Moving to the USA Customs Clearance Guide

Moving to the USA from the UK means transporting household possessions and personal items long distance. This can often be the most complex part of the process: choosing what to take and what to leave behind; deciding what is better to buy new once relocated; and the best ways to ship both large and small goods overseas.
Cadogan Tate can help with the practicalities of arranging shipping to the USA, using our wealth of knowledge and experience. This includes advising on packing and transportation methods to best suit requirements, as well as helping with the US customs declaration process.
All items will have to pass through US customs, controlled by the US Customs and Borders Protection, so it is wise to research thoroughly in advance what restrictions are in place for transporting goods. In this guide, we explore some of the customs regulations for the USA that it is worth being aware of.

What can be shipped?

All household goods and items can be imported into the USA duty-free as long as they have been in the owner’s possession for at least a year and will continue to be used by the owner after the move. It’s best to move everything in one go, but it is possible to bring items across at a later date, but the duty-free rules may not apply after 10 years.
There are various essential forms that need to be filled in for the customs clearance procedure. These are different depending on whether goods are travelling and entering the country alongside the owners, or via a separate transportation service. Cadogan Tate can advise on the required paperwork.


Different laws and limits apply when it comes to importing alcohol to the USA, depending on which state they are coming in to. Small amounts of alcohol are unlikely to cause any particular problems with customs, as it is considered for personal consumption. Personal wine collections can, however, cause some issues and the US Customs and Borders Protection recommends that wine collections are shipped separately to other household goods to prevent delays to the whole shipment. The customs laws applied depend on where the collection ‘enters’ the USA, which could be the port of entry or, using ‘in bond transit’ rules, the ultimate shipping destination. Large wine collections may arouse suspicion that it is not for personal use and intended for commercial sale. Duty rates will be payable based on alcohol content, which is around $1-2 a litre for wine and beer, and higher for spirits. If it is not essential to ship a valuable wine collection, it might be worth considering high-quality storage solutions instead.

Restricted goods and firearms

It is wise to know what items are prohibited for import into the USA. This includes things like alcohol-filled confectionary, absinthe, lottery tickets, drugs, fireworks, switchblade knives and more. Importing firearms into the USA can be tricky, and any firearms that are being brought into the USA for the first time, must be imported by a registered dealer whether new, used or inherited. The importation of firearms is regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. For firearms that can be proven to be over 100 years old, they are considered an antique and they may be eligible for duty-free treatment and require less paperwork. Firearms need to be shipped separately to household goods.

Food and medicine

There are a lot of restrictions on food products being brought into the USA, and it is best to limit it where possible. Products for personal use carried in personal baggage are generally admissible as long as they are properly declared and packaged. However, most animal products and by-products have restrictions and it is better not to attempt to import these. This includes anything that includes meat products, such as soup mixes or stock. Prescription medicine needs to be carried in its original packaging and with a doctor’s prescription or note on dosage and reasons for the prescription. It is only possible to carry a 90-day supply for personal use, which should allow enough time to access further prescription medication within the USA.

Let Cadogan Tate help

When choosing Cadogan Tate for an international relocation, a co-ordinator will be on hand for the technical and logistical aspects of the move. This includes help with any forms that are required for certain goods, as well as guidance on any particular customs clearance issues that may be faced. Find out more about moving to the USA.
Originally published in 2014. The content has been updated with up-to-date information.