International Overseas moving tips

Filed Under

International Overseas moving tips
"International Moving" is a generic term, but it applies to companies who participate in the packing, loading, and transportation of household items and personal effects from your current residence to your foreign residence. Conversely, if you are looking to ship commercial products or packages to another party overseas, that is "international shipping", not moving. Even after reducing your search to those sites listed as "International Moving", the majority of the companies listed will not, in fact, be international movers. Many will be "Lead Source' websites that gather your pertinent information and then list their paid subscribers, most of which are legitimate international movers. Many names on Google will be "brokers" that disguise themselves as movers with the intention of securing your business through artificially low pricing and then re-sell your order to an actual mover that you had no opportunity to investigate or review.
  1. Where To Begin Your Search?
  2. International Moving: The Challenge
  3. International Shipping vs. Move Management
  4. International Pricing
  5. Licensing and Credentials
  6. Protecting Your Belongings
  7. Cost Saving Ideas
  8. Shipping Containers
  9. Your Right To Know 

Where to Begin?

There are many synonymous terms that encompass international moving. One could Google the words "overseas moving", "international movers", "international shipping companies" or "overseas shipping" to mention a few, and each one will produce hundreds of sites looking for your business. Are they all international movers? Are they all legitimate? To that question, the answer is a definitive "no".
The first step in sorting through the hundreds of sites is to determine your needs. Once that has been established, the next step is to understand the differences between the types of companies involved in the trade:
"International Moving" is a generic term, but it applies to companies who participate in the packing, loading, and transportation of household items and personal effects from your current residence to your foreign residence. Conversely, if you are looking to ship commercial products or packages to another party overseas, that is "international shipping", not moving.
Even after reducing your search to those sites listed as "International Moving", the majority of the companies listed will not, in fact, be international movers. Many will be "Lead Source" sites that gather your pertinent information and then list their paid subscribers, most of which are legitimate international movers. Many names on Google will be "brokers" that disguise themselves as movers with the intention of securing your business through artificially low pricing and then re-sell your order to an actual mover that you had no opportunity to investigate or review.
There are simple steps to differentiating between the actual international movers and the lead sources/brokers:
  • If their site requires that you enter your origin or destination in order to proceed, they are most likely a lead source;
  • If their site asks for the size/weight of your mover in addition to origin and destination, they are most likely a lead source or a broker.
  • A site advertises to "compare" or "receive quotes from 6 movers", they are a lead source;
  • A site that provides you with information about the company, their services, their history and their credentials is most likely a legitimate mover.

Credentials to look for are:

  • Licensed/Bonded by the FMC (Federal Maritime Commission)
  • Memberships in valid trade organizations (American Moving & Storage Association, FIDI, LACMA, PAIMA)
  • Companies who meet these criteria (#4) should be the only ones to seriously consider, as they are the only ones who can legally perform an international move. 

2) The Challenge of International Moving

For most people, relocation means moving across town or across state lines. For these moves, the local mover or the national van line is generally the right choice; but when the relocation involves movement across oceans and borders, it requires an entirely different skill set.
The challenge of the International Move is not in the distance. It is in knowing the current regulations and the ever-changing requirements of maritime and customs authorities at origin and at destination. It is in knowing the international carriers (ocean and air lines) and the most cost efficient trade routes. It is being part of an integrated global network. It is being skilled in the proper preparation of your items to assure safe transit. It is holding the valid licenses and bonds required by the Federal Maritime Commission. And most importantly, it is the ability to coordinate all of the "elements" involved into an integrated and seamless process. This requires the services of an International Forwarder.
An international move is not a matter of simply loading a truck, transporting it to the destination, and delivering the contents. The "elements" of an international move are the origin agent, an inland carrier, an ocean or air carrier, and an agent at destination:
Origin: This is the local moving company that packs, prepares, and loads your goods into the necessary shipping containers. Not all moving companies are experienced in the elements of international moving, while others are extremely proficient; however, this does not qualify them as an International Forwarder. Their skill set, by measure of pure experience, is mostly local and interstate moving: packing, loading a truck, driving to destination, and unloading. As should be evident, a more thorough packing technique is required for a shipment traveling over land and ocean. As your personal effects are not loaded into a truck but instead into sea-going ocean containers or into size-specific shipping vaults, a local mover experienced in international packing is critical to the overall process.
Inland: A trucker is necessary to transport the containers or shipping vaults from the origin agent's warehouse to the port of debarkation. As all ports are tightly controlled for security reasons, only certain truckers have the certifications necessary to enter in U.S. Port facilities.
Ocean: The "heavy lifting" of an international move is the ocean transportation segment. There are dozens of Ocean Liners that service defined trade routes but operate with independent sailing schedules, frequency of sailing, overall transit times, and pricing.  Smaller ocean liners may have a more attractive rate, but not maintain equipment (containers) in the origin city or sail with less frequency.
Destination: An experienced international moving company is needed to assist with the entry through Customs, pier removal, inland trucking to the final city of destination, and delivery to your new residence. There are thousands of moving companies throughout the world with a wide variety of experience, service abilities, and costs.
Documentation: The international shipping process is controlled and regulated by a variety of governmental agencies – U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the TSA, the Federal Maritime Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Customs entities of the destination country. It is not enough to know the requirements; the process requires a complete understanding of how to integrate them and comply with all.
The true challenge of international moving is bring all of these elements together into an integrated process. This is the role of the "International Freight Forwarder" or "move manager".

3) International Shipping versus Move Management

There is a critical and distinct difference between an International Shipping company and International Freight Forwarder. This difference is what is referred to as "Move Management".  Think of it as building a house – a builder will frame and construct the home, but it is a General Contractor that provides all of the necessary services beyond the basic construction. A professional International Forwarder is the General Contractor, integrating all of the necessary services.  
International Shipping alone (moving cargo from port to port) can leave the unsuspecting individual with the overwhelming task of finding their own way through multitudes of U.S. and foreign document requirements and customs regulations. It will, at the very least, create additional costs, delays and hardships to those not familiar with the process. International Forwarders also have the benefits of preferential pricing from ocean carriers, airlines, truckers and overseas agent not normally available to individuals. 
We act as the move manager for our customers, providing you with an integrated service that removes the unknowns and risks. From the very first contact, you are made aware of the regulations of the destination country, the documents that you must possess or secure, and what can or cannot be shipped. Based upon the estimated weight and volume that you provided in your request or the pre-move survey information, we carefully analyze the most effective shipping methods to meet your specific needs. The necessary services at the destination country are integrated into the process, providing you with a "door to door" service proposal that includes all materials and services. An individual Move Manager is assigned to you, overseeing and coordinating every aspect of the process to assure compliance, proper scheduling, and assistance with any questions or concerns that you may have. Your Move Manager is a live person, not a software tracking system.
An integral part of the Move Management process is Global Partnerships. There are thousands of moving companies worldwide involved in the international household goods market – and as true of any industry, service levels vary. The selection of our representation in overseas locations is based upon a combination of:

  • Overall Experience
  • Service History
  • Pricing
  • Language abilities

Our intent is to partner with affiliates who share our operating and service philosophies, assuring the customer of continuous service support and assistance through to the final delivery. These companies function in our behalf for performance of services in their respective country.

4) International Pricing

International moving is not a commodity or a product, making "comparison shopping" very difficult.
Simply put, the overall cost of an international move is the sum costs of the "elements" previously mentioned plus the Forwarder's fee.
It is a process that differs for each individual customer and is based upon that customer's specific origin, destination, weight, volume, and needs. Since it is a "network" process, costs are the product of each underlying provider's services plus the International Forwarder's fee. We factor in all anticipated charges and provide you with options when options are available.
As each international forwarder will utilize different underlying vendors/service providers, this will bring about variances in the rating process. One forwarder may base a rate upon a lower-priced ocean carrier with a substantially longer transit time. Another may utilize a lesser quality agent at origin or destination with a lower service rate.  However, the underlying vendors are rarely so far apart in prices to allow any one forwarder to have a "tremendous" cost advantage over the others. This is where consumers are often taken advantage of.
Unfortunately, there are many who will entice customers with artificially low rates under the impression of their ability to offer "discount" rates. The "discount" is usually in the fact that not all necessary services are factored in, the weight/volume is artificially deflated, or grossly inferior service providers are being used. Ultimately, the customer pays for the actual services, weight, volume and services required to perform the move.
The primary question presented when soliciting an international rate is the weight to be shipped. As it is impossible for an individual to make this determination, various "rules of thumb" are applied such as number of rooms or on-line estimators - none of which are necessarily accurate. Unscrupulous companies "lowball" weights to produce a more attractive offer. On-line estimators do not take into account 30% to 40% of the items contained within a residence, producing an artificially low weight and volume projection.
The only safe method to determine your needs is to have a survey performed by an internationally experienced local mover. Based upon the survey results (cubic feet, weight, container sizes), have 2 to 3 other reputable International Forwarders bid on the shipment based upon the initial survey information. Be suspicious of:

  • Any rate that is substantially lower than the others;
  • Rates offered on a "per net 100 pounds" basis, as these often have qualifiers that are beyond your control and can greatly increase the bid price "after the fact";
  • Rates that are lacking explanation of inclusions and exclusion.

A professional International Forwarder will offer flat rates that are based upon the estimated weight, volume, and services.
All proposed rates are based upon the validated factors of weight, cube, containerization requirements, service providers and the needs of the customer. This information is outlined up-front with no "hidden" costs.

What to Expect From a Professional

A professional international forwarder's rate will include the following:

  • Pre-Move Survey at no cost to you
  • All packing materials (except specialty crating)
  • Packing, wrapping, and safe preparation of your goods
  • Preparation of a shipment inventory for Customs purposes
  • Loading into external shipping containers
  • Inland transport
  • Ocean/Air Transport
  • Assistance with foreign customs entry
  • Port removal of container(s)
  • Delivery to foreign residence
  • Unloading, unpacking, and same-day removal of packing debris


Standard exclusions are:

  • Destination port and terminal charges
  • Destination fees assessed and collected by local authorities (these are usually based upon the value of your goods, their age, your national status)
  • Transit insurance
  • Duty and/or tax for items not allowed "free" entry
  • Storage
  • Access problems, such a long carries, stair or elevator carries, used of shuttles if the primary container cannot achieve safe and legal access to either origin or destination residence
  • Extensive examinations if required by customs officials
  • Quarantine or fumigation, if required by customs officials
  • Handling of large/bulky items, such as pianos, pools tables, hot tubs/spas, and statuary
  • Specialty crating, electrical services, assembly of specialty items such as schranks.

5) Federal Licensing and Credentials

International Freight Forwarders must hold valid federal licenses and bonds. Unfortunately, many of the companies who advertise their services on the web are not international forwarders or movers, but "brokers" who lure customers with deeply "discounted" rates with the objective of collecting a "deposit" and then re-selling your move to a forwarder. The odds are extremely high that the rate offered by the broker will not be valid, leaving the unsuspecting customer to pay for the difference. As these companies do not actually involve themselves in the forwarding aspect, they circumvent the federal laws and governmental agencies that regulate the industry and protect the consumer.
Those who do not possess the required "IFF" and "OTI" licenses issued by the Federal Maritime Agency are not legally allowed to conduct international forwarding. Dealing with an unlicensed forwarder leaves you no legal protection or recourse should you encounter problems. Verification of licensed companies can be researched through the FMC website. By law, a licensed International Forwarder will list their license number(s) on all correspondence and documents.
Certain trade associations self-police membership to ensure that they are reputable, experienced, and properly licensed entities. The premier association in the United States is the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA). Verify that any international removal company you are considering is a member in good standing. Other memberships to look for are FIDI, LACMA, or PAIMA as these are the foreign contemporaries of the AMSA.
Checking an international forwarders' credentials through the Better Business Bureau (BBB) will not necessarily give any valid information, as established International Freight Forwarders operate on a national scope and BBB reporting is most often community-specific.

6) Protecting Your Belongings - Transit Insurance

Although every precaution is taken to fully protect items during shipment, the perils of international transit exist.  While it is extremely rare for a containership to actually lose containers during transit, the motion that your goods are subjected to during transit can, at times, be extreme. Proper packing and loading mitigates much of this danger, but conditions and elements can overcome the precautions.
International shipments are not automatically covered by insurance. As the shipments changes hands during the course of transit, entities conduct business under what is termed as "limited liability", or the monetary extent to which they are responsible for loss or damage.
By law, a licensed international freight forwarder has only "limited liability" for loss or damage that is generally from 10 cents to 30 cents per pound per item, up to a maximum of $500.00. Obviously, this limited liability offers little protection against loss or damage.
Transit Risk Insurance is made available by professional International Forwarders through underwriters that specialize in Marine Transit Coverage. This coverage is at an additional cost to the projected move cost. In almost all cases, it is priced at a specific dollar amount per $1000 of coverage required/requested.
Determining the value of your goods can be a difficult task. The best method is to complete a "Value Inventory", which is a form listing most of the contents found within a normal household. The value for each item is inserted into the form and the sum of all items give a good indication of the overall value.
As Transit Risk Insurance is an actual certificate issued by an insurance company or underwriter, there are also terms and conditions that apply. A general exception to coverage is "high value items". High Value items must be individually scheduled and insured in addition to the overall household value. A "high value item" is considered to be any item(s) within the household goods that has an individual value in excess of 5% of the overall value.
Your International Forwarder should be able to provide you a list of Terms and Conditions of their insurance carrier.

7) Cost Savings ideas

Can You Save Money By Packing It Yourself?
It is a common misconception that you can save money by packing and loading your own goods for shipment. This is not necessarily true and there are several dangers in doing so:

  • U.S. Customs/Homeland Security/TSA oversees the contents of shipments being placed on vessels and aircraft. These entities hold the licensed forwarder (who must make the booking) responsible to the contents of shipments tendered. As such, most professional forwarders will not accept a shipment that is not prepared by professional movers under their direction. This does not mean that a small number of certain items cannot be packed by the owner – the caution applies to what would be referred to as a "do-it-yourself" move.
  • Although federal law does not actually restrict individuals from packing and loading their own shipments, U.S. Customs/Homeland Security targets an escalating number of self-packed shipments for export examination. If selected, the shipment is examined non-intrusively and/or visually inspected. The shipper is responsible for the examination costs which are neither regulated nor predictable, and can range from several hundred to several thousands of dollars. Until paid, the shipment is not allowed to be loaded on board a vessel.
  • The ocean container into which your shipment is loaded is the property of the ocean liner. The trucker who is licensed and authorized to move this container from the port assumes responsibility for the container and most often will not drop off/position a container at a residence for security and insurance reasons.
  • Items packed by owners are severely limited or not covered by transit insurance.
  • The specific documents required for Federal reporting must be prepared and submitted within a specific time frame prior to the vessel's departure. Failure to submit these documents will result in the shipment being denied loading, re-booking fees, container detention charges and possible fines.
  • Under no condition whatsoever is a shipment packed by an individual accepted for transit by air freight.

We comply with all security directives and requirements and will not accept transport of a shipment packed by the owner.

Saving money in shipping is usually an exercise in reviewing your belongings and determining what you do and do not require, keeping in mind that replacement of certain items overseas may be difficult or more expensive:

  • Children's Toys: Toys that your child/children have outgrown take up a great deal of space in a shipment. Eliminate items they have outgrown, rarely use, or will not be practical in your new destination.
  • Clothing: Eliminate clothing items that you no longer use nor intend to use. Keep in mind that overseas housing generally provides much less closet-space than American homes.
  • Appliances: Unless your destination country has the same power and cycle as the U.S., they will either be useless or require expensive step-down converters. Items that operate on a time mechanism (washers, dryers) will quickly burn out due to the different electrical cycle.
  • Furniture: Calculate the square footage of your new residence and determine if all of your furniture items will actually fit. Determine if the items are practical and are actually used on a daily basis.
  • Hobby/Sporting Items: Determine if they will be practical in your new country. Eliminate items such as crafting wood, old tools, outdoor and yard statuary.
  • Yard/Gardening Items: An increasing number of countries are imposing amount of restrictions on items that have any soil, plant, or insect residue or matter present. If these items are being shipped, be sure that they are thoroughly cleaned prior to shipment.

8) Shipping Containers

The external containers utilized for international shipping are of defined sizes. They are and remain the property of the ocean liner who transports the shipment and usage is based upon limited time frames at both origin and destination. Containers held longer than the allowed period are assessed penalty charges, regardless of the reason.
There are no "in between sizes" nor is cost based upon the percentage of use. The standard containers sizes are:

Lift Van

A "Lift Van" is an industry-standard wooden crate. Standard measurement is 87" high x 45" wide x 84" deep. A standard liftvan will hold roughly 190 cubic feet/1000 pounds of household goods.

20-Foot Container 

This is the smallest available ocean container with an approximate measurement of 20' length x 8' height x 8' width. A 20' container will accommodate roughly 1150 cubic feet / 6000 pounds of household goods.

40-Foot Container

A standard 40' container has an approximate measurement of 40' length x 8' height x 8' width. The internal capacity is roughly 2300 cubic feet / 13,000 pounds of household goods.

When reviewing your survey results, pay careful attention to the "estimated net cube". You may have 1200 cubic feet requiring a 40' container, but by eliminating enough items to fit within a 20' container, you may realize a substantial cost saving.

9) Your Right To Know

As we hope you have learned, international moving costs and services can be deceptive to the unsuspecting. As industry professionals, we take great pride in the fact that our Corporate Account customers rely upon our experience and direction to manage their international move policies and counsel their transferring executives. We believe it is your right to know how to differentiate between international providers and make your selection based upon the defined services, abilities, reputation, and experience – not on false promises of price.

© Copyright Avatar Relocation, All Rights Reserved

* * *


Your comments...

Reader Comments

Najma Qureshi (not verified)

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 03:19

I am so grateful to you for uploading this blog. It provides an in depth knowledge of international freight forwarding, which is really helpful.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
This question is for testing whether (or not) you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Moving cost estimates and project consultations are provided free and without sales pressure or obligation: click here to complete our free web estimate form and we'll contact you in short order, or call us at (631) 775-9815 if you need to speak with us immediately!