If you're a Canadian photographer who travels with their gear, and you don't know what a Form Y38 is then keep reading... I'm going to hazard a guess that if your a professional photographer who travels then you may already be aware of this. (Note: I know that some readers of my blog are live in other countries so naturally this form and process will not be relavent to you. However, I would bet that your country has a similar process that would be worth investigating).
A Form Y38 "Identification of Articles for Temporary Exportation" is a document issued by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). If you haven't heard of this before I'm not surprised. I had never heard of this form until earlier this year after driving back across the border from a trip to the US.
I went down to St. Louis to see the Flashbus Tour featuring Joe McNally and David Hobby back in April. I live in Ontario fairly close to the Niagara Falls border and regularly fly out of Buffalo due to cheaper flights. As usual when I travel I take some of my camera gear, and have done so for over 6 years with nary an issue. On this occasion it was a little different. When I returned to cross back into Canada I expected the usual questions, where have you been, how long have you been gone, what are you bringing back etc. I'm always honest with the CBSA agents as that just makes sense. So when I said that I was attending a photography seminar (the Flashbus Tour) I was questioned about my camera gear; essentially how do they know that I didn't just buy all this stuff in US, and can I prove that I had it before I left?
I showed the CBSA agent the gear I had with me, and after additional questioning she relented, but told me that I should have had a Form Y38 filled out before I left Canada. Suffice it to say I was a very bad person for not knowing about a form that no one in the past had ever mentioned to me; but we all know ignorance is not defence. I guess she thought I was honest enough because her attitude changed slightly and she explained it to me in more detail.
After I got back I went searching for a little more information on how to do this. It's a pretty simple process. Here's all you need to do:
1) itemize all of your gear, I mean all of it, with make, model and most importantly serial number;
2) take all of you gear, plus your full list to your nearest CBSA office (click here for a directory);
3) explain to them that you travel frequently with your camera gear and understand that a Form Y38 can help when coming back into Canada.
In my case I went to the Hamilton International Airport as it was closest and not that busy. The agent there was extremely friendly. He took my list and did a spot check of my gear and serial numbers. He filled out the Form Y38 (it's a small green card) and attached it to my list, where he also noted the number of items and that he had checked the serial numbers. He signed it, I signed it, and we were done. It took about 5 minutes.
The Form Y38 does not have an expiry date so it's good for as long as you have your gear. Even if you only travel with a few pieces, as long as they're on the list covered by the Form you're still okay. The only caveat is if you add more gear or change things out you will need to get a new one. Oh, and you need to remember to carry it with you when you travel.
So it may seem like a bit of an inconvenience to do this, but consider the alternative... getting into a dispute with a CBSA agent, getting pulled off to the side for further questioning, having to pay duty on your own gear, having to gather all of your receipts after the fact and head back to a CBSA office anyway to prove your gear belongs to you. I know I may be exaggerating just a little, but how much easier would it be to drop a Form Y38 on them once they start to question you? You'll probably look like a pretty smart cookie.