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US Customs Regulations

A move to the US, or anywhere abroad for that matter, comes with numerous things to do and heaps of paperwork to fill out. When packing your bags, you especially need to keep US Customs regulations in mind! InterNations tells you what’s important to know when importing belongings to the US.
Make sure you are aware of current US Customs regulations before packing up your belongings.

Before you pack your belongings and send them on their way to the United States, you have to make sure that the items you want to import are in compliance with current import restrictions. US Customs and Border Protection has established strict rules on what items and respective amounts you may import under which specific circumstances to the United States. Some of these US Customs rules may not apply to you, but others will. With everything else you have to worry about at the beginning of your international assignment, you don’t want to get in trouble with US Customs.

Generally speaking, personal effects and household goods are duty-free. You can take along your clothing, jewelry and photographic equipment without any difficulties with US Customs. But you cannot import everything that easily. US Customs and Border Protection has placed strict limitations, for example, on tobacco (products) and alcohol, and other items you are not allowed to import at all. US Customs officers tend to be very rigid when it comes to enforcing these rules. It is therefore immensely important that you properly inform yourself in regard to customs regulations before you leave for the United States. In the following article, you will find an overview of those customs regulations that are particularly interesting to expats.

Household Goods and Personal Effects

As we have already mentioned, you can take your furniture, household goods, and other personal items to the USA without being charged duty by US Customs. However, you must have used these items for at least one year and you cannot import them for commercial use. Also note that this duty-free import is only possible during the first 10 years after your last arrival in the US from the country the goods were used in. If you import these good 10 years after your move, you will have to pay duty.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to have your goods shipped to the States straight away. They can just as well arrive after you yourself have gotten there. You also do not have to personally bring your property through US Customs. If you opt to send somebody in your place, you will, however, have to provide them with a copy of the document that proves your legal status in the US (e.g. immigration documents) as well as a letter in which you officially authorize the person to represent you in this matter.

No matter whether it is you or somebody you send who is taking care of the goods declaration, a CBP Form 3299 (Declaration for Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles) will have to be filled out. Furthermore, you might be asked to provide the CBP officers with an inventory list, so make sure to have one prepared and with you. All your items will need to go through US Customs, so be aware that it may take some time until your property is released. Also note that the CBP is not going to inform you about the arrival of your shipment, so make sure that your chosen carrier does that, or your shipment might end up in some CBP warehouse.

Shipping your car to the USA is, however, a little more complicated since your vehicle needs to adhere to US safety and emission standards. You can learn more about taking your car with you in our article on importing a car into the US.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Medication

You are allowed to take up to one liter of alcoholic beverages for personal use with you duty-free, as long as you are 21 or older, that is. So if there’s a beer, wine, liquor, or spirit from home that you’d miss and want to take along, you can certainly do so. Absinthe is the exception to this rule and can only be brought along if it is in compliance with a number of specific regulations. Also, if you plan to stock your private wine cellar with the finest vintages from your home country, you will be charged import duty and taxes for all but one liter.

Similarly, you can take a certain amount of cigarettes (up to 200) and cigars (up to 100) with you duty-free. Any additional ones, however, will be subject to duty and taxes. Furthermore, keep in mind that tobacco products from certain countries might fall under existing trade embargoes. For instance, you are not allowed to import Cuban cigars, even if you have purchased them somewhere else than in Cuba.

If you need any special medications, remember to check whether they fall into the category of narcotics and medication with a high potential for abuse, which you may not import at all. In general, there are some things to keep in mind when taking medication with you:

  • Declare all your medications to US Customs
  • Keep everything in its original container
  • Only take along as much as you personally need
  • Always remember to bring a prescription and/or a written statement from your doctor (in English or with an English translation attached)

Generally speaking, you can only take medication to the States if it can be legally prescribed there as well. You cannot import any medication which the US government considers an illegal drug or narcotic.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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