How To Ship Household Goods Abroad

To Ship Or Not To Ship

It is much easier today to ship a household’s worth of goods from one country to another, thanks to the Internet and a website called

The first time I shipped a household’s worth of stuff from one country to another, about 15 years ago, google wasn’t yet the answer to every question. I didn’t search online for help. I consulted the Yellow Pages. I succeeded in finding an international shipping outfit that would pack, ship across the Atlantic, deliver, and then unpack at our destination (Waterford, Ireland), but it took weeks of back and forth by phone and fax.

Today, the prospect of packing up an entire lifetime’s collection of all the things we collect over a lifetime (if that’s what you decide you want to do when you take off for your own adventures overseas) is far less intimidating and challenging. Here’s the secret:

Go to that website, enter in the names of the place where you’re moving from and the name of the place where you’re moving to, provide a rough inventory of the items you’d like to take with you, and you’ll receive back, within 24 hours, contact details for up to six international shippers interested in the gig. You can compare the services and the costs and finalize the details of the packing list and the move dates all via e-mail. A piece of cake compared with the old school phone and fax approach.

If you decide to ship a container full of belongings to your new residence overseas, I also recommend that you opt for the full-service plan. That is, contract with your shipping agency for door-to-door delivery, including both the packing and unpacking and the customs paperwork, in addition to the actual shipping. This will make the undertaking far more costly, but I believe it’s worth the investment. Those I’ve known over the years who have tried to pack their own belongings for international shipping and then managed the customs process on their own have had difficult even disastrous experiences. Do you know how to pack china, artwork, pottery, mantle clocks, oversized mirrors, etc., for an oceanic voyage? Neither do I.

Imagine the bubble wrap, the foam, the paper, the boxes, the sorting, the organization, the trial and error, and the record-keeping required to pull it off successfully that is, to have everything show up at the new destination in the same condition it departed the old one and, as well, to get everything through customs inspection without hassle or unexpected fees or fines? You could attempt it, but I’d suggest that, before you did, you’d opt to forgo the container shipment altogether. I would.

It’ll cost you roughly US$8,000 to US$12,000 to ship a 40-foot container from one country to another, full-service, depending what you’re packing and where it’s all traveling from and to. The actual shipping cost is typically about half that amount.

I recommend you invest in the insurance. I’m not an insurance person. I go without it whenever possible and usually don’t see the point. This is one exception. We’ve shipped containers-full of stuff across international borders five times. Twice antiques that we cared about arrived broken. In both cases, the insurance covered the costs of repairs without much hassle. The cost of full insurance is usually about 1% of the declared value of the goods being insured.

What should you ship? The easy and usually best answer is nothing. Take your adventure overseas as an opportunity to downsize and reinvent your life from scratch, sans baggage.

If you’re moving with a family or to a place where you know you aren’t going to be able to furnish your new home in the style you’d like at a cost you can afford (both these things have been true for us over the years…thus the serial shipping adventures), then maybe selling off or giving away everything you own doesn’t make sense. In that case, I still recommend selling off and giving away until you reach your emotional limit for it.

Thinking more practically, I wouldn’t ship appliances. Easier, safer (you’ll know for certain that what you’re buying will be compatible with the local electricity), and probably cheaper to buy in your new home. You will want to bring your laptop (with an adapter if necessary). If you use a DVD player to watch movies, you might want to bring one with you from the States, as you can easily buy one in the States that will play DVDs from anywhere in the world. This is less true elsewhere.

Neither would I ship a car. I’ve yet to meet anyone in all these years who didn’t regret bringing his car with him from home. Aside from the costs of shipping, sales tax, and import duty (import duty can be waived depending on the kind of visa you obtain for your new country of residence), there are the more troubling challenges to do with maintaining and repairing the car in the new location. Will local mechanics know how to fix it? Will the required parts for up-keep and repairs be available locally or will you have to have them shipped from the States? Further, will the car be appropriate for the climate and the terrain in the place where you’re transplanting it? More often than not, the answer to at least one of those questions is no.

Ship your pets? Sure. Not a big deal to bring a dog or a cat with you most places you might be thinking about going. Exotic pets can be a challenge. Eight-year-old Jackson wanted to bring his turtle that hailed, we discovered when we inquired with immigration about importing it from Paris to Panama City with us, from Russia’s North Caucasus region. That is, it was rare. It had papers. Authenticating them and obtaining approval for Troy (as Jack called him) to travel from France to Panama would have cost about US$500. We gave Troy to friends in Paris with a young son of their own who were kind enough to welcome him into their family.

Kathleen Peddicord

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