International Moving / Relocation Basics
We’d never even talked to anyone about moving a household overseas, so
overseas shipping part of the equation was even more of mystery. Here
what the shipper (often called a forwarder) should do:
- Take delivery of either a full shipping container, or a
which is a
crate 1/5 the size of a container that can be placed into a container.
(Since 9/11, it’s illegal to pack your own shipping container, so an
authorized mover or shipper will need to do it for you.)
- Schedule a place for the full container on the next ship
going to your
destination port and notify you of the intended arrival date of the
- Insure the safe, timely delivery of the container to the
- Manage government inspection and release of the goods in
- Arrange with a local mover to deliver the released goods to
- Optionally, the shipper can arrange storage of your goods
port if the first ship is likely to arrive before you are ready for
An international moving company provides the
service of coordinating the movers and shippers for you. Typically,
this is an extra service provided by a mover, but it can also be
through a contractor who hires movers and shippers independently. In
our case, we used a mover with the advantage that they packed our
belongings directly into a liftvan in Albuquerque so our things weren’t
again until they reached New Zealand.
One last piece to understand is the relative size of the shipping
units. We saw estimating tools using square feet, cubic meters, pounds,
kilograms, lift vans or containers, making it seem impossible to
compare one to another. Sometimes larger units will be quoted at
significantly cheaper prices than smaller ones, but be aware that you
will be charged to secure the items in an underfilled container as
well. Here are some basic equivalents in case you get boggled:
- One cubic meter is 35.3 cubic feet.
- A liftvan is 7.25 ft x 7.25 ft x 3.75 ft. That’s about 200
feet, or 5.5 cubic meters and holds up to 2000 pounds. They can easily
fit mattresses and most standard furnishings.
- A 20 foot container is 20ft x 8.5 ft x 8 ft. That’s 1171
feet, or 33 cubic meters and holds up to 47,000 pounds. They should
easily fit a small household of furnishings and belongings.
- A 40 foot container is just twice as long as a 20 ft and
up to 58,000 pounds. Useful if you are trying to ship a car as well as
Understanding all these pieces up front gives you more control, allows
options and could also save you money. We now realize we
have rented a van and moved our stuff to Los Angeles, worked directly
with a shipping company to load our container, and saved
a ton of money
and possible mishandling. Barring that, we weren’t restricted to the
few international movers we found and could have hired the best
shipping separately ourselves.
2. Preparing for
Preparing for an overseas move is more complex than even a major
interstate move. Rather than several weeks, it will take a few months
so you need
to plan for whether it leaves before you, or arrives after you. You
will be forced to specify where it’s going whether you have your new
picked yet or not. Plus, longer moves cost more so you have to
reconsider the value of the things you are moving. How much are you
willing to spend to keep everything you have? Will everything even be
useful in your new location (where things like electricity and phones
may be different)? Is this a temporary, long term or permanent move?
it make sense to move everything, or just the essentials until you are
certain you won’t be moving it right back?
A great first preparation step is setting
a budget. If you aren’t being moved
by an employer, you probably have an upper limit of what you are
willing to spend to keep everything. With a budget in hand, you will
get quoted estimates from the transport companies. We cannot
overemphasize the importance of starting on this at the first possible
moment. As soon as you have a rough idea of your destination and your
departure or arrival date, start getting quotes. Not only will these
help you meet your budget, but it will improve your leverage for
negotiation deals (see below) and will improve likelihood of being
picked up on schedule.
In trying to avoid quotes before we were ‘ready’, we went online
looking for quick quote
estimates. Most companies wanted to send someone to do an estimate, but
we resisted. We found a few online tools, and found that estimating the
amount of stuff was challenging
since typically they want you to say how many rooms you
are moving, but we were planning to consolidate down to a number of
boxes rather than sending rooms full of furniture. We knew we had more
boxes than the average person, but didn’t know how that would translate
to rooms. We now realize that we should have played along and had them
come out at the first opportunity.