What You Need to Know About U.S. Customs Declaration When Moving Across the Border

What You Need to Know About U.S. Customs Declaration When Moving Across the Border

Canada and the United States are close neighbours - so much so that sometimes we think that we are almost one country, with the same rights as we have within our own borders. It is true that we speak a common language, are each other’s largest trading partners, share basic values when it comes to democracy, and are equally “celebrity obsessed”! However, one thing we don’t share is the right to move freely between the two countries to work and live. Each country has its own immigration rules and regulations. Sometimes Canadians forget this when they decide that they want to move to the United States.

This is not to say that it cannot be done. However, you must go through the proper process in order to be granted status in the United States and be allowed to import your possessions into the country. You will require a work visa or be sponsored by a US family member who is a US citizen (not just a permanent resident) to be allowed to move to the United States. There are various categories of US work visas depending on your specific occupation or your professional and academic qualifications. Detailed information can be found at www.uscis.gov

In recent years, a lot of Canadians have purchased real estate in the United States, and some of these people are under the misguided opinion that owning property there allows them to sell their home in Canada, give up their job and simply move to the U.S. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Even if you are retiring, US Immigration and Homeland Security will only permit you to live in the US for a 6 month period each year. You are considered a “visitor” to the US when you complete the US Customs declaration form.

You will still have to prove to the US officials that you have not abandoned your residence in Canada. It will be necessary for you to provide documentation that proves you still own or lease a home in Canada, maintain bank accounts, utility services, pay property taxes and that you intend to return to Canada when your maximum six months’ stay in the United States expires. Copies of this documentation will have to be presented by you personally when you clear US Customs. Copies of these documents will also have to be given to the moving company so that their van operator can submit them to US customs when the truck arrives at the border. 

If you want to ship your furniture and other household and personal possessions to the US, you should first consult with a moving company who has expertise in this area. They will assist you in completing the main US customs declaration form, known as the “3299" Declaration For Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles. This form authorizes the moving company to act as your agent to have your shipment cleared for entry at the US border. One important thing to note is that the moving company must have all of your completed documentation before they can proceed to the border with your possessions on their truck. If the paperwork is not in order, the truck will be turned back by US Customs and additional costs will accrue to return the goods to origin.

This paperwork includes a copy of passports for every family member (or birth certificates for children under 14), proof that your work visa has been granted, proof that your status has been cleared by US immigration (I94 record), and the completed 3299 form. If you are a snowbird, then the above mentioned proof of a Canadian residence will also be required.

Your moving company representative can assist you in completing the US Customs declaration form #3299, but here are a few important points to keep in mind:

  • Residency – as someone who is moving to the US for the first time on a work visa, you are considered a “Non-Resident”
  • Returning US Citizens – if you have lived outside of the US for two or more years, then you too are considered a “non-resident” for purposes of the 3299 form
  • Emigrating to the United States – you should only check this box if you have been granted permanent resident status in the US – commonly called Green Card status

Special Warning:

Former “green card” holders – if you had a green card in the US at some time in the past, but then moved out of the US for two or more years, you will likely find that US immigration will consider you to have abandoned your US status and you will have to begin the process over again.  You will require a work visa in order to move back to the US.

For more information on moving to the US, or if you have any other questions about the Customs Declaration Form, get in touch with the experts at Premiere Van Lines.