Moving to the U.S.
Trust UniGroup with Your Move to the United States
Whether you are a returning citizen or a resident of another country, your household goods must be cleared by U.S. Customs when you move to the United States.
UniGroup Worldwide will provide you with the appropriate forms and offer you guidance on completing the documentation. Please confirm special power of attorney to UniGroup Worldwide to provide customs clearance on your behalf so that you do not have to be present. This can give you more time to focus on your job and make arrangements for your home. Customs clearance will be performed by our own operated customs broker.
The following guide summarizes the major regulations placed on the importation of household goods. Understanding the requirements and restrictions will help you prepare your shipment accordingly.
Know Before You Go
When it comes time to pack, planning appropriately and making informed choices on what you import will help streamline the customs process. The U.S. has restrictions on the importation of many items, such as weapons, alcohol, automobiles, plants, pets and others.
In addition, the U.S. government has placed strict limitations on the importation of items such as reptile skins, ivory, fur, coral and other endangered species. The importation of some items may be banned outright.
To assist you in learning more about U.S. customs policies and procedures, this guide includes contact information to the federal agencies that regulate the importation of goods. Many offer information and forms online, as well as printed brochures that are available free of charge.
On behalf of UniGroup Worldwide, "Welcome to the United States!"
Notice and Acknowledgement
Every effort has been made to ensure the customs information in this site is up-to-date. However, due to constantly changing conditions, all information is subject to change at any time and without notice. UniGroup Worldwide cannot guarantee or assume responsibility for changes in U.S. clearance requirements. Therefore, it is advisable to contact the Customs Service or the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy for the most current information.
UniGroup Worldwide appreciates the guidance of the U.S. Customs Service in the development and updating of this information.
To expedite the customs clearance procedure and avoid costly delays, do not include prescription medication in your household goods shipment. Instead, carry all prescription drugs with you as you enter the country. Alternately, you should mail the medication into the States.
The United States limits the importation of prescription drugs for personal use to a supply of three months or less. Do not consolidate your prescription medications into one container. Instead, keep your medicine in separate vials clearly labeled (in English) with the name of the medication and prescribing doctor, the dosage, and directions for use. Medication mailed into the States is routinely inspected.
If your medication does not contain sufficient documentation, the product will be detained until you provide the required paperwork. It also is helpful to obtain a letter from your doctor explaining the medications prescribed. Such a letter also could prove invaluable in an emergency situation. This type of documentation is especially important for those individuals such as diabetics whose medication is administered via hypodermic injection.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the importation of drugs it has determined to be dangerous or fraudulent. It maintains information on its policies and prohibitions online.
You can also contact a local U.S. consulate or embassy or the U.S. Customs Service to discuss the importation of prescription medicine.
U.S. Customs has made a concentrated effort to reduce stolen vehicles entering and exiting the United States, so it is imperative to prove that you are the owner of any motor vehicle you import. To provide this proof, you will need your original title of ownership free of lien. If a lien is listed on the original title, an original lieu release or notarized original letter from the lien holder.
Before leaving your origin country, you may want to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles or similar agency to obtain a duplicate title as a backup. Your original title will be given to your authorized UniGroup Worldwide representative. UniGroup will courier the title to U.S. Customs. Customs will return the title to UniGroup Worldwide, who will return it to you at your destination address.
If a lien holder has your car title, request a letter giving permission to take the vehicle out of the country. The letter should be on the financing company's letterhead and signed by someone in the lender's management. It should include a name, phone number, and email address for any questions. The letter should be an original.
Five federal agencies regulate the importation of vehicles to the United States:
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- U.S. Customs Service
- Internal Revenue Service
Converting a nonconforming vehicle to comply with U.S. regulations is usually prohibitively expensive, and it is sometimes impossible or impractical. Further, some vehicles are prohibited from importation into the United States because of the vehicles themselves or the country from which they originated. For these reasons, it is important to determine if your car is in compliance with U.S. regulations before you attempt to import it.
Safety and Emissions Standards
To ensure that an automobile manufactured abroad is in compliance with U.S. safety and emission standards you will be required to produce confirmation statements from vehicle’s manufacturer.
Vehicles 25 years old or less must comply with U.S. motor vehicle safety standards that were in effect when the vehicles were manufactured. Passenger cars manufactured after Sept. 1, 1973, also must meet bumper standards.
Automobiles 21 years or older—from the time of manufacture or purchase to the time of importation—are exempt from emission requirements, as are those owned by importers facing circumstances deemed extraordinary or a hardship. For the latter, vehicles must be essential for basic living.
If your vehicle was manufactured in 1974 or later and driven in a country without unleaded gasoline, you will be required to have the vehicle's oxygen sensor and/or catalytic converter replaced.
If you are importing a vehicle in need of modifications, you must enter into a contract with a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) registered importer, an automotive business that will modify your vehicle upon your arrival in the States. The DOT provides lists of registered importers.
Cars imported in this manner must enter under a DOT bond equal to 150% of the vehicle's dutiable value. (If your vehicle requires any modifications, a bond also might be required by customs that is equal to your vehicle's value.)
Automobiles not conforming to U.S. emission standards must be imported through an independent commercial importer that will bring your vehicle into compliance. ICIs are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provides contact information for them. Vehicles must meet EPA requirements within 120 days of their arrival.
If your vehicle requires modifications related to safety, bumper, and emission standards, you will need to acquire services from both a registered importer and an ICI. You might be able to enter into a contract with either type of business that in turn can contract out for services from the other at the conclusion of its work. Some automotive businesses also do safety, bumper, and emission modifications.
All people importing vehicles must fill out DOT form HS-7, indicating whether their car meets safety and bumper standards, and EPA Form 3520-1, indicating whether their car meets emission requirements. If your car needs modifications, you also must furnish a copy of your contract with a registered importer or ICI, in addition to applicable bonds, to customs at the port of entry. Automobiles are cleared at the first port of entry unless you arrange for a freight forwarder abroad to have your vehicle sent to a customs port more convenient to you.
Contact Information for U.S. Agencies
Since safety and emission requirements are subject to change, it is recommended that you contact one of the following agencies for the most up-to-date regulations.
For information safety and bumper regulations and a list of registered importers, contact:
U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, NSA-32
400 Seventh St. S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590, U.S.A.
Hotline: (800) 424-9393; fax (202) 366-1024
For information on emission control standards for imported vehicles or a list of ICIs, contact:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Manufacturers Operations Division (6405-J)
501 Third St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001, U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 564- 9240
Hotline: (202) 564-9660 (Request the auto imports facts manual)
Fax: (202) 565-2057
Fax: (202) 564-9596
Tips for Importing Cars
Once you decide to import your vehicle to the U.S. remember these two tips before delivering it for shipment. Both tips are important for clearing a vehicle through customs.
Wash Your Car
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that all imported vehicles be free from foreign soil. Consequently, you must have your car or truck steam-sprayed or cleaned thoroughly before shipping it.
For more information, contact:
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
4700 River Road
Riverdale, MD 20737 U.S.A.
Phone: (301) 734-8645
Phone: (301) 734-4327
Empty Your Car
Do not ship personal belongings in your vehicle. Cars must be completely empty, except for factory installed equipment, according to customs regulations.
Mark your car
Consult your local automobile club or an international automobile organization about obtaining an International Registration Marker. This permit must be displayed on all imported cars in the United States.
Import Duties on Vehicles
The duty for a new or used foreign-made vehicle imported into the United States is based on the price paid or the invoice price. Contact a local customs office for the current duty rate. Most Canadian-made vehicles are duty-free.
A returning U.S. resident (one returning from travel, work, or study) may apply his or her $400 customs exemption—as well as the exemptions of accompanying family members—toward the vehicle's value if it meets the following requirements:
- The vehicle accompanies you on your return to the States
- It is imported for personal use
- It was purchased during your stay outside the United States
After this exemption has been applied, the next $1,000 of the vehicle's value is dutiable at a flat rate of 10%, with the remainder dutiable at the regular rate.
You are entitled to import a foreign-made car free of duty if you are:
- A U.S. citizen employed abroad or a government employee returning from temporary duty or on voluntary leave. These citizens may import a foreign-made car free of duty provided they claim nonresident status, enter the United States for a short visit only, and export the vehicle when they leave the States.
- A civilian or military employee of the U.S. government returning to the United States at the end of an assignment of 140 days or more. These citizens may include a conforming vehicle among their duty-free personal and household goods, provided the vehicle was purchased abroad and was in the owner's possession prior to his or her departure for the States. Navy personnel serving aboard a U.S. vessel may be entitled to the free-entry exemption after an intended overseas deployment of at least 120 days.
- A nonresident with a vehicle designated for personal use and imported in conjunction with the owner's arrival. Such automobiles conforming to U.S. standards may remain in the States indefinitely, but are dutiable if sold within one year of importation. This duty must be paid before the sale is completed. Nonconforming vehicles may not be sold in the United States. They are crushed, confiscated, or exported to another country.
- A nonresident importing a vehicle for a temporary stay in the United States for purposes other than personal, such as racing, repairs, or as a sample for taking orders. These cars are subject to specific customs regulations. Check with a customs office for these regulations, as well as guidelines pertaining to unusual situations.
For additional information, contact:
U.S. Customs Service
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20229 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 354-1000
Phone: (202) 927-6724
Phone: (202) 927-1000
Federal Tax on Imported Cars
Some imported automobiles are subject to the "Gas Guzzler Tax" stipulated in Section 4064 of the Internal Revenue Code. Liability for the tax is the responsibility of the individual importing the vehicle, and the tax rate is determined by the EPA's fuel economy rating for your type of vehicle. (This rating might differ from the one cited by the manufacturer.) Before registering and titling your vehicle, many states require proof you have paid the "Gas Guzzler Tax" if it applies to you.
For more information on the "Gas Guzzler Tax," contact:
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20224, U.S.A.
IRS Publication 510
Phone: (202) 622-3130
Fax: (202) 622-4537
The following Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publications provide information on the "Gas Guzzler Tax" and fuel economy ratings: Section 4064 of the Internal Revenue Code; Publication 510, "Excise Taxes"; Revenue Procedure 86-9 and 1986-1 Cumulative Bulletin 530; Revenue Procedure 87-10; and Revenue Ruling 86-20 and 1986-1 Cumulative Bulletin 319.
Generally speaking, firearms purchased in the United States and taken out of the country by a resident may be imported back into the country. However, it is the responsibility of the returning resident to provide a bill of sale or commercial document indicating proof of possession or ownership. Customs forms 4455, "Certificate of Registration," or 4457, “Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad,” may be used for this purpose.
However, guns purchased outside the United States are subject to complicated clearance procedures and are very difficult to import. You will need to apply for a permit by filling out the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Form 6, "Application and Permit for Importation of Firearms, Ammunition, and Implements of War." Active military personnel need to use a special form. To receive a form, contact any ATF office. The main office may be reach at:
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
650 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Room 5300
Washington, D.C. 20226, U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 927-8320
Fax: (202) 927-2697
It is recommended that anyone considering the shipment of foreign-purchased guns into the States consult with a local U.S. consulate or embassy prior to departure.
Weapons, ammunition, and other devices prohibited by the National Firearms Act will be denied entry unless specifically authorized by the ATF. Due to the risk of accidental explosion, UniGroup Worldwide's policy stipulates that ammunition cannot be shipped with household goods.
Firearms manufactured before 1898 may be imported into the United States without difficulty. Ensure the gun is a genuine antique; replica firearms require authorization from the ATF to clear customs.
Weapons with fixed blades generally are permitted entry into the United States. However, souvenirs such as swords, camel whips, machetes, and similar items capable of being used as weapons could be in violation of local and state laws.
According to U.S. Customs, knives designed for “'utilitarian use' such as household purposes, personal grooming, trade or professional employment, crafts or hobbies, hunting and fishing, and scouting activities are also permitted unrestricted entry, provided that the imported knife does not open automatically and is not a switchblade." However, a switchblade is allowed for one-handed people for their personal use.
Your UniGroup Worldwide move manager will encourage you to complete your Customs declaration forms in advance of departure. The forms require you to list items in your shipment, their value, and whether they were purchased within the preceding year.
If you send signed, completed forms to your UniGroup representative prior to your departure, he or she will begin arrangements for your customs clearance prior to the shipment’s arrival in the U.S. Completing a power of attorney form will allow UniGroup to act on your behalf in moving your goods through customs.
Forms are available at the following locations:
- U.S. Customs Form 3299, "Declaration for Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles"
- U.S. Customs Form II – RC - 159, "Supplemental Declaration for Unaccompanied Personal and Household Effects"
- Customs Form 5291 (120195), power of attorney for customs clearance
Before clearing customs, unclaimed personal effects are placed in a warehouse as temporary storage and subject to a storage fee. This is referred to as “storage in transit” (SIT). After a certain number of days, your carrier's order for service ceases, and the warehouse assumes responsibility for the shipment under a new contract. Your shipment is now considered in "permanent storage." If you leave your shipment unclaimed for a year, your items are sold at auction.
Items can be sent as an in-bond shipment (one awaiting customs clearance) from the first port of arrival to another customs port that is more convenient for you. Arrangements for this should be made before the items leave for the States. Goods also may be sent to a bonded warehouse for temporary storage. Duties and processing fees are to be paid after items are removed from storage.
Duty and Duty-Free Items
Duty is the tax paid on certain imported goods, including wedding gifts, inherited items, and articles purchased at duty-free shops in other countries or in the States, if items are returning here. Customs duty generally is a percentage of an item's dutiable value, but it also may be a specific rate or a combination of rates.
Duties for items from countries granted most-favored nation status by the United States typically are lower than for items from other nations. Although items purchased outside the States and brought into the country are subject to internal revenue tax and duty, many household goods purchased abroad (such as furniture carpets, paintings, tableware, and linens) and used for at least one year may be imported duty-free.
U.S. residents moving back to the States ordinarily are permitted a duty exemption on $400 (retail value) worth of items purchased abroad—provided these items accompany the resident into the country and are for use either as personal goods or gifts.
U.S. residents returning from American Samoa, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands receive an exemption of $1,200.
A $600 exemption is allowed for U.S. residents returning from one of about two dozen "beneficiary" countries, which generally are in the Caribbean and in Central and South America. The U.S. Customs Service maintains a list of these countries.
You may include in your $400 exemption one liter of alcoholic beverages if you are at least age 21 and if alcohol is allowed by your destination state. You may include up to 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes. If you qualify for the $1,200 exemption, you may include 1,000 cigarettes.
Note that Cuban cigars and cigarettes are not allowed. This prohibition is strictly enforced.
If you cannot claim any of the aforementioned exemptions, you are permitted a $25 exemption and may include: up to 50 cigarettes, 10 cigars, 4 fluid ounces of alcoholic beverages, and 4 fluid ounces of alcoholic perfume.
After deducting your exemptions and duty-free items, a flat 10 percent rate of duty will be applied to the next $1,000 worth of merchandise that is for personal use or to be given as gifts. Any amount exceeding $1,000 will be dutiable at the rates applicable for the various items.
For items from American Samoa, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands, the flat rate of duty for the next $1,000 worth of items after the exemption is 5 percent.
Returning residents may send to friends and relatives in the United States bona-fide gifts of up to $50 in total value free of duty and tax, as long as each recipient does not receive more than $50 in gifts on the day they are processed by customs.
If sending gifts from American Samoa, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, the total value limit is $100.
Do not declare mailed gifts upon your return to the States. Further, gifts accompanying you do not qualify for this exemption.
Nonresidents who are entering the United States, including children born outside the States, are permitted to bring in the following items free of duty:
- Bona-fide gifts up to a combined value of $100.
- Personal items, such as clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, items for personal hygiene, and hunting, fishing, and photographic equipment.
- Vehicles for personal use, provided they are imported in conjunction with your arrival. Automobiles that comply with U.S. standards may remain in the country indefinitely, but those that do not must be exported within a year.
- The personal and household effects of military or civilian employees employed by the U.S. government are eligible for duty-free entry if the person is returning to the States after concluding an extended assignment abroad. The items must have been in the person's possession prior to departure for the States.
A copy of the government orders terminating the person's assignment must accompany the items in an attached sealed envelope. The cartons should be marked "Returned Personal Effects—Orders Enclosed."
Please keep in mind the price quoted for transporting your shipment does not include customs duties, taxes, or any other fees imposed by the U.S. government. In some cases, additional charges can arise from the random inspection of shipments.
Immigration of Foreign Workers
The United States maintains strict laws, regulations, and procedures governing the immigration of foreign workers. Different visa requirements pertain to immigrants (those who wish to live in the United States permanently) and non-immigrants (those whose stay in the States is temporary).
For information regarding immigration and visa classifications, contact:
U.S. Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service
425 I St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20536, U.S.A.
Phone: (800) 375-5283
Forms Request: (800) 870-3676
You may import wines and other alcoholic beverages into the United States as part of your household goods shipment—pursuant to the laws of your state of residence. Alcoholic beverages included in your household goods shipment are subject to duty and tax.
However, with few exceptions, alcoholic beverages may not be mailed—they will be seized if imported through the mail.
Many states require a permit or receipt that must be presented to U.S. Customs officials upon importing alcoholic beverages. If a permit is required, you will need to secure it prior to your departure so you can have it ready to present to U.S. Customs officials.
To expedite this process, write to your state's alcohol control board for information on how to petition for a permit. This should be done about 60 days prior to your move since the actual petition should be made at least 30 days before your shipment's departure.
It is important that you determine your destination state's law on importing alcohol before you relocate. There may be restrictions or special taxes on imported liquor. You may require a permit from your destination state’s alcohol control board.
Prior to departing for the States, compile an inventory of all alcoholic beverages you plan to import. This list should include the brand name, number of bottles, volume per bottle, alcoholic content, and price for each item.
You can find additional information on the personal importation of alcoholic beverages on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms website.
Any baggage accompanying a person arriving in the United States is subject to inspection by the U.S. Customs Service.
As a rule, items for personal or household use purchased abroad are not subject to duty if purchased more than a year ago. However, since every item coming into the country must be reported to a custom inspector, it is recommended that you prepare a list of all items packed in your luggage, including items you plan to distribute as gifts.
To further facilitate entry into the country, the U.S. Customs Service advises travelers to pack separately any items purchased abroad.
Importing Pets and Wildlife
Although many departments of the U.S. government share in monitoring the importation of pets and wildlife, the 1976 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act stipulates the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for establishing the standards for transporting, handling, and treating imported animals.
The U.S. Public Health Service requires that all imported pets be examined for evidence of any disease that can be transmitted to humans, and the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requires that animals and birds—both domestic and wild—be free from any disease that could threaten the U.S. livestock and poultry industries.
Further, the United States restricts or prohibits the importation and exportation of animals and birds protected by the international treaty of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
For further information and required documents related to the admittance of animals into the United States, contact:
U.S. Public Health Service
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Division of Quarantine (EQ3)
1600 Clifton Road N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A.
Phone: (404) 639-8107
Fax: (404) 639-2599
For information about importing live animals or animal products, call the USDA APHIS information hotline at (301) 734-4952.
Before attempting to import a pet, check with authorities from your state, country and municipal governments for any restrictions they might have in place.
Transporting any animal takes considerable planning. For example, you might be able to expedite the clearance procedure by writing to the veterinarian at the port of entry and notifying him or her of your pet's flight number and expected time of arrival. It's also a good idea to schedule your pet's arrival for a weekday when the personnel necessary to clear your pet are on duty.
Pet birds brought into the United States from countries other than Canada are quarantined at the owner's expense for at least 30 days in a USDA-operated import facility.
USDA facilities are located in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. If you are arriving in the States by land from Mexico, you may have your bird quarantined in Mission, Texas.
Prior to accepting a bird for quarantine, the USDA requires payment of a fee for the cost of quarantine services. Since space at USDA quarantine facilities is limited, you should make a reservation for your bird prior to your arrival. To reserve space, contact the USDA or a U.S. consulate or embassy, and ask for VS Form 17-23.
You also will be required to present a health certificate signed within 30 days of your bird's arrival in the United States by a government veterinarian from the bird's country of origin. The certificate must state the bird has been examined, is free from disease, and is being exported in compliance with laws of the origin nation. The certificate must be in English. For certain types of birds, particularly those protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species treaty, you may need a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Birds originating in the U.S that have been abroad for more than 60 days may be quarantined at the owner's home for 30 days if they are:
- Accompanied by a U.S. veterinarian health certificate and a tattoo or number leg band for identification purposes, both received prior to departure from the States
- Inspected at a USDA veterinarian inspection station at the first port of entry (any international airport)
- Have not been in contact with poultry or other birds while outside the States
- If your bird will arrive at a "limited port of entry," call the port veterinarian at least three days in advance to make arrangements for inspection.
Importing Dogs and Cats
Dogs and cats are examined at the port of entry to determine if they are free from diseases communicable to humans. A vaccination against rabies is not required for cats; however, dogs should be vaccinated for rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the States. A valid rabies vaccination certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian must accompany the dog, identifying it and providing the dates of vaccination and vaccination expiration.
If the dog's rabies vaccination was administered less than one month before its arrival, the pet will be admitted into the country but must be placed in quarantine by the owner until the required 30 days have expired.
A dog that has not been vaccinated may be admitted, provided the owner has it vaccinated within 10 days of arrival at the port of entry and confined for a subsequent 30 days. If importing puppies, check with the U.S. Public Health Service for special guidelines.
There are no public health restrictions on importing live turtles with a shell length of more than four inches. You may import smaller turtles, but customs regulations limit their entry to one lot of fewer than seven live turtles or viable turtle eggs, or any combination of the two.
Monkeys, lemurs, baboons, chimpanzees, and all other non-human primates cannot be imported. The only exceptions are primates imported for scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes by an importer registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Game birds and animals—other than endangered or threatened species—may be imported for noncommercial use if accompanied by the necessary documentation, which might be required from the United States and origin country.
You may contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine restrictions placed on importing wildlife or wildlife products, receive clarification of the documentation required, and request the publication "Facts About Federal Wildlife Laws":
Division of Law Enforcement
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 North Fairfax Dr. Room 520
Arlington, VA 22203-3247, U.S.A.
Phone: (703) 358-1949
Fax: (703) 358-2258
The following organization also offers information about importing wildlife and wildlife products:
TRAFFIC (U.S.A.) World Wildlife Fund
1250 24th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037, U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 293-4800
Fax: (202) 293-9211
For information about the importation of marine mammal products, contact:
Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Services
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: (301) 713-2239
Fax: (301) 713-stet
Wildlife and wildlife products must enter or exit the United States at one of the following designated ports (unless permits allow otherwise or unless conditions exist that allow entry or exit at a Canadian or Mexican border port or a special port): Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Live animals deemed harmful to the environment, people, animals, or plants of the United States are prohibited from entry. These include the fruit bat, mongoose, walking catfish, and java sparrow. The restriction does not include domesticated dogs, cats, or rabbits. Many states have strict prohibitions against the introduction of non-native wildlife.
Generally, any items of a biological nature—including plants, cuttings, seeds, vegetables, and fruits—are subject to approval prior to importation into the United States. All plants, plant products, fruits, and vegetables must be declared to customs and presented to a customs officer for inspection. All plants must be free of soil, sand and earth.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the importation of plants and plant products. You must make arrangements for delivery of plant materials to a USDA plant inspection station and, if necessary, delivery to the final destination.
Inspection stations are located in Elizabeth, New Jersey; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu; Houston; Los Angeles; Los Indies, Texas; Miami; New Orleans; New York City (John F. Kennedy International Airport); Nogales, Arizona; Orlando, Florida; San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle. You will be responsible for inspection and handling fees, and you may be customs duty.
Tips for Importing Plants
Planning ahead will help speed your plants through the importation process:
- Ensure you have secured any required permits in advance
- Label plant packages with the genus, species, and variety of plants, preferably using scientific names
- If your plants will arrive at an inspection station without you, enclose a sheet of paper with your name, home address, and permit number so the plants can be forwarded to you without delay
- Consider mailing plants to an inspection station when possible to save on costs and avoid delays at your port of arrival. Mailing plants can improve their chances of survival
- Speed up your plants' arrival at an inspection station by affixing a "priority passport" (a green and yellow mailing label) from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
- Mail your plants early in the week to avoid delays on the weekend. Import duties, if any, will be collected at your local post office
Some plant materials do not require permits and can be carried by you as personal baggage when you enter the States. You should declare the plants to customs and have them inspected by a USDA inspector.
Other plants are prohibited or restricted. The U.S. Endangered Species Act places numerous restrictions on the importation of endangered plants such as certain cycads, orchids and cacti.
Check with APHIS's Plant Protection and Quarantine Import Permit Unit on the entry status of your types of plants. Some plants require permits from the origin country in addition to the United States.
For more information and detailed requirements on importing plants, contact:
United States Dept. of Agriculture
4700 River Road
Riverdale, MD 20737, U.S.A.
Phone: (301) 734-8645
Plant Information Hotline: (301) 734-4327
The U.S. Customs Service and other agencies of the U.S. government offer pamphlets to make entry or re-entry into the United States easier. In addition, the Customs Service provides a general information telephone number at (202) 354-1000.
A great deal of the information is available from the Customs Service website. You also may request the following pamphlets at a local U.S. Customs office, consulate, or embassy or by writing to the Customs Service at P.O. Box 7407, Washington, D.C. 20044, U.S.A.
- "Know Before You Go" - customs hints U.S. residents going abroad
- Welcome to the U.S.
- "Pets and Wildlife" (Pub. 509)
- "International Mail Imports" (Pub. 514)
- "U.S. Customs Highlights for Government Personnel" (Pub. 518)
- "Importing or Exporting a Car"
- "Foreign Trade Zones" - customs procedures and requirements (Pub. 538)
- Travel Alerts
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers two brochures on importing animals, plants, and food:
- "Travelers' Tips on Bringing Food, Plant, and Animal Products into the United States"
- "Importing a Pet Bird—Special Rules for Bringing Pet Birds into the United States"
You may request printed copies of these brochures by writing:
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
4700 River Road
Riverdale, MD 20737, U.S.A.
Many of the items restricted from entry into the United States are noted throughout this guide. However, you should contact your nearest U.S. consulate, embassy, or the U.S. Customs Service well before packing day to ensure you are aware of all restricted and prohibited items. In addition to the restrictions placed on such items as vehicles, weapons, liquor, medicine, animals, and plants, there are less-obvious subject to strict enforcement of U.S. laws.
Items prohibited from entry into the United States include the following:
- Liquor-filled candy (where prohibited by state law)
- Lottery tickets
- Narcotics and dangerous drugs
- Obscene articles and publications
- Seditious and treasonable materials
- Hazardous articles (such as fireworks, dangerous toys, and toxic or poisonous substances)
- Switchblade knives (with the exception of those carried by one-armed persons for personal use)
People attempting to import any prohibited items into the U.S. will be subject to a personal penalty, and the items will be seized.
The U.S. also prohibits the importation of certain wildlife products, including ivory products (except antiques at least 100 years old), sea turtle products (including tortoiseshell items), and items made from endangered or threatened animals such as cheetahs, jaguars, and tigers.
Other wildlife products, including those from various marine mammals, may not be imported in most instances except by special permit from either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The U.S. and more than 130 other countries have signed CITES, a comprehensive wildlife treaty regulating the import or export of endangered and threatened plant and animal species. It is important that you determine any U.S. guidelines governing the importation of products made from endangered or threatened wildlife well in advance of your departure. Although items made from these animals might be on sale in many countries, they may not be permitted into the U.S.
Further, individual U.S. states may have further restrictions or prohibitions. Therefore, you should contact the department governing wildlife in your destination state, also. Items that may be allowed under federal law could be prohibited by your destination state.
Other items are not prohibited outright, but they may be subject to restrictions. Restricted items include the following.
Any type of organism used for education or research must be accompanied by an import permit, typically issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Latin American cultural property
Some Latin American countries require that an export certificate accompany any pre-Columbian artifacts shipped directly or indirectly to the United States. The U.S. Customs Service enforces this requirement.
"Pirated" copies of copyrighted books
This restriction includes any unauthorized copies of American books. The practice of producing photo-offset copies and selling the books at enormously reduced rates is common in the Far East.
Merchandise originating in certain countries
This restriction includes items from the following countries: Angola, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar (formerly Burma), North Korea, Sudan, the territory of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, and the former Yugoslavia.
A U.S. Treasury license issued under the Foreign Assets Control Regulations might be required in order to import certain or all goods (including motor vehicles) from any of the above-mentioned countries, with the exception of informational materials. However, such licenses rarely are granted.
Questions regarding merchandise control should be addressed to:
Office of Foreign Assets Control
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20220, U.S.A
Phone: (202) 622-2500
Fax: (202) 622-1657
Hotline: (202) 622-0077
The list of countries is subject to change at any time. The Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains an up-to-date list online.
You must file Customs Form 4790 with U.S. Customs if you transport or send into or out of the country more than $10,000 in U.S. or foreign coins, currency, traveler's checks, money orders, negotiables, or investment securities.
Unless you can prove they were purchased legally in the United States, your Persian rugs are prohibited and will be seized. Contact a U.S. Customs office before including such a rug in your shipment.
The U.S. Customs Service is authorized to identify imitation products represented by a registered trademark. The items most frequently identified as having false trademarks are perfume, jewelry (including watches), cameras, tape recorders, and musical instruments. People entering the United States are permitted to bring only a certain number of trademarked items, as set by the trademark holders, into the country every 30 days.
Shipping by Mail
All packages mailed into the United States are subject to inspection by the U.S. Customs Service.
The U.S. Postal Service forwards any foreign packages it receives to the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service examines packages and determines if they should be entered as "dutiable" or duty free.
Packages that contain dutiable items are affixed with Customs Form 3419, explaining the amount of duty assessed. The packages then are returned to the Postal Service for delivery.
It is the Postal Service's responsibility to collect the duty fee, as well as a postal handling charge and a small Customs Service processing fee for dutiable shipments.
Packages cleared by customs and determined to be free of duty are endorsed on the outside with the words "Passed Free—U.S. Customs" and returned to the Postal Service for delivery. These packages are not assessed additional postage or handling fees.
If a package mailed into the States is found to contain restricted or prohibited items, the contents are subject to seizure and forfeiture.
Packages that are undeliverable are returned to the country of origin.
Any personal belongings of U.S. origin that were taken out of the States may be mailed back into the country free of duty, provided the items were not altered or repaired while abroad. To expedite the customs process, label any such packages as "American Goods Returned."
There are procedures for protesting customs duties. For more information on mailing items into the United States, contact the U.S. Customs Service and request Publication 514, "International Mail Imports."