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Working in the EU Post Brexit: Performing in Marbella

In this helpful case study, freelance musician and MU member Martin Ledger talks us through the steps he took along with his band when transporting equipment to perform at a corporate event in Marbella.

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By Martin Ledger Published: 24 May 2022 | 4:12 PM Updated: 24 May 2022 | 4:44 PM
Sunshine brightly lights two scanning machines at an airport, one for placing your bags through and one for walking through
Our takeaway from this is to leave at least an extra two-hours for each airport visited as the carnet process is very slow. Photo credit: Shutterstock

One of the bands I play with was engaged to perform at a corporate event in Marbella, for which backline and PA/lights/crew were to be provided locally. We only needed to bring guitars, drumsticks, guitar pedals etc. We decided however to buy a carnet for all of our equipment so that we are covered in the event of needing to take all of our equipment to Europe for future dates in a van.

We decided to use Boomerang and they were very helpful in getting the documentation sorted out pretty last minute. We ended up having to drive over to Liverpool to collect it, as getting it delivered by courier over the weekend was going to be prohibitively expensive.

The carnet vouchers themselves are really not intuitively laid out, though I’m sure they are designed to cover a wide range of export/import scenarios. I filled out as much as I could going from the very brief instructions provided and from watching YouTube videos on the subject.

Checking our cases in on the UK side

Upon reaching Manchester airport at a time normally reserved for getting home from a gig, we attempted to get our carnet stamped before checking the cases containing the equipment. The first five airport staff we asked had never heard of a carnet (“a what…?”). Eventually we decided to join the long queue to check in bags, all other attempts having failed and time marching on as it was.

The bag check-in staff informed us that we should check the cases in, then go through security, which seemed odd. Our rationale being that if border force wanted to check the equipment against the carnet list, they would need to do it before the cases are loaded onto the aircraft.

Seemingly not so, we were informed that if they wanted to do that, they’d have to go find our cases in the aircraft hold and remove them for inspection.

Dutifully, cases were checked in and we proceeded through security and found the red phone to contact Border Force, upon stating that we were in departures and needed our carnet stamping, they asked “which airport”? 45-minutes later a very nice and helpful lady from Border Force found us and sorted it out for us.

So much for the UK side.

Leave an extra two-hours for each airport visited

Upon arrival in Malaga, we were very efficiently herded through the arrivals procedure and had relatively few problems finding Spanish customs officers to stamp the carnet, despite having to explain what we wanted using the medium of mime.

The trip home went in similar fashion, Spanish customs were quick and efficient, this time they actually did open our cases to inspect the equipment. UK Border Force kept us waiting 40-minutes.

Our takeaway from this is to leave at least an extra two-hours for each airport visited as the carnet process is very slow, and the UK don’t seem to be geared up for it.

We are flying out to Cyprus shortly on another gig so will at least know what to expect. Had we only had one date in Europe this year we might have had to consider turning it down due to the cost of the carnet alone. Two gigs make it more cost effective.

Thanks to Martin Ledger – MU member and freelance musician for this helpful insight.

For detailed guidance, resources and answers to common questions on working in the EU post-Brexit, see our dedicated information hub.

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