Is it really more of a liability to pack my own boxes?
July 1, 2012 9:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for moving/shipping companies to send a couple of boxes of books & clothes from Australia to the USA (as I'm relocating). While requesting quotes, one company strongly suggested that I hire them to pack my things for me as apparently US Customs get suspicious if the boxes were packed by the individual mover (me, in this case) rather than by a professional. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else and the US Customs website hasn't addressed this. What's going on?

I found her advice to be weird not just because no other company or official website (not even a trawl of AskMefi questions) said anything about who should do the packing, but because it runs counter to my experience of travelling in the US, where they ask you if you've packed your own bags and an answer of "No" triggers suspicion. Admittedly this is cargo/freight rather than travelling luggage but I would have thought the liability was similar.

Do I really have to worry about hiring someone to do the packing for me (something I feel dubious about) or is that just an attempt to get more money from me? I'm getting wildly different quotes from all over the place and most others didn't including packing costs because I didn't specify. The closest I could get with US Customs was that I needed a packing list; I've emailed them a more specific enquiry.

Does this also have any relationship to the $9 surcharge Australia Post recently put into place for any parcels travelling to the US? Would I be better off mailing my gear? It's the cheapest option so far and I don't need my items particularly urgently.

(Any recommendations for moving companies would be greatly appreciated. I've emailed the OP of this question asking who she went with as her situation is very similar to mine.)
posted by divabat to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've moved internationally several times and have always had to pay the movers to pack because of customs. US customs is already potentially very slow, even if the movers are able to certify that they packed (i.e. saw) everything. You might want to check whether the other companies (who didn't mention packing) actually include, or charge separately but require, packing.
posted by cushie at 9:59 PM on July 1, 2012

Response by poster: Would this apply to excess-baggage companies too? They don't offer packing services.
posted by divabat at 10:05 PM on July 1, 2012

I've experienced this in moving from the UK to the US. The moving company packed everything for us and told us it was a requirement. They did offer to throw a few bottles of wine we had in the flat into the crate and not list them on the bill of lading. So customs does indeed seem to be the reason for this policy.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:27 PM on July 1, 2012

I've moved internationally from and to NYC, both before and after 9/11, and I shipped regular mail for books and stuff. No customs issues. I was to and fro from NZ.

This sounds like BS to me.
posted by jbenben at 10:46 PM on July 1, 2012

I had a similar issue when sending a suitcase from Canada to the US. Hiring a shipping company to pack and ship the (huge) suitcase was strongly recommended, and keeping a detailed list of contents (including brand and model number) was mandatory
posted by third word on a random page at 12:15 AM on July 2, 2012

it runs counter to my experience of travelling in the US, where they ask you if you've packed your own bags and an answer of "No" triggers suspicion.

I've never moved internationally, but your experience does not seem to run counter to what the moving company is telling you. Customs asks the moving company, 'Did you pack these boxes yourself?' and the moving company has to answer, 'No,' triggering suspicion.
posted by jon1270 at 2:52 AM on July 2, 2012

When I moved from England back to the States, I didn't have the company pack my boxes and I don't remember that as an option at all. They dropped off boxes and tape, but that was it. I think I did some minor paperwork but that was it.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:12 AM on July 2, 2012

I've moved from Australia to the US and what I found out was letting the movers pack the boxes saves all sorts of trouble with customs. If you pack the boxes customs is apparently much more likely to examine all the boxes to make sure that you haven't packed something you shouldn't, where as apparently they assume moving companies know what will need customs forms or duty and the like and so they trust their packing lists more. You are leaving yourself open to all sorts of delays and extra fees/duties if they don't pack. Added bonus I had my 3 rooms of stuff I wanted to go packed in less than an hour including an antique rocking horse and singer sewing machine and I didn't have to do a thing or stress, and everything arrived undamaged. (and they helped me move a wardrobe that was going to be picked up by a charity to the kerb for no extra).

I went with Wridgeways. I had nothing but great service with them, they explained everything, the prices were reasonable considering. I went with part of a container, that will save you a lot of money, a lot of movers try to sell you a whole container which unless you are moving a whole house is a crazy expensive way to move as you don't need anywhere near that much space. Wrigeways pack all your stuff in a large wooden box, you pay by volume not weight and then fill the containers with lots of those from other people going to the same place, it saves you money but can take a little longer as they have to get a full container of other peoples things before shipping. It cost me a little over 2 grand to move all my stuff but I was moving bookcases and big volume furniture.

If you only have a couple/few boxes though I think Australia post would be the cheapest/easiest way to go. Just make sure to get the right customs forms and to get tracking or insurance on it, my mother sends Christmas parcels by surface mail every year to save money of the three so far one got lost, one was delayed and arrived in Feb and one made it but had been opened by customs and badly rewrapped and items damaged & lost.

If you have any questions feel free to memail me. I can track down some contact names and numbers for you if you want.
posted by wwax at 5:21 AM on July 2, 2012

My sister just moved back to the States from Australia. She packed her own things and had no real issues. It only took her things a couple days to clear customs. They did charge a fee for that, however. She went the shipping crate route and it took over a month to make it to a US port. The most complicated part of this process for her was finding movers to deliver her stuff to her residence from Long Beach (6 hours drive).
posted by loquat at 1:05 PM on July 2, 2012

Response by poster: jon1270: good point, I hadn't thought of that that way.

So to clarify: it's helpful, but not a hard requirement, and mail's still cheaper anyway (the quotes I'm getting are really wide-ranging).

On a side-related note: is it possible to update the end address after sending the boxes off to ship? I'm still looking for accommodation though as I write this I can see it'd be a huge security risk. I've got some quotes from companies that state a fee for sending the items over to their depot - is it possible to get a service going from the SF depot to where I'll end up in SF?
posted by divabat at 4:21 PM on July 2, 2012

divabat: My understanding is that during the time when the containers are being sent over (and this takes weeks or months, not days), the destination listed for them is the moving company's address. The moving company contacts you when the crates arrive and asks you where you would like them delivered.

And as for customs asking about whether or not you've packed them--the point is that the crates never actually make the trip with you; they go independently, usually by some slower mode of transport (i.e. boat). They're sealed up tight and usually pre-screened and labeled, so customs is taken care of by the moving company.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:29 AM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: Got this email from US Customs:
You can pack the boxes yourself. The boxes should be numbered and labeled and associated with your inventory list. You should also include the CBP form 3299.
You can send them anyway you choose. (i.e. postal service or carrier)
posted by divabat at 3:41 PM on July 3, 2012

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