International Fine Art Shipping: A How-To Guide

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Whether you need to deliver paintings, collectables or sculptures, international fine art shipping can seem like a daunting task. It requires thorough planning, careful packing and unpacking, and all the right paperwork.

Missing even one minor detail during the art move can have catastrophic consequences. Customs could return or delay your shipment, resulting in a disappointed buyer or a missed gallery exhibition. Moreover, incorrect packaging could cause potential damage to works of art, which is the last thing you want.

Whether you use a fine art shipping company or do it yourself, understanding the logistics and requirements is crucial. It will help ensure safe, cost-effective and timeous delivery every time.

Keep reading to learn more about international art transport from start to finish.

Proper Packaging

To prevent damage in transit tidy, rather than bulky, packaging is imperative. It ensures protection throughout all stages of art handling, and is aesthetically pleasing, too.

You can get started with the following tools and materials:

  • measuring tape

  • pen or marker

  • sharp box-cutter

  • box sizer

  • packaging tape

  • artist’s tape

  • bubble wrap
  • plastic wrap

  • glassine paper

  • Cardboard corner protectors

  • your chosen container

Take Measurements

First, measure the height, length and width of the piece to determine the size of the box, crate, tube or container you will need. By calculating the dimensional weight, you can also estimate shipping costs. Some standard and art couriers also provide online tools that do this.

Cover the Artwork

Cover the surface, sides and corners of the piece with glassine paper and secure it with artist’s tape. Doing so protects canvases from dust and moisture. If you are using a tube, make sure to leave 2 inches of extra space for rolling up the artwork.

Next, wrap the piece, (including the frame, if applicable) in a 3.5-millimetre-thick layer of plastic. This acts as a protective coating to ward off scratches while preventing any glass breakages. You can then cushion the edges with cardboard corner protectors. 

Bubble wrap serves two purposesand is used by art handlers and fine art shippers around the world. It provides padding and fills any empty space in the box or container. Encase your artwork in 5 centimetres of bubble wrap to ensure that it fits snugly in your box or container. 

Once the piece is boxed, use high-quality packaging tape to seal it completely. You can now ship your art internationally.

Find a Shipping Company

The fine art logistics industry is much smaller and more specialised than its mainstream counterparts. Therefore, it is best to stick with the experts when it comes to handling exquisite and valuable collections.

International art shipping companies usually have trained art professionals and even offer unique services like white-glove delivery, custom-built crates and climate-controlled storage. You can also choose whether you want to use air or sea freight, or opt for a tailor-made solution.

Customs Preparation

If you have decided to use an art logistics company, then they will usually handle all of the customs requirements for you. Alternatively, you can do it yourself. Here is a list of the most crucial documents that you would typically need:

  • Customs Declaration Forms – required for commercial shipments and varies depending on the value of the artwork.

  • Trade Tariff Commodity Codes– used to classify goods and required to release packages from customs. 

  • Export licence – may be required depending on the destination country, age and value of the artwork.
  • Economic Operator Registration and Identification Number (EORI) – required for shipping works of art in or out of the European Union.
  • Value Added Tax (VAT) – you will need to pay this tax when importing packages into the UK.
  • Shipping Insurance – typically required due to the inherent value of artworks.

The Bottom Line

There are a few vital factors to keep in mind when you consider international shipping. Proper packaging protects artwork while preventing scratches, but make sure you have the correct measurements beforehand. 

You will also need to find an ideal company that caters to your specific needs, such as temperature-controlled storage or custom-built containers. They will usually take care of customs requirements, too. However, if you do it yourself, ensure that you have all of the correct documents ready.