We have not had a thread on this for a while. Some say to get a Carnet others say just a document showing serial numbers is enough for customs. And it seems getting back to the US is a bigger issue than getting into other countries with video gear.
Anyone care to share recent non-journalism experiences? Do news crews have it any easier than the rest of us?
It depends on what countries you're going to. Not all are signatories to the carnet agreement. If memory serves, most Latin American countries don't use carnets. On a shoot in Argentina years ago we had a letter from their tourism board, on letterhead, inviting us to shoot there. We talked our way through customs with that, although technically we should have been using a local company for short term import-export of the gear.
I've been doing European shoots for a company about once a year since 1999. The Producer there has tremendous experience in international travel. Last year was the first year they didn't purchase a carnet. The producer reasoned they were expensive, a hassle, and MOST of the time the customs folks didn't seem too thrilled to have to deal with them. He thinks that most of Europe is OK without a carnet.
And that's the point - customs has a great deal of latitude in how they deal with you. Are they having a good day? Bad day? Maybe they're busy and don't want to deal with the carnet paperwork? Maybe they've just been given directions to crack down on TV crews? If I was producing, I'd have a carnet any time I was traveling to shoot in a signatory country. I just have a low tolerance for uncertainty.
As for getting back in to the US (if you don't have a carnet), back in the day when I used to commonly have shoots in Canada I used a Certificate of Registration. This was a (free!) US customs form I filled out with all the gear info, then I had it stamped by US customs on my way out of the country. If there was any questions about the gear when returning I had paperwork showing that I hadn't bought it overseas. On a quick google search I found this - http://forms.cbp.gov/pdf/CBP_Form_4455.pdf - which looks different than the old form but seems to do the same thing. I would suggest having a friendly chat with US customs to make sure this is the right form to use.