How do I label customs forms when shipping personal effects to the US?
June 18, 2013 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I am about to send some used personal effects to the US from Europe. I'm sending four boxes of used books and clothes. Each box weighs about 20kg. What should I put on the customs label? In particular, how do I estimate the value of used personal effects? Is it zero? I don't care about insurance/replacement value, I just want to minimize/avoid customs charges. If it matters, I'm in Germany, and will be sending by DHL. I'm a European citizen who will be moving to the US for three years with a J-1 (academic) visa.

Right now, I'm classifying the shipment as "Other" (rather than, say, gift or commercial sample) and adding as a remark "Enclosed are used personal effects (not new). Recipient is moving to U.S., shipping to himself." Is this OK? Too wordy? Wrong?

And what should I put for the value? Can I put zero, or is that likely to attract attention? Can I pull a number like $100 out of thin air? How big can that number be before I am liable for import duty?
posted by caek to Travel & Transportation around United States (3 answers total)
"Personal items"

If you're sending a box of just books, or just kitchenware, or just clothes, I would probably label that box "kitchen items for personal use" or the like.

I would be tempted to value each box at $1 (you usually have to put something for the value, it can't be $0), but if you feel like that could get you in trouble with customs, put down what you'd get for those things if you threw a garage sale. A box of misc kitchen items might be worth $10. I would not put too high a number down unless you want to potentially pay duties on it. A high value will cause them to suspect that your "kitchen items" are valuable luxury goods.

I don't know that you need to clarify the thing about recipient moving to the US. They don't care, they just want to know if you're shipping merchandise or items that come under customs restrictions.

You may want to look up import duties into the US. I don't think they really exist for the type of stuff I assume you're shipping, but on the off chance that you're shipping something that could be construed to be subject to them, you may want to know in advance.
posted by Sara C. at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2013

When I've shipped stuff home from Europe I've listed what it was and declared it at half its retail value.

I never had any issues with the post offices of various countries, but I ran into huge problems when I asked my hotel in London to ship some packages via fedex for me. Their contact in the states did not let me know promptly the information she needed ( I had listed contents and value on each package, but they were demanding provenance, ingredients, specific number of items, how food items were packaged.....) until a few hours before the deadline.
posted by brujita at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2013

"Household effects" and "Books and clothes" - I've shipped from Europe and listed the value between $10 and $50.

US Customs will open some of the boxes. They will juggle stuff around. Pack accordingly to protect fragile items. They won't tape the boxes back up as securely as your original packing. They will cut open anything that looks suspicious (soup packets for eg) and then dust all the contents over all your stuff. Just fyi.

Adding that its your personal belongings for a temporary residential move won't hurt.
posted by infini at 8:32 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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