Moving internationally is among the most exciting ways one can refashion their life. More than one million Americans use international moving services to relocate for personal or professional reasons every year. This might seem much, but it only accounts for a little over 3% of the Americans who change their residence in 12 months and 0.45% of the country’s population.
International moving is no easy job. It always requires a company that handles the process and involves many others. Here’s the mechanism:
How International Moving Works
Although customers usually communicate with one or two parties during their international moving process, there are many companies and authorities involved:
As the customer, you are responsible for the legality of the transported items, payment of import duties, paperwork, and any extra charges that derive from moving internationally.
The international moving company packs your belongings, transports them to the shipping location, and oversees the moving process. It’s the only one you will sign a contract with; other parties are subcontracted by this company. It is the entity that can assist you with additional information or support. However, the company cannot provide information on your future country’s customs regulations. The following parties can be independent companies subcontracted by your international movers, or departments within the moving company:
- The origin agent is responsible for analyzing your goods before getting a quote for the moving services. They also handle packing and loading of the shipment.
- The freight forwarder is in charge of finding a convenient shipping route, shipping documentation, and transporting your belongings to the port. A freight forwarder can subcontract independent origin and destination agents if needed.
- The destination agent handles the customs procedures, port dealings, and delivery.
The consolidating warehouse handles shipments that are not large enough to fill a container by themselves. They are transported to said warehouse and held until the container can be efficiently filled with goods.
The export port is where your belongings will be shipped from. For international moving from the US, the fees for storing and loading a container are usually low.
The ship line is the company that owns and controls the ship. Many allow you to track their location online, so if you want to know details about the location and expected arrival of your things, ask your moving company which ship line they chose.
The container line can be the same as the ship line; it’s the company that rents the shipping container.
The destination port charges you for unloading and other services. These fees must be listed in the initial quote you get from your moving company. However, there are countries where they cannot be calculated in advance and can surpass $2,000.
The customs bonded warehouse is where your goods will be stored until customs clearance is obtained. Every country has different regulations when it comes to arrival or clearance of a shipment, and this can affect the time and procedures needed to reclaim your items.
There is much paperwork involved in an international relocation process, but most is handled by the moving company. The following documents will be the customer’s responsibility:
- Passports & visas.
- Residence and work permits.
- Medical certificates.
- International driving permits.
- Marriage certificates.
- Certificate of registration.
- US export form(s).
However, others can be needed depending on each country’s regulations.
Pricing and Payment of International Moving Services
Prices for international relocation services are based on the weight and volume of your belongings and is not regulated by any federal, state, or international authority. Therefore, pricing can be very competitive. Without insurance or additional paperwork, moving overseas can cost between $6,000 and $10,000 for an average 3-bedroom apartment or house. Make sure you read our Moving Insurance Guide before picking the least expensive option; international moving is no easy task, and a proper insurance package is a must.
The cargo is usually transported by ship, but there are times when combining ship and plane transportation reduces the final price of moving internationally. Pricing constantly changes in terms of available routes and each container shipping company.
International moving quotes are usually available for a month and include:
- Transportation fees.
- Unpacking services.
Other charges that should be included, but many companies rate them separately are:
- Destination port fees.
- Packing materials.
- Customs clearance.
The following charges will not be included in the quote because of their fluctuations or lack of information until the goods reach a certain stage or location:
- Custom fees.
- Difficult access.
- Custom crating.
- Transportation of heavy or bulky items.
- Customs inspection and/or quarantine.
- Force majeure situations.
Most of these cannot be handled by a third party like your international movers and must be paid at the destination or before leaving.
Payment is required right after the storage unit has been loaded by most international movers. If no payments are registered, the shipping container will remain stored, and customers will be charged per day. If the payment is made, the container is then sent towards its destination.
What to Move
Most items in a household like furniture, appliances, clothes, books, etc. can be moved internationally. However, plants, foods, flammable substances or other dangerous items cannot be shipped. Moving vehicles internationally is allowed, but customs duties can be very high for some countries which can make it inconvenient.
Some countries prohibit liquor, firearms, ammunition, or other objects and substances on their territory, so inform yourself before packing. You can get complete information on each country’s customs regulations from their embassy.
As for pets, some countries can require entry permits, health certificates, or quarantine periods of months, all these at your expense. Exotic animals can be prohibited from passing some borders. To make sure your pet can be legally transported and owned in another country, contact their embassy.
Packing for International Moving
Because of the few last years’ terrorist attacks, it is not allowed to pack your belongings yourself. This will be handled by international moving companies, which will then load the items in a shipping container – most often at your location.
They use special packing materials and practices to wrap and place belongings in lift vans – waterproof boxes made of plywood, metal, or fiberglass – which are then placed into shipping containers. Delicate items will be wrapped in thick brown paper for protection.
How to Find a Reliable International Moving Company
Since international moving is a rare business and a small percent of the population needs it, the field is not regulated by any authority. Therefore, you need to be careful when choosing American international movers for your relocation. The best international moving companies will show transparency in every stage of the moving process, starting with the quotation.
Here are some ground rules to finding a trustworthy partner for your international relocation:
- Read reviews and get references. A quick internet search for “international movers NYC” might reveal dozens of results promising an easy and affordable moving process. However, you should be after review websites and forums where this topic is discussed. This way, you will get in touch with customers who actually used their services instead of the make-believe clients who left flawless reviews on their websites.
- Do not shop on price. Low prices usually mean some taxes or services are not included, so the final cost will probably be higher and you will have to personally handle certain procedures. Given the thorough regulations of international shipping, this will not be an easy task.
- Ask quotes from at least 4 different companies. Compare the pricing and included services to see which one is the best option.
- Always read the fine print. There are many unpredictable expenses that can emerge during an international shipping, and the moving company is not liable for them. There are big chances your bill will be higher than the initial quote, so reading the fine print will give you an idea of what to expect.
Other Tips for a Hassle-Free International Relocation
If you chose a company and are getting ready to sign a contract, here are some things to consider:
- Always get a visual survey. The origin agent is an expert who will properly differentiate among shippable and non-shippable items, so everything runs smoothly.
- Get everything in writing. Every international relocation process has its own particularities. To make sure your needs are covered, always ask for your specifics to be included in your contract. If that is not possible, use your e-mail to communicate with the company and save the conversation until the moving is complete.
- Always get insurance. It is recommended to use a moving insurance company that is not associated with the mover.
- Get full-pack services. This will allow you to purchase the best moving insurance and will protect your items during transportation. It is not recommended to pack the items or load them into the container by yourself; if you want to reduce costs, a better alternative is to move fewer items.
Although a substantial expense, international moving services can be cheaper than starting from scratch in a new country. Given the elaborate nature of this system, its costs are justifiable in most cases. However, be careful when choosing a company. It is the most important entity in your moving process.