Skip to main content

Mia InternationalOnce I was expecting my bags, upon my return from a recent trip to Argentina, and I was ready to leave the terminal area at the Miami International Airport (MIA) I was requested, by a customs officer, to a manual and thorough search of all my belongings. I didn’t think twice and followed the agent into a small office next to the baggage claim area. Sure, I produced all my baggage claim tickets which were neatly arranged on my passport back jacket,  but the officer’s attention was centered on just my luggage.

Granted, I had  one piece of regular luggage, several hard cases and a monopod with me [Most customs abroad misidentify that as some hunting accessory! :P).

The SKB hard case contained hard drives, SSDs, the Blackmagic Video Assist 4k, Rode videomic, assorted cables, a collapsible disk reflector and a cornucopia of adapters and batteries. All pretty standard for a gear maniac like me (perhaps like you too!). My camera bag had two bodies, the Canon t2i and Sony A6300,  multiple lenses, batteries and filters. Nothing out of the ordinary.
The officer went through every single SD card on my multiple card pouch and even asked me what did I use the photography / video equipment for… My blank stare didn’t deter the officer from tossing all my backup data outside and inside the rigid case.
The search continued and at one point, while I panicked with her lack of care for my gear, she requested my CBP 4457 form.

How to register your  photo and video gear prior to US departure

Custom Border Patrol Form 4457 is a tiny little declaration form (CBP FORM 4457 get it here) that it’s required in order to prove the ownership of your equipment. This customs form is used for any type of valuables such as computers, cameras, laptops, etc. Its registration process is cumbersome. It requires the owner to complete paperwork and take it, along with all your valuables, to a port authority official (custom officer) to verify and certify the ownership of such items.
In the case of the Miami International Airport, you would have to get access to the 3rd floor of the J terminal, call over the internal phone to a customs agent, so they can exit the restricted area, and complete all paperwork. Pretty difficult if your flight is close to departure…

Mind you, CBP Form 4457 is pretty tiny. I’m not sure if one would be enough when taking all your equipment abroad.
To get more information from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website see this link: Register your photo and video equipment

This triggers many questions regarding such registration such as:

  1. Once the equipment is registered, I understand that the same registration cannot be made or claimed by another party, meaning that I cannot sell, trade or even inherit equipment that was registered by other party since it will be considered stolen.
  2. What happen if the completed CBP 4457 form is lost or stolen ? lost luggage is very common.
  3. Are electronic copies of CBP 4457 forms acceptable for a customs agent ?
  4. Is the registration of the equipment archived into an electronic format ? (This seems unlikely since I was requested this form to claim ownership of my own equipment)

Leave me a comments if you had any similar experience entering the country with your gear

I’m planning to get in touch with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office to figure out an answer to these questions. I promise to post a follow-up post to cover this issue fully.