Moving Overseas: What To Do With All of Your Belongings?

Use a reputable shipping company!

Once you have committed to moving overseas either for work, pleasure, or adventure, the question begs to be answered…what to do with all of your stuff?  How on earth are you going to move all of your items overseas, and should you even bother?

Shipping Items Overseas

If you decide that you can not part with your belongings, and would rather have them with you moving to a new country, you need to figure out how you are going to get them there.

You should consult with at least 3 different moving companies experienced with international moves, and weigh your options for long distance movers carefully.  Price alone is not the only factor to consider. Also make sure to ask the following:

  • What insurance do they offer? What is and what is not covered?  Ask to see their insurance copy documents.
  • Ask about the company’s history, how long have they been in business and how many international moves have they orchestrated?
  • Get in writing the logistics of the move. What time will the truck arrive? What is the estimated time to finish loading up?
  • Do they have any references, are you able to contact past clients?
  • Are they a member of any of the trade associations?
  • If your goods are not shipped immediately, then where will they be stored? Does it have 24hr security?
  • Ask your moving company about Custom forms.   Will they handle this for you and fill out all forms? Are they qualified to do so?
  • Ask what restrictions the country you plan to move to has. Do your own research on this and make sure that it correlates with the information that they tell you.
  • Is the quote inclusive of all charges, for example destination port charges and destination customs and quarantine clearances? This is where a low quote from one company may not be such a great deal, if these charges are not included in their fee.

You always have the option of packing yourself but this can cause a number of problems. In the long run it is best to leave this to the moving crew. If you do want to pack yourself, realize you may not be covered by the moving company insurance.

Also, if Customs sees items that have not been packed by a professional team, they may be more likely to target your goods for inspection.

Always find out the Customs regulations for the country you plan to live in.  The last thing you need is a big surprise on the other end, holding up delivery of your items.

Don’t forget to set aside your passport, visas, correspondence letters from the Embassy, checkbook, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, airline tickets, foreign currency, or any other important items that need to be readily available.  These can easily get lost in the shuffle with a big move.

Shipping by Air or Sea

Ask yourself “is it worth it”?

When moving abroad, there are two ways to move your household goods: by air or by sea.

Obviously, it will take longer for your items to arrive by boat. The benefits of this option is that it usually saves you money.

If moving by sea, your household goods will be packed into large containers, usually of wood or of metal, that are usually loaded right at your home. They are then transported to a port where they are then loaded on to a steamship container. The container is then loaded on the boat as cargo. Once your goods have arrived in the new country, the container is unloaded and must pass through Customs. International movers will be able to help you with the custom forms and are responsible for clearing your goods.

Also, if you ship essential furniture by boat, consider what you are going to do in your new location for furniture if you arrive well ahead of your belongings.

Be aware that items can and do get stolen or go missing on route. More often than not, it is smaller items that get taken when wooden boxes get broken. A helpful packing tip is to line the outside of the box with larger items and place the smaller ones towards the center. This makes it less likely to be taken by the opportunist thief.

If you choose to move by air, this is a faster but more expensive option.  It also requires that you pack your belongings into smaller boxes.  You must still, of course, deal with Customs on the other end.

Electrical Goods

An important factor to consider is if your electrical goods will even work in the country that you are moving to.  There have been many horror stories about expensive electronics being fried, even with the use of adaptors, upon first time usage in the new country.  Do your research and try to talk to expats already living in the new country for valuable feedback in this area.

If the two countries use different electrical sources, for example 220V compared to 110V, consider such factors as warranty, ease of repair, and currency exchange rates when deciding whether to purchase major appliances abroad or from a domestic store which specializes in overseas appliances.

Shipping Cars Overseas

Take your time and do a lot of research on this point.  Taxes on importing automobiles, for example, can vary dramatically from country to country, and may make it unrealistic or undesirable to try to ship.

Also take into consideration the road quality of where you are moving, public transportation available, local gas and insurance prices, and local resale price to see if it makes sense to even bother.

Childrens´ Items

If possible, if one person in the family makes the move before the others, try to ship some kids´ items ahead of time.  Your child will feel so much more comfortable and welcomed upon arrival to see his new bedroom already outfitted with familiar objects.  And remember to be lenient in this regard.  This move may be very stressful on your child, so if there is an item, or items, that he really seems to want to bring (no matter how silly it seems to you), let him bring it within reason.  It will not be the end of the world.

How Much To Take

Remember to take into consideration that many homes or apartments in your new country may be drastically smaller than where you are currently living.  Why pay to bring 3000 square feet of household items, when the new house may realistically be under 1000 square feet.  Also, many other countries are not as item obsessed, so you may draw unwanted attention to yourself if you are the only household on the block with a lot of fancy, expensive items in plain sight.

Also consider the style of your new home and whether your furniture will “look right”.  If you are moving from a sleek chic apartment to an Argentine rural farmhouse for example, your “king of the jungle tiger and embossed leather sofa” is going to look ridiculous.


You may want to investigate storing some of your items, especially if you are making a short term move.  Keep in mind that what may be important to you at the time you move, may mean much less to you in a few months.  You may regret the monthly bill for maintaining things that you might not even remember owning a year from now.   Factor in the cost of storage, which is not necessarily cheap, (averaging $150 per month for a 10ft. x 20 ft. space, not climate controlled), versus the cost of replacing the item later if you ever decided you really needed it again.

Pitch it, Sell it, Donate it

Be very discerning before you even begin to pack.  If you have not used the item in the past year or two, you should seriously consider leaving it behind.  Have a moving sale to clear out some unwanted items, and set the money aside to go shopping in your new country.

Do not overlook e-bay as a way to clear out unwanted items.  Often, you may get a better price for items than you would at a moving sale, and you can also make beneficial contacts from all over the world in the process.

Take this opportunity to donate clothes and toys to a woman and childrens´ center.  Donate old blankets, towels and unused toiletries to a homeless shelter.  Donate books to your local library.  And, if when going through junk drawers, if you do not even recognize what something is, please just throw it away!  It will make your life easier in the long run.

So do your research, pack discerningly, get your Customs paperwork in line, and get on the road to enjoying your new home!

About the author: Cathy Brown is a mother, writer, artist, teacher, traveller and explorer originally from Michigan.  She has a serious case of wanderlust and currently lives in Argentina with her three amazing children, ages nine, seven, and five.

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  1. Valynne March 15, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you for this informative article, Cathy…we are now caretaking full-time and debated for a bit on what to do with all of the “stuff” in our lives.

    Several months ago, we sold the house (4,000+ square feet) and packed whatever wasn’t sold or given to charity into a 17 foot U-Haul (can’t swing international caretaking quite yet but we are working on it…).

    It felt so good to simplify and we don’t miss any of the “stuff” we rid ourselves of. I am a big believer in less being more in most cases and encourage everyone to consider the concept of scaling down – it feels great!

  2. Caio Braga November 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Cathy, thanks for sharing your advice. I’m going back to my home country, Brazil. I’m quoting with 2 movIng companies at this time and the point is also the cost to buy the same items in the country of destination instead of bringing your own. Back in the day, the price of household goods was much higher. In today’s world there’s not a huge difference among many countries. Unlikely here is U.S., most of houses and apartments in Brazil won’t come with two basic appliances: a stove and refrigerator. I still haven’t got the quotes from the moving company but i estimate somewhere around $10 to 13k. Again it’s a personal and financial decision whether to bring your stuff or not.

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