Moving internationally is a long and complex process. To help you successfully reach your destination country, we’ve put together a checklist of all the essentials for international moving. We’ll also direct you to government resources, budget-saving tips, and the best international moving companies in the business.
How to Prepare For an International Move
The whole picture
1. Pick an international moving company
The first step of any overseas move is selecting a moving company that can handle international relocations. Because of the complexity of overseas shipments, not all moving companies are equipped to service international customers, and no moving company can handle a move to every country in the world.
This can make finding an international moving company pretty difficult.
Luckily, three of our favorite moving companies handle international moves. Start planning your overseas relocation by contacting these first-rate movers to learn which of them service moves to your destination country.
Best International Moving Companies
Schedule your in-home estimate
After you pick a moving company and get your initial quote, you’ll need to schedule an in-home estimate. On average, international moves cost around $10,000, though the price can go way up from there depending on which you choose, which country you’re moving to, and how much stuff you have.
This is how getting a in-home estimate works:
- An estimator from your moving company comes to your house.
- The estimator takes a detailed inventory of everything you’re shipping.
- They finalize all your service options with you.
- They give you a locked-in estimate for your international move.
Your price will not increase from this estimate unless you change your service somehow. For example, if your move date changes or you add another sofa to your inventory, your price will probably go up.
2. Start saving money
As you might expect, even “cheap” international moves are still pretty expensive. Most international relocations cost somewhere in the range of $10,000, but the sky is more or less the limit for moves to exceptionally faraway countries using deluxe services like air freight.
Because of this, you should start saving money—or finding a moving loan—as soon as possible.
Luckily, if you’re moving for work, your company might help you pay for some or all of your relocation costs. If you’re unsure what your company’s relocation reimbursement policy is, contact your HR department to ask what your options are.
Even if you aren’t paying all the costs of your move yourself, though, you should still save up enough money to cover emergencies. Plenty can go wrong during even the smallest move, so it’s best to expect the unexpected when you’re moving to the other side of the world. To be safe, try to have several months of living expenses saved up.
Before hopping on a flight to your new home, make sure you have plenty of cash and traveler’s checks to pay for things like taxis, hotels, and food. This guarantees you won’t be stranded if something goes awry and your debit cards get frozen—which can happen when you travel, even if you notify your bank of your move. At the first opportunity, you should also exchange some of your money for the currency your destination country uses. Your local bank in your home country can usually do this for you.
3. Get all your documents in order
Whether you’re studying abroad, applying for a work visa, or immigrating permanently, moving internationally comes with a small mountain of paperwork.
The first thing you should do is make sure your passport is valid. If you got your current passport when you were 16 years old or older, it’s good for 10 years after the date it was issued. If you’re moving with children who got their passports before they were 16, their passports are only good for 5 years.
If your passport—or the passport of anyone you’re moving with—is expired or will expire soon, get it renewed ASAP. It can take up to 14 weeks to receive your passport after you submit for renewal, and the Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends applying for passport renewal 6 months before you plan to travel.
If you have more questions about your passport, check out the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Passport FAQ.
Visas and citizenship
If you’re planning to work in your destination country, you’ll need to apply for a work visa. If you’re planning to study, you’ll need a student visa. If you want to become a permanent resident, you’ll need to apply for citizenship.
Every country handles visas and citizenship differently, and if you show up in your destination country with the wrong type of visa, you might not be on the permanent path to residency. This can throw a wrench in your plans to immigrate permanently, so it’s essential that you thoroughly research what your destination country’s requirements are before moving there.
Make sure you know how long your visa is good for, how many times you can renew it, what it allows you to do in your destination country (travel visas are different from work visas), and if it can lead to permanent residency if that’s part of your plan.
On top of passports and visas, here’s a list of other documents you should have on hand for everyone moving with you:
- Birth certificates
- Child custody papers
- Marriage licenses and certificates
- Driver’s licenses
- Social security cards
- Medical and dental records
- Insurance cards and insurance policies
- School records (if studying abroad)
- Financial records
If you’re moving to a country where the people speak a language you don’t, you should develop at least a functional understanding of that language so you can read signs, ask for directions, and make purchases. Even if you’ll never be fluent, every word you learn will help. Use Duolingo or Rosetta Stone to begin becoming bilingual.
4. Notify government agencies, etc.
Moving to another country entails intense scrutiny from both your home government and the government of your destination country. Because of this, there are a lot of government agencies you need to notify when you move to a foreign country, even if you’re only staying there for a year or two.
Here’s a list of US government agencies you need to inform when you move overseas:
- The United States Postal Service
- The Social Security Administration
- The IRS
- Your current state’s DMV
- The Federal Voting Assistance Program
While you’re at it, learn where the nearest US embassy or consulate is in your destination country and inform them of your upcoming residence. You can do this by enrolling in the US Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
This will put you on the US embassy’s records so they know you’re in the country in case of an emergency, and it means you’ll receive safety updates from the embassy. To find your destination country’s embassies, use this list of US embassies and consulates.
The embassy can also direct you to the foreign agencies you’ll need to notify of your residence in the country.
Others to notify
In addition to the government agencies listed above, you should also notify your current landlord, your employer, your utility providers, and any other person or agency that will be affected by your international move.
5. Line up your travel schedule
Whether your international move is months away or a year away, you should start planning the actual journey part of your move ASAP.
Here are a few things you should do to ensure your trip goes smoothly:
● Plan your taxi/train/Uber trips from the airport.
● Take time off for your travel days.
● Book any hotel or Airbnb stays you’ll need.
● Familiarize yourself with maps of your destination city.
Remember that not all countries have the same amount of infrastructure and transport services. For example, countries like Japan have better public transportation than most other countries.
Thoroughly research what is available in your destination country and book what you can ahead of time instead of assuming there will be plenty of trains, hotels, and buses to choose from when you get there.
6. Prepare to settle into your new home
One of the most important parts of an international move is having a safe and comfortable place to land. Luckily, many things that’ll make your new country feel like home can be arranged before you live there.
Find a job
Next, make arrangements for your living situation. Whether you’re going to be renting an apartment, buying a home, or staying with family or friends, make sure you have housing figured out before hopping on your flight.
If possible, it’s best to visit your destination country before moving there so you can scope out potential neighborhoods and real estate before locking yourself into a mortgage or rental contract.
Find your new bank
It’s essential to open a bank account in your destination country to make earning and spending a little easier. You should also notify your current bank about your move, or your credit and debit cards are likely to get frozen when you make your first purchase on foreign soil.
Get licensed to drive
If you plan to drive in your destination country, you’ll need to find out how to get licensed for driving and how to get your car registered. Every country has its own laws and regulations for driving, so research what it will take to get on the road before your move.
Apply for school
If you or your kids are going to be attending school in the new country, you’ll want to find the right schools, apply, and get everyone registered as soon as you can. Otherwise, you might end up homeschooling your kids for a few months.
Visiting schools to make sure they’re up to your standards is another reason you should take a trip to your destination country before moving there.
Find your new health care providers
Perhaps most importantly, make sure your health care ducks are all in a row prior to your overseas move. You should notify your health insurance company of your relocation as soon as possible. If your current provider can’t insure you in your destination country, it’s best to know soon so you aren’t scrambling to purchase international health insurance at the last minute.
You’ll also need to figure out how to get the health care and prescriptions you need. Not every country has a Walgreens around every corner, and even hospitals and private care physicians can be difficult to find in some nations, so be sure to make plans for your health ahead of time.
Take care of your mail and subscriptions
Last but not least, set up mail-forwarding to guarantee important mail finds you. Similarly, you should update your address on all of your subscription and delivery services like Amazon and Netflix. If any of your current services aren’t available in your destination country, cancel them before your move so you aren’t paying for services you can’t use anymore.
7. Start packing and downsizing
Packing for an overseas move
It’s never really too soon to start packing for your international relocation. You obviously don’t want to pack up anything you’ll need before your move, but you can start boxing up things like your books, jewelry, records, and family heirlooms months ahead of time.
Remember to pack everything more carefully than you would for a domestic move. Your stuff will be journeying thousands of miles and likely crossing some choppy ocean waters, so use extra foam and bubble wrap to protect everything. If you need some help packing and finding packing materials, check out these resources:
As you get closer to your actual move date, you can start packing more things up until your whole house is ready for the movers to come and take it all.
Downsizing to save time and money
As you’re packing, keep an eye out for anything you can bear to part with. Every item you sell, donate, or throw away will make your load a little lighter, and therefore a little cheaper. If there’s any furniture you could simply replace after your move instead of paying to send it across the world, you’ll probably save money in the long run.
To help you downsize, find a list of items you can’t bring to your new country. Every nation has different restrictions, but most won’t allow you to bring things like firearms and alcohol across their borders. Getting rid of restricted items now will save you time—and possibly trouble—when your stuff goes through customs.
If you can’t take some of your stuff with you, but you don’t want to get rid of it either, you could always rent a storage unit in your home country to keep it all in. This will cost you a monthly fee, but if you want to hold onto restricted or heavy items, it’s a good plan B. Check out our list of the best storage companies to find one that works for you
Packing for your flight
Take everything you’ll need immediately—like extra clothes, toiletries, your laptop, and prescriptions—on your flight with you instead of sending it with the movers. Like we said earlier, international deliveries take weeks to show up, so you’re going to be living out of your suitcases for a little while.
This means it’s probably worth paying extra to board with as much luggage as your airline will allow.
FAQ about international moves
How long do international moves take?
Delivery time depends on which delivery method you go with.
- If you’re shipping all your stuff overseas via boat, you should plan on it taking six to eight weeks.
- If you’re shipping it via air, it will take two to four weeks.
- If you’re moving to a country that’s on the same continent as the one where you currently live, you can opt for ground freight in a moving truck. This option usually takes four to six weeks.
Be aware that these time estimates assume nothing goes wrong and you’re moving to a country with a port of entry nearby. If the customs process gets delayed or you’re moving to a country that lies pretty far from a port of entry, your delivery may take longer.
How do my belongings get shipped internationally?
When you move internationally, you can send your belongings in an airplane, on a boat, or in a moving truck if the county you’re moving to is on the same continent as the country where you currently live.
For air and sea delivery, your belongings will be picked up at the destination country’s airport or shipping port by a crew from your moving company that will then deliver them to your new home. Alternatively, you can choose to pick them up yourself at the destination port to save money, though this option does require extra work from you.
You can learn more about these various moving options by reading our guide to international moving.
Can I bring my pet when I move internationally?
Yes, you can bring a pet when you move internationally, but you’ll want to get the best accommodations available to guarantee your furry friend’s safety and comfort. Luckily, all of the pet shippers on our list of the best pet shipping companies can transport pets internationally.
You should also make sure your pet’s vaccinations meet your destination country’s requirements. Every country has different regulations around animal imports, so do your research.
Can I ship a car internationally?
You can ship a car internationally, though it usually costs a lot of money, and it might be cheaper to just sell your car in your home country and buy a new one post-move. If you want to ship your vehicle to your destination country, check out our guide to international auto shipment.
Now that you know all the ins and outs of international moving, check out these moving tips and guides to ensure you’re ready for your big move:
- International Van Lines, “Rated Best National Moving Company of 2021.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
- North American Van Lines, “International Movers that Meet Your Needs.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
- Allied Van Lines, “Meet Allied.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
- U.S. Department of State, “Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
- U.S. Department of State, “Passport Services Available Now.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
- North American Van Lines, “Guide to Worry Free Move.” Accessed October 20, 2021.