Moving to the USA

Moving to the other side of the Atlantic is a huge decision to make and there are so many things to think about and arrange. One of the hardest choices to make is deciding what to take with you for the big move. Hiring a respectable global removal firm is strongly advised as sending a lifetimes worth of stuff is a tricky business. Hopefully you have already sorted out a VISA, found a place to live and found a job (if you’re not retiring!), If not read back through the other sections until you do, theres no point even thinking ahead to this point unless the rest has been sorted.

US Customs

When you enter the USA to take up a temporary or permanent residency you can usually import your personal belongings duty and tax free. It all depends on where you come from, where purchased the goods, how long you’ve owned them and whether you’ve already paid tax or duty in another country. Personal belongings owned for at least a year before importing are usually exempt from import duty. The duties levied on non-exempt items vary according to the classification of goods and their original value. All alcoholic beverages are subject to assessment of federal duty and internal revenue taxes (an additional tax is also payable in some states). If alcohol is included with unaccompanied shipments, customs may require the entire shipment to be thoroughly examined, which will incur delays and extra expense.

If you’re coming to live in the US and are sending your household goods unaccompanied, you must provide US customs with a detailed list of everything brought into the country and its value. The detail officially required is often absurd and you’re even expected to list such things as the titles of books, although in practice less detail is acceptable. A person immigrating to the US may bring professional equipment and tools of his trade with him. US embassies and consulates provide a free information package and sample inventory list.

You’re required to complete customs form 3299 Declaration for Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles, for presentation to the examining customs officer when your belongings are cleared through customs. It’s not necessary to employ a broker or agent to clear your belongings, as you can do this yourself after you arrive in the US or you can authorise someone to represent you. If you’re using a removals company, they usually handle customs clearance for you. Your belongings must be cleared within five working days after their arrival; otherwise they’re sent to a warehouse for storage at your risk and expense until customs clearance can be made.

Your belongings may be imported up to six months before your arrival, but no more than one year after your arrival, after transferring your residence.

What can you bring to the US?

If you’re moving then you’re most likely travelling to the States via air or sea. If you are then you will receive a Customs declaration form to complete by the airline or shipping company. If entering the USA via Mexico or Canada then you will receive a similar form at the border. Hand your completed form to the customs officer at your port or frontier of entry. The head of a family may make a joint declaration for all members residing in the same household and travelling together to the US.

There are no restrictions on the amount of money you may take into the US, although if you take in more than $10,000 in currency or ‘monetary instruments’ you’re required to state this on your customs declaration form (large sums of cash are often carried by criminals, particularly drug traffickers).

Some US ports and international airports operate a system of red and green ‘channels’, as is common in Europe. Red means you have something to declare and green means that you have nothing to declare, i.e. no more than the customs allowances, no goods to sell, and no prohibited or restricted goods. If you’re certain you have nothing to declare, go through the ‘green channel’; otherwise go through the red channel.

Unfortunately because of the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 security at customs is far stricter than in Europe or elsewhere. If you have any questions regarding the importation of anything into the US, contact the customs representative at your local US embassy or consulate or check the CBP website (

Arriving in the USA

Once you arrive in the States you will fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland security and its affiliate agencies. These immigration officials have regularly been described as bullying, aggressive and stern and that’s on a good day! The best way to handle the customs officials is to answer any questions they may ask (even ones that don’t seem relevant) in a courteous manner. It never pays to annoy a customs officer as they have a tendency to make things more difficult to you than is necessary. Since late 2004, all 280 million foreigners arriving in the US each year have been fingerprinted and photographed, even those who arrive under the Visa Waiver Program. To date, they only fingerprint your two index fingers, although there are plans to take prints of all ten digits. It’s done using a digital scanning device (no ink) and the photo is taken by a digital camera. Because of this somewhat over-the-top security the number of foreign visitors to the USA has dropped sharply.