A Brief Guide To Moving Your Household Goods Abroad

Once you have decided to move to a new location, there are several things that you will have to consider, and one of them is whether or not you should take your household possessions along. Many expats relocate without their belongings but end up spending a fortune on furniture, electronics, and other everyday items that they could have brought with them from their home countries.The practicality and desirability of taking your belongings with you depend on the specifics of your situation. If you have just a bagful or two of goods that you would move, it is best to take them along with you. However, if you are planning to take your furniture and kitchen appliances, you may want to opt for a container and have all your items sent across by sea. If you don’t have enough material for a full container, your shipment will be loaded with another cargo, which can present its own challenges.

It is much easier to ship your things from one country to another today thanks to the internet, which gives you access to a number of international movers and packers. These companies offer door-to-door services and generally take care of all the tasks in between, even packing your things for a fee. This means that you don’t have to purchase boxes, bubble wrap, foam and tape, much less wrap each item on your own.

Whichever option you decide to go for, it is essential for you to know how long it will take to get your possessions, what the entire procedure entails, which documents you are required to prepare, how much you are likely to pay and which companies are offering value for your money.

Below is a brief guide to moving your household goods abroad.

Shipping basics

There are several entities involved when it comes to international shipping, not just the company you choose. However, while they may work together, you are unlikely to have any interaction with most of them. The parties involved in shipping of household items generally include:

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Shipper: This is you or any person having their belongings sent overseas. Some may refer to you as the Exporter in your country of origin and the Importer at the destination port. As the shipper, you have to accept responsibility for the legality of the items being moved overseas. You are also liable for the import duties, the paperwork and any other unexpected charges that may be incurred for transporting your things. It is therefore important that you factor this into your relocation budget and find out the import regulations of the place that you are moving to.

Shipping Company: This is the firm to which you contract your shipping requirement. It will take care of the entire transfer and will send you the bill. You will have to get in touch with the shipping company in case of any updates, general enquiries and damage claims. Even if there is a problem in the shipment because of the other parties, it is this company that you will liaise with. Often, the shipping company performs the tasks carried out by the origin agent, freight forwarder and destination agent.

Origin Agent: A local company in your home country conducts a visual survey of the goods that are being shipped in order to give a more accurate quote. This entity also packs your shipment and loads it on to the container. At times, origin agents also carry out the tasks of freight forwarders and the consolidating warehouse.

Freight Forwarder: This company arranges for the ocean freight and draws up the export documents such as the House Bill of Lading. It also moves your cargo from the pickup spot to the port. In countries like the US, freight forwarders have to be licensed or “authorized agents”. Many people choose to work with freight forwarders that have presence in their destination country, especially if the laws are different.

Consolidating Warehouse: When a shipment is consolidated, the goods have to wait in a warehouse till there is enough cargo to fill up an entire container. If you live near a port city, this may not be necessary. In fact, many origin agents offer to hold the shipment until it is ready to be sent. Often, consolidating warehousing is also performed by the freight forwarders and shipping companies.

Export Port: This is the dock where your cargo (already sealed in a container) is loaded onto a ship. In all probability, you won’t need to visit this place at all. However, do keep in mind that you will be paying Origin Port Fees or Origin Terminal Handling Fees (OTHF).

Shipping Line: This is the firm that owns the ship carrying your cargo. The Master Bill of Lading or Seaway Bill of Lading is issued by the shipping line. Again, you are unlikely to have any interaction with this entity with the exception of tracking your shipment online. The company also has to receive their payment before they release your possessions. Unfortunately, as an exporter, there isn’t much you can do if the shipping line messes up or overcharges you.

Container Line: This is the company that rents out the box, or rather the container that your cargo is sealed in. Sometimes it is the same as the shipping line. Exporters never have to deal with them directly.

Destination Port: This is the final country of destination, where your goods will be unloaded. While you don’t have to deal with the Destination Port, it is important for you to know in advance how much they will charge you for the shipment. Their fees are due in the currency of the destination country. In most cases, the shipping company will be able to give you an estimate if they have handled cargos in that country before.

Customs Bonded Warehouse: Your goods will be held in a warehouse till it clears the customs check. The procedure varies from one country to another so it is best to find out how things work in the final port.

Destination Agent: This is the agency in the destination country that will take care of customs, clearing procedures, port dealings and delivery to your address. You are likely to be in contact with them quite often, for updates on the release and delivery of your cargo.

In some countries, exporters mistakenly involve unlicensed brokers to handle various shipment procedures. However, since they aren’t legally a part of the shipment procedure, they often have to get the work done through other companies. Their quotes are therefore higher than those of shipping companies.

Selecting a shipping company

There are numerous shipping companies all over the world that offer competitive prices for moving your stuff overseas. You can easily locate them through a phone book or online resources. However, since a huge part of the procedure is handled by the shipping company, it is absolutely imperative that you choose wisely. Going with the first company that pops up on a search engine isn’t the best idea.

If possible, opt for a firm that has been recommended by someone you know. Alternately, log on to a few expat forums in the destination country and ask the members about the movers and packers they used. Make a list of all the recommendations you get and shortlist the top 3 or 5 companies.

Make a call to all the shipping companies that you have shortlisted and mention your requirements to the representatives either over the phone or in an email. Make sure that they get back to you in writing, with a list of all the services they can provide as well as their quotes for each. Ideally, the shipping company should send over a professional to survey the material, weigh it and prepare an inventory of your things before quoting a price. Keep a track of the amount of time these companies take to get back to you. If any of them take too long or need to be reminded, you may want to strike them off your list.

Run a detailed comparison of all the services provided by the firms as well as their costs before you make any decision. Do keep in mind that choosing a shipping company only because it gives you the lowest quote is probably a bad idea. Instead, opt for the one that offers you more value for money or additional services that keep you from running around.

Go through the terms and conditions carefully before signing on the dotted line and clarify if all the costs charged by the various entities mentioned above are included in the quote.

Services you will need

Expats are known to take along various items, which include bulky furniture, kitchen appliances, electronics, gym equipment, chinaware, sculptures, paintings, glass figurines and family heirlooms. In many cases, you will find it impossible to pack or transport certain items on your own, for example a bed or a boudoir. It is therefore possible for you to outsource several services to professionals. Look for companies that can offer you –

– Wrapping and packing
– Pick up facilities (regardless of the size of your shipment)
– Containerization options, which includes loading and sealing your cargo in a container
– Export documentation
– Ocean freight (or air freight if you are willing to pay a lot more and receive your goods sooner)
– Delivery to the final destination overseas
– Home delivery of the cargo with unpacking and debris removal services
– An all-marine risk insurance plan, with door to door cover
– Storage solutions overseas

Of course, depending on your requirements, there are many other services that you may be interested in. However, a number of expats prefer handling some parts of this procedure on their own and also save a bit of money in the process.

Tips for moving your goods overseas

The thought of taking everything you own may be quite tempting but it is important that you ship only the items you are likely to require once you relocate. Moreover, you will need a lot of your stuff when you go back home, even if it is just for a visit. Below are a few tips to help you pack the goods that you need for moving overseas.

Separate the belongings that you use on a daily basis from the ones that you need only once in a while. If you haven’t used a particular item in the last six months or so, it might be best to leave it behind.

If possible, plan a garage sale a month before your departure. Not only will you get rid of the items you no longer use, you will also make some money out of it. Even if certain items don’t sell, make sure that you leave them behind as the original plan didn’t include them anyway.

Decide your budget for transporting the goods beforehand. Mention a ballpark figure to the moving company and check how much that will allow you in terms of weight. Reconsider you decision to take along items that are too bulky or heavy.

Make a list of every item you plan to carry (you will need this anyway) and rank everything in terms of importance. Belongings that you use every day or just can’t do without should go on top. Follow this list when you start packing; that way, if you exceed your weight or space limit, you will know which items to eliminate.

Wrap any delicate and important things on your own, even if your shipping company provides this service. You are likely to take better care of things than others.

It is a good idea to get your shipment insured against damage, even though this comes at an extra cost. Find out from your shipping company whether their quote for moving your goods includes insurance charges.


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