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How to Get Your Items Through Customs


Written by

16th Feb 2018 (Last updated on 9th Apr 2024) 7 minute read

When you’re looking to move abroad, getting your belongings through customs can seem like a daunting prospect. Being prepared for your move will ensure that your items pass through customs safely and without any issues. Getting this right can make the difference between a smooth moving process and delays or fines.

In this guide, Compare My Move will guide you through everything you need to know about the customs procedure to prevent any delays.

  1. What is Customs?
  2. Do You Have to be Present for Items to Pass Customs?
  3. What Documents are Needed to Clear Customs?
  4. Importing Goods into the EU from the UK
  5. Importing Goods into the USA from the UK
  6. Importing Goods into Australia from the UK
  7. Finding an International Removal Company

What is Customs?

Customs is the name given to an authority that controls the flow of goods and checks for any prohibited or restricted items. Customs duties are the fines and tariffs that must be paid on arrival as well as other import and export taxes. The amount of duty you pay is dependent on the goods you ship.

Whether you're moving to Portugal from the UK or moving to New Zealand, each country has its own set of laws and regulations. This means that the list of prohibited or restricted items can differ depending on the destination country you are travelling to. Therefore, it’s always best to check beforehand to prevent any issues on arrival. If you are found with any restricted items, you may be subject to heavy fines or penalties.

Do You Have to be Present for Items to Pass Customs?

Again, the answer to this question depends widely on which country you’re moving to. If you're using a courier service to ship personal effects, a customs form, as well as customs guidance will be provided. Many countries will let you move your belongings unaccompanied whereas some countries like to connect you to your freight by having you there to collect them or at least prove they are yours.

For example, in Australia, your possessions will need to be labelled as ‘Unaccompanied Personal Effects’, which as the name suggests, can indeed be passed through customs unaccompanied and collected by a friend, family, or even by the home removals company.

On the other hand, in Japan, you have to be in the country whilst your belongings are being processed, although you don’t actually have to be present at customs – your belongings also have to arrive within 6 months of your move to the country.

In the USA, you can designate a family member or friend to go and pick up your belongings from customs. However, they will need to have a letter written by you and addressed to the customs officer, giving them permission to do so as well as the usual documentation.

What Documents are Needed to Clear Customs?

You will need to make sure you have the correct documentation to clear customs. Most of the international removal companies on Compare My Move will assign you a Move Manager. Your Move Manager will walk you through the process and ensure that you know which documents are needed.

Most countries require a fully itemised list of the contents you are moving. They will also require you to fill in a form specific to the destination country that needs to be accepted in advance. In most of these cases, all or some of these items will need to be accompanied by their invoice or receipt as proof of purchase.

You may be required to show owner identification, such as a copy of your passport, your visa, or work permit. Other forms and documents beyond these depend widely on the country to which you’re moving.

Importing Goods into the EU from the UK

When importing goods into the EU from the UK, you need to make sure you have the correct documentation to prepare for customs. This will ensure your European move goes smoothly without delay.

Documents needed to import goods into the EU from the UK

Submitting your documents on time allows you to pay duties and receive customs clearance. Here are the main documents you will need:

Entry Summary Declaration (ENS)

The ENS is presented at the first customs office by the person carrying the goods. The deadline to apply for an ENS is dependent on how you are shipping your goods.

Single Administrative Document (SAD)

The SAD is a common import declaration form that is submitted to all EU countries when importing goods from non-EU countries.

Other Documents

Depending on where you are travelling in the EU, you may be asked to provide further documentation. This can include commercial invoices, transport documents, certificates of origin, import licenses, and test results among others.

Arriving at the border

When your goods arrive at the border, they will be placed in storage for a maximum of 90 days. During this time, your goods will be inspected by customs supervision until they are approved or denied.

If you have submitted your documentation correctly and on time, your goods are more likely to be cleared quickly. However, if not, you may be asked to provide further documents before they are cleared.

Importing Goods into the USA from the UK

You will need to receive customs clearance to successfully ship your goods Before moving to the USA from the UK, make sure that there are no state-specific documents needed beforehand.

Documents needed to import goods into the USA from the UK

In order to ship your goods to the USA without delay or fines, you must submit the appropriate documents. Here are some of the documents you will need:

Commercial Invoice

A Commercial Invoice is a document that is used when processing agreements across international trade. The invoice offers reliable terms and the document can be used to clear shipments at customs when importing.

Packing List

The Packing List is one of the most important documents as it provides information on the goods that are being imported. It is placed on the exterior of your shipment and must clearly detail what is inside. They are usually placed in a waterproof pouch before being attached to prevent any damage during transport.

Bill of Lading (BOL)

The Bill of Lading is one of the essential legal documents needed to clear customs. It is often viewed as a receipt of goods when changing hands between the exporter and the carrier. The BOL is submitted by the carrier to acknowledge that the goods have arrived in good condition.

Other Documents

Other documents you may be asked to submit include an Entry Manifest, Application and Special Permit for Immediate Delivery, Evidence of Bond, and an Entry Summary

Arriving at the border

When you arrive at the border, your entry will depend on the value of your goods. Here are the different entries that you need to be aware of:

  • Formal Entries: Articles that have a commercial value of 2500 USD and more. A Customs bond is required for Formal Entries.
  • Informal Entries: Articles that have a commercial value that is less than $2,500.
  • Section 321: Articles that have a commercial value that is less than $800. This means no fees or duties are paid.

The total amount of duty you pay is dependent on the valuation of your goods.

Importing Goods into Australia from the UK

Submitting the correct documentation to customs is essential when shipping goods to Australia. Australia is one of the strictest countries when it comes to importing goods. This means it’s important to make sure you check everything beforehand to prevent any delays.

Documents needed to import goods into Australia from the UK

You need to submit the appropriate documentation to receive customs clearance. Importers do not need to hold an import license in order to receive customs clearance. However, it’s essential to have the appropriate permits. Here are the most essential documents to remember:

Import Declaration (N10)

The Import Declaration (N10), known as Form B650, is the most important document when it comes to importing goods to Australia. In the Import Declaration, you have to declare whether your goods contain animal items, food, or plant material. They will then be assessed and inspected by a biosecurity officer.


If you are carrying goods such as animal items, food, or plant material, you will need to provide the appropriate permits to import them. The permit you need is determined by the item that you wish to import. Make sure that the permit is submitted and filled in correctly to avoid heavy fines.

Other Documents

Other documents you may need to present include a Customs Entry or Informal Clearance Document, an Air Waybill, and a Bill of Lading.

Arriving at the border

On arrival when moving to Australia from the UK, your goods and documentation will be assessed by a biosecurity officer. If something has not been submitted or filled in correctly, they may decide to inspect your goods. This can cause delays and extra costs.

Like the US, the amount of customs duties you pay is dependent on the commercial value of your goods. The more valuable your goods are, the more customs duty you will pay.

Finding an International Removal Company

At Compare My Move, we have a network of international removal partners who are ready to help you with your move. Our partners will provide you with a Move Manager who will assist you with the documentation needed for submission to clear customs.


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