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The ATA carnet is, in effect, a passport for goods. It enables you to temporarily export equipment from the United Kingdom for use in non-European Union countries, and re-export it back to the United Kingdom, without the payment of import and export duties.


A carnet consists of a cover and a master equipment list, and a number of pairs of sheets (each with an attached equipment list) as follows:

Yellows are for leaving and entering the European Union.
Whites are for entering and leaving non-European countries which are part of the ATA system, with the intention of using the temporarily-imported equipment in those countries.
Blues are for transiting non-European countries which are part of the ATA system without using the equipment in those countries.
Blues are also required by certain countries in addition to whites; for example, Switzerland requires one pair of whites and three pairs of blues for equipment entering for exhibitions or trade fairs.

If your equipment list fits onto one page of the standard carnet form, it will be printed on the back of each sheet of your carnet. If, however, the list is longer, you will need to present a copy of the list with each sheet you present to customs.

Time permitting, we can provide you with sets of equipment lists (which must be copied after the master list has been stamped by the Chamber of Commerce at time of issue.) If, however, you have taken direct delivery of your carnet, you will normally have a single copy of the list. Please make as many copies of this list as there are sheets in the carnet, before beginning your journey or shipping the equipment. This is very important, as there may be no way to make copies at a border post. The master list must remain attached to the inside front cover of the carnet at all times. Without this master list the carnet is useless.


The way the system works is this: On leaving the United Kingdom, you get the carnet "opened" by HM Customs. If you're flying directly to a country outside the EU, HM Customs will take your first exportation sheet (see below); if you're travelling first through other EU countries, they may take the first exportation sheet, but in practice they often just stamp the front cover, leaving the first exportation sheet to be taken by local customs at your point of exit from the EU. On leaving the EU, customs at your point of exit (say, Sweden, if you're crossing into Norway) will take the first yellow exportation sheet, numbered "1", unless it was taken by HM Customs. At the same border, Norwegian customs will take the first white importation sheet, numbered "1", stamping the first white exportation sheet but leaving it in the carnet. On your eventual exit from Norway, Norwegian customs will take the first white exportation sheet, numbered "1", and (assuming you're going back into Sweden) Swedish customs will take the first yellow re-importation sheet, numbered "1". Each country now has a matching pair of sheets, so they can check that what was declared on entry matches what was declared on exit. Sheets are numbered in pairs; you should always have an even number of sheets in your carnet (except when you're on an international flight or ferry,) as each border takes 2 sheets. When you're in the EU you'll have only intact pairs; when you're outside the EU you'll have an "open" yellow (the exportation sheet has been taken but its corresponding stamped reimportation sheet is still in the carnet) and an "open" white (the importation sheet has been taken but its corresponding stamped exportation sheet is still in the carnet.)

If you're travelling between countries outside the EU, at each border you'll be relieved of a white exportation sheet by the customs of the country you're leaving, and a white importation sheet by the customs of the country you're entering. The exit sheet is stamped by the customs at your point of entry so that customs at your point of exit know where to send their exportation sheet for matching.

Before presenting the carnet to customs, you must enter certain information on the appropriate exportation and importation sheets:

D. (Means of Transport)  : Your flight number or vehicle registration number
E. (Packaging Details)  : "Cases 1-22", or "Flightcases", or something similar
F. (Temp. Export Declaration)  : a) List the item numbers for the equipment you're taking
   b) (Imports only) List the cities in which you'll be using the equipment
  Place (normally the name of the customs post, port or airport)
  Date (in year/month/day format)
  Printed name

You don't have to export everything on the list. For example, if you've decided not to take a particular guitar, which is on the list of 50 items as item 22-3 - including its case - you'd fill in section F. a) as follows: 1-21,24-50. It is, however, essential that the equipment you declare out of the EU exactly matches the equipment you declare back into the EU, and that the same item numbers are declared consistently throughout the carnet. The sensible thing is to fill in both sheets of a pair (apart from the date, place and signature) at the same time, so that there's no risk of a mis-declaration when you come to leave that country.

You fill in just the main body of the sheet, not the counterfoil. The counterfoil will be filled in by the customs officer who takes the sheet. It's essential that you check that they have correctly copied your declared item numbers from the Box F of the sheet to Box 1 of the counterfoil; customs officers frequently assume that you're taking everything, and don't bother to check what you've written. This is the single biggest cause of carnet problems; don't leave the border until they've correctly filled in the counterfoil.

At many borders, particularly at night, you may find that only one border post is open; in this instance it's normal for the customs officer of one country to take both exportation and importation sheets. When this happens they will pass the other sheet on to their counterpart across the border.

If you find that the border post at your crossing point is closed, and you are unable to wait for it to open, it may be necessary for you to get a customs inspection at the venue or exhibition at which you are working. The only alternative to this is to explain the situation to customs at your point of exit, in which case they may take both import and export sheets, but you'll still be left with the export sheet from the previous country. If you're passing back through that country, you can regularise the situation with the customs of that country; if not, regularisation may be required after the carnet is closed. This can take some time, and may involve additional costs.

When re-entering the UK, it isn't normally necessary to get the carnet formally "closed" if the carnet has already been stamped back into the EU. However, if there has been any difficulty with closed borders or mis-numberings, it's essential that the goods are stamped back into the UK by HM Customs. This may prevent you having to get a Certificate of location in the event of a claim by foreign customs resulting from mis-declaration or closed borders.


So, that's the theory; in practice, this is what you do (assuming you're leaving the EU via another country)

  1. Fill in the details (outlined above) on the first yellow export and white import sheets.
  2. At Dover (or other port of exit) get the carnet stamped by UK customs; at Dover it's the Export Freight office who will handle this for you. They may or may not take the first yellow export sheet.
  3. At your first EU-to-non-EU border, at the customs post for the country you're leaving (e.g. Sweden) there should be a window marked "ATA" or "Carnet". Present the carnet, and check that the customs officer correctly copies the item numbers onto the counterfoil before taking their export sheet. (If Dover customs took the sheet, they will simply stamp the counterfoil.)
  4. At the customs post for the country you're entering (e.g. Norway), present the carnet, and check that the customs correctly copies the item numbers onto the counterfoil and stamps the corresponding export sheet before taking their import sheet.
  5. Before leaving the border, check that the item numbers on the counterfoil of the import sheet (which has been taken) are correct, and that you have the corresponding stamped export sheet in the carnet.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 at each border; if you're entering a non-EU country, your import sheet should be white; if you're re-entering the EU, it should be yellow.
  7. On final re-entry to the UK, assuming you don't intend to use the carnet again, get the carnet closed at your point of entry or else return it to the office of issue for closure. Your responsibility for the carnet ends only when it has been discharged by the issuing Chamber of Commerce; the office of issue will advise you on receipt of the carnet of any mis-declaration problems which may arise.

That's it! Unfortunately, during your journey, you may possibly encounter customs officers who don't know (or deliberately ignore) the procedure, and problems can arise. The important thing is to make sure that your item numbering remains consistent, and whatever else happens, get the carnet stamped back into the EU on a yellow importation sheet. The counterfoil of this sheet must bear the same item numbers as the counterfoil of the first yellow exportation sheet.

We will be happy to provide you on request with a personalised carnet checklist, customised to your precise itinerary, detailing exactly what carnet operations should occur at each border.

If you have any questions about the operation of ATA carnets, please call us on 0115 966 1212.

By requesting issue of an ATA Carnet from RPTM, you agree to be bound by our Terms and Conditions for Carnets.