International Customs and Shipping Made Easy for Event Planners

Scared of international shipping? Don’t be.

Don’t let worries about shipping and customs stand in the way of hosting an unforgettable conference outside the U.S. Planning ahead and partnering with the right people can help avoid logistical hassles and delays. Here’s how.

Hire a Customs Broker

Meet your new best friend: your customs broker. A customs broker can handle everything from paperwork and communication with government agencies to calculating taxes and duties so you and your exhibitors don’t overpay. All of this means less work for event planners.

Most brokers will assess shipping needs; some will cover scheduling and transport. “It eases a planner’s stress when you know shipments will arrive as scheduled,” said Robin Hayes, CMP, senior director of conference planning and professional education at the American Counseling Association in Alexandria, Virginia, who recently hosted a meeting in Montréal. “Brokers make shipping and customs hassle-free processes.”

Make sure to hire a customs broker who specializes in conferences and expositions. “Partner with someone who has working knowledge of the host country’s customs and shipping processes,” said Ruth Seyler, meetings director at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in Washington, D.C. She hosted a conference in Montréal in May. “I couldn’t imagine doing the meeting without [one].”

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Seek Out Meeting-Friendly Countries

In many countries, meetings receive customs privileges if they’re registered in advance with the government. For example, the Canada Border Services Agency issues a recognition letter that prevents border delays and bestows duty- and tax-free privileges on goods shipped to and from registered meetings. And in certain cities, such as Montréal, you can receive up to 100 percent back in your taxes.

Some Canadian venues can be designated as official customs clearance points. At the Palais des congrès de Montréal, for example, exhibitors can ship goods directly to the exhibit floor, where the on-site customs broker verifies and customs clears the shipment.

Get Exhibitors on Board

Working with a customs broker can also help alleviate the concerns of prospective exhibitors who want to participate in events outside the U.S. Customs brokers show exhibitors how to comply with requirements and avoid paying unnecessary duties and taxes.

“Our goal is to maximize exhibitor participation by eliminating any misconceptions about shipping material across the border to Montréal,” said Diane Labbé Deegan, director of sales and marketing at Mendelssohn Commerce, an event logistics company based in Canada.

Mendelssohn offers tailored educational webinars for exhibitors, along with individual advice about topics such as importing materials and regulations, to remove the burden from event planners.

“It was very helpful to have our customs broker take the lead with exhibitors when it came to shipping and customs,” Hayes said. “They take care of the details so you can focus on your event’s success.”

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