How to Import Personal Belongings vs Personal Use Goods



Personal Effects
Importing “goods for personal-use,” and importing “personal belongings” are two completely different types of imports with two very different import procedures. They can be easily confused so let us have a closer look by first defining both types of imports.

Personal Belongings

The definition of personal belongings can vary depending on the reason for import such as settling or travelling. For the purpose of this post, we will only be looking at settling in Canada or the United States.

Personal belongings are assets owned such as clothing, toiletries, furniture, kitchenware and other items you would find in a household. Since there is no sale transaction involved most personal belongings are exempt from duty and taxes. These imports are often declared to customs by the owner of the items directly. It’s important to note that some items are restricted, controlled and prohibited so please check with customs before trying to import.

NOTE: Vehicles, although considered a personal belonging, are subject to specific import rules and time-frames required for processing. Many importers are unaware of this fact and arrive at the border unprepared. This results in significant delays which can be avoided by working with a customs broker.

Goods for Personal-Use

A personal import is a transaction where a seller and a purchaser exchange money for personal-use products. The purchaser is not operating as a business but rather “as an individual.” These goods are purchased from outside of the country and must be imported. A good example of these are online purchases via an eCommerce website.

As you can see from the above, your pre-owned hairbrush has a different “definition” than the hairbrush you just purchased from out of the country. As mentioned at the top of this post, each import is processed a little differently as described below.

How to Declare Personal Belongings

If you are moving to Canada or the U.S., both the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have forms available online to declare the personal goods that are travelling with you, and any to follow if they aren’t able to come in one trip. Once you have all your required forms filled out, the next step is to present them to customs at your first port of entry into the country to which you are settling.

NOTE: If you are not travelling with your goods and have instead used a third-party carrier to ship them (i.e. a container by ocean transport), then you will need to meet your goods at the port of entry and present your forms to customs at that time, which will include your carrier’s cargo control document.

How to Declare Goods for Personal-Use

This is a more intricate process, and it is strongly recommended that you hire a customs broker to ensure your compliance with the regulations, avoid unnecessary delays, and prevent monetary penalties or seizure of goods.

It’s important to note the intricacies:

  • The importer of record (IOR), also known as the person importing the goods, is held entirely responsible for all aspects of the import including the accuracy of the information presented to customs.
  • Each country’s customs authority has very specific import regulations, and these regulations must be followed. Customs considers it the importer’s responsibility to understand the regulations and does not show leniency in cases of ignorance, which can prove fatal to your import goals.
  • Each imported item has its own set of rules and import eligibility requirements. Composition, origin, value, method of transport and end-use each play a different role in steering the importation process. Inexperienced importers often find this most difficult to navigate.
  • Importers are in some cases working with multiple government organizations depending on the commodity. Customs works with Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) that regulate imported goods such as Environment Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the environment, economy and inhabitants are protected.
  • Documentation requirements are commodity specific. Produce imports require different paperwork than vehicle imports.
  • Accurate calculation of duties and taxes payable are dependent on accurate interpretation of Customs Law. Without a solid understanding, miscalculations can easily occur.

The first step in this import process is to gather all information required to fill out the specific customs forms required for the entry.

Next Steps

The importer can declare the goods themselves by going to customs with all of the required information, and either meet the carrier upon arrival at the first port of entry, obtain their cargo control document, and complete a customs declaration or, hire a customs broker to work with the carrier and complete the declaration on your behalf.

Listed below are a number of resources available to you for this type of import including the step-by-step process. We have provided general regulations and links to forms required for each type of import below.

Canadian Regulations and Forms

U.S. Regulations and Forms

Declaration – Personal Belongings/Household Item (Settling)

  • Must have been in your possession while abroad.
  • Cannot be sold or otherwise disposed of within twelve months of settling.
  • If you are returning to Canada, you must have been away for no less than one year and the items must have been in your possession and use for a minimum of six months.
  • Must be in possession for more than one year
  • Must have been in your possession while aboard
  • Items cannot be be imported for sale or for the account of any other person
  • Cannot include alcoholic beverages or tobacco products
The declaration process into Canada.

Forms

The declaration process into the U.S.

Forms

Declaration – Personal-Use Goods (Purchased Outside of Country)

A full list of steps to import into Canada for items with a value greater than $20.00. A full list of steps to import into the U.S. for items owned less than a year with a value greater than $800.00.

Declaration – Vehicles

A full list of steps to import vehicles into Canada. A full list of steps to import vehicles into the U.S.

We pride ourselves on providing helpful and useful insight into the difference between imports for personal-use and personal belonging importing. If you are determined to do it yourself, the information you need is within this article; however, if you realize how very intricate personal goods importing can be we are happy to walk you step by step through the process to ensure your import is as quick and painless as possible. We recommend attending one of our seminars or webinars to understand the process or call us toll-free now!

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