Shipping to the USA: Customs Import Guide
Relocating to another country is a serious undertaking that requires a lot of planning beforehand. From hiring a good international removal company who will do most of the legwork for you and keep you updated on the progress of your shipment to making sure you aren’t bringing in anything illegal into the country, there is a lot to do before moving to the States.
What happens to your shipment when it arrives?
Your removal firm should let you know when your goods are expected to arrive. You will also be told the name of the ship carrying your items as well as the name and contact details of the agent in the US who will check that they have arrived safely. You should receive this information around a week after the ship leaves port and will be notified again around a week prior to the ship’s arrival.
The removal firm’s representative will ensure your goods are taken to the company’s warehouse and, when the time comes, hand over all necessary documentation to Customs officers for inspection. The actual Customs clearance process could take up to 15 days and delivery to your new home will usually be from one to three weeks after your goods have arrived.
You may have to pay X-ray fees as well, as this additional security measure is becoming increasingly commonplace in US ports.
Most household and personal effects can go through the US Customs and Border Protection without incurring any taxes, as long as they have been used for at least a year.
Special purchases and items which were purchased within 12 months prior to your move must be declared and will have an extra charge. Duty tends to be within 10 to 15 per cent of the estimated overall cost of the item. Remember, even wedding gifts are not exempt from this tax!
Antiques that are less than 100 years old will also incur an additional charge. A certificate is necessary to prove the date of the article’s production and even then, Customs can order an independent verification. Art is considered duty free provided you have owned it for less than a year and that you do not intend to resell it.
Here’s the list of prohibited items in the USA:
- Food and drinks
- Narcotics and some medication containing prohibited substances
- Absinthe (unless thujone free)
- Plants, seeds, vegetables and fruits
- Soil, livestock or animal pests
- Biological cultures and specimens (unless accompanied by a permit from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
- Unprepared fish and fish eggs
- Endangered wildlife species and products thereof (for example clothing and accessories)
- Cultural artifacts from the Byzantine period, Pre-Columbian period and Khmer sculptures (unless with permission)
- Dog and cat fur
- Items infringing trade and copyright regulations
- Fully automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons
- Traitorous material and material igniting agitation
- Hazardous articles like fireworks, uncertified toys, health hazardous substances
Restricted items in the USA
Restricted items include firearms, for which you need to use a registered dealer in order to get a permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
For insurance purposes, it’s advisable not to include gold and other expensive jewellery and cash in your shipment.
Items used in the garden, outdoor furniture, sporting goods, camping and outdoors equipment, shoes and prams should be thoroughly cleaned and left without any traces of soil or dirt in order to avoid contamination. These items can be subject to examinations by US Customs Department of Agriculture agents, which will add to the length of time your goods will remain in Customs.
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Your removals firm should provide you with forms to fill out prior to your goods arriving at their designated US port. The main form you’ll need for clearance is the 'Declaration for Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles' (or Customs Form 3229). All the forms – which also include a Power of Attorney and Supplemental Declaration –should be originals and not photocopies as the latter won’t be accepted by the CBP.
A very detailed inventory of goods is also necessary together with a copy of your passport and visa. The inventory can come from either the removal company or yourself, whoever was present at the time of packing. If you’re filling in the inventory, don’t use the terms ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘contents unknown’ as these will more than likely cause suspicion among the CBP officers and will warrant an inspection of your shipment.
You may also be required to provide a photocopy of your work visa (if applicable). New regulations enforced in ports on the west coast of America now require passports and visas to be presented for all members of the family who own the goods.
Your removal firm’s agent will present all the paperwork to CBP when your shipment arrives. By this time, you are expected to be already resident in the US and ready to take delivery of your shipment once it’s cleared.