My wife and I always knew we wanted to live in another country, so when the opportunity to move to Australia from New York City presented itself, we decided it was too good to pass up. Regardless of the reasons for living abroad – retirement, education, work, or just a different lifestyle – it is a life-changing experience. We’ve been able to see the world from a different perspective, spend time exploring an amazing country, and have made some wonderful friends.
Unfortunately, living abroad requires moving abroad, and all the logistical challenges that entails: visas, healthcare, bank accounts, housing, and — let’s not forget – movers. Many people pack up what they own into a few big suitcases, hop on a flight to their new country, and go from there. But many others, my wife and I included, find it’s more cost effective to ship our possessions. This can easily be one of the most expensive parts of moving abroad. And given the cost, this is something you want to get right — the internet is littered with horror stories of moves gone wrong. How much justice can you get from an entirely different country? Not much, in many cases.
One expat wrote to me about her move that she “blocked the whole experience from her mind as being stressful and traumatic.” Another recently wrote about an upcoming move from the U.S. to Scotland that he’d “already begun hearing horror stories about international moving companies.” Our own shipment arrived a month late, which meant we spent that month unhappily sleeping on an air mattress and sitting on the floor eating peanut butter sandwiches.
Because of the stakes involved, it boggles the mind that you can find more about the service record of a restaurant, where a meal might cost you $20, than you can for an international mover, whose service might cost you thousands. But there are ways to improve the odds that you have a successful move. Here are four tips to help you:
1. Do your homework:
While the great majority of moving companies are reputable and take care of their customers, there are still a number of bad apples out there. For this reason, it’s important that you verify you’re dealing with a reputable, licensed company. Ask the moving company for their license information and the organization that provides this license (which will vary by country), then go to the organization’s website, plug in the company’s license number to make sure it’s valid.
Check the company’s address on Google or Bing Maps Street View – does it look like a legitimate business or is it operating out of someone’s home? You should be particularly wary if the company doesn’t list any address.
I’d also recommend caution when using any of the major review sites to judge a moving company’s reputation. Many of the glowing reviews are fakes submitted by shady moving companies who have figured out how to game the system. In fact, I wrote a blog post exposing one of them back in July and the fake reviews are still on the review website. (Disclosure: I started http://GoodMigrationsHelps.com for people to find and rate international movers after my own frustrating experience).
2. Get quotes from several moving companies:
You should get quotes from at least three moving companies. This will give you an idea of what the ballpark cost should be. If the price of one is too good to be true, it probably is. One of the most common moving scams is companies providing lowball quotes and then jacking up the price once they’ve picked up your stuff. (Note that in the United States there are serious penalties for companies that do this; if this does happen to you — or has happened to you — you can file a complaint here: http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov).
Additionally, you should not accept an online-only quote, which can be very different from the final price you’ll pay. Schedule an in-home survey instead. This does two things: first, you’ll get a more accurate quote since a trained professional will come to your home to survey your things, and second, you’ll get a firsthand view of the company – were they punctual, did they make you feel comfortable, did they answer your questions satisfactorily.
3. Read the fine print when comparing quotes
Not every quote you receive may be offering the exact same services. A quote that is a bit more expensive might actually be offering more. Are packing and unpacking included? Are packing materials included? If you’re shipping via the ocean, are Terminal Handling Charges included? (This can often be a significant charge). If you’re unsure about anything, make sure you get it in writing. For my own move I made sure all my questions were via email, even when a phone call might have been easier, so that I had something to refer back to and the mover’s answers were documented.
4. Insure your move
Things can and do go wrong during international moves, even with the best of companies: a box falls during loading and breaks something inside; part of a shipment gets lost (seriously, it happens). You need to protect yourself against these risks. In fact, some moving companies require you to insure your move.
Many movers will refer you to a preferred (often affiliated) insurance provider. You’ll likely pay higher rates (around 3.5% of the shipment’s total value) with this insurance provider than if you shop around (you can often get closer to 1%).
It’s worth emphasizing that moving from one country to another is not as simple as moving down the street or a few cities away. Even with the best moving company, unforeseen things out of your control can happen. But by paying attention to the things you can control – hiring a reputable mover, getting multiple quotes, carefully comparing quotes, and insuring your move — you’ll avoid some of the stresses of relocating.
Adam Vagley is co-founder of GoodMigrations (https://GoodMigrationsHelps.com), where anyone moving abroad can find international movers, read customer reviews, and get tips from the comprehensive moving guide. Adam and his wife were inspired to launch GoodMigrations after their experience moving from New York City to Sydney, Australia. They can be reached on Twitter @GoodMigrations. Their personal expat blog is http://theviewdownunder.blogspot.com. Feel free to contact them if you have questions about the moving process or relocating to Australia.