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    Moving to America: A Guide to International Shipping

    By The reallymoving Team Updated 26th Mar, 2024

    If you’re moving to America, be it for work or personal reasons, there are a few things to consider before you make the leap. With this handy guide, we make moving to the United States just that little bit easier.

    Moving to America: A Guide to International Shipping

    Moving to the United States is undoubtedly a very exciting time. Whether you are moving to the U.S. for work or simply an altogether different life experience you will need to be organised to ensure you take everything you need ‘across the pond’.
    Here are some of the most important legal and practical considerations to take into account ahead of your moving day:

    Customs and documentation requirements for shipments

    Foreign nationals entering the United States via U.S. Customs and Border Protection are usually required to present a passport and valid visa issued by a U.S. Consular Official, unless they are a citizen of a country eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.

    The Visa Waiver Program allows foreign nationals from eligible countries to be admitted to the U.S. for a limited time of no more than 90 days without obtaining a visa.

    If you plan to work in the U.S. or stay longer than 90 days you should consult the U.S. State Department for guidance on visas and work permits as they vary significantly depending on where you’re moving from, and what type of work you’re doing.


    The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a list of items strictly prohibited from entering the country. The U.S. CBP is present at all ports of entry to the United States and is responsible for protecting the nation from all threats. The items prohibited from entering American shores are largely items that would “injure community health, public safety, American workers, children or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national interests”, including:

    • Narcotics
    • Fireworks
    • Firearms
    • Poison
    • Dangerous toys
    • Selected knives

    For a more exhaustive list of prohibited and restricted items in the USA check here before you travel.
    It is also recommended that you liaise with your international removal firm, as they will have the knowledge and expertise to help you decide what you can and can’t take with you, and will advise you on the forms you need to complete to notify the U.S. CBP.
    If you haven’t yet selected a removal company to oversee your move to the United States then click here to obtain quotes from customer-rated international removal firms in your area.

    Packing advice

    Before you begin packing we’d advise you to discuss with your international removals company how to best approach this task.
    Most international moves are better packed by your chosen removals firm as U.S. customs is known to be very strict when it comes to owner-packed items.
    There is a saying when it comes to clothing that anything you haven’t worn in the last 12 months should be disposed of. That’s certainly a good rule of thumb when packing your favourite items of clothing for your move to America.
    With space at a premium you may also consider vacuum packing your clothing into ‘space bags’ to compress a considerable amount of clothes into your suitcase. They are ideal for bulky belongings such as winter clothing, bedding and soft toys.
    It’s worth remembering that electrical goods use a different power supply in the U.S. The U.S. power supplies are 110-120v @ 60Hz – half the voltage of the power supply in the UK, although many appliances operate at both voltages.

    Our moving abroad packing tips can help offer advice when it comes to packing for your international house move.


    Childhood mementos are another tricky aspect of packing up your belongings and moving to the U.S. If you have any relatives or close friends that are going to remain in the UK you may consider asking if they have any space to store such treasured items for you until you’re settled or you return.
    Try not to take bulky photo albums; pack your photo collection into a single photo box or you could even share some of the pictures with friends and family who may appreciate the memories themselves.
    Alternatively, your international removals company may have the facility to store items and beloved mementos you don’t decide to take, saving you unnecessary hassle.

    Books and DVDs

    You may have an extensive book and DVD collection to sort out. Books are unfortunately some of the heaviest items you are likely to pack and therefore you may have to make the decision to sell your collection at car boot sales or give them to charity shops in order to send them to a good home. The U.S. has plenty of used books stores ideal for restarting lost collections.
    DVDs pose a different issue as U.S. and UK region DVD players differ. If you don’t want to lose your DVDs you can always purchase a multi-regional player.
    Avoid the temptation of purchasing new material items you’ve envisioned in your new home in the U.S. as they will simply increase your removal costs from the outset.
    Be sure to focus on packing the necessities you’ll require from day one. If you have essentials you will need sooner than your books and DVDs, for instance, you could liaise with your international removal company who can offer an airfreight shipment which will arrive much faster than your container or groupage.

    Transit times

    There are several ways you can have your possessions transported, depending on the volume/weight of the goods, the speed of delivery, your route and of course, your budget.
    The majority of large household shipments travel by sea. They are packed to prevent damage during transit, then loaded into their very own sealed 20 foot or 40 foot steel shipping container and delivered directly to port ready for shipment.
    Both containers and groupage are often packed on-site. Containers are usually loaded at home, while items to be shipped in groupage – the merging of many small shipments within a single container – are stored for consolidation with loading at your removal company’s depot.
    For priority transport, your international removals firm may be able to arrange air freight to the U.S. depending on availability. It is important to note that as air freight is a speedier service you will ultimately pay a premium for transport and storage. Typically, international movers will only use air freight for the smallest high priority items which have to be shipped immediately, then wait a few weeks for the bulk of their possessions which are shipped by sea freight. 
    Below is a table of approximate shipping transit times to some of the major cities in the United States of America from the UK.


    Boston – 8 to 12 weeks
    Chicago – 8 to 12 weeks
    Houston – 9 to 13 weeks
    Los Angeles – 9 to 13 weeks
    Miami – 8 to 12 weeks
    New York – 8 to 12 weeks
    San Francisco – 9 to 13 weeks

    Sole container

    Boston – 4 to 6 weeks
    Chicago – 5 to 7 weeks
    Houston – 5 to 7 weeks
    Los Angeles – 6 to 8 weeks
    Miami – 4 to 6 weeks
    New York – 4 to 6 weeks
    San Francisco – 6 to 8 weeks

    Official documents

    Official documentation is an obvious requirement, particularly on arrival in customs and when you are looking for employment. Make sure applicable references and educational and medical certification is stored away safely, but is also easily accessible when you step off the plane onto American shores.
    Putting aside the emotion of leaving home permanently is difficult enough, but deciding what gets sacrificed and what makes the cut will ensure you experience a smooth transition from the UK to the States.

    Life in the USA

    One of the wonderful things about moving to America from the UK is the sheer diversity on offer. Whether you dream of sunny beaches, busy cosmopolitan life, the suburban Midwest or something in between, you’ll find it amongst the diversity of the 50 states.
    Variety exists in terms of culture and history, climate, wages, entertainment and overall quality of life, and so it pays to do your research before emigrating to the US to ensure you choose the right state and city. 

    A visa is a document that entitles the holder to travel to the United States and to apply for admission on arrival. It’s important to remember that the visa itself does not guarantee entry – your eligibility to be admitted to the country is determined by an immigration official at the port of entry. UK applications for visas to travel to America are usually handled by the US Embassy in London, although in some cases immigrant visas are processed by the National Visa Center in the States. 

    Obviously, you’ll need your passport when you travel to the US, but what’s a little less obvious is that your passport must be valid for the duration of the visa you have applied for. If you intend to live in America for 3 years then your passport must be valid for the next 3 years; so, replace your passport early if necessary. 

    Types of visa

    There are two types of visa available: non-immigrant and immigrant. Non-immigrant visas are designed for those intending to stay in the country for a shorter period – whether for tourism, business, work or study – but not indefinitely. Immigrant visas are for those who intend to live permanently within the United States.

    Documentation required for a non-immigrant visa

    The specific documentation you will have to provide to the US Embassy to support your application varies depending on the type of visa you require. We’ve outlined the core requirements below. You can check the specific documentation requirements for your specific visa category at the Embassy website.

    • Printouts for the confirmation of completing the online non-immigrant visa application form DS-160, and the appointment confirmation page.
    •  A passport or other travel document valid for the period of your stay. For non-UK passport holders, the document must be valid for at least six months beyond the period of stay.
    • A 5 x 5 cm colour photograph, taken within the past six months.
    • For non-UK or EU passport holders, evidence of your status in the United Kingdom.
    • Evidence of previously issued US visas, if these are not shown in your current passport.

    You will also have to provide relevant documentation if you have ever been arrested and/or have a criminal conviction, have a medical ineligibility, or have previously been denied entry into (or been deported from) the United States. The consular officer is also entitled to ask for additional documentary evidence, such as confirmation that you have sufficient funds to cover your expenses while in the US.

    Documentation required for an immigrant visa

    As you might imagine, for immigrant visas the document requirements are rather more thorough. You will need to provide originals or certified copies of each of the following (where relevant) for each member of your family:

    • A passport valid for travel to the United States, with at least eight months validity from the date on which the visa is issued. Children may be included on the parent's passport, but photographs of children over 16 must be printed in the passport.
    • Full birth certificates for you, your spouse, and all unmarried children under 21 – even if they are not immigrating with you.
    • Adoption certificates (issued by a public authority) where applicable.
    • Deed poll or other legal evidence of a change of name, where applicable.
    • Marriage certificates for your current and any previous marriages.
    • Divorce decree or death certificates for any previous spouses.
    • Police certificates from the UK Criminal Records Office, and from any other nations you have lived in for more than 12 months since the age of 16, and any country where you have been arrested, even if you were not resident there.
    • Court and prison records, if you have ever been convicted of a crime.
    • Military records, where applicable.
    • Two 5 x 5 cm colour photographs, taken within the past six months.
    • Form I-864 contractual affidavit of support, where applicable.
    • For employment-based visas, a recent letter from your employer confirming that the job offer upon which your application is based is still available to you.
    • Certified English translations for any non-English documents provided.
    • The appropriate visa fee.

    Failure to provide all the correct documents at your visa application interview can result in your application being denied, so if in doubt ensure you check the US embassy website or contact them directly for advice.

    Cost of Living in the USA

    One key area of interest for most people relocating to the US is the cost of living. The US economy has seen substantial recovery in recent years, but it’s important to note that cost of living in America varies hugely depending on where you are.
    For example, New York was named the fifth most expensive city in the world in 2014, and other ex-pat havens such as Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles will also set you back a fair amount in terms of property, utilities, and overall cost of entertainment and leisure.
    That said, there are more affordable places to live as well, and so doing some research by city or by state is recommended. 

    If you’re moving to America for work, you may be lucky enough to have accommodation arranged by your employer. Otherwise, you’ll want to either start looking into rental options or engage a US real estate broker (specifically a buyer’s agent) to arrange for the purchase of an appropriate property. Some people find it useful to rent initially with a view to buying a property in the longer term.
    If you currently rent your home in the UK you will usually have to give your landlord at least one month’s notice before quitting the property. If you own your property, you’ll have to decide whether to sell up or to let it out in your absence. 

    Note that if you have a mortgage on your property you will have to apply to your lender for consent to let, and this is usually only granted if you can confirm that you will be returning to live in the property within a fixed period (for example, up to three years).

    US Healthcare system

    The convenience and care provided by the NHS will become a thing of the past for many British ex-pats, as the US healthcare system is reliant upon insurance – and it’s not cheap.
    You will need health insurance to access any kind of medical care, and so this should be budgeted into your costs of the move and sorted as soon as you arrive. Unlike the NHS, sadly healthcare is not one of the things made free at the point of access through taxes – which you will also be liable to pay if you pass the Presence Test – each year. 


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