Things you need to know about trade show shipping and custom clerance to avoid expensive mistakes

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

Before I become a customs broker in the logistic industry, I was at UBM 's subsidiary UBM Asia company ( now named Informa Market because of the company acquisition), the largest tradeshow organizer in Asia connecting more than 60,000 exhibitors at 230+ events around the globe each year. During that time, I used to travel more than 10 tradeshows around the nations and even aboard, sometimes as an exhibitor and sometimes as a trade visitor or press. I pretty understand how stressful the work is behind those glamorous booths, especially the logistics part.


There are two typical kinds of trade show, permanent showroom, and temporary setting tradeshow. Permanent showroom, such as Las Vegas Market and High Point Market, you can lease the showroom from the organizer and move in your samples during the show dates. Much less work to do because you don't have to build your booth from the ground. As for the temporary setting tradeshow, each convention center might host dozens of such events throughout the year. They make a lot of money by renting the space for each event organizer. The booth is build-up for show date only and taken down right after.


Las Vegas Market ( Permanent showroom)






Hotelex Shanghai Expo ( Temporary tradeshow booth)



If you participate in an upcoming temporary tradeshow as an exhibitor, here is what you need to pay attention



Choose a good shipping company who knows the business


Choose an experienced trade show shipping company that knows the ins and outs of the industry is very important. The experienced trucking company is more likely to have a good rapport with relevant unions or official contractors like Freeman, GES, PICO, etc. Good relationships can help avoid service delays and may prevent your drayage costs spiraling in the event of a mishap.


Also, choose an experienced trucking company who knows the venue will help deliver your product in a highly efficient manner. Whether it is McCormick Place in Chicago, the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Santa Clara Convention Center, or the San Jose McEnery Convention Center or Javits Center in NY, If your carrier has specific venue experience, you benefit too!


If you don't know where to find these companies, you can also turn to truck brokers for help. They have connections with a private carrier who can move your freight in the dedicate truck and give full attention to your goods too.



Take advantage of ATA carnet and pay 0$ duties and tax


Both TIB ( Temporary Importation under bond) and ATA carnet can be adopted when cleaning exhibit goods but ATA carnet is more convenient.


Usually, the ATA carnet will be issued by your shipper and sent to your nominated custom broker. The broker would attach bill of lading, air cargo manifest copy along with original carnet package to hand in the customs office. Once custom officer stamps and signs on the appropriate fields, the shipment is considered cleared.


An ATA Carnet would eliminate the need to post a bond and pay duties and tax but the only requirement is the importer has to reexport the goods along with original carnet package back to the shipper before the deadline ( usually within one year)



Time is Essence


You have two options to ship your tradeshow shipment to your show: the advance warehouse or the show site.


When shipping to the advance warehouse, your freight may arrive up to 30 days before the show dates — check your show’s exhibitor manual for information on advance warehouse ship dates. If your hires your contractor to build a very big and complicated booth with everything customized, I would suggest shipping your needed goods to the advance warehouse whenever possible. Shipping to the advance warehouse gives you the ability to track your freight and ensure that it has been received, with plenty of time to double-check. Also, your freight will already be in place when you arrive for the show setup. Although some show decorators may charge higher drayage and storage fee for a shipment sent to the advance warehouse, the benefits generally outweigh the cost. On the opposite side, if you choose a standard package booth using an official contractor, then you can just ship to the show site on move-in dates.


You will also need to watch out the potential waiting time. For example, at very popular shows, trucks full of supplies sometimes have to wait for hours in the marshaling yard before they are able to deliver their shipments at the unloading dock. Marshal-yard fees range from $45 to $85 an hour. If you know the show is on a big scale and the waiting time is unavoidable, you shall ask to deliver the goods as early as possible, or even ship to the advanced warehouse as mentioned above.


Participating in a tradeshow can be super costly. Hopefully, you will prepare a successful tradeshow without making expensive mistakes.

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