shipping to international trade shows

Exhibitions and trade shows are a vital means for companies across many different industries to showcase their goods or services and get in front of potential new clientele.

For many global organizations, this means attending trade shows overseas and ultimately entails shipping not only the goods you plan to showcase but also the materials to properly merchandise a booth as well.

Every year thousands of suppliers organize the shipping of dismantled booths and products utilizing the expertise of international freight forwarders through LCL consolidation. Here are some of the challenges you’re sure to encounter and how to sidestep with the help of your freight forwarder.

Understand The Self-Created Rules

Some exhibition organizers push for their elected forwarder and their overseas representative (freight agent) with no regard to cost, performance, and open competition. They find the biggest company, thinking they have the biggest network, and that feels good enough. I don’t think people realize how important it is to have a competent and specialized group handling these things until something goes wrong.

But something is often wrong without you even realizing it! With disguised costs and profiteering at the expense of the shippers, these huge conglomerates are often missing the mark.

Since 1984, the year our freight forwarding company was incorporated, I saw how the conglomerates boosted their freight revenues. It was not with expertise passed down to the shippers but simply buying the portfolio of customers and eliminating 1000s of positions within the work force.

Forwarders and shippers alike have serious interests at stake to safeguard our businesses for a fair and diverse tomorrow. So, working together to keep now fair business practices in the international arena is priority number one. In my reality, there is no such rule and no one dictates our choices. Working with a forwarder that you are comfortable with will make your shipping experience smooth and controlled.


What we know of Trade Shows & Exhibitions

The dates to ship and deliver to the exhibitions are even more important than on regular shipments. You do not want to rush it or be forced to wait until the last moment as organizers set parameters and deadlines.

The customhouse broker designated to clear the cargo and deliver to the trade shows must be familiar with the requirements of that exhibition. For a successful and stress-free shipping experience, exhibitors should share as much information as possible with their forwarder.


Tax & Duty

No tax or duty are payable when shipping to an exhibition. The clearing agent files a temporary entry with the overseas customs since the goods will be returned to the origin country.

There are, however, exceptions to take into account such as products that are sold and stay behind after the trade show ends. In this case, the broker will file a permanent customs entry (replacing the temporary) and tax with duties may apply. For a shipper to neglect declaring the products that they sold (partially or fully) can result in issues with customs.


ATA Carnet: Passport for your Products

Shippers with the assistance of their forwarders can apply for an ATA Carnet to avoid overseas customs and time complications. The ATA Carnet is available in most countries but not all and shows in detail the items descriptions, values, and the exhibition destination.

Aside from the application fee to obtain your ATA Carnet, the insurance company behind the Carnet will request that the shippers post a surety bond with them. The formula for the premium is approximately $17 per $1000 of the value declared based on 60% of the value. This pricing is subject to change, it is recommended that you check with your forwarder to determine the current pricing.

What countries that accept ATA Carnets? Find out here.



As with any other shipment, proper packing is essential. We recommend using reusable crates with 8” ground clearance that have been heat treated with panels that can be removed then stacked up and stowed for the duration of the shows.

Exhibitors must make an appointment to have their crates delivered to the trade show. Most organizers will have a team to receive and dispatch the crates to the booth where exhibitors will handle the setup.


The Return at the End of a Trade Show

Exhibitors pack using the same system they used to deliver. Early on in the repacking job they must contact the clearing agent and freight forwarder designated by the shipper. The organizers will bring the packed shipment to their dock for the designated trucker to pick up. Thereafter, the overseas agent handles the customs documentation using the ATA Carnet.

Depending on sizes, weights, timing and freight costs, you will have access few services for the return: Air or ocean consolidations or a straight load (FCL). All export charges to ship from the US to overseas should be known in advance by your chosen international freight forwarder.

We at ETC International Freight System provide you with a contract outlining all phases of the export, clearance and re-entering the US. 


LCL Consolidations

In the high likelihood that you don’t need a full container, you can save money, and open many doors by opting for a consolidated load. To learn more, join us for our 3rd installment of “Ask a Freight Forwarder,” where we’ll discuss everything you need to know about LCL Consolidations:

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