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Context: I have been living in Japan for about 26 years. I will be moving to a guest house in the US to look for a permanent residence as an US citizen. I will be entering through an airport with hand luggages only (no separate shipments).

I'd like to get through the customs with minimum hassle.

  • According to an article on cbp.gov, I may enter as a non-resident.

    If you have lived abroad for more than three years, you may enter as a nonresident.

  • When moving to the US, a complete inventory is required:

    When completing the Customs and Border Protection Form (CBP Form) 6059B,[..] for accompanying goods [..] the statement that the goods are "household effects" is not enough information. The complete inventory of imported goods will be treated as the packing list and must be provided to CBP upon request.

Reading into the last quote, the correct way seems to be:

  • List "household effects" and "personal effects" on the back of the CBP form.
  • Be prepared to show a complete inventory of the things I will be carrying with me.

So what should I include in the complete inventory? There must be a cut-off line between the very broad "my things" and the very specific "a spare set of bolts for the dog crate", and also between the obvious/essential/non-dutiable "sanitary goods" and the non-obvious/non-essential/potentially-dutiable "MacBook Pro 13-inch".

Just for example's sake, currently I have listed:

Laptop computer
Mobile phone
Clothes
Kefir yogurt
Pet food (salmon based, packed in Canada)
Bicycle
Dog crate

Should I write down every bits of articles such as sunglasses, sunscreen lotion, toothbrush, purse, comb, batteries, bike lights, backpack, plastic bags and so on?

  • Don't forget the luggages themselves.... You probably didn't carry them out of the US 26 years ago. – littleadv Jun 3 '15 at 14:31
  • The only thing I'm bringing back to the US is my body.. but wait, some of the cells have been replaced since then, and considering that I must declare alterations to any items I took abroad... – ento Jun 4 '15 at 1:21
  • What about Theseus' ship? (More seriously, +1 to the question, unfortunately I don't know the answer…) – Gala Jun 4 '15 at 1:48
  • That's great that you were able to understand the second quoted phrase from the CBP; thanks for the translation. I spent a lot of time trying to decipher it myself, but never felt that I had succeeded. – Dan Getz Jun 5 '15 at 2:28
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I work in global mobility, and having managed many a move around the world, the overriding presumption should be that Customs will review your inventory with two expectations - it's detailed enough to make an accurate determination of any import duty/exemption, but simple enough that a full inventory check won't take hours (or annoy them!).

Group similar items together, indicating obvious differences. Best way to explain is with examples - follow this logic and you'll be ok.

Household Items

  • Linens/Soft Furnishings - just totals per type (10 x cushions, 6 x pair curtains).
  • Large Household Items - obviously, these should be listed individually (1x Dining Table, 6x Dining Chairs etc).
  • Smaller Items - it will be enough to list 1 x box assorted cutlery or 1 x box tools.
  • Books/CD/DVD - again, totals per type only unless packed across more than a few boxes, in which case '6 x small/large box assorted CD' would be better than '450 x assorted CD'.

Personal Effects

  • Clothing - generally totals only but with a split male/female/child if required (example: Shoes- 12 pairs adult, 8 pairs child).
  • Jewellery - list by item type (4 x ring, 2 x bracelet etc) and group metallurgies together (gold, silver, other, non-precious).
  • Electronics - as above, but you can generalise (Laptop instead of MacBook Pro) .
  • Valuables - if you have any high worth or irreplaceable items, list them individually, but grouped together and have a copy of any insurance documents or recepts attached.
  • Sanitary Products - to potentially spare blushes all round you can list these as (for example) 1 x small box assorted sanitary/hygiene products. List any electricals separately though (hairdryers, shavers etc).
  • Financial/Personal/Legal Documents - IMPORTANT!!! - Pack all this together, securely sealed, and make sure the inventory clearly states it is personal documents and mark the box with personal data in big letters on all sides. Should Customs decide to carry out a full search, do you really want them reading your bank statements?

Hopefully that's broad enough to give you a good understanding of the methodology and logic behind listing inventories for Customs. If you have anything specific that you can't easily work out how to list, let me know and I'll advise.

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