Filming in the Middle East

I’m just back from a shoot in the Middle East where I filmed four countries in four days; Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain.

Not a lot of information was available with regards filming in these countries, what was available I must admit was fairly vague. So I’ve put together my experiences, which will give you an insight into filming in the Middle East.

UK HM Customs and Excise

This is the easy bit.
You’ll need ‘Pro-forma Equipment List’ also known as a Duplicate List. It’s a list of the equipment you are traveling with and should include the manufacturer, model number, serial number, the country of manufacture and the value of all of the kit. The list should be printed on a letterhead.

The only other form you will need is an HM Customs and Excise Returned Goods Relief Form C & E 1246. This form is a declaration that you make when using a pro-forma / duplicate list. It can be downloaded from HM Customs and Excise Search for C & E 1246 and print it out.

Complete the form and take it with you to the UK airport UK you’re departing from.
Before you check in any luggage, go directly to the VAT desk at the airport and tell Customs Officer you have a ‘Returned Goods Relief’ that you need to have it stamped.
This stamped form and Duplicate List proves that you left the UK with the equipment so shouldn’t have any trouble brining the kit back into the UK.

If you can’t contact the vat desk at the airport, find an internal phone and call immigration and ask to be transferred to customs & excise. An officer will meet you before you check in and stamp your paperwork. On return to UK, you only need to present the stamped form if requested at customs.

Arriving in the Middle East

There are two things required to film in each of the countries I visited, a Work Visa and Permit to Film. You can get into the countries on a Tourist Visa but by the book a work visa is required. Filming permits should be applied for in advance of the visit and can take several days for approval.

When I arrived at Bahrain customs, I was told that the letter from the Bahrain Ministry of the Interior to the head of security at the airport had not arrived, so my camera had to be impounded by customs until the filming permit arrived next morning.

The countries I was visiting do not accept carnets, so I presented more copies of my ‘Pro-forma Equipment List’. You’re also expected to pay a 5% bond on the total cost of the equipment that you’re taking into each country. Whoever you’re working for should arrange/pay for this.  This bond is recoverable on exit.


Don’t assume, double-check everything yourself before you go, especially if filming is being arranged by inexperienced people. Crews have been deported and some imprisoned for not having the correct paperwork whilst filming in the Middle East; is it really worth the risk?

On a lighter note; when I was waiting at Bahrain customs, I saw an Arab lady open a huge oversize fabric suitcase that was bursting full of bundles of currency. My jaw dropped, I thought that sort of thing just happened in films.

Lithium-Ion Camera Batteries

I was challenged by Doha security about carrying Lithium-Ion camera batteries as hand luggage. Luckily they where PAG batteries and I had a copy of their Air Transportation Certificate & Test report number, which they accepted and let me through. Good old PAG.


Did you know that most insurance companies do not cover ‘High Value Electrical Items’ in checked in luggage? My MacBook screen was damaged during a Gulf Airways flight from Qatar to Bahrain. It had to be checked in as I had two pieces of hand luggage, camera and bag of Lithium-Ion camera batteries. It was really well packed in the center of my suitcase but still got damaged.

So how hot is it?

I was shooting in late August and most days the temperature was in mid forties. All of the locals stop working outside at 12.30 because of the heat. I went outside briefly to film a short sequence and after just five minutes, the heat through the soles of my shoes was becoming unbearable, the ground was scorching.

Prior to leaving UK I was concerned about humidity and the camera. Apart from the front lens element steaming up immediately after leaving air-conditioned areas, humidity wasn’t really a big issue as lenses always cleared within a minute or so.

And finally ….

Don’t assume, double-check everything yourself before you travel.
Don’t be persuaded to work on a Tourist Visa
Don’t film without a Filming Permit
Don’t consider using DSLR cameras to avoid authorities.
Do it all by the book and you’ll be okay.

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