The Society for American Archaeology’s paper of the month for February comes from Advances in Archaeological Practice and is entitled: ‘Strategies for International Travel with “High-Tech” Archaeological Field Equipment’. Authors: William F. Limp and Malcolm R. Williamson.

Conducting archaeological fieldwork increasingly relies on “high-tech” instruments. Many archaeologists may be unaware that there are US and international requirements involved in moving these devices over international borders. Failure to plan for these can lead to substantial costs, denial of entry and, possibly, criminal indictments. Travelers must be prepared to document an instrument’s original purchase on reentry to the United States to avoid a possible duty. You can carry a copy of the initial purchase documents, or you can take the instruments, prior to travel, to one of the more than 325 US Customs “ports of entry” where a Customs agent can document your ownership. To avoid paying duties or value-added taxes upon entry into a foreign country, you should also consider obtaining an Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission (ATA) carnet. A “foil” from the carnet is then provided to a foreign country’s customs agent on entry and exit from the country.

Specialized devices such as thermal cameras, often used in UAVs, often fall under U.S export control regulations. Traveling with a controlled device without proper approval can lead to severe penalties, including fines and criminal prosecution. When considering purchasing instruments you should contact the vendor to determine if any international travel restrictions may apply. These restrictions may revolve around arcane technical aspects of the device. For example, thermal cameras with solid state detector with a refresh rate of 95ns may NOT be exported to a wide range of countries without advance approval; these include surprising destinations such as Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bhutan, Botswana, Egypt, Georgia, Honduras, Ireland, Kenya, Indonesia and others. Information listing all controlled devices and the restrictions are provided in the US Commerce Control List (CCL). Additionally, many “high-tech” devices may not be brought into those countries that have been placed under US and UN arms embargos. This list is constantly changing; the most current version can be found at http://www.pmddtc.state.gov/embargoed_countries/.

Moving instruments internationally involves taking them as carry-on, as checked baggage on flights, or through use of international shippers. International shipping can be expensive and will certainly involve a carnet. If the devices are small enough then carry-on is always the preferred option, especially when relatively delicate electronics and/or optics are involved. In checked baggage, often instruments are packed in high quality protective cases, such as those from Pelican.™ Placing the highly visible protective case inside a beat-up standard suitcase is prudent. If there are numerous cases needed you should be aware of the costs of “excess” baggage. These can often add up to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Taking advantage of airline specialty credit cards and the additional baggage allowed by “elite status” flyers can be part of a cost reduction plan. In some cases, booking a ticket in first class, because of the increased baggage limits, may actually be cost effective. In other cases, sending a second person, as a “mule,” may be cheaper than utilizing international shipping.


The Society for American Archaeology’s paper of the month for February, Strategies for International Travel with “High-Tech” Archaeological Field Equipment’, will be freely available until the end of March.

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