Carnets – What is an ATA Carnet and Why You Need One

Do you have commercial samples of products you want to ship to a potential customer or trade fair? Are you a professional that has equipment you will be traveling with through one or more countries? Then you will definitely want to know more about ATA Carnets and what they can do for you!

TL;DR: If you’re going to be traveling from country to country and have gear that is going to be travelling with you, the ATA Carnet is going to save you a lot of hassle, time, and money with US and Foreign Customs.

What is an ATA Carnet?

An ATA Carnet is an international Customs document that allows travellers, merchants, and professionals to import and export goods without paying duties or taxes. Goods moved on a Carnet have to follow certain rules depending on the country. The goods moved on a Carnet will also have to be reexported and returned within an allotted time frame.

The rules that govern how Carnets are treated in the United States are outlined in §114 of Title 19 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

What are Carnets Used For?

Carnets act simultaneously as the manifest (commercial invoice), entry document, and Customs Bond for goods that are being shipped. This makes Carnets ideal for three categories of goods:

  • Commercial Samples
  • Professional Equipment / Tools of the Trade
  • Goods for use at Exhibitions, Fairs, and Trade Shows

Carnets are ideal for shipping musical equipment, traveling artwork, jewelry, film and photography equipment, medical equipment, and so much more! Almost anything can be shipped on a Carnet, making the import and export process easy for goods that have to travel to multiple countries.

How long is an ATA Carnet valid for?

In the United States, Carnets are only valid for a maximum period of up to 1 year from the date of issue. Carnets issued by other countries can not be renewed or extended in the United States passed their 1 year validity period from date of issue.

Some countries do limit the validity period of a Carnet to less than a year. Consulting a local Freight Forwarder or Customs Broker would help familiarize oneself with local customs rules.

Carnets can be used multiple times in all Carnet accepting countries throughout the validity period. The Carnet must be brought back with you to the United States upon return with the merchandise that was originally exported.

Can some Carnets be extended?

In the United States, no. However, in some foreign countries, a replacement Carnet can be requested to extend the time frame allowed in that country. Consulting a local Customs Broker will provide you with more information regarding local customs rules.

What happens if you lose a Carnet?

If you lose a Carnet in the United States you can request acceptance of a replacement Carnet from the Port Director at the port where you made entry. The replacement Carnet needs to have the same manifested items and validity period as the document it is replacing.

This is a process that the Carnet issuing agency and a local Customs Broker can assist you with.

Which Countries Accept Carnets?

There are currently 70 + countries that accept Carnets! Moving samples and professional equipment from country to country has never been easier.

Where can you get a Carnet?

In the United States, there are several places where you can get a Carnet. Some Freight Forwarders even have the ability to issue their own. Roanoke is one of many issuers of Carnets and surety services for shippers.

What does a Carnet look like? 

The front page is known as the Cover. It is the color green and has information regarding the Holder of the Carnet (the owner), the people legally allowed to “Represent” the Carnet to Customs, the intended use of the Carnet, and importantly the “Valid Until” date (this is the date your goods must depart the foreign country from). Be sure to both SIGN your Carnet where it says “Signature of Holder” and have CBP Certify the Carnet at the time of your departure.

The back of the Cover page has the “General List.” This is the manifest for the Carnet, as in the list of goods that will be traveling under the Carnet. The General List must have complete descriptions of the items along with their number of pieces, weight, value, and country of origin. 


Then comes Yellow, White, and Blue sheets known as “Counterfoils.” Counterfoils are broken up into sets. On the Yellow Counterfoils these sets are labeled “Exportation” and “Reimportation.” On White Counterfoils, these sets are labeled “Importation” and “Reexportation.” On Blue Counterfoils, both sets are labeled “Transit.”


Counterfoils are used by Customs Officials to validate goods for entry. Yellow Counterfoils are used by US CBP when goods are exported and reimported into the country. White Counterfoils are used by Foreign Customs Officials when entering and exiting the foreign country. Blue Counterfoils are used for special circumstances when goods will be transiting either through or within a country.

When filling out the counterfoils, you have to make sure that the correct line items from the General List are entered on Line 1 of the counterfoils. This let’s both US CBP and Foreign Customs know which goods entered and which goods exited the country from the General List. 

When you fill out the White Counterfoils, make sure to look towards the end of your Carnet to find the corresponding “Vouchers.” You will also have to fill out the White Vouchers. It is important to make sure that the Foreign Customs Officials both certify and keep these vouchers. They are how Foreign Customs keeps track of the goods that enter and exit the country.

Pro-Tip: What do I do if I can’t get a Carnet on Time?

Getting a Carnet printed takes time. If you’re going to be traveling with Commercial Goods and then returning with them to the United States and can’t get a Carnet on time, you can fill out CBP Form 4455 Certificate of Registration. This document will help you avoid paying duties on those goods when returning to the US.

Before you depart from the United States, fill out for CBP Form 4455 and bring the goods you are exporting out of the country with you to a Customs Officer at your local airport or ocean port. Have them certify the form. When returning to the US, present this document to a Customs Officer.

Note: CBP Form 4455 is only accepted into the United States and will not work in foreign countries.

Also Note: Any alterations, repairs, or processing of the goods being exported may be subject to duty upon return to the United States. 

A Passport for you and a Passport for your Merchandise

When you’re traveling, you never forget your passport at home. If you’re going to be traveling with film and photography equipment, or you’re a band touring through the world, or a startup founder bouncing from trade show to trade show with your prototype, you never forget your Carnet.

Carnets make traveling and trade easy!

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