Mike Butler – Architectural Photographer

Professional Photo Equipment to Aruba

International travel with pro photo gear can be a stressful and challenging time for a photographer, whether it is your first time or you are a veteran, the vagaries of some country’s customs can bring knots to the best travelers stomachs. Imagine the following scenario, a client books you for a multi-day multi-thousand-dollar shoot in a foreign country. The hotel books out the rooms for you to shoot, the models are flown in and the unstoppable gears are set in motion. You arrive in the country, get your gear and can see the taxis on the other side of the glass which separates you from your shoot. Then an officer asks the dreaded question. “Can you step over here, what are in these cases?”. As you explain they ask for the paperwork. Minutes turn to hours and no amount of discussion can lodge the customs officials. The equipment does not have the proper authorization and can not pass. Think this can not happen, it has happened to me, and luckily the client was a private homeowner so we were able to reschedule but there were some major expenses he and I needed to take on.

Travel to Aruba

In this post, I am going to give you the down-and-dirty details of Aruba, a Dutch-controlled island just north of Venezuela. This post is specifically for photographers with the related gear but can apply to most anyone bringing in more than the standard vacation luggage.

Pre Trip

Prior to any international trip and one would argue any trip which involves public transport you need a detailed equipment list, including, detailed description, serial number, weight, and value. It is also better if you register your equipment with US custom prior to departure using form 4455. Attach your notarized equipment list to from 4455 and have a customs officer inspect and sign the document on the day of travel. For early flights I have gone the day before but I usually get a lecture from the CBP officer about this. From 4455 will speed your return visit and nullify any issues you might have with US customs. For the equipment list, here is a super pro tip, make 3 different equipment lists, one with only the equipment + serial numbers + weight (no value), one with the real value of the equipment added, and one with a reduced value of the equipment say reduced by 30%. Give one copy of each to your assistant and do not stack them together, keep them separate. From here you will need to read your situation, always just give the simple equipment list first, then if asked, hand them the actual value list. The reduced value list is for emergencies only, if you see they are going to require some sort of import tax, then you go for reduced value list, it will save some money, and it is not likely they will check. Also photograph every case before you leave the US, inside and out. I have been traveling for years and have had only one situation of a requirement of import tax, that was Nicaragua, 40% in and 40% out.

Arrival in Aruba

To ensure you have no issues with customs in Aruba, you need to file a written declaration upon arriving at the airport directly with the Customs Department to avoid import taxes of 16%. Furthermore, if you are bringing in a drone you need to register it with the Directie Telecommunicatiezaken (DTZ) using the following link. You will be required to notify them of times and places you plan to use the drone.


There is an additional policy that requires anything that transmits to be registered, and what that means is a bit vague, but all parties pointed me towards the DTZ using the following link. To skip this requirement I switched my packs to wired Dyno-lites. That said the form does not look difficult and everyone I spoke to was nice and eager to answer my questions.


Email contact to the Aruban Customs: [email protected]

Exit from Aruba

Although Aruba is a small and easy to access airport the process for disembarkation is cumbersome so be ready for at least 2 hour window to facilitate this. The reason for this is that you check in with the airlines, then go through Aruban customs, Xray, from there you pick you bags back up, and go through US customs, ending with a second Xray. On the flip side this means you return to the US as if you were on a domestic flight.

Need My Photography Skills?

I have decades of experience in photography and have been hired all over the world for a range of drone, hospitality, architectural and resort photography. If you want to give your marketing a new, fresh and eye-catching look, get in touch with me and let’s start working together!

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