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Timelines and Travel for International Exhibitors

By Julie Krueger


  • Start planning early
  • Understand your exhibit options
  • Know the rules and regulations
  • Use hotel preferences and blocks
  • Coordinate arrivals and shipments

Expanding your brand to a new market is one of the greatest opportunities to boost your vision and mission to the next level.

Many companies start by taking their trade show exhibit abroad. Successfully exhibiting in a country or region that you are familiar with is daunting enough. When companies take their exhibits abroad, it’s exponentially more challenging — especially if that travel leads them to the United States.

However, the benefits outweigh any challenges, allowing you to reap the rewards.

International marketers don’t realize how different trade shows can be in other countries. When they do realize it, culture shock can set in quickly.

Between tracking shipments through customs, working remotely with vendors, and coordinating efforts across oceans and time zones, exhibiting in the U.S. can introduce countless new variables and complexities.

Two Rules for Preparing for an American Trade Show

International exhibitors can manage to not only survive but thrive at U.S. shows by following two key guidelines:

  • Learn what makes U.S. trade shows different.
  • Plan ahead to account for these differences.

In this series of four articles, we’ll help international exhibitors untangle the web of differences between U.S. shows and those back home. Each article will offer specific pointers for making the most of U.S. venues, working productively with U.S. staff, and connecting with U.S. audiences.

We’ll start with the timeline. By mapping out your trade show schedule well in advance, you can avoid last-minute scrambling when challenges inevitably arise.

Start Planning Early

Experienced exhibitors know that trade show exhibit stands rarely go off without complications. It’s always better to be prepared.

When the trade show is overseas, exhibitors should set aside even more time for planning than usual. Scheduling overseas shipping and travel can take a lot of time, as can other show-related tasks (which may impact costs if not managed properly):

  • Understanding the visa requirements for all attendees, and securing visas for those not from Visa Waver Program countries and valid ESTA travel authorizations for everyone else.
  • Reading through the show’s exhibitor manual to understand the rules governing the exhibit hall and completing all the required paperwork.
  • Arranging to rent booths or materials.
  • Getting expert help from a local exhibit partner who has strong experience supporting customers from abroad.
Understand Your Exhibit Options

If you’ve invested time and resources into designing a spectacular stand, your first impulse may be to want to ship your custom stand to the U.S. location.

That, however, can be expensive — and possibly not worth the cost.

More on this in part three, but keep in mind that your material handling costs will be calculated based on the weight of your stand. Also, shipping your stand could present bigger challenges than a high material handling bill — you may run the risk of it being stuck in customs!

You might be surprised to find that you can rent turnkey exhibit booths (the U.S. word for stand) from local suppliers in the U.S. This can be a cost-effective alternative to shipping your stand internationally, and you may be pleased with the options to customize the rental to fit your brand style.

However, be aware that most space rentals in the U.S. offer only pipe and drape — that is, the space will most likely consist of a metal pipe frame with drapery walls hung from the frame — as opposed to the hard-shell schemes more commonly used in Europe.

The Rules When You Are on the Road

There are many rules and regulations specific to each show and to each venue. This can vary from state to state, city to city, and venue to venue.

Because of the unique nature of the exhibition industry in the U.S., it is important to read the exhibitor services communications from the general services contractor (GSC) that produces the event. This is your best bet to understand the guidelines for each show. You can learn how the GSC partners with you to provide products and services that can help you showcase your brand on the show floor from simple items like carpet, furniture and electrical to more complex items like audio visual, lighting design, and turnkey to custom rental stands.

Don’t Forget to Book a Hotel

When a trade show is in town, hotels around the venue fill up fast, so it’s best to book as early as possible. Most American trade shows work with local hotels to offer special rates. These preferred hotels are handy not only for budgeting, but for networking with other attendees after hours.

Booking a hotel off the beaten path, on the other hand, may result in transportation pains, extra costs, frustration, and missed networking opportunities.

Other quick tips to keep in mind when it comes to international travel:

  • Is your passport up to date? Make sure its valid at least six months prior to the day you will be returning home.
  • Alert your credit card company that you will be traveling internationally and make sure your credit card comes equipped with a chip for easier, safer payments on-site.
  • If given the option when using your credit card, always pay in the local currency to avoid excessive exchange rates.
  • Check that your mobile carrier plan includes international calling or arrange to have that added.
  • Consider downloading an internet-based calling app like VIBER and Uber or Lyft for easy transportation.
  • Check local cultural holidays that may impact travel and other services.
An experienced local exhibit partner like Freeman can help, saving you time, money, and needless frustration.
Coordinate Arrivals and Departures with Booth Setup and Breakdown Times

U.S. shows will enforce specific time frames for booth installation and dismantling. When booking air travel and hotel reservations, be sure to line up your arrivals and departures, so you have plenty of time to oversee the setup and breakdown of your booth.

If you arrive too late, you may risk missing the critical installation process — or installation could be delayed.

If you leave too early, you could find yourself rushing to the airport before your boxes have arrived at your booth. Who would be left to pack up your remaining items?

Have to take a connecting flight in the U.S.? Make sure to allow for plenty of time between the flights. You will need to go through customs in the city you first land in the United States. This can take several hours. This can also help prevent any issues with travel delays.

The Challenge Is Worth It

Given the many complexities involved, exhibiting at U.S. trade shows isn’t a decision international companies should make lightly. However, while exhibiting overseas can be stressful, it also gives brands a chance to make major inroads with exciting new markets.

By carefully planning a timeline and being ready for the unexpected, international exhibitors can set themselves up for more success and fewer headaches. An experienced local exhibit partner like Freeman can help, saving you time, money, and needless frustration.

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