Guide to Buying Art Overseas

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The idea of bringing home unique artwork from romantic and exotic destinations around the world holds great appeal for some.  Each piece can represent a beautiful memory, an exciting escape from the beaten path, or a meaningful cultural connection.  It’s a tangible slice of an intangible experience, and a way to make a trip last forever.  

To ensure that your overseas art purchases live up to these ideals and are everything else you want them to be, keep the following suggestions in mind:

Work with Reputable Art Dealers and Gallerists

Buying art from a vetted and well-established source decreases the likelihood of getting stuck with a stolen or inauthentic piece.  It also means you’ll get more reliable advice about shipping your artwork home.  All major art fairs, such as Arte Fiera Bologna and the India Art Fair, include trustworthy dealers and gallerists.  Check out art magazines or online listings, such as artforum.com, for information on upcoming art fairs.

Verify the Artwork’s Provenance

Your first stop when conducting research on a potential purchase should be the Art Loss Register, the world’s largest database of stolen art.  Art aficionados and experts all over the world record in this register items that they own or that have been lost in order to increase the likelihood of recovery.  (Note that the registry doesn’t include antiquities.)  Use the Art Loss Register to confirm that the artwork wasn’t stolen and that therefore your ownership of it would be legitimate.  Next, for contemporary pieces, request a certificate of authenticity that is signed by the artist.  Finally, if the artist is someone whose works are regularly forged, consider doubling down on your verification efforts and requesting extra documentation.

Ship Smart

 

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The cost of delivery varies by shipping company, so be sure to obtain enough competitive bids to bring your costs down.  Some companies ship by air and others by sea, but the shipment method isn’t directly correlated with price.  

You can usually buy insurance through the shipping company.  If you put your name down as the insured party, you can collect directly from the insurance company (rather than dealing with the shipper) in case of loss or damage.

Use an International Money Transfer Service

You don’t want to pay more for a piece of art than it’s worth, so why should you be overcharged for money transfers?  When it comes time to settle up with your art vendor, avoid using a traditional bank or credit card, which often apply high fees and poor exchange rates.  Try a modern online money transfer provider instead.  They’re designed with sophisticated users in mind.  Take advantage of our comparison tool to identify the least expensive provider for your needs.

Understand What Taxes will be Owed

It may not be sufficient to rely on what a dealer or gallerists tells you about how your artwork will be taxed, no matter how reliable they are.  Tax laws for imported works of art vary from country to country and state to state, and the rules for what is and isn’t dutiable can get complicated.  So double checking what you’ll owe is always a good idea.

For goods imported into the US, the Harmonized Tariff Schedule is the main resource for determining tariff classifications.  US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) oversees the enforcement of this schedule and the collection of associated duties.  While nuances and exceptions abound, here is a partial list of the type of art that CBP usually considers duty-free:

  • Original works of art, such as drawings, paintings, and sculptures, that are hand-made and not mass-produced.  You may need to provide proof of originality, including documentation from the vendor on the artist and creation date.
  • Drawings for specific purposes, such as architectural or industrial drawings, if they come from a country that has normal trade relations with the US.
  • Antiques over 100 years old, with proof of age.
  • Hand-decorated or hand-painted manufactured items, such as wall coverings and ceramics.

Even if your artwork is exempt from federal tax, note that the state you live in may subject it to use tax.  A use tax is a sales tax on purchases made out-of-state that will be used, consumed, or stored within your state of residence. 

 


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