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Moving Art equipment/supplies overseas

Hi all, I’m moving to Okinawa Japan next month. Does anyone here have experience traveling overseas with painting gear (oil specifically)? I’m worried about getting mineral spirits, alkyds, cadmium paints through customs (both my checked luggage, and my main shipment that’s being shipped seperately) without thousands of dollars worth of supplies being confiscated. My plan was to have the movers ship all the major end items (studio easel, most of my paints, solvents, etc) and check my plein air kit in my luggage, so I have stuff to utilize for the 6 weeks while my stuff travels via ship across the pacific. The plein air kit is specifically what I’m worried about but I’m also worried about having my main shipment also being confiscated.
Any advice would be awesome.

Hello Thomas. I am primarily an oil painter and I moved from California to Spain in 2015. I shipped through a company called Schumacher out of Long Beach and had no problems except it took longer than I had planned. Ship landed in London and unloaded and then by truck they delivered my things to southern Spain. Nothing was stolen. There was some minor breakage of some ceramics, due to my fault of not packing them carefully. Number your boxes and make a list of contents. I brought my most necessary brushes with me in my checked luggage, and again no problem. Turps, solvents, I think you should not chance bringing as usually they are illegal to carry because of their toxicity and flammability. I packed many canvases, paintings…all no problem. I bought my easel here as the one I had was not worth shipping. I think your main concern is not confiscation but that it will probably take more time to arrive than you believe. Have a good trip and happy move.

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We moved from the U.S. to Portugal last year. Sold everything except the bare essentials and only brought 8 suitcases with us. I checked through 2 dozen tubes of oil paint. On top of the plastic box I taped on a note to TSA–found the template online somewhere–maybe OutdoorPainter.com–about the tubes enclosed being artist colors made with vegetable material. Also included the MDS sheets I found online that verified the high flash point. No solvents allowed. I did the same for 2 sets of pastels, just in case. I packed two plein air pochade boxes, tripod, and umbrella in the same suitcase. No problems. If you are shipping, I don’t know any of that is necessary. Professional quality art materials are not easily sourced in Portugal so my only regret is that I did not bring MORE art supplies and less clothing!


Thomas, I moved to Russia 2013-2018. I had all the same concerns you are current with. But I was amazed at the availability of art supplies in the town we moved to. (Half million people, 3 well stocked art supply stores within walking distance!) Don’t try to take gamsol etc. with you. It will throw up a red flag for everything else. Someone else mentioned label tube paint as ‘artist colors’ - yup, that’s the best. However, I stayed away from the documents and explanations about flash point etc. TSA wants to know what it is, not how it performs :slight_smile: It might ease your concerns to do some online checking to see where art supply stores are located in your new town? And search in the local language, not just English. Our town was Lipetsk, when I searched in English, the results were a mess - when I switched to Russian, that’s when everything clicked. Good luck on your new adventure!

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Thank you all, I’m reviewing your answers and planning accordingly. Thank you for the useful experiences, save me some pain down the road

I have moved twice from US to Panama and then back - both times with a 20 foot shipping container that went by boat. No problem shipping anything.

The movers told us we could not take x-y-z and they packed all our things and made the inventory. I packed a few boxes myself with art supplies, which they then put into larger boxes without opening. Was worried about some liquids. Turns out customs may xray the container, but it was never opened or searched - both times. They are too busy to do that, and if it is a company they have worked with in the past, (the movers bringing your container thru customs in destination country) they will take their word for what is in the container. I would not try to take it thru myself, it is worth paying someone to facilitate that for you. No worries. No spills or problems.

After living abroad and not being able to find art supplies, I went on a trip to the USA and bought tons of paint, mediums, etc and put them unopened and in original packaging in my checked luggage, took it thru airport customs in US and Mexico and back to the US and then to Panama. No problems.

Good luck.