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Do I have to be present for my belongings to pass customs?

Find out whether you will need to be present at customs for your items to pass through customs and continue their journey to your new home abroad.

Do I have to be present for my belongings to pass customs?


Relocating to another nation can be a legislative and administrative minefield. Every country has different regulations, so it can be confusing to determine if you need to be present at customs for your belongings to pass borders or not.
 
Work with your international moving company and embassy to ensure that you’re clear about everything that you need to do. They should advise you on the documentation you need to supply, and what items may be restricted or prohibited at customs in your chosen destination. 

So you can get an idea of what’s expected of you when relocating your belongings overseas, here are a few examples of some nations’ requirements. 

Example #1: Australia

If you are travelling abroad to live in Australia, your household possessions will be labelled as Unaccompanied Personal Effects. As you can probably tell by the name, you don’t have to be at customs to receive them. All you need to clear your items is to fill in a B534 form, and you can ask someone to do this on your behalf, whether that’s a relative or a relocation company.
 
You must have owned these items for at least a year, before they can travel across the world with you (if you don’t want to incur extra charges). If you have owned the items for less than 12 months they will be subject to duty and Goods and Services Tax (GST).
 
Similar to other countries, you will need to have a detailed inventory list and all of the required identity documents (a copy of your passport, etc). Australia aims to clear any personal goods within 3 working days, however, if there is a quarantine inspection it could take closer to 14 to 21 days.

Example #2: France

If you are moving from the UK to France, you shouldn’t have to pay any duty on your personal belongings, as long as you paid VAT on your purchase within the EU.
 
You will need to provide a full inventory of the items that you are importing to France (featuring their value in euros) and a customs declaration form, and you must have purchase receipts for all electrical items and any itams less than 6 months old. You will need a Certificate of Change of Residence from the French Consulate, which will show the dates of your living agreement. You may also need your work visa, as evidence of your residence in France.
 
You don’t have to be present at customs. In fact, your moving company can provide a door-to-door service. How long you will have to wait for your goods will depend on how smoothly the customs process goes.

Example #3: USA

The system is a little different in the USA. You will still receive your belongings duty free, but you will have to wait for customs to notify your international removal company that they have arrived. It’s important that you receive this information, because you have 15 days to collect your goods, before they are taken to a warehouse. After 6 months, your possessions will be auctioned off.
 
If you can’t come to collect your belongings, you can designate a friend or family member to do this for you. They will need a letter, written by you and addressed to the customs officer, giving them permission to do so, alongside all the usual documentation.
 
For more information about moving abroad to America, take a look at our article, Moving to USA.

Example #4: Japan

When moving to Japan, you will need to have a descriptive inventory of all of the items you’re hoping to send; you can write this in either English or Japanese, depending on which language you’re most comfortable with. You will also need to complete customs forms, during your journey or upon arrival and submit the forms to customs. Present your descriptive inventory, and your passport, when you fly over to your new country. You will need a clear copy of your VISA and the keys to any locked trunks or suitcases.
 
You need to be in Japan while your unaccompanied bags are being processed, but you don’t actually have to be present at customs for this procedure, as long as your belongings arrive within 6 months of you moving to Japan. Customs must have a copy of your delivery address and phone number, and bear in mind that there is a long list of things that you can’t bring into the country, so you will need to discuss any restrictions with your international removal company.  
 
The restrictions of shipping items abroad are very different depending on the country you are moving to. It is important that you find an international removal company that can help you with this process and provide you with the information you need to have a successful overseas house move.


Updated: January 2021.
 
 

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