How to Move Internationally, The NowShip Guide
A Simple How to Guide for International Moving

Introduction to Making Your International Move

NowShip’s international moving guide is here to make you an educated consumer when preparing to move overseas. If you are reading this, chances are that most readers have never lived outside their home country and are taking this big step for the first time.

Moving from one location to another involves some level of risk, whether financially or because you are handing over your life's possessions to strangers, you need to know everything upfront so you don't make mistakes that will cost you time, money, and aggravation later on.

As a note and to put the risk in more perspective, every time you travel you are handing your goods to strangers as well but as many of us know the routine already we are more comfortable with the risks.

We encourage you to read on and learn how international moving works, how to make good choices for your international move. An educated consumer makes smart decisions.

How Moving Abroad Works

So, you've decided to move overseas and embark on a very exciting time in your life. Whether it is your first time or your third in moving overseas, there are many things that need to happen before you can take off. Having your goods transported from say New York to London, seems easy enough right? We believe it is easy but it is important for you the consumer to understand the process and how it works.
Chances are you have moved before and like most people, chances are you have packed your own stuff up for your move. If you have moved before you probably have seen the results of your first packing job which may have resulted in damage. Your second move, you fared much better and you took the time to pack your goods well –you may have even sought out How to Pack Like a Mover videos on the internet. Ok, let’s not get off topic as we’ll review best practices for packing later on.

Simply put, moving abroad is much like moving locally in many ways. Your packed goods travel from its origin to its destination and once unpacked, normal life resumes.

The summary steps of moving overseas are as follows:
  • You decide what personal effects and household goods you want to move
  • Your items are packed and then perhaps over packed in crates, this is called export packed or export ready
  • Your goods are brought to a carrier (truck, airplane, ship) and loaded for departure
  • Your goods enter the destination country and await clearance or are cleared for you (depends upon your service inclusions)
  • Your goods are delivered to your new residence
  • Normal life resumes

The above is a very simple description of the process and under other sections we’ll describe more in-depth the process and what you must know and understand in preparation throughout your international shipping.

Hiring a Moving Company or Do It Yourself

Do you hire a mover to bring your goods from your home here to your home over there? The answer depends on you.

The first questions to ask of yourself are:
  • Can I pack my own stuff?
  • Can I coordinate the collection of my packed goods or bring them to a departure terminal?
  • Can I collect my packed goods from the arrival terminal at my destination?
  • Can I unpack my own personal effects?

If you answered YES to all or the majority of the above, chances are very good that you do not need a moving company because you can do it yourself (well at least all the costly handling bits).

International Moving Companies
  • Moving companies will need to perform a home survey prior to giving you a quotation for services
  • Moving companies cannot give you a final cost because measurements must be recorded and then a final quotation / cost is given after your goods are in their possession.
  • Most of the time, different moving companies will be involved as no mover has the global reach to operate in multiple countries.
  • 99.9% of international moving companies subcontract services to make your international move because they do not own their own cargo planes or cargo ships.
  • The mover you hire will "subcontract" to other moving companies, which means there may be several companies involved in getting your shipment from point A to point B.
  • Your move budget is based upon several levels of subcontractors

Preparing for Your Overseas Move
First things first. If your move is paid for by an employer your move budget is set or at least you know what the “out of pocket” expenses will be, should your costs go beyond your designated budget.
If you move is paid completely out of pocket (your pocket), before creating a move budget, it is wise to confirm what you need to move. Remember, it might be cheaper to replace items at your destination rather than pay the cost of moving it. Be sure to do some research on cost of living in your destination country.

Many electronics will not work in foreign countries without power converters and plug adapters (as well. some television formats differ too) so consider whether it's worthwhile to take these things with you. Think about how long you might be living in the destination country. Six months? Three years? Forever? If you're going somewhere for a short time, it may not make sense to take over all the comforts of home like artwork, books, etc. and it might be more cost effective to put those items in storage or if you are lucky, at a family members house.

Additionally, for safety reasons you should not ship the following:
  • Jewelry
  • Any perishable goods (and prepare to have any food items confiscated)
  • Plants, seeds, or dirt
  • Important documents (financial records, visas, passports, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Hazardous or flammable materials (paint, aerosol cans, explosives, etc)
  • Firearms

Walk through your home with a notepad, selecting what you might want to move, sell, store, or give away. This will help you knowing what items you will want to ship which will be useful for your Do It Yourself international move or if you decide to begin talking to moving companies and requesting quotes. No matter what your direction, full service move or DiY, NowShip has a neutral pre-move survey that is available to you through this website.

Shipping Options

Moving over land -- from the United States to Canada, for example -- is fairly straightforward. When your move requires ocean or air passage, however, you do have shipping options.

Door to Door is an end-to-end service: the service provider will pick up your stuff at your home and deliver it to your destination home. This service includes mover will also take care of customs clearance. Unless you are very confident in your ability to manage getting your stuff to the departure port, or getting your stuff from the destination port, this is the way to go. Very often a full service quotation will include packing for you. Note: Many movers will state that international moves cannot be packed by the owner of the goods. THIS IS NOT TRUE and if the mover states this and only promises issues with US or overseas customs, politely say thank you and hang up.
Port to Port will save you money but involves the most work: you are responsible for packing and getting your household goods to the departure port and picking them up again at the destination port. You'll be responsible for dealing with customs, inspections, and port fees. This option only makes sense if you live close to a port in both locations. Note: Ports of departure can be an airport, an ocean port or a dry port (e.g. Chicago or Denver are dry ports)
If getting your stuff to a local port is an issue but you are able to retrieve it from the destination port, then Door to Port may be a good option. Note that Port to Port and Door to Port quotes do not include Terminal Handling Charges and other port fees, which can be fairly significant.

Port to Door is the opposite of Door to Port -- you're responsible for getting your stuff to the departure port but the moving company will deliver it to your home at your final destination. In this scenario, the moving company will handle customs clearance.
This decision really comes down to one of physical and financial ability. If you speak the language in your destination country and don't mind working with customs and paying fees yourself and, importantly, have a means to deliver and pick up your stuff from the port(s), these options may make sense. They might be more work on your end but they will also help save you money.

After sorting through your household items and have determined what items will be included in your shipment. There are two ways to get your belongings overseas: by air or by sea. Air is much quicker and typically more expensive. NowShip does offer larger courier options for small moves that most moving companies do not handle and that are multimodal (meaning varied transportation land, air and sea). For larger moves, we recommend sea as the best mode of transport to keep lower costs.

Ocean Containers: There are two standard container sizes: 20 foot (~6.1 meters), which has 1,165 cubic feet of space inside, and 40 foot, which has 2,385 cubic feet of space. A 20-foot long container can typically hold the contents of a 1-3-bedroom house; a 40-foot long container can typically hold the contents of a 3-6-bedroom house. (Note that these estimates are based on American homes, which are in general larger than homes elsewhere like in Europe).

A Full Container Load (FCL) refers to a container that is filled completely with your home's contents and only your contents. A Less than Container Load (LCL) refers to a container that is only partially filled with your home's contents and may be filled with items belonging to other people. A LCL may also be referred to as a shared container.

When your goods do not fill a container (i.e. you have LCL) there are generally three options:
  • The carrier will consolidate other shipments into the same container (called groupage), typically by putting your goods onto a secured pallet or a large crate. This crate, often referred to as a lift van is typically made of wood (think of a pallet with walls and a roof); it generally has a length of 86" (~2.2 meters) so anything longer than this, like a big sofa, will not fit. With groupage, your goods will sit in a warehouse until there is enough to fill a container. If you're going somewhere that doesn't get a lot of traffic, this can take a while.
  • The carrier does not consolidate other goods in LCL containers and would therefore charge you for the entire container, even though your stuff only fills up part of the container. This is called a sole use container.
  • The majority of shipments handled by NowShip are considered large courier crates (see our cube and tower) or expedited courier service (remember, NowShip supplies the cartons for self-packing). NowShip Custom provides services for out of gauge moves that are larger than our packing crates and do include LCL and FCL services. We encourage you to seek out other quotes for service from traditional international moving companies. As much as you can learn about the services offered you can match these with the services you need and maintain your move budget. Remember, flexibility is key.

Requesting International Moving Quotes

Whether NowShip or another moving company provides you quotes, you should obtain estimates from at least three companies. It is highly recommended you start this process about 2-3 months prior to your move date. Searching on Google, Yahoo or Bing should give you some very good results and companies where you can obtain quotes.

Many of NowShip’s online international move solutions can be used as quotations by signing up and adding options to your moving cart as “wish” list items. With other companies who accept your inquiry, they'll contact you to schedule a visual survey of all the stuff you're shipping. This is the best way to get an accurate assessment of everything, which is the best way of getting an accurate quote. Remember, NowShip does offer a neutral pre-move survey. The survey is a report that you can give to any international mover to receive an accurate quotation. Note: We encourage all customers of NowShip to purchase this neutral survey, our services are more Do It Yourself and if you need a full service move, our survey is the best way to ensure you are getting accurate quotations from an inclusive international mover.

During the survey, an inventory of what you're shipping but also assess access to your home and other handling needs that might make the move a bit harder. For example, if you're on the fourth floor of an apartment building with no elevator, or if a truck must be parked a couple blocks away so they won't block traffic, there will be additional costs.

NowShip’s survey is performed electronically using mobile phone technology through a secure communication link. We believe it is best as the survey can be performed outside of work hours and you are not allowing a stranger into your home. Most international movers do not have this technology and so they will schedule an in-home visit. This visit also provides you with a chance to evaluate the company: did the person show up on time, were they knowledgeable, did they make you feel comfortable?
The quote cost is typically based on the weight or volume of the goods you're shipping, and can sometimes be based on both. It also captures what services are included.

Your quote will include the estimated time it will take your stuff to reach its destination once it's been packed up. Shipments will differ in the frequency they go out, depending on the carrier, where you are shipping from, and where you are shipping to. For example, on a busy route like New York to London, your shipment should leave the port fairly quickly. If you're heading from New York to Fiji it might sit in a warehouse for a while until there's enough to fill a whole container. Make sure you ask the company when it's likely to ship out.

Note that a quote is not always the final price you'll pay: you won't be charged until your goods are actually picked up and weighed/measured at the mover's warehouse. If the final price does end up being more than the quote, the mover should have a legitimate reason for the increase (for example, you added some items to the shipment that weren't included in the survey).

The Hard Part: Comparing Quotes

Depending upon your request, moving companies will generally include most of the following services in their quote:
  • Packing and wrapping service
  • Packing materials
  • Loading from residence
  • Preparation of inventory
  • Export documentation
  • Inland freight
  • Ocean or Air freight
  • Normal customs clearance
  • Destination terminal handling charges
  • Delivery to destination
  • Unloading into destination residence
  • Unpacking at destination
  • Placement of furniture
  • Assembly of basic furniture (i.e. bed frame, table)
  • Removal of packing materials
Some quotes will include the above in one price but have listed as inclusions and or exclusions
These items are typically not included in the cost:
  • Demurrage
  • Detention
  • Customs charges or taxes
  • Storage charges
  • Difficult access delivery (i.e. several flights of stairs)
  • Fumigation costs
  • Customs exam charges
  • Insurance
This comparison is important as it is the included services you are purchasing. For instance, if one mover does not include Terminal Handling Charges, their quote will be significantly lower than the others, but you'll still have to pay those charges yourself at some point.

Packing and Delivery of Your Belongings

NowShip believes that the person who cares most about your belongings is you. When you self-pack you are limited to your insurance options. If you decide to hire a full service or a separate packing service you’ll be able to insure your goods for full replacement value minus any deductible. Many moving companies will tell you that you don't have experience in wrapping and packing while they do this for a living and are the experts. Well, let’s be realistic, until your goods are in a crate or shipping container, your packed goods are at risk.
Any international mover who tell you that the more stuff you self-pack, the more likely it is that your goods will get held up in a customs inspection at your destination, which can have additional costs, is either not an expert in international shipping or they want to increase the money you pay them. The truth of the matter is you can self-pack your goods but you must keep a good inventory list (carton 1, used men’s clothing, carton 2, personal papers etc…). International moving companies make mistakes, we know as we’ve worked for many of them and have seen the shortcomings of bad administration, bad packing, and lost goods.

Wisdom in Packing

Make sure that the stuff you're shipping is clean (particularly if you're shipping garden tools, boots, sporting equipment, or items for a pet) Some countries will inspect your shipment for contaminants, and anything that can potentially bring in soil or bugs increases the likelihood that your shipment will be inspected.

Once your goods have shipped, the carrier will provide you with a document called the Bill of Lading. This will detail the vessel or flight your shipment is on, the container number, and transportation details.

The moving company will also provide you the name and contact details of a release agent. For many of NowShip’s courier services, these are agents for FedEx, UPS, DHL, or TNT. Depending upon the service, your contact at the destination may be an office of a moving company you hired or a local moving company they partner with. The release agent will contact you prior to the vessel's arrival at the destination port in order to arrange customs clearance and schedule pick-up or delivery services with you.

Remember, every country has different requirements around customs clearance and it would be prudent to understand what you can and cannot bring into your new home country.