Going abroad is a major occasion which can be a little bit stressful. The transition may not be easy, especially when you start adding customs taxes and duties. You have to ensure the international mover you’ll hire knows the ins and outs of processing customs. Prominent movers will inform you of taxes and duties and their cost, but there will still be situations where you need to approach and talk directly to the customs officials in your destination area.
Each country differs considerably and customs prerequisites change constantly. Learn who your customs clearance agency is to call them directly if you have questions.
It is best to be prepared with all the necessary information. A single oversight may cause tremendous delays, sanctions or even get your goods confiscated. Moving abroad is a big endeavor, but thorough research will help ease the process.
This article will give you not just the general rules applicable to different countries, but also detailed specifics regarding customs regulations in the USA, EU, Germany, Australia, Canada, and Mexico. Regulations about pets, foods, plants, vehicles and guns are also included.
International Customs Regulations
- Travel Documents. You must obtain all the necessary documents to enter your destination country. You have to consider that requirements, especially tax-duty amounts or percentages, may change without prior notice. So, it is best to have an updated list of all the necessary forms, documents, and corresponding import prerequisites provided by your destination agent or by customs officials. Common documents may include copies of your passport and visa, a list of the goods/ items that will be shipped and specific importation forms. There are several ways to obtain the forms you need for the move. You can search the web or get in touch with the country’s embassy for help. Your international mover should be capable of helping too. On most occasions, you’ll need your passport and visa when relocating internationally. To be entitled to duty and tax-free privileges, domestic goods must 6-12 months old. Otherwise, they will be subject to taxes. Each country has particular forms needed based on several factors, such as the area where you’ll be moving to or if you’re moving as a student or a worker or both.
- Moving pets abroad. Providing proof of ownership and micro-chipping is a typical requirement for pets.
- Importing food items and plants is usually discouraged because of several restrictions and the cost of permits. These may include religious prohibitions on food products and the amount needed for acquiring phytosanitary permits for seeds, bulbs, and plants.
- Prohibited and restricted items: Another critical thing to consider when moving abroad is what items are in the country’s “prohibited” and “restricted” lists. Restricted items typically require supplementary permits or special inspections conducted by another agency like the Agricultural department for plants or the Health Department for food products. Aside from requiring a comprehensive inspection done by customs officers, items on the list are susceptible to duties and taxes. It is essential you know the items included on the prohibited/ restricted list as these differ from one country to another. Shipping or moving items on this list without proper clearance and documentation may jeopardize the whole process and may lead to them being destroyed or returned. You may also receive heavy penalties.
- Most moving companies will suggest packing your items in cartons. It is necessary that all your boxes are properly labeled and documented to show what’s inside. An empty inventory may send a warning signal to customs and cause extreme delays, the confiscation of items or monetary penalties. Still, it is best to allow your moving company to pack all your goods, so you’re covered for the entire shipment.
- Some products or goods that are prohibited from shipping abroad may include ammunition and firearms, food products, alcohol, dangerous items (insecticides, detergents, chlorine, and others), dried flowers, seeds, plants, and pornographic materials.
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Customs Regulations by Country
The USA – Essential forms you need to complete if you are relocating to the United States are Form 6059B and/or CF 3299 if your items are not with you physically upon arrival.
It is a must to have a thorough and detailed inventory. Identify the items you consider duty free. Certain restrictions apply to tobacco and alcoholic items, where duty taxes ought to be paid. Items that are prohibited or restricted may include biological materials, pirated movies, certain cultural antiquities, and items made from animal furs like cats and dogs.
Ammunition and Heavy firearms may also be restricted, as well as endangered plants. Pets, such as dogs and cats, should be free from diseases that can be transmitted to man. You’re authorized to bring personal goods worth $1000 which you can use in the US duty-free. A ten percent tax will be added for transporting more than $1000 worth of personal items. Afterwards, the respective duty tax is assessed depending on the item.
Here is a list of prohibited articles which you cannot import into the USA:
- Food and beverages;
- Narcotics and medications that may contain prohibited elements;
- Absinthe (except if it is thujone free);
- Plants, vegetables, fruits, and seeds;
- Livestock, animals, pests or soil;
- Biological specimens and cultures (proper documentation from the Plant and Animal Health Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture is required);
- Raw fish and fish eggs;
- Endangered wildlife animals and products made from them (i.e accessories and clothing);
- Cultural Antiquities from the Byzantine era, the Pre-Columbian era, and sculptures from Khmer (unless permitted);
- Furs from dogs and cats;
- Items that violate copyright and trade regulations;
- Semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms;
- Printed or visual materials containing obscenity;
- Traitorous machinery and materials that provoke agitation;
- Hazardous materials like uncertified toys, fireworks and health hazard elements.
Canada's Customs Regulations
One of the requirements when planning to migrate to Canada is a proof of permanent address. When moving, the complete listing of your belongings along with other valuable items which may arrive at a later date is required. Other items which will be needed are as follows:
- A card declaration from customs (available at the airport);
- Vaccine documents;
- Taxes paid for cigarettes and liquor;
- Cash exceeding $10,000 needs to be declared.
Taxes are dependent on the area when heading to Canada. If you need any clarifications on this, you need to call the office of the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Another thing to consider are the restrictions for moving plants and pets to Canada. Plants will undergo a strict inspection at the Food Inspection office in Canada.
Items from Haiti are prohibited when you enter Canada. You need to comply with strict policies when moving guns as well. Remember to secure a permit and clearance from police officers and the Government of Canada if you are moving rifles and guns.
During the clearance process, you need to be at the Customs office in person. If you do not show up, your belongings will be held and there might be an extra cost for it. B15 and B4E forms will be given when you arrive in Canada to start the clearance.
Australia's Customs Regulations
Moving household goods to Australia is not simple. It’s one of the countries with meticulous demands. First, you need to have a card for incoming individuals filled out and the form B534 for the goods which will eventually be transported.
Belongings for your personal consumption are free of taxes. Items valued approximately $900 (AUS) are generally exempted from taxes. You are allowed to bring up to 2 and a quarter liters and up to 50 cigars tax-free.
If you notice the items you are carrying are beyond these limits, you have to contact customs in Australia. There are a few restrictions on bringing medicines and ammunitions as well. Some prohibited items include fresh meat and dairy products. On the other hand, plants cannot be imported from Australia.
If you’re bringing pets, you need to coordinate with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (or the AQIS). Your cats and dogs will be subject to quarantine for a specific period of time.
The time frame of the quarantine depends on the pet's type and on which country it is coming from.
This country also provides a detailed list of items which are classified as restricted or prohibited. Motorcycles, cars, and other machines that touch the ground need to be properly cleaned before importation, since there will be officers who will check these when you arrive. If some of these items do not pass the inspection, the shipper will be asked to pay the cost when it undergoes fumigation.
United Kingdom's Customs Regulations
If you’re moving to Europe or to the United Kingdom, you need to secure an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number to get clearance applicable to exports and imports of items. It will serve as a replacement for your Tax Identification Number as well as Social Security information.
There are additional documents you will be required to fill out. If you’re transferring personal belongings to the United Kingdom, it’s mostly tax-free. However, you are required to fill out the C3 Form. If you’re a diplomat, you must complete the C426 form.
If you’re a pet lover, you need to check and follow the guidelines when you bring it. You must complete the form C5 if you’re coming from a country outside of Europe and going to the United Kingdom.
A maximum of six months quarantine will be required, depending on the location where you’re coming from. With regard to plants, most of them are allowed in the United Kingdom if they’re coming from Europe and they are free from pests and diseases. To transport plants from the US, speak to customs first.
Prohibited items include firearms with no licenses, ammunition, some diamonds, and some furs. On the contrary, you will be allowed to carry up to 1 liter of liquor and up to 200 cigars without paying taxes. Forms C104A or C384 are required if you’re moving your vehicle. However, if the items are inherited, the C1421 form must be filled out. Paintings or any art related items require the C88 form to be completed. Once the forms are filled out completely, the shipper is not allowed to sell or even lend his belongings within a year, otherwise he/she will be asked to pay taxes for shipping costs.
Germany's Customs Regulations
In Germany, most belongings for personal consumption are free from taxes. However, dairy products that do not come from Europe (with some exclusion) are prohibited. There are restrictions on plants considered endangered.
To transport these plants, you need a permit to move, but you can obtain an exception if they are coming from Europe. A Statement of Transfer written in German is required if you are relocating. This is applicable when the trip is work-related. Other necessary information is a detailed list of your items which indicates their value and has your signature on it. More requirements are as follows:
- A health and medical insurance document;
- A power of Attorney for clearing Customs;
- Form 0350: Though this, you agree not to sell your items for a year;
- A Customs Declaration form coming from German customs;
- A residency form from the area where the shipper will be moving to;
- A document from the employer in Germany stating the details of the contract;
- Ammunitions, tea, and liquor must not be part of your shipment, only if applicable;
- Putting a microchip on pets is required for identification;
- A secure vaccination document and a health supporting document for your pets. These must be valid for 10 days if the pet originates from Europe and for 20 days otherwise. (These papers need to be in German writing).
When it comes to tax concerns, this is not clearly specified. However, if you are moving items for personal use, you are not required to pay taxes.
Mexico's Customs Regulations
In Mexico, a passport needs to be presented, and you must complete several forms which you can get from an attendant at the airport when you arrive. The following forms need to be filled out as soon as you reach Mexico:
- A "Tourist Card" form;
- A permission to work form;
- A complete list of items (in Spanish and containing the value of the items);
- A letter declaring the shipper did not bring any prohibited items;
- A commitment letter if employed;
- A Tax Identification Number (the details are given by the employer).
These letters or documents must be written in Spanish as a basic requirement. When it comes to your Visa, Mexico has different categories: the FM-3 type is for non-residents, and FM-2 is for locals who are returning to Mexico. In addition, Mexicans and non-residents are not permitted to transport an automobile; diplomats are allowed only one automobile as part of their privilege. If pets are being transported and the value is around $5K, a clearance from the office of the Secretary of Commerce must be obtained.
When carrying items to Mexico, most of them are exempted from taxes. However, if some of your valuables are purchased recently, a notification will be submitted to the customs office of Mexico, including the description of the items and a copy of the receipts or proof of purchase. Household items must be separately sent since taxes may depend on each item description.
There are certain goods that are restricted in terms of how much you can carry. Mexico does not allow the importation of plants, vegetables and other similar products. However, the country will allow you to bring up to two pets.
On the contrary, if you are bringing more than the allowed number of pets, you need to secure their clearance from the consulate of Mexico. A health certificate must also be secured from a veterinarian and your pets must be vaccinated before their entry in Mexico. When carrying personal belongings, each individual is free from taxes if the items are less than $500 in value. If you exceed that value, a fixed tax rate of 16% will be applied. In addition, if your valuables exceed a thousand dollars in worth, they will be inspected and retained at the Customs office for clearance.
A document coming from the employer needs to be attached along with the shipment. In the event the contract of employment ends, items which were initially exempted from taxes when the shipper decided to leave will now have to be paid.
When carrying goods to Mexico, a detailed list must be cleared, and you must secure a stamp from the Consulate of Mexico depending on the country of origin. Locals from Mexico who have FM-2 visas must get a document stating they have left the country for at least two years, so they will be exempt from taxes.
Each country has different Customs laws. The ideas mentioned previously are basic information each person needs to know when moving. The countries included in this article are listed as famous destinations with regard to migration.
Fees and Taxes in Customs
When migrating to a new country, one small detail to check is the cost of the taxes you pay to customs upon entry. Few countries implement this. However, the US permits most personal items to be transferred tax-free.
Other countries, like the UK, have strict rules which depend on where you are originating from. Let's say a European decides to relocate within the UK: He is not going to pay taxes. However, it is entirely different if an individual is coming from a different country. In this case, the individual pays taxes upon arrival.
The taxes imposed by customs depend on how much the items cost.
Note: Items may also be free from duty charges depending on their declared value.
To visit, work, and study in a different country, you will need an application for a visa. In Europe, if you’re relocating within the same country, the visa application is waived. When checking the requirements and fees to go to a different country for work or study, it is usually costly and demands few supporting documents.
Note: There are no fees if moving within Europe. Visa fees depend on the country of origin, and it may cost thousands of dollars to apply for one.
Most people use different resources like the internet, the news and other reliable sources to check how to complete the requirements for visas and other customs-related issues. These resources are used to get facts on the customs and government policies of the country they intend to visit.
Some people are not confident in organizing the moving process and end up getting an attorney. The process is complicated, and they do not mind paying higher fees if it will give them assurance that their papers are completed in a timely manner.
Note: Fees will vary depending on the country. The price ranges from around $100 (for fixed rates on basic services) and could go above $1k depending on the lawyer’s discretion.
Tax Exemptions for Personal Items and Household Goods in the U.S.
Bringing your personal items and household goods is generally free from taxes. Also, there is no need to be present along with your belongings. For your convenience, there is an option to have your belongings delivered to the US at a different date.
However, all your shipments are still required to get clearance from US customs upon entry. There are freight forwarding companies that offer quicker services in coordination with US Customs and Border Protection during clearance. You may contact them to check if it is included in your options.
Other items that may be imported free from taxes are household furniture, kitchenware, dining materials and other related personal belongings. These items must have already been used or ready to use from your previous country or residence. Declared items need to be in your possession for a year. The period can be accumulated until the items get forwarded.
Your freight forwarder will inform you of the status of the delivery. You can also contact them at any time to see the progress of your shipment. If the items are stuck for more than 15 days, they will be placed in storage. After 6 months, they may auctioned. Take note that US Customs is not responsible for notifying you of receiving your items.
An authorized representative may speak on your behalf if you are unable to visit US Customs for concerns related to your shipment. An authorization letter must be sent to Customs informing the office that this individual will act on your behalf to process the clearance. The form CBP 3299 Declaration for Unaccompanied Articles needs to be completely filled out and addressed to the Customs officer on duty.
When processing the clearance by US Customs, a detailed document listing your personal belongings must be submitted to the officer.
Professional tools and equipment: If you have tools and equipment you have personally used for less than a year, you can move them free from taxes.
Cigarettes and alcoholic beverages: If you are planning on bringing liquor, it must be at most a liter to be exempted from taxes. You need to be 21 years of age when carrying this item, whether you are bringing it as a present or for personal consumption. If the liquor's more than the allowed volume, it will be subject to taxes.
With regard to tobacco, you may bring up to a maximum of 200 sticks of cigarettes and not pay taxes. However, if the tobacco is coming from the country of Cuba, you must call the Office of the Foreign Assets Control department in the US to check the implications, since there are sanctions associated with this country.
Firearms or Weapons: Get in touch with the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms, and Explosives at this number: 866-662-2720. You are required to have an authorized dealer and secure license when entering the US with these items.
Presents: Items brought as presents are free from taxes if they do not exceed $100 in value. Since these are not declared as personal items, they will not be eligible for a tax exemption.