Sunday 23 June 2013

Viven : The carnet de passages

Dear Viven,

I figure you might be confused with my talk and mention of this all-important document, the carnet de passages.  So here's a little explanation, whether you're just curious, or if one day you need to get one.

What It Is
The document's full French name is carnet de passages en douane (roughly translated as a "customs clearance booklet"), and like the fiche de passage (literally, "clearance sheet"), the French term is the global standard.

When driving internationally, a vehicle is essentially seen by national customs agencies as a large piece of merchandise.  If the vehicle owner intends to permanently import a car somewhere, he or she will need to pay the requisite import duties and taxes.  When a vehicle is used to transit through a country, that country's customs service requires a bond or deposit be made on the vehicle, in case the owner fails to export it in a reasonable time (usually three months).

A carnet de passages en douane is a set of customs documents, issued in the country where the vehicle is registered, that represents a singular international guarantee in place of this bond or deposit.  So, instead of paying a deposit at each border, and receiving it back upon exit, a vehicle owner acquires a carnet by making a single globally-valid deposit, determined by the issuer.  If the holder of a carnet fails to export the vehicle from any country, the issuer of the carnet has by means of this deposit guaranteed beforehand that the import fees will be paid.

Carnets typically expire one year after issue.

How It Is Acquired
Most national automobile associations (AAA in the US, CAA in Canada) or touring clubs issue the carnet de passages.  In our case, we applied in the UK with the Royal Automobile Club (RAC).  They required all of the vehicle's details, a photocopy of the registration and owner's passport, and completion of a four-page application form which included a list of the countries we intended to visit.  All documents were submitted by email in order to give a quote.  The 25-page carnet was produced and held by the RAC until payment of the deposit (just under £1000), at which point it was delivered.  We received our carnet in the mail about one month after application, which we understand is fairly standard.

Why It's A Good Idea
Not only does the carnet de passages remove the whole en route deposit-withdrawal game, but it also simplifies and streamlines the import-export process at borders; the document is widely used, widely accepted, and much easier for customs officials to process.

It is ostensibly possible for us not to have a carnet on our route until Tanzania: Morocco and Mauritania did not require it, and other countries do have (so it is said) the apparatus in place to charge a deposit upon entry and then give it back upon exit.  This deposit would have to be arranged either at the border or at each country's embassy or consulate in the neighbouring country; we would also need to acquire a laissez-passer ("pass"), which is, in lieu of a carnet, the necessary document for both customs and immigration.  I can only imagine the headaches, confusion and arguments at borders and embassies, especially the smaller ones, let alone the delays while officials would scour to return a deposit that no longer seems so official upon exit.

Also, keep in mind that many countries, such as Australia, South Africa, India and Columbia, actually require a carnet for a vehicle to transit through.

What Our Carnet Contains
I'm not sure how standardised the actual carnet de passages document is internationally, but I can't imagine big differences from what we have.

The A4-size booklet has a hardened orange cover and comes in 5, 10 or 25 pages (one page per country); each page is divided into three parts.  The lower section is removed and kept by the customs official upon entry (import); the middle section is removed and kept by the customs official upon exit (export); the upper section is never removed from the document, and is stamped on the left upon entry, and on the right upon exit.  At each border crossing, two stamps (exit and entry) should be acquired, and each stamp should be accompanied by the date, time, place, and signature of official.  Thus, this top set of unremoved tabs provides an account of all vehicle travel using the carnet de passages.  The lower and middle sections which are torn away and kept by the customs officials identify the vehicle and list all the major details (registration number, colour, make, model, year, engine, horsepower, etc.).

When Finished
The remaining unused pages and top portion of the used pages of the carnet de passages must be given back to the issuer upon return to the registered country, or permanent importation to another country.  This is so that the issuer may check to ensure the vehicle was indeed exported from each country as stamped.  Once this is done, the bond is reimbursed.

Clear, or even muddier?


The front cover of our carnet de passages