While planning a meeting, incentive, conference or convention is tough enough when you’re conducting it in your home country, bringing it across the border presents a whole host of additional problems when it comes to getting your materials through customs and safely at your event.
Just about any planner who has had to ship materials internationally has faced some type of major hassle, from goods being held at customs to the shipment seemingly falling off the edge of the Earth.
Besides adding a major cost to a meeting or convention, the grim reality of being empty handed when the event starts is always a distinct possibility.
As the director of event services for association management and services company SmithBucklin, Ellie Hurley has a wealth of knowledge about getting the goods to their rightful destination.
Following are seven tips Hurley has for meeting planners who want to ensure smooth sailing for their convention goods:
- The Canadian government and tourism offices offer excellent support for hosting meetings and conferences, making Canada very planner-friendly. Still, there are unique logistics you should be prepared to manage through.
- Canada has a Goods and Services Tax (GST), a value-added tax on purchases in-country. However, depending on the number of foreign visitors you have, your event could actually see a cost-savings. If you are new to GST policies, seek out a government official or GST expert for assistance.
- Mexico also has a valued-added tax (known as IVA), and the same tip applies: Seek out an IVA expert to help you understand the impact on your budget as well as the expenses for your attendees and exhibitors.
- Enlist the help of a customs broker. Following custom protocols can be intense, especially for exhibitors. That’s why a customs broker, a representative licensed in the local customs laws, shipping procedures, trade documentation and more, is a key partner for your event. This person also might be able to help with other local logistics, including GST or IVA.
- The customs broker should not be confused with a shipping company. While your shipping company may deliver internationally and is usually reliable, they are not responsible for ensuring your conference materials meet all of the country’s customs regulations. That means if your shipment gets stopped in customs for any reason, you will be the one dealing with the local government to get your items cleared.
- Be mindful of local holidays that will definitely impact your event, including hotel staffing and building/office closures. In Mexico, besides religious holidays, there are Labor Day (May 1), Independence Day (September 16) and Revolution Day (third Monday of November) holidays. In Canada, there are Canada Day (July 1), Labour Day (first Monday of September), Thanksgiving (second Monday of October) and others that vary by province.
- When in doubt, ask for help. Whether it’s a CVB, the hotel manager, a destination management company (DMC) or a local professional conference organizer (PCO), there are local professionals who can help you navigate the logistical challenges of international event planning.
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Ellie Hurley is director of event services for association management and services company SmithBucklin, which offers full-service management and outsourced services to trade associations, professional societies, technology user communities, industry consortia, charitable organizations, corporations and government institutes.