International Movers Q&A: What Do I Need to Know About Customs Regulations?

One of the most important aspects of moving internationally is knowing and complying with the customs regulations of the country you’re moving to, and those requirements can be ever changing. Understanding what’s required from a customs standpoint will help prevent delays and ensure a smooth move. The following steps will help you prepare for the international moving process:

Gather the Necessary Information and Documents

When shipping items from one country to another, you’ll need certain documentation to prepare your household items for legal entry into your new country of residence. The necessary documents typically include a complete inventory of the goods being shipped, a copy of your passport and visa, and more specific forms regarding importation.

Please keep in mind that paperwork requirements can, and do, change without notice. Not only that, but customs documents can vary greatly depending on the destination country. And you may have to do more than just hand over the signed customs forms to your international movers. For example, you may need to be physically present at customs before your items will be allowed to pass through.

Reputable international moving companies keep abreast of the latest customs rules and regulations and will know exactly what you need. However, it will still be your responsibility to follow through with the instructions from the movers and acquire the correct documents. If you hire Suddath for your move, you’ll be assigned a professional move coordinator to help you with these and other important details.

If you’re still in the research stage and just want to know more about the latest customs documents, you can contact the officials in your current country of residence and the consulate of the country you will be moving to. Alternatively, Suddath will be able to supply the latest customs regulations and requirements for importing household goods and autos. 

If you’re moving items into the United States, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website to find out which forms will be required. Again, Suddath can provide the latest forms and handy guide for completion.

Get a Thorough Inventory Completed by Your Moving Company

Because many countries restrict the kinds of items you can bring in and differ on what they may or may not permit, it’s vital to complete a thorough packing inventory that lists everything you’re planning to bring. Most countries have limitations on the following categories of items:

  • Liquors and alcohol
  • Flammable products
  • Fruits, vegetables, and other types of perishable foods
  • Live animals and plants
  • Medicines and perfumes
  • Cleaning products
  • Weapons
  • Electronics
  • Currency

Suddath will provide you with a detailed list of restricted items prior to your move. Everything you are shipping needs to be specifically approved by customs, which is why your mover should provide a packing inventory, listing the contents of your shipment. This inventory is supplied to customs at the destination for customs clearance purposes. Make sure that it’s a line-by-line inventory noting all the items in your shipment. It is critical no PBO’s are listed (packed by owner), as this potentially could cause delays with an inspection that can be costly as well.

You’ll also want to be sure that all electronics have the serial numbers noted. In case you have any large items in your shipment, here are some helpful ideas for moving them to another country.

Vehicles Are Often Part of an International Move

Sometimes there is more to a move than just household items like furniture, appliances, and clothing. Moving abroad may also mean transporting your vehicles, including cars and motorcycles. Some people mistakenly assume that it’s always better to sell your vehicles before moving overseas; however, the opposite is often true. Believe it or not, shipping your vehicle is probably more cost effective than purchasing a new one after the move. Getting a quote from an international mover early in the planning process will allow you to do the math before making your final decision to keep or sell a vehicle.

Fortunately, full-service moving companies usually have multiple options for transporting a car. For example, it can be shipped in a 20-foot cargo container or included with household items in a 40-foot container. 

Check with your mover to understand if your car is allowed into your destination country. Typically, it must have been owned and used for six or 12 months. A “roll-on” or “roll-off” ship is another option for transporting your vehicle overseas. 

Professional Packing Protects Your Belongings, Minimizes Customs Issues, and Allows Full Valuation Protection

One of the most dreaded aspects of moving is the tedious process of packing household items. With an international relocation, moving companies like Suddath professionally pack, wrap, and crate your items using materials conducive to international shipping. This extra layer of protection will ensure that your items arrive safely, and as the movers pack your belongings, they’ll be checking to make sure that everything is in line with customs protocols and allows for valuation coverage. PBO’s (packed by owner) cannot be covered by valuation protection.

Find Out the Best Way to Protect Your Belongings During the Move

Ask your movers for some cartons if you need to organize your belongings before the packing crew arrives but leave the cartons open, so the packers can inspect each item for customs reasons and then seal.

If you’re moving large items or an entire household, it is likely that you’ll be offered a choice between a variety of cargo containers. Many people opt for 20-foot or 40-foot containers, which are standard sizes that can accommodate most household goods. To give you a rough idea of how much each container holds, a 20-foot container is often suitable for shipping the contents of a one- or two-bedroom home. 

A 40-foot container is ideal for a larger residential move, such as a three- to five-bedroom house. Even the family car can be included in the cargo container if space allows and is the most cost-effective way to ship when combining the household goods and auto. 

Another decision you will be asked to make is whether to opt for a full container load (FCL) or a less-than-container load (LCL). The difference between an FCL load and an LCL load is that a full container load guarantees you will have the entire container to yourself, while a less-than-container load means you may be sharing the space with other shippers, although packed into individual lift vans, for security. Consolidated shipment is another term you may hear in reference to combining other people’s items in a container with something of yours.

There are many container options including refrigerated, open top and even a 40ft high cube and 45ft however, dry 20ft & 40ft containers are the most commonly used units for shipping furniture and other household goods internationally.

Selecting the right container for your move can save money and ensure that your belongings reach their destination safely. Experienced international moving companies will have recommendations for the best way to ship your particular load, which will remove a lot of the guesswork. When you trust Suddath to coordinate your overseas move, our international moving experts will make sure that you select the best container to accommodate your goods.

Choose CTPAT-Certified International Moving Companies

The Custom Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) is a U.S. federal government program that allows shipping companies to become certified as a low-risk security threat. Reputable international movers will possess this certification, which will allow your cargo to move quickly through customs checkpoints. Hiring a CTPA-certified mover is vital, since certain countries can have extensive customs delays due to security concerns.

When interviewing international moving companies, make sure they are transparent about their certifications, and clear about what’s included in, or excluded from, their services. Ask if they are able to oversee every aspect of the move and inquire about the type of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) they have in place with their providers or partners.

If your moving company overlooks key details, it can result in major inconveniences. For example, if a thorough inventory check is not conducted, you could experience a delay in shipping your items or face unnecessary customs-related fines or fees. Instead, make sure the moving company you choose has proven supply chain expertise, so that they can streamline the process for you.

Keep Up With Customs

Knowing what’s required when it comes to customs regulations will play a major role in achieving a seamless move. Experienced international movers like Suddath offer a wide range of international moving services and will be able to fully explain the customs requirements.

Now that you know some of the ins and outs of international moving, it may be time to get personalized advice. Our international relocation team can prevent unnecessary stress by completely organizing your upcoming move with the help of our trusted partners. We perform over 16,000 international moves each year and are fully equipped to facilitate relocations to more than 180 different countries.

An international move involves extensive planning, so it’s best to get started early. Suddath is a one-stop shop for all your moving needs and is standing by to answer any questions you may have. Contact us today for a free quote, or, for further reading, check out our Complete Guide to International Moving to find out more about the process of moving internationally.