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How to Get Your Items Through Customs

Owain Banfield
Written by Owain Banfield
16th February 2018

When you're looking to move your life abroad, getting your belongings through customs can seem like a daunting and tiresome prospect. Luckily, Compare My Move are here to explain all you need to know about getting your items through customs.

Being prepared for your move abroad includes arranging for international removals and international removal insurance, but also includes ensuring all items can pass through customs safely without any issues. Getting this right can mean the difference between smooth sailing to your new home abroad and a potential nightmare of paperwork, lost items and additional costs.

In this guide Compare My Move walk you through the questions and considerations that need to be made in order to get the ball rolling passing your belongings through customs.

This article will cover the following points

What Documents are Needed to Clear Customs? Do you Have to be Present for Items to Pass Customs? Custom Documents Required by Country Moving Back to the UK Compare My Move Abroad

What Documents are Needed to Clear Customs?

When moving belongings into another country there are a range of documents that may be required. Many of the removal companies here on Compare My Move will assign you a Move Manager that will help you understand and walk you step-by-step through the document requirements for your specific move.  

Regardless of destination, most moves will require a fully itemised list of the contents you are moving as well as a special form from that country that needs to be filled out in order for them to be accepted. In many cases all or some of these items will need to include their invoice/receipt as proof of purchase.

It is also likely that you will have had to have owned the items for a certain amount of time and will not be able to sell the items in your new home country for a set period. You may also be required to include owner identification, such as a valid copy of your passport, as well as a valid visa or work permit where applicable.

Other forms and documents beyond these depend widely on the country to which you move. For example, in France you will also need to include a receipt for any electrical items you are moving as well as a Certificate of a Change of Residence. In Australia you will need to fill out a B534 form to claim your belongings.

We cover more detailed requirements for some of the most popular destinations from the UK later in this guide.

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

Again, the answer to this question depends widely on which country you are moving to. Many countries will let you move your belongings unaccompanied, whereas some like to connect you to your freight by having you there to collect them or at least prove they are yours in some way.

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.

Custom Documents Required by Country

Find below a table to show the documents required for getting your items to 

CountryDocuments Required

Spain

  • Fully itemised list of contents, written in Spanish
  • Valid passport
  • NIE Number (this is often used as a form of identification, although truly it is a tax identification number that can be obtained from the National Police of Spain)
  • Letter from your new employer (on occasion that you are not retiring to the country)
  • Certificate of residence
  • Rental contract or deeds to your new home based in Spain
  • Duty free import application

France

  • Fully itemised list of contents (including value of items)
  • List of all electricals (with receipts, brand name and serial number)
  • Final destination address
  • Valid passport
  • Visa, work and residence permit
  • Certificate of employment
  • Certificate of Change of Residence with signature and showing the dates of stay abroad  (this can be obtained from the French Consulate)
  • Attestation se non-cession (this needs to state that the individual had lived in the country they are relocating from for at least one year, has owned all items for at least six months, and that goods will not be sold on within 12 months of the move)
  • Certificate of Residence, lease contract or utility bills
  • Letter from employer stating transfer and transfer date (unless retiring abroad)

Germany

  • Fully itemised list of contents in German or English – including item values, date and mover signature
  • Valid passport
  • Copy of Visa and/or work permit
  • Statement of transfer from employer
  • Residence Visa or Residence Permit
  • Signed declaration that contents that are owned by the mover
  • Signed declaration that no goods included in contents are taxable (alcohol, tobacco etc)
  • Certificate of Registration with the German police (known as the Polizeiliche Anmeldung)
  • Certificate of Registration from local registration office
  • Customs Form – this from states and agrees that no goods will be sold within 12 months of moving to Germany
  • Insurance Certificate (copy)
  • In cases where someone else will be collecting your belongings – either a friend, family or moving agent, you will also need a Power of Attorney Form

Australia

  • The Unaccompanied Personal Effects (UPE) Statement (Form B534) – this is a legal document and must be completed by you, the owner of the contents
  • Evidence of identity (valid passport)
  • Fully itemised list of all the goods included in the UPEs – for example, a packing list
  • A delivery order from the shipper, or other shipping documents, which identifies the owner and shows the address of the owner of the UPEs
  • If your friend picks up the belongings on your behalf they will need to bring a photo ID such as a passport

USA

  • Fully itemised list of all the goods entering the US
  • Copy of your legal status in the US – for examples, a US Passport, Immigrant documents, LPR Card, US visa etc
  • CBP Form 3299 – this form gives the details of the individual moving/importing goods, details of the nature of their stay in the country and includes a fully itemised list of all goods

Moving Back to the UK

For those that have moved abroad and their visa has run out or they have chosen to return to the UK for personal reasons they will need to clear customs on the UK side if they want to move their belongings back over.

As of the 1st January 2017, the process for doing this has changed and all been collated under the new Transfer of Residence (ToR) form. This form is now completed online rather than in paper format like before. It is also worth noting that you should submit this form to HMRC well before the planned date for your belongings turning up in the UK. This is because HMRC have not committed to any turn-around time on these forms and could lead to long delays and potential costs if not approved before arrival. One other major change to this process is that the form now must be filled out by the individual moving the goods and cannot be completed by the shipping company on your behalf.

To complete the form, you will need:

  • Email address and phone number
  • Employer or educational establishment details
  • Address of your new home in the UK
  • Address of your most recent home outside of the UK
  • Details on whether you have lived in the UK or EU in the past
  • Details of any vehicles you are importing
  • Details of any pets you are importing
  • Details of any tax exemptions
  • Date on which your goods will arrive in the UK

To support this form, you will also need to enclose:

  • Valid copy of your Passport
  • Valid copy of your Visa – if applicable
  • Proof of registration
  • 2 x itemised lists of the contents imported
  • Proof of guarantee, invoices, receipts etc for the goods you wish to import
  • Copies of any documents that prove you are going to live in the UK – for example, contract of employment, work permit, rental agreement etc.

If you bought goods from out of the EU you may have to pay customs duty on your return. The duty is relative to the price of the goods, and breaks down as follow

Value Customs Duty
Less Than £1350
Gifts between £135 to £6302.5%
Gifts above £630 and certain items above £135Rate Varies

For more information you can contact HMRC.

Compare My Move Abroad

We hope you're now well informed on the ins and outs of getting your belongings through customs. If you're looking to arrange a move abroad, use Compare My Move to get connected with up to 6 professional removal companies so you can save money when it matters. Just fill in a quick simple form and start saving time and money on your international removals.