The Only International Moving Guide You Need

Written By

Machaela Casey
man in front of world map and stack of boxes holding cardboard box

Your Guide to International Moves

A successful global relocation starts with good planning. So many parts of the process are interdependent: immigration, home find, moving, etc. As experts in international moving, we’ve put together this international move guide to help you navigate through all the details of your global relocation.


Before working or living in another country, permission must be granted by the host country in the way of a visa. Approval of the visa will normally set the relocation process in motion.

person writing on clipboard in front of cardboard boxes

International Pre-Move Survey Estimate

To help take the stress out of the international moving process, we recommend you get support with all the pre-move planning.  Our expert movers can help minimize stress with a pre-move planning strategy to streamline the entire moving process.

The moving process begins with a survey of your original residence. This helps to understand the right international moving services you would need. The survey entails viewing the items planned for shipment to determine the weight and volume. This determines the cost of services, the materials needed to prepare the goods for export, and the equipment necessary for transport. Other considerations during the survey include items requiring special handling, those that may be restricted or prohibited for export or import, and identifying any issues with loading access at residence.

It is recommended to perform the survey after the host country residence has been determined (type and size). Knowing the number of rooms and the layout of the new residence is critical in determining what household items to ship. Furniture pieces should be chosen carefully to ensure they will fit and function properly in the new residence. This is especially critical when moving from the USA to Europe or Asia where residences might be smaller, and access more difficult – narrow hallways and stairwells, and small or non-existent elevators.

Ideally, the survey should be performed approximately 3 weeks prior to the desired vacate date. Performing the survey too early can make the accuracy less reliable as choices are changed or additions are made between the survey and the actual service (packing) date. Conversely, having the survey too late can result in required service dates being unavailable, or the inability to secure proper equipment for shipping (container).

hands arched over toy moving truck

International Transit Insurance

It is highly recommended that marine transit insurance coverage be purchased to cover the goods shipped during transport. Full replacement value insurance with a zero deductible is recommended. Premiums are based on the owner’s declared value. In the unlikely event goods are damaged or lost during transit, losses will be reimbursed as per policy parameters. Comprehensive coverage can normally be purchased for 2.5% of declared value. Pricing may vary slightly based on the provider.

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Pricing Your International Move

Pricing is calculated based on a combination of the estimated weight and volume of the goods. Different countries and transportation providers base their charges on a number of variables.

For example:

  • Agents in the United States base their services on the actual weight of goods shipped, while agents throughout the rest of the world base their charges on the actual volume (cubic meters) of goods shipped.
  • Sea transportation carriers base their charges per container as a lump sum charge for 20’ and 40’ containers, but by volume – per cubic meter – for smaller shipments.
  • Service providers in various countries will price in their local currency, creating currency variables when determining the total cost for a move from origin through to destination.

Transparency is crucial in determining the best value. The lowest bid may not include all costs associated with the move from “door to door,” and therefore may result in additional charges as the shipment progresses through the process.

Extensive expertise may appear to cost more when quoted but may save money through efficiencies made through attention to detail and mitigating potential issues proactively. This can only be achieved by utilizing highly experienced companies specializing in the international movement of household goods and personal effects.

person taping cardboard box surrounded by packing items

Packing & Preparation of Your International Move

The number of days required for preparing goods for export will be determined by the results of the pre-move survey. Dates should be reserved as far in advance as possible, but at least three weeks prior, especially June through August, and December, which are the busiest moving months of the year.

It is important to be clear regarding what is to be shipped versus stay, disposed of, and/or donated to avoid paying for items shipped unnecessarily, or needed items left behind. Items should only be packed by the moving crew. The packing of items by the owner may negate insurance and cause issues with customs in the host country.

An inventory of all items packed and loaded will be created by the movers. This is a legal and binding receipt of items shipped. The inventory will list each item that is packed, with a detailed description and the condition of each item. Upon completion of packing, the moving crew will ask for the owner’s signature confirming all items were tendered for shipment. The inventory will also be submitted to the host country customs officials.

A final walkthrough with the moving crew will ensure that all items intended for shipment have been collected, packed and loaded. Closets, cupboards, basements, and other secluded areas should be checked to ensure they have been cleared.

International Transportation

Due to the volume and bulk of household goods and personal effects, the most cost-efficient method of transport is by sea in 20’ or 40’ containers.

Once the service dates are set for the packing and loading of the goods, transportation arrangements are secured.

Based on the results of the pre-move survey, the appropriately sized container will be reserved, and a booking for space on a steamship vessel will be made. The departure date from the origin and the estimated arrival date at the destination are provided at this time.

person in hardhat speaking on phone with shipping containers in background

Navigating Customs

Customs processes take place at both origin and destination shipping points. An experienced household goods forwarding company will provide information regarding what is required at both points.

Some countries’ customs formalities are very simple, some very complex, and may involve documents that must be notarized in the country in which they are issued, or by a consulate.

The customs process can take as little as a day or two in some countries, and weeks in others. It is important to be aware of the length of the process and prepare accordingly when considering travel or signing property contracts/leases.

It is imperative that all requirements be met prior to starting the move process. Failing to do so can incur significant costs and loss as shipments may be delayed, returned to the origin, or confiscated.

Working with an experienced international household goods forwarder will ensure that detailed is counseling is provided at the beginning of the process, and collection of documents and other information is completed to avoid issues at any point in the process.

family in house with packing boxes smiling and looking out window

Delivery Services

Upon arrival and after host country Customs has released the shipment, delivery arrangements to the residence are made.

Delivery services include transportation to the new residence, unloading of the shipping container, unwrapping, reassembly, and placement of furniture items in the requested room, unpacking of cartons/boxes with the placement of items on flat surfaces (such as countertops and beds), and removal of packing debris.

It is important to check all items carefully against the packing inventory (created and provided at origin) to ensure that all items were received and in good order. Any missing or damaged items must be detailed on the inventory at the time of delivery in the event of a claim.

model globe surrounded by cardboard boxes

Tips & Hints For A Stress-Free International Move

  • There are key things you should consider when choosing international moving companies. Ask your international move provider important questions:
    • What industry organizations do they belong to
    • Do they specialize in household goods moving, and what type (private, corporate, military)
    • What is the average tenure and experience on their staff
    • How long have they been in business
    • Ask for specifics on how shipments are transported. Are they co-loaded with other freight (this can cause issues with customs if documentation from others is not in order)
  • Ensure planning is tailored to the specific needs of a particular situation. For instance, paying a premium for a quick transit time if the host residence will not be ready when the shipment arrives will result in additional charges for storage at the destination. Conversely, choosing a freight schedule that saves $300 but takes 3 weeks longer to arrive when already paying for rent in the host country and per diem for a hotel (because the rental property is empty) doesn’t save anything in the long run.
  • Be prepared for delays. Even with the best service providers, there are elements of the global move process that are outside of anyone’s control. Delays can occur with transportation due to weather, port strikes, equipment shortages or changes in vessel schedules. Customs may choose to inspect a shipment randomly at origin or destination causing unforeseen delays. While good planning and counseling can mitigate many delays, it does not eliminate them completely.

group of drivers in front of a Nelson Westerberg Truck wearing masks

Westerberg Global Mobility Services – Our Expert International Movers

Achieving the goal of an outstanding international relocation experience lies in customized, detailed planning along with proactive management of all the various steps in the global mobility process.

Our International Moving division, Westerberg Global Mobility Services, has been moving the employees of our corporate clients as well as individual families with their international moves for more than 30 years’. Our staff averages 18 years’ experience in the global mobility space.