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Shipping Household Goods to the USA

Shipping Household Goods to the USA

Moving anywhere these days forces us to evaluate the things we have and whether we really need them. So when it comes to an international move, that pressure is even greater. Particularly so when the country in question is America; is it really worth taking every single item you own? After all, they match us for technology, goods and services. Or, when all is said and done and you add up the cost of replacing items you need on a daily basis, is it actually cheaper to ship your entire life out there?

– What to take and what to leave behind:

Moving anywhere these days forces us to evaluate the things we have and whether we really need them. So when it comes to an international move, that pressure is even greater.

Particularly so when the country in question is America; is it really worth taking every single item you own? After all, they match us for technology, goods and services. Or, when all is said and done and you add up the cost of replacing items you need on a daily basis, is it actually cheaper to ship your entire life out there?

Well, the problem is that you can, if you so wish, take nearly everything you own out there. American custom laws dictate that “all household items can be imported duty-free provided they are used household effects which have been in the owners’ possession abroad for at least one year, and which will keep on being used by the owner in the new residence.” Handy, but not so if you have no idea where to start with what to take.

And that’s where it’s best to be clued up. Here are our handy hints on how decide what to take when taking the plunge”¦

Buying new vs. shipping

For the most part, it’s actually cheaper to re-purchase certain household items once you’re settled in the US rather than paying the cost to ship them. Beds, for example, are different sizes in the US to here, so if you do decide to take your own then you might want to weigh up the cost of shipping, plus that of stocking up on things like duvet covers and fitted sheets (as these will be much harder to come by in UK sizes when you get there), versus the cost of buying brand new once there.

The same goes for TVs – if you want to ship your own TV then fine, that can be done, but the cost of buying all the new adaptors, plugs and electrical equipment to make it work (not to mention the stress that goes with all that) will almost certainly end up higher than simply buying a compatible TV out there.

Where smaller, day-to-day electrical items are concerned – things like hair dryers, tin openers, irons, clock radios, etc – you will probably be better off starting from scratch. All of these items are easily obtainable in the US and for generally a lower price than you would pay in the UK.

However, for the avid tea drinkers amongst you, you just won’t find the same selection of electric tea kettles in the US as you would here in the UK – funnily enough, Americans don’t tend to drink tea like we do – so it might be worth looking into the costs of any electrical adaptors needed if you can’t live without a good old British cuppa.

Having said all of that, you may still want to ship a lot of your other everyday items. It might actually work out cheaper and less stress in the long rung to have clothes, certain items of furniture, paintings, books and crockery shipped. For example, the contents of the average 3 bedroom house will fill a 20ft shipping container, the cost of which is around £4,000.

If you’re starting a new job as soon as you arrive or aren’t familiar with the area you’re moving to then having your own things around you might ease the transition into your new life and provide you with some comfort in the early days. Plus, getting around in America isn’t as easy as it is here – you need a car to get almost everywhere, and if you’ve never driven abroad before or your spouse has taken the car to work this makes things even harder. Then, once you’ve eventually found the shops, you need to get things delivered, arrange credit (if you don’t have cash right away), choose what you want (not always as easy as you think!) and you’ve got to get rid of everything this end too, which takes time to sort. In short, it’s always best to look into the cost of shipping too and compare your options.

Will it work?

Electrical goods
The power supply in the US is 110-120v @ 60hz, which is half of that in the UK. Plug sockets in the US don’t have the same power switch we find on ours here, which means live electricity is constantly fed to the power socket.

TVs and DVDs
Firstly, the TV standard in the UK and most of Western Europe is PAL while the TV standard in the US is NTSC. Secondly, neither the antenna input nor any scart will be compatible with US equipment.

DVDs are generally 'region-encoded', so English ones won’t play on an American DVD player. Some computers will play both, but only for a set number of times before they 'burn in' a region to the firmware of the DVD player.
CDs, however, are not region-encoded, so anything bought here will work just the same over there. 

Computers
Desktop computers usually have a switch at the rear marked 220. When – and only when – you arrive in the US, switch it over and your computer should work fine. You will also need a new power cord. Remember to back up important data before you move and store it separately.

Modern laptops run on dual voltage, though you may need an adapter or new power cord and the most modern laptops will need a proprietary lead.

Computer peripherals that require their own power usually work on both voltages, again check the power brick. USB peripherals will work as normal.

Electronics
Many modern electronic devices like mobile phone and digital camera chargers will function on both electrical standards, although check this, obviously. Digital camcorders can usually be switched between PAL and NTSC modes via the settings menu. iPod chargers are dual voltage, and you can buy the US-style plug to attach to the power brick.

Restricted and prohibited items

As you might expect, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a list of items strictly prohibited from entering the country. These are deemed to be items which “would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat our national interests.”

For most of the items, common sense applies – dangerous toys, narcotics, fireworks, pornography, bush meat, firearms, poison and certain knives are all pretty obvious. However, there are some perfectly innocent-seeming items that could cause you trouble”¦

  • Ceramic tableware: Although not entirely prohibited or restricted, items made in foreign countries – particularly Mexico, China, Hong Kong or India – might contain dangerous levels of lead in the glaze which can seep into foods and beverages.
  • Dog and cat fur: Importing products containing these items can incur a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Gold: Gold coins, medals and bullions which originate from Cuba, Iran, Burma and most of Sudan are strictly prohibited. As are copies of gold coins that are not properly marked by country of issuance.
  • Cuban cigars: A fine of up to $55,000 and a possible prison sentence are both plausible punishments bestowed on anybody attempting to sneak this type of cigar in.
  • Flavoured cigarettes: A belief by the FDA that these will be more enticing to young people than regular cigarettes has resulted in an outright import ban.
  • Lottery tickets: The official reason for this is unclear, although it’s likely to have something to do with importing items of value and the taxation laws that surround that.
  • Persian rugs: U.S. Customs will seize these unless you can prove they were bought legally in the United States.

A full list of prohibited and restricted items can be found here.

Did you know?
Effective from September 16, 2005, shipments into or out of the USA in wooden packaging will have to have a Seal, which certifies that the shipment has received the required treatment (HT) Heated Treatment.The wood packing material must be marked in a visible location on each article, on at least two opposite sides of the article with a legible and permanent mark in black ink. Labels and adhesives are not allowed.

About the Author: Leanne Bilsby works for Bournes International Moves one of the UK's leading removal companies: www.bournes-uts.co.uk. If you have questions about International Removals ask our experts here