What are the import charges or fees moving to the USA?

Short Question:

I will be moving to the USA on a K-1 Fiance(e) Visa in December, to then get a Green Card. I will be flying with some luggage in the plane, the rest will be surface shipped. It will be leaving the UK about a fortnight before I leave, and arriving in the US about a fortnight after I arrive. What will I have to pay to get my belongings over the border?

Full Question:

Visa Context

I have my interview date for a K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa in November and have a provisional wedding date with my lovely bride set for the end of December.

(Why so little time? The medical process took more than two months longer than usual which is why the timescale seems a little short - under normal circumstances the interview would have been around September. We applied for the visa and decided on the wedding date during Winter 2015-16, the alternative was Summer 2017. Winter 2017 was a reasonable date and we still have time despite about 10 weeks unexpected delays.)

However, this question is not about the visa or the heavy visa charges (several thousand in-all). If the interview fails, the shipping company to not charge for cancelling or postponing shipping provided they have over 10 days notice before the pick-up date.

Shipping Contents

I am planning to ship approximately £4,500-£5,000 worth of my personal belongings. My provisional estimate for valuation is as follows:

Musical Instruments (£3000) Guitars (£200 electric, £670 electric, £280 electro-acoustic, £800 electric bass), each in a hard case worth £80, Keyboard (£250), Electric Guitar Amplifier (£250), Effects Pedals (£75, x2), Cables, stands, etc. worth approx. £100

Books (£800) Approximately 10 antiques, 10 academic textbooks, and 10 hardback rulebooks, with detailed valuations totalling £500, plus about 100 mundane second-hand paperbacks (estimating £3 value each to replace)

Clothing (£375): Approximately ten T-shirts (£5 ea), ten shirts (£15), five trousers (£15), five warm tops (£20), approximate value

Other (£236): Three Antique/Ornamental Swords (the shipping company have confirmed they will take them), worth £81 together but the old auction valuations need updating as some restoration has been done., Box files with printed material, papers and writings from my hobbies, education, and personal stuff (letters, birthday cards) etc., approximately twenty boxes, valued at £5 each (cost to rebuy blank paper and empty box files), One beautiful handmade scrapbook made by my sweet bride, valued at £30 (the raw materials)

Media (£175): Approx. 10 CDs, 5 DVD sets, 5 PC Games, approximate values.

I will be taking insurance with the shipping company's partner at a cost of 4 or 4.5% of the total value for my items, which covers partial and total damage, loss, theft, etc., which is comforting. I include this detail above in case it is relevant. For example, if printed matter has no duty, but musical instruments do.

Shipping Company Information

The company terms and conditions state:

Our quotation, unless otherwise stated, does not include insurance, cancellation/postponement waivers, customs duties, port charges including (but not limited to) demurrage, inspections, or any fees, or taxes payable to government bodies or agencies.

Emphasis mine

The quotation from the shipping company includes:

UK Export Documentation and UK Customs Electronic Filing Fees £39.00.

USA Customs Clearance and advance Homeland Security Filing Fees £120.00

Customs information

I have found this:

You may import furniture, dishes, linens, libraries, artwork and similar household furnishings for your personal use free of duty. To be eligible for duty-free exemption, the articles must have either been available for your use or used in a household where you were a resident for one year. The year of use does not need to be continuous, nor does it need to be the year immediately before the date of importation. (https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/354/~/moving-to-the-u.s.---duty-free-entry-of-unaccompanied-goods%2C-firearms%2C-gift)

So I assume by books will come under that - if I can prove that they were in my household use for a year. (How on earth DO I prove that? Will I be asked to?)

The same link describes "Tools of the Trade" as being duty free.

Can I count my music kit as "tools of the trade"? I do not use them to make a living. My day job is actually a preschool assistant, music is a hobby I'd one day like to get paid for (I've only gigged for free and not recently). I am about to begin playing regularly (unpaid) in my church as part of the worship team, too. Does that make a difference? I have some free demos out online and have done unpaid gigs with friends before - do they count now?

What if, in the next few weeks, I recorded and released an album and put it out available to buy? I actually already have recordings, I've just haven't released them (yet). If I released some music commercially, could they then be tools of the trade?, or would I have to be doing it full-time to count?

Bottom Line

What Customs Duties and Port Charges, or any other similar costs such as taxes, could I incur, in the circumstances and for the items I will be shipping?

Many thanks

2 Answers 2


I can't predict what, if anything, you will be charged. I can report some practical experience.

I have got very, very good results, and no bills, from US customs by being absolutely straight and honest. That includes arriving with thousands of dollars in inherited jewelry, and receiving a shipment of paintings, furniture, glassware, etc. that my mother sent me after my father died. Neither situation cost me any duty.

I declare everything the customs form asks about. I do not try to disguise anything - I just answer all questions as accurately as I can. Where possible, I carry documentation of how I acquired the property and its value, but they have never asked to see that.


The shipping company has that disclaimer because they cannot predict the custom fees and do not want to be on the hook for missing something. Everything you have is in quantities that you should not have a problem. If anything is new (for example maybe you have a new work outfit or wedding outfit with the tags on), it might raise a flag regardless of how long you have owned it. The one thing I would think twice about is your swords. You may want to ship them separately since they may want to look at your swords to confirm they are legal to import. Even if legal, an inspection can cost money and result in delays.

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