“No matter where you decide to move overseas,” writes logistics expert Bob Stevens of Belize Logistics Services, with decades of experience getting stuff of every description from one country to another, “transporting household goods and personal belongings can be one of your biggest challenges, depending what you want to move where.
“For a move to Belize, for example, where I’ve been living for most of my life, you could choose a moving company in the United States (or wherever you’re starting out from), but that firm will have to deal with a local relocation company to get your goods into Belize, a process that can entail tedious dealings with bureaucracy the U.S. outfit isn’t likely going to understand how to navigate.
The best strategy, therefore, is to select a Belizean shipping company first. This firm then will choose the American company that it wants to work with.
“How do you select the all-important Belizean company? Ask for advice from other expats who have recently moved there. Then ask prospective relocation companies for references, and take the time to speak with each of them. The key thing you should ask is, ‘Was the final price higher than the estimate?’ In the moving business, it’s common for the final price to be higher than the estimated one, but stay away from companies whose estimates are more than 25% less than the final bill.
“Also ask if the company delivered the goods as it promised (that is, according to the planned schedule) and whether there were either delays or hidden charges. Don’t choose a company solely on the basis of price. Go with the company that has the best track record, based on what the references and other expats tell you. In the long run, you’ll save money.
“After you’ve narrowed down your choices for a mover, ask each of them which company in your home country they plan to work with. Then check out those companies as well. Sure it’s time-consuming, but that’s a small price to pay for the safe international transportation of your goods.
“A word of caution about the growing number of Internet sites that let you solicit bids from moving companies online. Most of these web-based companies try to keep fly-by-night movers out of the bidding process, but it’s difficult. These sites can be a great place to start your search, but, if you start with a list of agencies found on the Internet, your burden of due diligence is perhaps greater.
“Depending on the residency program you are using for your relocation, you may be able to import all or part of your shipment duty free. Goods that can be illegal to ship from one country to another can include food, spices, and other edibles; chemicals or any materials that might explode; guns and ammunition; and used tires without rims.
“Except for some small, important items you might want to put in your checked luggage to carry with you on your flight to your new country, household goods are normally packed in containers and transported by ship. A standard container with 1,050 cubic feet of space can hold between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of goods. Typical transport time from the United States to Belize (to give an example) is four to five weeks. Typical cost can be US$5,500 to US$9,000 to move a 1,050-cubic-foot container that’s self-packed and self-loaded depending on where you are moving from and to.
“One of the biggest mistakes that expats make is believing they’ll save money by not completely filling a container. In fact, the price is likely to be the same or higher.
“The most turn-key option for shipping from one country to another is what’s referred to as ‘full service door to door.’ This means everything is packed and loaded for you and all customs issues are handled by the agency. All you have to do is agree to the schedule and the price and then sit back and wait.
“You can opt to pack yourself and you can even manage the customs process yourself. I wouldn’t recommend either thing.”