The ATA Carnet: Unlocking Customs for Temporary Entry of Goods

The ATA Carnet is an international customs document used by travelers to tem­porarily import certain goods without paying tariffs or going through customs formalities. The term “ATA” stands for the French words “Admission Temporaire.” It is created by an international convention to promote world trade and can be used in more than ninety countries. Major trading nations such as EU member countries, Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States all accept ATA car­nets. The United States acceded to the ATA carnet convention in 1986.

In the United States, carnets are issued and guaranteed by the U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB). The USCIB is liable for the payment of liqui­dated damages to customs in the event that the carnet holder fails to comply with customs regulations. The carnet is valid for one year from the date of issuance.

There are a number of benefits that can be derived by importers from using the ATA carnet. First, it enables them to avoid complicated customs procedures. The ATA carnet allows the importer to use a single document for clearing goods through customs in several different countries. It also allows for unlimited exits from and entries into the United States and participating foreign countries during the one-year period of validity. Second, the importer will not be required to pay customs duty or to post a temporary import bond.

ATA carnets cover virtually all goods except food and agricultural products (con­sumables), disposable products, and hazardous items. Merchandise intended for sale or resale must be entered as a regular customs entry. The ATA guaranteeing association (USCIB in the case of the United States) requires a security deposit (about 40 percent of the value of goods) to cover any customs claim that might arise from a misused carnet. The deposit is returned upon the cancellation of the carnet. Application for a carnet is made online at

In the case of certain countries that do not accept ATA carnets, companies can apply for a temporary import bond (TIB), a document that can be purchased from a customs broker at the time of entry. TIB deposits and payments are made in the importing country each time a product is imported.

Harley-Davidson moved its classic bikes, motorcycle parts, and artifacts to ten cities around the world, including Barcelona, Hamburg, Toronto, Sydney, and Tokyo and back to its headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2002-2003 using the ATA carnet. The tour, intended to celebrate the company’s one hundredth an­niversary, was made easier by the carnet, which eliminated the need to pay duties and taxes and reduced the delays and costs of physically crossing international borders.

Source: Seyoum Belay (2014), Export-import theory, practices, and procedures, Routledge; 3rd edition.

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