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Shipping Your Household Goods to the USA: A Comprehensive Guide

Posted by By Kirsty Parsons - November 29, 2023

One of the big questions you may have in preparing to move is what to ship to the USA with you and how to arrange international removals to get it all there. With careful planning and preparation, this can be a smooth and stress-free experience.

In this guide, we will provide you with all the information you need to know about shipping your belongings from the UK to the USA including what to ship and how to find out more about choosing a reputable international moving company and get the best value for your budget. 

In this guide:

What to ship when you move to the usa and what to leave behind

Shipping household goods to the USA

Image by David Dibert on Pexels. 

The USA allows duty free entry of household goods that have been used and in the owners possession for at least one year and are intended to remain for your personal use (and not be sold on).

So you can take most things with you if you want to, however, in the early stages of planning a move to America many of our customers start to consider if they should take everything they own with them, or just a few essential items. The USA certainly matches the UK for technology, goods and services, but is it that simple? 

When it comes to shipping household goods that you simply cannot part with, there are some important aspects. What's considered duty free, and can you consult international movers like a removal company that does international removals and offers door to door service.

The United States of America is like most other major countries and international removals to the USA, no matter the city - Los Angeles, New York or California, will have a considerable cost of shipping (depending on the service you use).  So being completely sure that removals to the USA is something you really need to do is important. Then it's a matter of finding the right international removal company that fits your budget and meets your security requirements. Before contacting them, consider ...

Here are a few areas to consider:

  1. What CAN you take with you under shipping and US customs rules?
  2. What items might not work?
  3. The cost of shipping vs. buying new
  4. The stress of buying everything new when you arrive in the USA
  5. The value of having your own familiar things around you in your new home

1) Restricted and prohibited items - What household items NOT to ship from the UK to the US

There are a some items that most shipping companies won't allow you to ship either due to UK export regulations, safety standards or because of risk of damaging other items in your shipment. You should always check with your mover first if you need to move any of the following items:

  • Alchohol and food (Can be imported sometimes but varies by state and there are special considerations or restrictions we'll need to explain to you)
  • Combustible liquids (lubricants, alchohols, anti-freeze-cleaners etc.)
  • Compressed gasses (including aerosols or diving tanks)
  • Flammables
  • Firearms, ammunition and weapons
  • Narcotics and controlled substances
  • Corrosives (including some batteries)
  • Commercial goods
  • Animal, bird or plant products

In addition every country has its own rules for what can be imported. As you might expect, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a list of items strictly prohibited from entering the country. These are deemed to be items which “would injure community health, public safety, American workers, children or domestic plant and animal life, or those that would defeat national interests.”

Items prohibited from shipping from UK to USA

  • Tuna
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Haitian animal hide drums
  • Cuban cigars
  • Blank tapes and CDs from Iran
  • Absinthe
  • Counterfeit items or items inappropriately using a federally registered trademark
  • Products made from dog and cat fur
  • Flavored cigarettes, including cloves

U.S. Customs and Border Protection also have a list of items that are restricted for import - this means you may still be able to take them with you BUT there may be duties and taxes payable OR you may need an import permit to do so. Always check with your move manager first if you'd like to take any of the following items with you. 

USA Restricted items:

  • Medications
  • Game and hunting trophies
  • Gold
  • Merchandise from embargoed countries (a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control is required)
  • Biological materials of public health or veterinary importance (an import permit is required) (Hawaii)
  • Inherited Goods (Imports to Hawaii).

2) What UK items might not work in the USA?

There is not much value in shipping an item all the way to the USA if it's not going to work. 

washing machine image by planetcare-5cpBWEl6y6c-unsplash

Photo by PlanetCare on Unsplash

Electrical goods:

The power supply in the US is 110-120v @ 60hz, which is half of that in the UK. Plug sockets in the US don’t have the same power switch we find on ours here, which means live electricity is constantly fed to the power socket. This means that some electical goods will not work without adaptation so it is worth checking your specific items before shipping. (For example a phone charger may work just fine with a plug adapter, but hair straightening irons will not heat up effectively). 

TVs and DVDs:

Firstly, the TV standard in the UK and most of Western Europe is PAL while the TV standard in the US is NTSC. Secondly, in most cases neither the antenna input nor any scart will be compatible with US equipment. Some modern TV's can be tweaked to work with adaptions, but check your individual TV model and specifications before shipping to find out if it will work in the USA. With the price of replacement TVs in the USA most people decide it's not worth the hassle! 

DVDs are generally 'region-encoded', so English ones won’t play on an American DVD player. Some computers will play both, but only for a set number of times before they 'burn in' a region to the firmware of the DVD player.
CDs, however, are not region-encoded, so anything bought in the UK will work just the same in the USA. 


Desktop computers often have a switch at the rear marked 220. When – and only when – you arrive in the US, switch it over and your computer should work fine. You will also need a new power cord. Remember to back up important data before you move and store it separately.

Modern laptops run on dual voltage, though you may need an adapter or new power cord. 

Computer peripherals that require their own power usually work on both voltages, again check the power brick. USB peripherals will work as normal.

3) The cost of shipping household goods to the USA vs. buying new

Sadly the only way to find out whether its more cost effective to ship or buy new will be to take the time to do some research. 

Work out the cost of replacement

According to the Association of British Insurers the average value of the things we own is around £35,000. If the cost to replace everything you own in the USA were to be similar then this would be far higher than the cost to ship everything. 

It is worth making a list of the items you're considering leaving behind and researching how much it would cost to buy new in the USA and how much you could sell your old item for in the UK to find out the net cost to replace. e.g. Ikea 3 seater sofa - buy new in US for $399, sell used in UK for £100 = approx £211 cost to replace.  

Don't forget to be realistic in researching new items - look for replacements you'd be happy with, that are to your taste and are available in the area you're moving to. 

Get a quote for shipping

The cost of shipping depends on a lot of factors, like where you're moving from and to, access to your properties, the speed you want to get your items there as well as volume, so every move will be different. The only way to get an accurate quote for shipping is to ask an international removal company - the good news is quotes and surveys should always be free and no obligation.

Ask the international removal company to provide you with two quotes. One to include all the items you're considering leaving behind, and one without. This will help you evaluate which is the more cost effective option.

Get a free removals quote

Weighing it up

Once you've got these two figures you can do an easy comparison - here's a simple example: 

  • Cost to ship everything - £5000 / Cost to ship essentials only £1000 - Saving = £4000
  • Cost to replace all non essentials new in USA - £7000
  • Shipping would be the cheaper option by £3000

4) The stress of buying everything new 

If you love shopping and won't be starting work right away when you arrive, then this may be not be a concern to you, but if that's not the case think carefully about how easy or hard it might be to go out and buy everything new. 

What will you do for furniture while you're waiting for your new things to arrive? Will you need to stay in temporary accommodation and how will this affect your costs? Will you have credit in place if you don't have funds to buy outright? Are the shops you need close by? Are you good at making decisions and visualising what will work well in your new home? Do you have time to find the best stores and the best prices? Can you take time off work to take delivery? 

Don't forget the hassle of getting rid of everything in the UK too. If you're selling things take into account the time required to list your items, negotiate with buyers and arrange delivery/collection. If you're disposing of items take into account the cost/time required to do this before move day. 

5) The value of having your own familiar things around you in your new home

family settling into a new home with their belongings shipped from UK to USA

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Don't underestimate the power of familiarity when making your new house feel like 'home'. For some people this doesn't matter and lots of new stuff is far more exciting, but for others the transition to a completely new life in a new country is made a little easier by having their familiar items around them while they settle in, particularly when you have kids. 

Your options for shipping household goods to the USA

Depending on the volume of goods you're moving, the area you are moving to and your target delivery time there may be several options for international removals including shared load or full container services.

  • Shared load container services (sometimes called groupage) are where you pay for space in a 20ft or 40ft container, with other customers moving to nearby destinations sharing the empty space. This means you share the freight costs (shipping line fee for transport from port to port) so can be more cost effective for smaller shipments.
  • Full container services provide you with exclusive use of your own container and is the quickest method of shipment by sea. It is usually the best method for full household moves. 

Check out our Ultimate Guide to International Removal companies to find out everything you need to know about your different options for shipping and how to find reputable movers. 

Download the Ultimate guide to international removal companies

Itinerary for a typical international move

Here is the typical timeline for a household goods move to the USA:

  1. Get a quote - most people start this process 2-3 months before their move date.
  2. Book your move dates - as soon as you know them
  3. Complete Customs Documentation - having this ready as soon as possible means your shipment is ready to go as soon as it's loaded
  4. Pre-move planning and preparation - work with your moving company to make sure any tasks you're responsible for completing are done ahead of move day. 
  5. Packing and loading - your removals crew will get everything packed and wrapped for transit and produce an inventory of items as they load them either into the shipping container or their lorry if the container will be loaded elsewhere (e.g., if for shared load containers or homes with poor access)
  6. Transport - your container will be transported to the port of departure and loaded onto a container ship. You can usually track its journey online with the vessel name or number if you're interested! Once it arrives at the destination port your container will be unloaded into the port.
  7. Customs Clearance - your moving company's destination team will arrange customs clearance and will update you when your shipment is cleared for delivery.
  8. Delivery - your removal crew will transport your shipment to your new home, unload all the items into the rooms of your choice and unpack (if you have selected this service). 

Get a quote for international removals to the USA

If you're moving from the South East of England to the USA we'd love to provide you with a free, no obligation quote for your move. 

Get a free removals quote


If you're moving from outside of the South East of England where we are based check out the FIDI FAIM international movers directory for a list of reputable movers in your area. 

Check out the Ultimate Guide On How To Move Your Belongings Overseas to find out everything you need to know about finding and using a professional overseas mover.

Topics: USA

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