September 15, 2014

The difficulties of crossing the US border as an international artist.

In last weeks blog post I announced I would be participating in the 2nd Arlington Festival of the Arts, unfortunately I had to cancel this event because I might get stopped and detained at the border because participating in the fair might not be legal. I say might because I'm still not quite sure, let me explain.

I know a lot of international artists that do fairs and festivals in the US so I initially thought that this was something that I could do without any problems. I had called the department of taxation and got a form that allowed me to pay my sales tax in the state of Virginia so I thought I was OK to go.

Turns out I thought wrong, because even though you can bring your artwork across the border for exhibition purposes, you are not allowed to sell said artwork, this blogpost by a fellow Canadian artists explains the risks and reasons. (

I emailed the art fair organizers, who have been organizing shows with international artists attending for 30 years but they didn't have any information about this at all. So I spent the week on the phone talking with multiple visa specialists, I exchanged emails with US customs and border patrol, the US business visa centre and US immigration services, I read multiple visa eligibility criteria on the homeland security website as well as part of the foreign affairs manual. After all this I still cannot say for sure that I would be able to sell my art on an art fair in the US legally, ever. Suffice it to say it has been a slightly frustrating and confusing week.

I have been advised to apply for a B1 visa, which apparently is different from ESTA which lets me enter the US with a B1/B2 visa status??? Yeah I'm confused too! Apparently the person that I would have my visa interview with would be able to give me a more definite yes or no, but even then it's apparently still up to the border patrol officer if I would be allowed entry each time! I don't mind applying for a visa if that is what it takes to do things legally but it is just very frustrating that nobody can tell me if this visa would definitely allow me to do sell my art in the US. But, since this seems to be my only option I'm going to go for it.

Obviously applying for a visa takes some time so I had to cancel the Arlington show :( I'm pretty bummed about that one! I thought I had done my research but since there are no clear rules about this it is very difficult to find information and I don't want to take the risk of being detained at the border like my fellow Canadian artist. Hopefully I will be able to figure all this out and do some US shows in the future.

For now I'm heading back into the studio, there's still a whole bunch of paintings that need finishing :)

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