International Moving / Relocation Basics

So, you’ve decided to relocate overseas. This is a huge life change,
not one that most Americans will experience. Right now you are juggling
preparations related to immigration, work, leaving family, maybe
a house. On top of all that, you have more stuff than you can take on
the plane with you and you don’t have a clue how to get it to your new
home. Hopefully our experience will reduce some of the stress in
figuring it all out.
We will discuss:

  1. How it works
  2. How to prepare
  3. How to find a good
    mover and negotiate the details
  4. How to handle the move

With a basic knowledge of the process, you can make your way through
three basic steps of the process without worrying that you are missing
something or getting ripped off.

Container Ship Image

1. How
international moving works

When we started planning our move to New Zealand, we had moved many
times before. Since this was our first overseas move, however, it
was the first time we had ever had to deal with a moving company. We
were well aware that movers have among the lowest reputations of any
industry going, having seen countless exposes of horrific fraud or
monumental negligence. We had also heard some pretty unsettling first
person accounts ranging from manipulative estimating to wanton
destruction. Although we held the strong belief that it was best to
avoid them if possible, we knew of no other way to get our
belongings from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Nelson, New Zealand.

Having never used a moving company before, let alone shipped overseas,
were not at all clear on
how the process worked. Most of the time, people use the term shipping
generically to mean
transporting stuff from one place to another but shipping belongings
overseas literally involves ships- stuff is packed into a
container and put onto a transport ship in a local port then delivered
to a port near the destination. To anyone but a longshoreman,
this all can be rather foreign and mysterious. And since we
living in New Mexico, thousands of miles from a ‘local
port’, we needed a moving company to get our stuff to the
shipping company who would take it to New Zealand. In New Zealand,
another moving company would take it from the port to our home.
That all sounds logical enough, but we really wish we had understood it
that clearly when we started.

All we knew is that we couldn’t rely on our usual moving process of
renting a van, cramming all of our stuff into it and driving it to our
new home. We would have to contact a dreaded moving company and pay
them an exorbitant amount to mishandle
our precious belongings and hopefully deliver them eventually to New
Zealand. Specific things we have heard repeatedly about moving
companies which had made
us avoid them are:

  • Items are broken or missing. In particular, large items not
    are scratched, dented or broken. Water damage is very common.
  • Estimates are wildly wrong. Typically, the packed load ends
    up much
    larger than the estimate.
  • Delivery dates are missed, often by weeks.
  • A variety of unexpected fees are added, increasing the
    total cost
    far above the estimate.
  • Really bad companies might steal the entire load, or hold
    it for
    ransom for an exorbitant fee.

In our move to New Zealand, we were most focused on avoiding
disreputable companies,
bad estimates, inadequate insurance, unexpected costs and
generally an overall lack of control. We quickly learned that
all moving companies will move you overseas, and so we then focused on
finding an International Mover. In hindsight, we should have
more time finding out about overseas moving and understanding each of
the parts of the process. Let’s break out the basics of movers,
shippers and international movers.


We had heard friends and family going through encounters with
movers, but we
hadn’t ever witnessed or participated in the process. In case you are
like us, here is an overview of how it is supposed to work:

  1. You determine when you need your items delivered.
  2. You contact one or more movers to come to your home to give
    you an
  3. They walk through the house with you and estimate the
    packed size of
    every item in your house. You point out any item you don’t plan to take.
  4. They calculate a non-binding move price based on the
    estimated size of your
    household converted to weight using a formula. 
  5. You select a company from the estimates based on
    insurance options and contract terms.
  6. The company gives you a pick up
    This is can be several weeks before delivery, as several households may
    be combined and so it won’t be moved until the truck is full.
  7. On the pick up date, the moving team comes and packs up
    your house.
    Small items are packed into boxes. Large items are wrapped. The truck
    is loaded.
  8. The actual price of your move is finalized based on the
    actual size
    and weight of your stuff.
  9. On the delivery date, your items are unpacked under your
    into the appropriate rooms of your new home.

(Note: Although the most common scenario is a non-binding estimate, see
Negotiating below for other estimate types.)


International Moving / Relocation Basics — 3 Comments

  1. BeeZed,

    We are planning on moving to Nelson hopefully in April, but we don’t have employment yet. We are generating alot of questions and it seems like a big mountain to climb. My wife is a physical therapist and I am a home builder in the Los Angeles area. Did you guys pick your destination or did you have the job offer first? Are there any websites that clearly lay out the steps? It is our understanding the you need a job to get a visa, but need a visa to get a job??? Any help would be appreciated, and thank you for posting the information about shipping.

    David Powers

  2. Dave,

    We moved to Nelson, as they say, for the lifestyle, without employment. We were approved for residency under the skilled migrant scheme, without jobs. Your wife might qualify, as health workers are in demand. Getting her licence to practice here is a huge task, and in our opinion, is best done from the States. If you are in NZ under a tourist visa and get a job offer, you can apply for residency from here, but employers might not want to take the risk if they can find someone with prior approval.

    The best website is Immigration NZ as it covers all the basics and has tons of documentation for download. You can also take the quiz to see if you qualify for skilled migrant status.

    Another useful site is which has links to all sorts of info. The forums are good too. It is a quasi commercial site, so the information is not “bankable”, but we got some good ideas and strategies .

  3. As clearly and well explained as this is, it is hard to read it and not become overwhelmed, especially about the actual days of moving out/in and all the technical details of the taxes, fees and terms of contract/insurance. Although we are looking at our overseas move being covered by an employer, I am sure that many of the considerations here will be ones we face as well, even if we are not as fully responsible for the full bill. I am continually impressed with the amount of work, effort, planning and dedication it takes to migrate somewhere. Please keep the informative articles coming!

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