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How to Move Your Possessions Overseas

How to move your possessions abroad, here by cargo ship.
A cargo ship is often a cheaper way to move possessions overseas.

You have made your decision. It may be for pleasure. It may be for a mixture of reasons. But one thing is for sure. Moving abroad creates a labyrinth of lists you must check off before setting sail to the new place you will call home. One of the top items on that mile-long list is how to deliver your beloved belongings to the foreign land of choice.

The following is a list of must-dos to guarantee a successful, worry-free, reasonably-priced move:

  1. Once you have decided to move, start separating belongings that are absolute requirements in your life abroad, what stuff is ready to go to a new home, and which items (if any) will need a place of storage while you are away. Separating these items can take up space. An area like a bedroom, garage, or large closet can be the designated organization zone for the divided things.

  2. Plan on having a garage sale at least a month before leaving. Selling some possessions helps eliminate unnecessary items, earn a few extra dollars, and creates space to help organize what is truly useful and important. A way to incorporate fun into the event is to throw a barbecue/going away party. Invite the neighborhood, friends, and family to rifle through your castaway belongings before the general public is allowed. Though it may be harder to haggle for a reasonable price with a friend or loved one, at least you will know former possessions went to a good home.

  3. As the pile of "to be shipped" items grows, look for sturdy boxes, variously sized bubble wrap, and reliably strong tape. The earlier you start organizing, making a list of your shipping possessions, and carefully packaging them, the happier you will be in the long run. Please do not leave packing till the last minute. Your precious items deserve better. Although it is possible to hire your moving company to wrap, box, and label all of your stuff, it is nice to know exactly where everything is when customs officials decide to open the crate. As you put the items in boxes, have a friend or loved one help write down the detailed list. That detailed inventory list will be your friend later down the road. Also, use more tape, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap (or clothing and blankets for cushions) than you might think necessary. The extra padding and tape will assist your goods in making a safe voyage.

  4. Check with your new country to find out the restrictions or duties on bringing your United States household goods into the country. Each nation is different. Some are lackadaisical; others will tax certain items heavily or forbid them altogether. For example, Argentina does not allow electronics like televisions and posts an 80% tax on an automobile's worth.

  5. Choosing a moving company. In today's world of rapidly increasing globe-trotting, moving someone else's personal belongings internationally has grown beyond a one-company monopoly. Accordingly, doing your research, often with the help of online reviews on the different companies competing for your business, is absolutely vital. Many operations will help with the process, whether you live on the west or east coast of the United States. Depending on the final destination, hiring more than one business may help with shipping the goods within United States territory, storing the container before shipment, and the final transfer to the end resting spot.

    Most companies base their shipping fees on the weight per container (or a portion of a container if your shipment is minimal). Also, the price varies significantly, whether air, road, or sea shipping. Going the water route is slower and less costly. Other aspects that make the final bill less cheap include packing materials and labor costs attached if they do the packing, loading, and shipping to the place of departure, clearing of customs at destinations, and the final delivery. Ask for a transparent pricing list, references or testimonials from past clients, and the ability to track the goods and the essential insurance options.

    Another important subject to bring up is ensuring your goods arrive when needed. The moving company will know shipping times and when your items should begin their journey. One other aspect to question is the company's credentials. Ask if they are members of the FIDI (an organization created to uphold international moving companies to high business ethics) and are certified with ISO 9002, the Registered International Mover Certification, and the Overseas Movers Network International.

  6. Insurance. Insurance can be multi-leveled, depending on your final destination. Of course, getting insurance on your goods while they are being shipped is vital. Most shipping companies offer insurance policies. Another means of securing your investments is to check with your native country's insurance agent about your house insurance policy. Some policies will cover your possessions abroad or offer an extension while they are in transit.

  7. Getting your possessions through customs. Here is an often overlooked but important part of the moving process. Some countries are more lenient and less investigative when foreigners' personal belongings come through the line-up. The variation in standards can even depend upon the individual customs station and each different agent regarding how things are handled. Hiring a company to assist with the paperwork is highly suggested if you do not speak the language. The shipping company you are dealing with will most likely know a customs agent. If not, the country's embassy should have a list of reputable businesses..

  8. Bringing a personal automobile can be easy or difficult, depending on the new country. Ask the embassy for any restrictions. As stated before, there may be taxes on the car's value, and you must show multiple notarized copies of the title, VIN, and ride details. A couple of points to think about when deciding whether or not to bring the car: is the car going to be difficult to service in the new country, is the high cost of fuel at your destination a consideration, and will it stand out like a sore thumb (some countries demand the original country's license plate to remain in use).

  9. Can the family pet come? That was a key requirement when we were choosing where to live abroad. Most countries have thrown out the quarantine idea absent an outbreak of a old or new disease — though it is vital to ask your new country's embassy the rules and regulations (and a word to the wise — ask more than once; sometimes things change, or the person asked was not exactly in the know.) There are a few different aspects that are similar across the board. An official veterinarian's health, vaccination, and history report must accompany the pet at all times and an appropriately sized crate. There are businesses created solely to assist you with the move of your furry friend; everything from a horse to a snake has made the move to a life in a foreign land. If your pet is small enough to fit under the airline seat or is a search and rescue animal, it may be able to ride with you in the plane's cabin. Different airlines have different policies and methods to move your pets abroad.

If you start packing early, you will avoid unnecessary headaches and arrive successfully along with all your possessions. Do your homework concerning country regulations, and research the different moving company options. Your diligence will allow you to do what matters when moving abroad: stay in the moment when saying goodbye to loved ones, see new and exciting things while transitioning, and learn to enjoy the words and ways of your chosen country and culture.

Resources for Moving Overseas With Your Possessions

International Moving Companies

Britannia International Movers

International Movers

Atlas International (Also handles international auto transport)

International Auto Shipping Companies

A1 Auto Transport International

International Van Lines

Ship Overseas

Animal Moving Services

The Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) maintains a lengthy list of pet moving services and offers guidelines on choosing a good one.

Animal Land Pet Movers

Air Animal Pet Movers

General Information Resources to Help You Make Your Move

US Passports and International Travel (U.S. State Department)

Americans Living and Traveling Abroad (part of

The Association of American Residents Overseas (AARO)

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

American Citizens Abroad

Related Articles on Moving Abroad
16 Tips to Plan the Cost of Moving Abroad Successfully
How to Move Abroad
4 Keys to Moving Abroad On Your Own
Moving Overseas: Mistakes to Avoid
How to Ship Your Car Abroad
Moving Overseas with Pets

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