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How to Relocate Your Household & Pets to the US

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When thinking about how to relocate to the US, consider customs rules and regulations. For example, US Customs has a distinction between personal and household effects which fall under different kinds of duty regulations, so make sure you are aware of them before you pack.

Meeting US immigration health requirements is another one of the steps for a smooth relocation process. For that, you will need to arrange an appointment with a US embassy-approved physician that will perform a physical examination and review your medical history.

Moving with pets is another big undertaking that you will need to plan for in advance. Depending on the animal you want to bring and your destination state, it might take you up to six months to prepare your pet for the move.

If you are wondering what it takes to relocate to the US, this relocation guide will brief you on all the relative information.

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Moving and Shipping Household Goods

In most cases, moving household items to the US is duty-free. Belongings that qualify as household effects are furniture, carpets, artwork, household electronics, tableware, bed linen, and similar furnishings as well as professional books and instruments. They will be exempt from duty if:

  • the items are meant for personal use;
  • you have used them for one year or longer.

Stating in your declaration that the items you are bringing into the US are “duty-free household effects” might not be enough. Therefore, make sure to bring an itemized list of everything you are bringing with you, in case a customs officer requires this information.

Remember that personal effects such as photographic equipment, clothing, and jewelry are not considered to be household items, and therefore might require duty payments. However, payments are usually waived if your personal items are one year old or older.

The US has waived duty or imposes reduced fees for items brought from the following countries:

  • Canada (locally produced products);
  • Mexico (locally produced products);
  • Israel;
  • Jordan;
  • Chile;
  • Singapore;
  • Sub-Saharan African countries;
  • Caribbean and Andean countries.

What Can You Pack When Moving to the US?


Alcohol importation laws depend on the state you are entering upon your arrival. But in general, one liter of alcohol is admissible into the US duty-free for travelers who are 21 years old or older. For any amount of alcohol above this limit, you will be charged duty. Same rules apply for homemade wine.

The federal US government does not have a limit to how much alcohol you can bring into the country as long as it is for personal use. Note that there are specific regulations for importing absinthe.


If you are 21 years old or older you can import no more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars into the US for personal use.


When traveling with medication, remember:

  • Prescription medications must be carried in their original packaging and with the doctor’s prescription.
  • If your medication is not in the original packaging, you must have a copy of your prescription or a doctor’s letter with you.
  • It is recommended to travel with a medication supply that can last you no more than 90 days.
  • Needles, oxygen tanks, and other medical devices are admissible but need doctor’s prescription.
  • All medications entering the US must have a valid prescription or doctor’s note.

Keep in mind that you need to declare all medication you are importing into the US.


Bakery items, certain cheeses, candy, canned goods, condiments, oils, vinegars, spices, honey, coffee, and tea are admissible.

Prohibited and restricted foodstuffs include various types of meats, dairy products, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables because they might be contaminated with disease.

If you decide to bring any agricultural products into the US, you need to declare it at customs. However, that does not mean that whatever you are bringing with you will be allowed to enter the country.


You are allowed to bring any amount of money into the US. This means any currency, travelers’ checks, money orders, and securities of the bearer or registered kind. However, if the amount of money exceeds 10,000 USD, you need to declare the sum to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Prohibited Items

Items that you cannot import into the US include:

  • Narcotics, dangerous drugs, and drug paraphernalia
  • Obscene articles and publications
  • Lottery tickets
  • Liquor-filled candies
  • Hazardous items (fireworks, dangerous toys, etc.)
  • Some cultural artifacts

How to Ship Household Items and Belongings

When packing, try prioritizing. Decide which items you need at all times and have to travel with you, and which ones you can wait for and can be shipped on their own.

Make an itemized list of everything you are taking with you as you pack, including your luggage and boxes you are shipping separately from you. Customs might ask for very specific information about what you are importing, so it is best to be prepared for such situations.

Choose how you want your items to travel: by land, sea, or air. Plane cargos are usually the fastest way to get your belongings to where they need to be; however, it is often the most expensive way to ship them. In most cases, shipping your items by boat is the most budget-friendly option, but your belongings might take significantly longer to arrive at their destination.

Home Good Storage

Long- and short-term storage is highly available in the US, so you should not face any trouble finding one near your new home.

There are usually two reasons why storage space might become a necessity for you:

  • If you own some belongings that do not fit in your new home and you need to keep safe for an extended period of time, choose long-term storage. Many companies will offer deals for longer storing arrangements and make it easy to extend your contract if necessary.
  • If you need some of your belongings to already be at your destination when you arrive, opt for short-term storage. Some companies offer fully-operated services that include delivering your belongings to and from the storage units.

When shopping around for a storage company make sure to look into how secure your items will be, whether there is constant surveillance or not, and what your insurance options are.

Vaccinations and Health Requirements for the US

The following vaccinations are required for US immigration purposes.

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Influenza
  • Influenza type b (Hib)
  • Measles
  • Meningococcal
  • Mumps
  • Pneumococcal
  • Pertussis
  • Polio
  • Rotavirus
  • Rubella
  • Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids
  • Varicella

Check with your local physician to find out which vaccinations you already have and which you still need to obtain before your move.

Health Requirements for US Immigration

Part of applying for a US visa is getting a medical exam. The procedure needs to be conducted by an authorized physician listed on your country’s embassy website.

During the appointment, you should expect to get your eyes, ears, nose, and throat examined as well as your heart, lungs, abdomen, extremities, lymph nodes, genitals, and skin. The examination also includes:

  • review of your medical history;
  • chest X-ray;
  • blood test for syphilis.

Depending on the country where you complete your medical exam, you might receive your medical records in a sealed envelope or get them mailed directly to the US embassy or consulate.

Keep in mind that during the procedure you might be asked to provide your identification document (passport, ID card, etc.) and the visa appointment letter.

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Moving with Pets

Moving to the US with a pet might take you a few months of preparation, depending on the type of animal and the destination state. When planning you also need to take into consideration the costs of getting the right vaccines, certification, and admission documents.

Note that each state might have different regulations for pet importation, so make sure you check the laws of your destination. When traveling with pets, also keep in mind that you need to abide by the rules of the airline or another type of transportation company you are traveling with.

Pet Relocation to the US

Several US departments regulate the entry of different types of animals into the US: The Center for Disease Control (CDC), The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and The US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

General certificates of health are not required by the CDC for the importation of pets. Still, pets are subject to inspection at the port of entry. If they are suspected of carrying a harmful disease, they may be examined by a licensed veterinarian and/or held for observation at the owner’s expense. Note that your pet might be denied entry altogether.

Taking Your Dog to the US

When importing your pet dog into the US, you may be required to have several different documents depending on the dog’s breed, origin, your destination state, and even method of travel. Those can include various types of health or vaccination certifications as well as a microchip.

However, no matter what part of the US you are arriving to, all dogs entering the US must appear healthy. If you are traveling form territories with high risk for dog rabies, you must provide a valid rabies vaccination certificate.

Dog breeds that are used in handling livestock (shepherds, collies, etc.) may have to go through a special inspection or be quarantined after their arrival. If you are moving to Hawaii or the territory of Guam, in some cases, your dog may need to be quarantined for up to 120 days no matter what breed it is.

Taking Your Cat to the US

There are no specific regulations for cats entering the US, including vaccination requirements. Still, your cat must appear healthy when examined by a professional at the port of entry. That is why it is advisable to bring a health certificate along with you in case you need to prove that your cat is, indeed, healthy.

What Other Pets Can You Bring Into the US?

If you wish to bring a pet bird with you, you will need to meet all the requirements put up by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US CPB. If you wish to import more than five birds into the country, they will not qualify as pets. Poultry birds (chickens, ducks, swans, pigeons, turkeys, etc.) also do not qualify as pets.

In order to travel with your pet hedgehog or tenrec, you need to obtain an import permit and a health certificate issued by your local government’s veterinary officer as well as get your pet examined at US port of entry.

There are no specific requirements for importing pet rabbits. And while the same no-requirement policy applies to ferrets, some states prohibit their importation completely. Similarly, no restrictions apply on importing non-exotic reptiles; however, some tortoises are prohibited from entering the country. Traveling with rodents should not cause you any trouble as well as long as they are not of African origin.

The importation of amphibians is regulated by US Fish and Wildlife Service.

For more information on your specific pet, visit the US Department of Agriculture’s website.

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