INFO FOR DIY MUSICIANS
CROSSING & RETURNING
UK TO EUROPE
HOW 2 GTFO
- INFO FOR DIY MUSICIAN’S, POST-BREXIT. CROSSING & RETURNING UK TO EUROPE.
In August 2022 we managed to take our van, our equipment and five humans from Glasgow to France for a ten day DIY tour.
Getting from the UK to France by Eurotunnel used to be really easy. It’s not any more.
Part of the new difficulty is related to a new host of documentation and advance planning you need to deal with and the other part is down to the clusterfuck when navigating the border itself and customs processes under the new regulations.
This is NOT an official guide. This is an emergency resource posted online detailing our experience to hopefully help self-managed bands (and others) overcome the total lack of clarity, common sense and road signs that we’re all faced with, post-Brexit.
NOTE: Our van is under 2m. If yours is over, please be aware that there is a small chance some lanes or routes may have a height limit. I don’t think so, but can’t remember in that much detail. Sorry.
So this all needs to start with extensive advance-planning.
Buy your ticket for Eurotunnel but remember that the process is slower now. Allow extra time on your journey for queues and plan for arriving at least two hours (ideally three) before check-in time (NOT departure time).
These are official forms we obtained and hoops we had to jump through before leaving to avoid delays, hassle and especially fines.
- ATA Carnet
- UK Gov Website account
- EORI number
- GMR number
- Bank account with money
- Hi-vis bib or equivalent (you should always have a motoring abroad kit any time you go to France regardless because it is compulsory. These contain hi-vis bibs)
Here is a UK Government page on temporarily exporting goods (which in this case means taking your instruments out on tour then bringing them back) :
Here’s a generic Eurotunnel page about pre-travel documents, but like most of these info pages, it isn’t all entirely helpful for the purposes of bands/film crews/etc
What is it?
This is a compulsory customs document you now need to apply for in advance.
The theory behind it is that, even though you almost definitely do not plan to sell your equipment while you are abroad, you could. So the carnet confirms the list of items that you are taking. That list has to match the contents of the van (or vehicle) on both the way out AND on the way back. Anything you forget to include or that you misplace when away could cost you both time and money.
First off, ATA Carnets cost money. A fair bit. You may be drawn to another option known as a “Duplicate List” which seems to serve a similar purpose, free of charge. However apparently this document is not fully recognised by French customs so you could very well run into problems on that side of the water if you chance it. And that could get expensive.
The carnet will cost the full £300 plus VAT for non-members of London Chamber of Commerce (£180 for members, but you can only join LCOC if you are a registered business).
On top of that price tag, you will also be prompted to pay a security deposit.
This will be presented as a choice of a reduced, non-refundable fee (in our case £138 on £12k of equipment) or a much larger but refundable sum (£4500 on the same equipment value for us).
However, having spoken to LCOC directly on the phone, they did caution that it can take 12-18 months to get that refundable deposit returned AND it can be vulnerable if there are perceived inconsistencies in your carnet vs your equipment upon return. We decided the flat fee was easier to just swallow. The choice is yours.
Applying For The Carnet
You might not get approval on first submission attempt (we didn’t) so try to start early. Once accepted, they usually take a few days to arrive (max) – there is an expedited service but it costs much more.
Also bear in mind that the completed carnet is sent to you via recorded delivery. So if you are out when the postman shows up, it goes back to the postal depot and you need to wait at least 24hrs to go pick it up (or more over a weekend). We almost got caught out by this.
To apply for the carnet you need to first register with London Chamber of Commerce here : https://www.ecarnet.co.uk/Lccicarnet/Register
This account needs to be approved so try to do it at least 24hrs before filling out carnet.
You can either click “create signature” or upload a JPEG version of your signature.
Since I was gonna be the name on the carnet we put my home address as the “business” address and we put the band name as the “business”.
Once your eCarnet account is verified you can sign in to the page and begin the carnet application process using your log-in details. We selected “complete from scratch using wizard” option, which more or less walks you through the process.
Here’s the portal : https://www.ecarnet.co.uk/CarnetApplications/Start
NOTE : “Transit” refers to onward journeys in the European Union. We only went to France but a trip to Spain would have required four further stages of the carnet (going out of one and into another country, twice).
Filling Out The Carnet
With the carnet, basically, you need to register almost every single thing you plan to take. That sounds laborious and annoying because it is. So your entire group needs to decide EXACTLY what gear you plan to take on the tour. You’ll then need to make a massive spreadsheet of everything and stick by it.
To get started, complete the name/dob/etc boxes on the first few pages. For the next section you’ll need the make, model, weights, serial number and estimated value in as much detail as possible. Yes, again, this means basically everything. Items without serials or whose serials are long gone can be post-fixed “NSN” (i.e. no serial number – see the image below). Cables and not much else can be grouped as “cables” but you’ll need an approximate/estimated overall weight.
Rather than uploading each item, one by one, an easier way is to use the spreadsheet the LCOC provide and then upload that file during the application process. A few pages into completing the online carnet, the page will give you the option to download the spreadsheet template. Their spreadsheet includes a page with the abbreviated codes for Country of Origin and also for Goods Type as seen in the screenshot below.
The form also has a link to instructions on completing it. Definitely worth reading. You need to be careful what you group together and how you word it. Our first application was rejected for not grouping pedals inside cases and for not being clear enough with item descriptions. (as in “Akai MPC2000 Audio Sampler” as opposed to just writing “MPC2000”)
When things are grouped (such as pedals in a case) you need to include that detail on the item’s entry (i.e. Boss TU-2 Tuning Pedal, contained inside item #24)
As I understand it, things like personal laptops etc can be included in personal luggage. You’ll have to look elsewhere for official definitions and restrictions on that front. We kept ours in our personal bags. If you use laptops or similar in your set-up and they will be in with the instruments, put them on the carnet list.
Here’s an official page to that effect : https://www.gov.uk/guidance/taking-commercial-goods-out-of-great-britain-in-your-baggage
One last time, just to reiterate, if you decide to throw something in the van the day you leave that is not on the carnet you might be charged for it or penalised if the van gets audited at any of the customs stops. That’s the risk you take. Hence why planning your cargo is so important.
Once completed, paid for and approved by LCOC, the carnet will be posted to you, recorded delivery.
Here’s the official guide to completing the carnet:
Here’s a list of countries that respect the ATA carnets. For long tours, check it carefully. But DIY/independent acts should be fine in most cases.
If you are the kind of psycho who wants to read more about carnets in general, here you go : https://www.londonchamber.co.uk/international-trade/trade-documentation/ata-carnet/
And here’s the French equivalent :
UK GOV GATEWAY ID / EORI NUMBER / GMR NUMBER
So all three of these are related. And tbh I am not 100% sure how essential they are. We were asked for a GMR (Goods Movement Reference) at Sevington but we didn’t have one yet and they didn’t seem too bothered. It was never mentioned again until we were leaving France and that was because we went through freight instead of standard check-in so, again, I’m not sure how necessary it actually was.
That said, it didn’t cost anything to get it so, until this shit-show is better organised by the authorities, it seems pointless to take the risk of a possible fine or delay.
Here’s the very boring page on GMRs if you have a lot of time on your hands :
The application process also involves setting up a Government Gateway ID and you’ll need this later.
For the purposes of the EORI we were (I was) a sole trader. Your call how you proceed but it is best if whoever registers is also travelling
The EORI can take a couple of days to be approved so DO NOT leave this to the last minute.
Once you have your Government Gateway ID and EORI number, go to this site and complete the steps to obtain the GMR number.
As I say, you may need it, you may not. But the way things are, it seems better to play it safe. If I get any reliable info to the contrary I’ll update this part of the page.
LEAVING THE UK (EXPORTING)
You need to get your carnet stamped for the outgoing journey. Unlike France, the UK authorities do NOT do this on the Eurotunnel site. You need to go to special inland centres. Sevington is probably easiest (take Junction 10a, off the M20 motorway, not far from Folkestone and Eurotunnel).
Before you go to Sevington (or equivalent inland facility) go to the Government Inland Facility website (link below) and book your vehicle in. You can sign in with that same Government Gateway ID from the EORI process earlier.
With the booking, you’ll get through faster, even if you only make the appointment on the road on your way to the facility. When you check-in, you should then be handed a “pre-booked” card along with a parking bay number to display in your windscreen.
You’ll be directed to a parking bay at the rear of the facility. The card you are given at check-in will determine which bay you go into and park.
Whoever has the carnet made out in their name should get out the van and go to the office with the carnet, their pre-booked sign and some ID. The rest of you should get comfy.
NOTE: they will not let you walk around the site unaccompanied unless you have a hi-vis vest on. If you don’t have one, you’ll be escorted from your vehicle to whichever of the huts is relevant – one deals with incoming and the other deals with outgoing vehicles/goods.
Ask someone with a badge if you are unsure. Don’t waste time in the wrong line or hut.
In the office you’ll be asked to complete a very short info sheet. You will need your vehicle registration number and your phone number/email.
They will ask a few questions, get you to sign a few boxes, then take your carnet from you and tell you to go back to your vehicle. Do NOT pre-sign the carnet when you are not in their presence. They will ask you to sign it in front of them.
Once you are back at your vehicle, the theory is that they will then call, text or email you to tell you when your documents are ready to collect. When that text or call arrives you go back to the place you left the carnet and you’ll be directed to a different window to collect it. Sometimes the text or call goes missing so you may be approached by one of the stewards to let you know it is ready.
NOTE: this process can take anything from 20 mins up to a couple of hours, depending on how busy the place is and how well prepared your document is.
After leaving Sevington, head to Eurotunnel at Folkestone. It’s not too far.
NOTE: If you get held up and arrive late, missing your train, Eurotunnel are good at putting you on a later train so don’t panic. Just proceed to check-in. However if you are rescheduled, they don’t guarantee which train will have room for you. Usually it is the next one but it could be a couple of hours later if you are unlucky.
Since we thought we were now hauling freight, we initially tried to check in at Eurotunnel alongside the freight lorries but frankly the facilities are completely unsuited. If you do this (as we did at first) you’ll encounter ticket machines designed for truck cabs, perched about 10 feet off the ground which won’t accept your standard booking code for your crossing, even if you reach them, since freight codes are totally different. You’ll just piss off the lorry drivers.
If you get stuck here, press the button and ask to be let out. They will send you right back round the outside of the site again (which is nine miles by the way).
So check-in via the standard booths, NOT freight. Watch out for van maximum height. Be ready to present your carnet if challenged, as well as the obligatory passport for everyone in the vehicle.
Instead you should go through the usual check-in and boarding process for cars, vans and caravans, just mind the vehicle height limits on lanes.
You’ll need your passports and Eurotunnel ticket info handy as usual but that’s it.
We were not pulled over to check our van contents, but if you are unlucky and get pulled aside, this is where your carnet comes into action. Show it to them and they may check the van, they may not.
Either way, if you have followed the rules you should then be fine to board the train.
ENTERING FRANCE (IMPORTING)
On arrival in France you need to follow what they call the “orange itinerary (SUIVRE/FOLLOW)” to the Centre Douane SIVEP where your ATA carnet needs to be stamped for a second time. The Eurotunnel guide to the Calais site is a bit shit. The place is a maze and some gates are closed at night. See this aerial map for the best route to SIVEP after you disembark the train.
Park up in the designated bays (note your bay number) and the named carnet-holder should take the carnet and their passport into the building again (see pic below).
At the desk show the carnet, explain your cargo and purpose and you’ll be advised to wait in the waiting area or back in your vehicle while they check your documents. We crossed late and so the French verification took less tan 10 minutes. It also didn’t hurt that they realised we were Scottish. Turns out they don’t like Brexit much either.
Anyway, after you are stamped and authorised, that’s you. Hit the motorway, remember to drive on the right and enjoy your tour. All this bullshit is waiting for you again on the way home.
Ok at this point, there’s a gap in this guide. We were only playing in France on this trip. Going to additional countries requires additional pages and confirmations on your carnet. Two in and two out each time, even if you are only cutting across a country on the way to another.
I will update to include this if/when we get reliable info. The official websites linked elsewhere on this page do try to explain it, so refer to them wherever possible.
LEAVING FRANCE (RE-EXPORTING)
The process for bands using the carnet leaving France is VERY badly explained.
When the time comes, Eurotunnel’s own guide tells you to “Declare your ATA carnet at the French Pit stop”. That seems a bit misleading, or at least it is only relevant to hauliers.
We went through the necessary freight lanes to reach the Pit Stop as instructed. That also necessitated providing the GMR number that was explained earlier. But that all seemed pretty irrelevant to be honest. This deviation was confusing and time-consuming and seemed like a waste of time.
Instead of Pit Stop or Freight, you need to go into the terminal building (called the Charles Dickens Terminal). That’s where the shops and restaurants are. At the opposite end of the building from Burger King (past WH Smith), you’ll find a customs desk. It is basically just a blue booth with a glass screen and someone sitting behind it who will stamp and authorize your carnet.
Make sure you get that done. If you forget, you’ll either get turned back by customs as you are about to board the train and risk missing it, or get back to the UK with an incomplete carnet and risk the eventual wrath of HMRC. They’re slow but they do tend to track you down.
Once you have the carnet stamped, head to the regular check-in (passports and tickets required) and then present the carnet at the French Customs booth for verification if they approach. Again, this is the point where they might pull you over to check the vehicle. We were waved through but we saw others being checked. If your carnet is accurate and you are cooperative, hopefully you won’t have too much bother.
After this point, you show your passports again to UK border security and then board the train.
NOTE: on our crossing, the British border agent agent began asking us about our cargo and our purpose. She then began asking us for our “cause”. We were very confused.
It turns out a “cause” is basically a letter of sponsorship from UK promoters, theatres or whatever, confirming the fact that they have booked you for shows and your trip is legit.
It turns out that we were not actually liable for this, as returning UK citizens, but it was interesting to experience anyway. If you are a European band reading this, you should make sure and get some letters of sponsorship – or “cause” – from UK venues or promoters.
Also the British border agent was kind of a dick, so be prepared for a grilling.
ENTERING THE UK (RE-IMPORTING)
On arrival in the UK the temptation to just drive home will be strong but you need to get your carnet stamped one last time. Otherwise you risk being chased down by HMRC at a later date and landed with a whole load of hassle and potential financial grief.
So, in theory, your ATA carnet can be stamped at a place called STOP24 (M20 junction 11) which is far more hospitable than Sevington, with coffee, food and shops. However the customs booth there was temporarily closed when we went so we ended up going to Sevington Inland Border Facility anyway.
That was probably just bad luck, but you have been warned.
The Sevington procedure on the way back is very similar to your first visit there except you’ll be going to a different hut this time. Remember to book your visit in advance to be expedited. Use the same weblink as before.
Ugh. So this bit is a mess.
Merch by it’s very nature is not intended to be brought back. It is an important part of a touring economy. However the carnet DOES NOT cover goods not intended to return to point of origin.
Given the small scale of many DIY tours, it is true that some people have been posting their merch ahead of departure to one or more venues to collect, but that can be costly, unreliable and also incur duty charges.
Allegedly others have been dividing stuff between equipment and/or personal luggage. That would also obviously entail risks and potentially mean contravening certain legislation.
If you have a lot of merchandise you will need to explore this issue through official channels. For obvious reasons we are not going to advocate any rule-breaking or risk getting you in trouble.
So yeah, sorry, you’re on your own here …at least until someone gets in touch with a reliable update.
So that was it. Isn’t Brexit fucking great?? Blue passports though, eh!
To be “discharged” (recorded and filed away) your carnet is supposed to be posted back to London Chamber of Commerce (or the COC that issued it). Don’t lose it and don’t forget, otherwise what was the point in doing any of this?
If for any reason you lose your carnet, get in touch with London Chamber of Commerce asap. The sooner the better or your crossing could get pricey and stressful.
Safe travels x
We’ll try update this. If you have info to contribute please send an email titled “GTFO” to us at :
outblinker [ @ ] gmail DOT com