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International Relocation for Expats in the United States Of America

Submitted: October 2013

As exciting as the prospect of moving to the USA is, when it comes to the actual move, there are few who look with excitement at packing boxes, dealing with immigration authorities and completing seemingly endless forms. It can indeed be wearisome dealing with bureaucracy in two countries and trying to arrange everything on time, but it does not have to be! The key is to familiarise yourself with the requirements and start planning well in advance. In this respect, our Expat Briefing articles on the USA offer a good starting point. 

Relocation companies

It is a good idea to opt for a relocation company to assist with your move.  Most of these companies are more than just mere shipment companies. While they do organise the move of your personal and household belongings, they also offer guidance on administrative procedures during and after relocation and assist with immigration issues and housing searches. However, the array of offered services and the applicable prices vary greatly from company to company, therefore it is crucial to do thorough research before committing to one. In this respect, online reviews and expat forums are a valuable resource!

Examples of companies offering relocation services for expats moving to the USA include:

Moving your belongings

If, however, you are planning your relocation on your own, you will have to decide how to best move your items to the US. Most airline companies will only allow one or two pieces of personal luggage. Sending items via post or express delivery services such as DHL or UPS is only recommendable for lesser quantities. For larger quantities it is best to choose one of the specialised shipment companies and opt for a good insurance.

In addition to the relocation companies mentioned above, which also organise shipments, you might want to consider the following specialised shipment companies:

In general, expats moving to the USA are allowed to bring their personal possessions and household items to the USA tax free, provided that they have owned these items for at least one year before relocation and that they move the items within 10 years of their own arrival to the USA.

If you are not travelling together with your goods, you will also have to complete the form 3299, Declaration for Free Entry of Unaccompanied Items, and attach an inventory of the goods you are sending to the USA. Upon arrival of the goods to the USA, you will normally have to collect these from the US Customs and Border Control within 10 days of their arrival.

However, note that there are restrictions in place for certain items which cannot be brought into the USA tax free. For example, if you take along more than a litre of alcoholic beverages, or more than 200 cigarettes for personal use, you will have to pay import duties.  For more information see the US Customs and Border Control website.

On how to relocate to the USA with pets see Relocation with Families and Pets for Expats in the USA.

Importing your vehicle

If you are considering relocating to the USA with your own vehicle, there are a number of legal requirements to keep in mind. First of all, you will only be allowed to bring your car into the US if it conforms with the environmental and safety standards prescribed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation.

If you ship your car to the USA, you will have to collect it from one of the Customs and Border Control points. If you bring it into the USA by land, you will have to make sure to declare it to Customs and Border Control upon entering the country. In either case, you will need to present at least the following documentation:

Note that you can generally bring one vehicle into the USA duty free, provided that it arrives to the USA within one year of your own arrival to the USA.

After your car has been cleared through Customs, you will then be able to register it with the Department of Motor Vehicles of the respective US state you are moving to. For further guidelines on car importation see the Customs and Border Control  site on Importing Vehicles. To read more about driving in the USA in general see Driving and Public Transport for Expats.



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