What to Know About Moving Internationally

Joe Roberts
Researcher & Writer
Read More
March 04, 2022
9 min read

At a glance

Moving to another country, whether it’s across the continent or across the world, is difficult to say the least. There’s a lot to plan and keep track of along the way, and there are a few obstacles that might surprise you.

If you’re considering an international relocation, this overseas moving guide  will bring you up to speed so you aren’t caught unawares by customs, shipping times, or expensive freight costs. We’ll cover all this and more, point you to international moving companies we recommend, and share some resources that’ll help your move go smoothly.

What to know about international relocation


The whole picture

Few companies handle international moves

International moves are very complex, and they require strong international relationships between shipping companies and moving companies. Because of all these logistics, most moving companies in the United States can’t handle international moves. This can make finding an international mover difficult.

But fear not. Four of the country’s best movers are equipped to handle moves internationally. Each company services a different selection of countries, though, so you should get quotes from all three to know which ones can get you where you’re going.

Best international moving companies

internationalvanlines
4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8
International Van Lines
Covers 150 countries globally1
united
4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7
United Van Lines
Covers 150 countries globally 2
northamerican
4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3
North American Van Lines
Covers 130 countries globally3
allied
4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1
Allied Van Lines
Covers 45 countries globally4
bekins
4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1
Bekins Van Lines
Covers 58+ countries globally5

You won’t be doing all the planning alone

Until people can live on the moon, you’ll probably never undertake a more difficult move than an international move. Luckily, you don’t have to go it alone. One of the best parts of working with a professional moving company is that your company will assign you a move coordinator.

Think of this move coordinator as a travel agent for your furniture. They’re there to assist you with every part of your international move, from planning to delivery.

They’ll help you understand complicated processes like customs clearance for your shipment, ensure you’re filing all the proper paperwork for your household goods, and let you know where your stuff is during its journey.

The earlier you get your move coordinator’s help, the better, so you should try to find your moving company as soon as possible. As a bonus, booking your international move soon will also help keep your costs relatively low—move prices tend to be higher when they’re booked closer to the move date.

Moving internationally is expensive

Speaking of prices, if you plan to ship any amount of your furniture to another country, you should plan to spend several thousand dollars. While exact prices vary depending on how far your destination country is, how much stuff you’re shipping, and which shipping method you use, the average cost for international relocation is around $10,000.

As with all other types of moves, you can save money by opting for the most basic services your moving company offers. For example, picking your stuff up yourself at the shipping port in your destination country is much cheaper than paying your movers to deliver it to your front door.

Downsizing is another tried and true way to save money on an overseas relocation. The more stuff you donate, throw away, and sell before you move, the lighter your shipment will be. The lighter your shipment is, the less it will cost.

Of course, even if you ditch everything but the essentials and buy the cheapest moving services you can find, your international move will still probably cost thousands of dollars, so start saving money now.

Light Bulb
How to pay for your move

Unless your employer is paying for your move, you may not have time to save up the thousands of dollars necessary for an international move. You can take out a personal loan or pay for your move with a credit card. Both options have unique drawbacks, but they can make a financially impossible move happen. Read our guide to paying for your move to learn more.

You have several shipment options

After you’ve found an international mover that can ship your belongings to your destination country, you’ll need to decide how you want your stuff delivered. There are three international shipping methods, though services can vary depending on your company.

Air Freight
Air Freight
Ocean Freight
Land Freight

Air freight

With this option, your company packs your stuff into a crate and puts it on an airplane to your destination country. At the airport, the authorities inspect the crate, and then your company delivers it to your new home. Alternatively, you can opt to pick up your stuff at the airport yourself to save money.

Air freight is your most expensive shipping option, so you normally wouldn’t send everything you own this way. However, it’s also much faster than ocean transportation, so it’s the best way to ship the things you need quickly. On average, international moves using air transportation take two-to-four weeks.

Ocean freight

With this option, your company packs your stuff into a waterproof shipping container and delivers it to a shipping port where it’s loaded onto a boat which ferries it across the ocean. At the destination’s port of entry, the authorities inspect your container, and then your company picks it up and delivers it to your new home.

As with air freight, you can opt to pick up your stuff at the port of entry yourself if you want to save money on delivery.

Ocean freight is the cheaper option for intercontinental moves, and roughly 90% of international moving customers use ocean shipping.[6] However, it’s also slower than air freight. On average, international moves by ocean take six to eight weeks.

As you can imagine, ocean freight is also slightly more perilous than air freight since the seas are often rougher than the skies.

Land freight

With this option, your stuff is loaded into a moving truck and driven to your destination country. This might seem simple, but it can be pretty complex as it requires drivers to cross borders. This option can take four to six weeks, but it’s obviously only available for in-continent moves. If you live in the US, you can only move to Canada or Mexico this way.

Combining different shipping methods

You can mix and match the various shipping methods to ensure you receive different things as you need them. For example, you could send the bare necessities—like your personal computer, your non-urgent work files, and clothes that won’t fit in your personal luggage—by air freight so they arrive sooner.

Meanwhile, all your non-essentials could be delivered by sea to cut costs.

While deciding which shipping methods to use, lean on your moving coordinator for advice and expertise. They can help you balance your budget against which services you absolutely need.

Bullhorn
Pack with care

Every move entails some risk to your personal belongings, and this is especially true when you’re shipping your stuff overseas. You can reduce this risk by carefully packing all your fragile items, though. Use our list of the best packing supplies to ensure every item reaches your new home in one piece.

You can choose where to pick up your stuff

You get to decide if your moving company delivers your stuff directly to your new home or if you pick it up yourself at the airport or port of entry.

The “door-to-door” method is much more convenient since the company will handle literally everything for you, but it can be a bit more expensive.

If you opt to pick your shipment up at the airport or shipping port, you’ll probably need to rent a moving truck in your destination country and drive it between the port and your new home. This means you’ll need to have procured a driver’s license for your new country by this point.

Alternatively, you can ask your new neighbors or any friends you’ve made to help you drive the truck since they’re probably licensed to drive already.

Moving coverage isn’t optional

Unlike their coverage policies for local and interstate moves, moving companies don’t allow you to opt out of purchasing moving coverage for international moves. This is because international moves can be fairly hazardous for your belongings, especially if you ship them by sea, and moving companies don’t want the liability of damaged cargo going uninsured.

All moving companies have different coverage plans, so carefully peruse what coverage options your mover offers. Talk your options over with your moving coordinator to ensure you fully understand what’s covered and what recourse you have if something gets damaged.

There’s a lot of paperwork

Overseas relocation involves a lot of coordination between you, your current government, and the government of your destination country. This is true whether you’re planning to live in your destination country for one year or ten years. As such, there’s a lot of paperwork involved in international moves.

Here’s a list of documents you need to print, renew, or apply for before moving internationally:

     Passports

     Work visas

     Student visas

     Citizenship records

     Birth certificates

     Social security cards

     Bank statements and other financial documents

Additionally, you need to notify several government agencies like the IRS, the Social Security Administration, and the embassy in your destination country when you move. Your destination country certainly has unique regulations for immigrants as well, so research what the country will require of you before you can live there.

For a more complete list of all the paperwork to take care of when you move internationally, check out our guide to preparing for an international move.

You can’t take everything with you

Every country has different customs regulations and a unique assortment of items it won’t allow to cross its borders. To ensure you can bring everything you need, look up your destination country’s list of prohibited materials, or talk to your move coordinator to learn what you can and can’t bring.

As a general rule, you usually can’t bring these items into a foreign country:

  • Firearms
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Politically sensitive materials
  • Plants and seeds[7]
Heads Up
Want to ship your car?

International auto shipping is extremely expensive, but it is an option if you can’t bear to part with your beloved set of wheels. Check out our guide to international auto shipping to learn how to ship your car to another country.


FAQ about international moving

How much does it cost to move internationally?

International moves usually cost around $10,000 or more, though rates and fees  vary based on which country you’re moving from/to, time of year, and how much stuff you’re moving. The only way to know exactly how much your overseas move will cost is to get an in-home estimate from an international moving company.

Will my employer help pay for my international move?

If you’re moving for work, your employer may help with some or all of the costs for your relocation service. If you haven’t heard anything about relocation reimbursement from your employer, reach out to your HR department to ask what your company’s policy is.

How does my stuff get shipped internationally?

There are three shipment methods for international moves:

  1. Air freight
  2. Ocean freight
  3. Land freight (in-continent moves only)

With air freight, your company delivers your stuff to an airport and loads it onto an airplane that flies it to your destination country. Once your shipment lands, the company picks it up and drives it to your new home.

With ocean freight, your company delivers your stuff to a shipping port and loads it onto a boat that carries it across the ocean to a shipping port in your destination country. When your shipment arrives, your company picks it up and delivers it to your new home.

With land freight, your company loads everything into a moving truck and drives it across the border to your new home.


Recommended resources

Sources

  1. International Van Lines, “Rated Best National Moving Company of 2021.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
  2. United Van Lines, Your Trusted International Moving Company.” Accessed March 4, 2022.
  3. North American Van Lines, “International Movers that Meet Your Needs.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
  4. Allied Van Lines, “Meet Allied.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
  5. Bekins Van Lines, International Moving Companies.”
  6. International Van Lines, “Air Freight Services.” Accessed October 27, 2021.
  7. North American Van Lines, “Guide to a Worry Free Move.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
Joe Roberts
Written by
Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over four years of copywriting experience. He previously worked at Overstock.com, where he wrote about furniture, home decor, and moving. Joe has moved all over Utah, so he knows his way around a moving truck—and he spends his time (and money) expanding his personal library so it will be even heavier next time he moves.