Guam’s status as a U.S. territory has long created confusion for those traveling or moving to the island. We hear questions all the time, like: “Is a flight from the mainland to Guam considered international or domestic?” Or: “Do U.S. citizens need to bring their passports when they fly to Guam?”
However, perhaps the most common question we deal with on a daily basis is:
“Do I have to go through customs when I move to Guam?
(Or move back to the mainland?)”
The short answer? Yes.
We’ll walk you through the longer answer in this article to address pretty much everything we think you need to know about customs regulations, procedures, and fees when you’re moving to or from Guam.
But, first, a little history so you can understand the why behind these customs procedures. Guam was officially acquired by the U.S. in the Spanish-American war, through a treaty ratified in 1899. The U.S. lost ownership of the island briefly when the Japanese invaded Guam in 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, U.S. forces retook the island in 1944. Then, under the Guam Organic Act of 1950, Guamanians were given U.S. citizenship, and a local government was established.
When it comes to the issue of customs, according to federal regulations, Guam lies outside the customs territory of the United States. That same set of laws puts the responsibility for Guam customs administration with the Government of Guam.i
To summarize, here’s how customs between Guam and the mainland works:
- When you’re moving to Guam from the United States, your household goods shipment must clear through Guam’s Customs and Quarantine Agency (CQA).
- When you’re moving from Guam to the United States, your household goods shipment must clear through U.S. Customs at its first point of entry.
Before we take you through these customs procedures, one note: In our experience, customs regulations can change at any time—without notice. Use the information in this article as a guide, and contact your moving company for the most up-to-date regulations and fees.
Now, let’s dive into the details.
Customs Procedures and Fees When Moving to Guam from the United States
The Bottom Line: Upon arrival to Guam, all shipments must clear through Guam’s Customs and Quarantine Agency (CQA).
Documents Needed: As long as all of the necessary documents are on hand at the arrival of the shipment, the owner of the shipment does not need to be present for clearance. These documents include:
- The original bill of lading (OBL), copy of telex release or air waybill (AWB)
- A clear copy of the owner’s passport, including the signature and picture page
- A detailed inventory, signed by the owner
- Full contact information for the owner
- Full employment information for the owner
Guam Customs Fees: Fees differ, depending on which method you use to send your items:
- For ocean freight: The first 4,000 lbs. of sea cargo (including vehicles) will be assessed a $75.00 fee for domestic shipments and $125.00 for international shipments. A $0.0012 fee will be charged for every pound thereafter.
So, if your household goods coming from California weigh 10,000 lbs., you’d be charged $75 + $7.20 (6,000 x $0.0012), or $82.20.
- For air freight: The first 100 lbs. of air cargo will be assessed a $125.00 fee. A $0.0012 fee will be charged for every pound thereafter.
So if you send a few items via air freight that total 200 lbs., you’d be charged $125 + $0.12 (100 x $0.0012) or $125.12.
Additional Possible Fees: There are also a couple of additional scenarios that may incur extra fees, such as:
- Inspections: If Guam Customs holds any shipment for a physical exam, a fee of $75/hour for loose-loaded shipments or $50/crate for liftvan-loaded shipments will be assessed.
- Firearms: Shipments with firearms must be held in a certified Container Freight Station for inspection by Guam Customs prior to release. A fee of $1.00 per cubic foot will be assessed for the ENTIRE shipment.
- Motorcycles / Scooters / Mopeds / ATVs / Trailers / Watercraft (Jet skis, Sea-Doos, and boats): These items must be held in a certified Container Freight Station for inspection by Guam Customs prior to release. A fee of $1.00 per cubic foot will be assessed.
Prohibited & Restricted Items: As you prepare your shipment of household goods to Guam, there are a few regulations you’ll want to be aware of in order to make a smooth transition (and avoid excessive duties!).
The following items are prohibited from import to Guam:
- All food items, including things like dried food, spices, perishables, meats and liquids
- Narcotics and dangerous drugs
- Misbranded articles
- Hazardous articles, including fireworks
- Toxic and poisonous substances
- Endangered species and artifacts
- Rooted plants, flowers, soil, and fruits
- Non-DOT approved tires
The following items have some associated restrictions you’ll want to be aware of as you decide what to bring with you:
- Firearms and ammunition: Guam law allows the import of up to four legally authorized firearms for personal use. Ammunition is strictly prohibited. You’ll need to provide documentation for any firearms you wish to import. Talk to your moving company for specific instructions on both the documentation you need to provide and the instructions for loading the firearms for easy inspection.
- Wine and alcoholic beverages: An individual 21 years and older can bring in one gallon (3.8 liters) of alcoholic beverages. Any amount in excess of the exemption will result in a 4% duty based on the value of the alcohol and the cost of the ocean freight of the entire shipment. Note that any alcohol must be listed on the descriptive inventory of your shipment.
- Medicines and narcotics: Only normal required quantities are acceptable for import, provided they are supported by a prescription or statement from a personal physician. They must also be properly identified. Narcotics listed under Schedule I, II and III of the Controlled Substance Act are generally prohibited from entry. Severe penalties will be imposed if these substances are improperly imported.
If you have ANY questions about what you can and cannot bring to Guam, ask your moving company or carrier. It’s better to ask questions upfront and make your decisions accordingly. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the position of paying significant duties (or fines!) later.
We’re also happy to help you get the answers you need when moving to Guam. Just reach out to us.
Customs Procedures and Fees When Moving from Guam to the United States
The Bottom Line: If you’re moving to the mainland from Guam, your shipment of household goods must clear U.S. Customs at its first point of entry.
Since your shipment may go through a few legs before arriving at its final destination, this can get a little confusing. Here’s how it works:
- Ocean freight: If your final destination is not near the initial port of entry, CBP will begin the clearance process at the initial port before allowing the ocean carrier to forward your shipment on to the final destination terminal.
For example: Let’s say you’re moving to Detroit, Michigan. Your shipment may arrive at the seaport in Norfolk, VA. The clearance process will begin in Norfolk. After it receives authorization from CBP at Norfolk, it can begin its journey to Detroit.
Estimated timing for clearance: Sea shipments take an average of four to seven business days to clear customs if there are no additional customs exams required. (More on that below!)
- Air freight: Often, direct flights from Guam to your final destination may not be available. Your shipment will go through CBP clearance at the first U.S. airport it touches. After authorization from CBP, it will continue along to its final destination.
Estimated timing for clearance: Air shipments take an average of two to four business days to clear customs if there are no additional customs exams.
Customs Fees: When you move back to the U.S., you’ll be considered a “returning resident” by CBP. As a result, you’ll be allowed a duty-free exemption for household goods like furniture, dishes, linens, books, artwork and other similar furnishings. CBP requires that these goods be intended for your personal use or previously used in a household where you were a resident for one year.
That being said, there are two possible areas where you may end up paying fees:
- A customs broker: When you move from Guam to the U.S., you or your moving company may decide to hire a customs broker to help you complete all the required paperwork and expedite the clearance process. You’ll have to pay a fee to the customs broker. However, it’s usually worth it. Consider it a small investment toward significant savings of both time and hassle.
- Exams: If your ocean freight shipment is selected for an exam by CBP, you could end up paying fees that range anywhere from $295 for an X-ray exam (the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System or VACIS) or $1,000-$3,000 for an intensive exam.
When it comes to air freight, most air shipments will undergo an X-ray exam. CBP may also choose to physically examine your shipment. Most commonly, shipments are chosen for agricultural reasons, especially if the shipment contains outdoor items such as gardening equipment, patio items, bicycles, etc.
If your shipment gets chosen for an exam, it can be a frustrating and confusing process. Selection for any exam does not necessarily indicate there’s something wrong with either your shipment or your documentation. Customs exams are a normal part of the clearance process. CBP has its own algorithms that decide which shipments get chosen for inspection, and, at the end of the day, they have the right to perform exams on any import shipment, regardless of the importer’s nationality or citizenship.
A few things to note about exams:
- CBP does not share their reasons for exams. However, one common reason for an intensive exam can be an unclear X-ray.
- While your air or sea shipment may undergo an exam at the initial airport or seaport, CBP has the right to demand a second exam upon your shipment’s arrival at the final airport or terminal.
- No outside representative may be present for any customs exam, including DeWitt Guam, our customs broker or the importer.
- Exams can cause unpredictable delays. CBP does not disclose where your shipment is in the queue for an exam, nor do they provide any progress reports or predictions for when an exam will be completed and the shipment released to us.
- Congestion and high volume at the airport, seaport/terminal, and within CBP all affect how quickly the exam will take place.
- Final delivery to your residence cannot be scheduled until CBP has provided final release of your shipment.
If you have any questions about customs procedures when returning to the mainland, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d be happy to help!
Navigating Customs with Clarity
Whether you’re moving to Guam or relocating to the mainland, any household goods you move will have to clear customs. The walkthrough we’ve given you in this article will give you a head start on a smooth and easy clearance experience.
Ready to make your move? Looking for help navigating customs? We’ve been helping customers pack, move, ship and clear their household goods shipments through Guam and U.S. customs for 35+ years. Have questions? Want to start a quote? Just reach out to one of our local experts to get started.
Talk to Our Customs Experts