an akward place between pro and amateur. There is no way I will pay 300£ for an ATA carnet. I will need to travel back to EU for a fmily situation in a few weeks time, we'll see how that pans out...

UK is not the same country I arrived over a decade ago, so much has changed over the recent years. Although my wife is British, she would agree in a heartbeat to move to Europe, and we would if it wasn't so difficult to do it profesionally. Either way, I am running out of reasons to remain in the UK, and maybe one day we could decide to pack our stuff and go, very sad indeed.

Iain Lea's picture

I hear you! you do have the massive advantage of having an EU passport so you and your wife could settle in any EU country you wish.

Unless you have a very very specialized job you should be able to find a job in the EU.

Go for it and enjoy being surrounded by people who are outward looking ;-)

Andy Day's picture

Hi Ad Negs. As long as you're carrying your gear yourself, you won't need a carnet, according to the LCCI.
And yes, I know a few people in a similar situation - a desire to live in Europe but a career that keeps one or both partners in the UK. Frustrating. :/

Matt White's picture

I would really push back on the suggestion that we won't need a carnet for professional gear carried in your luggage.

It's possible to find horror stories of people getting hit for charges while carrying cameras in hand luggage (eg: http://www.reduser.net/forum/archive/index.php/t-125810.html), and the UK government website has specific instructions to use the red channel carrying carnet goods in your luggage (https://www.gov.uk/taking-goods-out-uk-temporarily/get-an-ata-carnet).

Iain Lea's picture

I agree 100%. It is easy money for UK customs. All these idiots who voted for brexit are getting quieter by the day... soon you will be able to hear a pin drop...

Warwick Cairns's picture

Meanwhile, in the real world, from journalist Allister Heath today:

“ our departure from the EU, which was supposed to lead to immediate pain for the UK, has been rewarded by a triumph far greater and more immediate than any Eurosceptic had ever dreamt of: we went it alone on vaccines, and it has been a triumph. In one fell swoop, the benefits in terms of lives saved, extra well-being and economic output will outweigh any sensible estimate of reduced GDP as a result of new EU trade barriers.”

In terms of people who take a different view on Brexit, I do think they’re mistaken, but I’m a big fan of diversity of opinion and not a big fan of name-calling in place of debate, so I wouldn’t suggest any idiocy on their part.

Iain Lea's picture

Do all the research yourself otherwise you just amplify what they are "paid" to say/write.

The UK vaccine rollout is a success after a year of a long list of failures (test & trace for 37B (billion) pounds and still no running system). The highest rate of deaths per million in Europe. Do your research before simply doing a cut&paste stitch up job.

Departing the EU will cause enormous pain for the average person... currently all imports are not being checked per withdrawl agreement... so its a smugglers paradise (drugs/people etc etc.)... btw the term is not from me... its what the customs and logistics people call it. Agreed was a tightning starting on 1. April and 1. July which has now being pushed back to 1. October and 2022... otherwise there will be food shortages and rationing (who would have thought).