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Packing Your Belongings

You probably own more books and furniture than when you came to America. If the airline won't let you put your sofa in the overhead bin, you'll need to hire a shipping company.

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Shipping your belongings back to your home country could be one of the most expensive parts of your experience as an international student. If you bought a lot of large items that you want to take home with you-a car or furniture, for example-you may have to rent space on a cargo vessel to transport them home. If, on the other hand, you are taking back about the same amount of things that you brought with you, the cost will be similar to what you paid coming to America. Here are some tips for how to handle different amounts of cargo:

If you are just taking back books, clothes, and other personal belongings:

You will probably need to arrange for special freight shipping for most of your belongings since major airlines do not allow more than a couple of items on commercial flights. Look for air freight companies that ship to your country. If you want to save money, you may want to look into using ocean-going ships rather than aircraft. Your cargo will take longer to get to your country, and it can only enter at seaports, but you may save a lot of money if you can make arrangements that take advantage of this method of shipping.

You should find out what kind of boxes or other packaging supplies you will need, and you should also look into options for insuring your cargo (often this kind of insurance is available from the shipping company). Be sure that you clearly mark all of your packages, so that they will get delivered properly.

If you don't know where to begin looking for prices, try one of these services:

If you are shipping large items home:

Larger items such as cars are costly to ship to another country, so only do this if you are certain that what you are shipping is worth taking with you. The cost for the space and the insurance are quite high, and not every shipping company that can handle your smaller packages can take these larger items.

Handling customs:

Passing through customs can be slow, and if you have to open your bags it can feel invasive. Customs officials have a difficult job, so the first thing to remember is that you can often avoid delays by being polite and prepared. Make certain that you have all documents ready when you reach customs. Be prepared to tell the customs agent why you traveled, the length of your stay, what you are bringing back (terms of cash, trademarked products, and other items), any medication you have with you, etc.

You may be asked to open your bags for the customs officials. Don't worry if this happens, most of the time you were just unlucky enough to be in the right place in line (many major airports will check every third traveler's bag for traces of explosives and sometimes ask these people to open their bags). If you are carrying cameras or electronics, make sure that they are off when you pass through security and customs, but be prepared to turn them on to demonstrate that they operate properly. This is done to check that no one can smuggle dangerous devices disguised as, perhaps, CD players, onto airplanes, and it is for your protection.

If you have large items (a car or furniture) that you are sending on a cargo vessel, you will need to arrange with customs to have the cargo inspected and to pay any related fees. Contact your nearest customs office to find out the proper procedure. You may also need to contact your home country's customs office to arrange a meeting when your possessions arrive in your country.

Export restrictions:

Some items such as computers or software may be illegal to take out of the United States. Other items may be illegal to bring into your home country. You will need to check with U.S. Customs to find out what you can and cannot take with you, and you will need check with your home country's customs agency to find out what you can and cannot bring back to your country. Penalties for customs violations can be quite severe.

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