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How to Move Abroad

February 18th, 2010 Posted in real estate, resources

Written by Shanie

A common question we are asked by curious minds is, “How did you make the move?”

It is such a broad answer that I thought I would give a little written explanation of what is entailed in moving abroad…here are 11 aspects on my must-do list when taking the plunge.

1. Once you have made the decision to move abroad, start separating out belongings that are absolute requirements in your new country, 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 out can take up space. It is nice if 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. This helps to get rid of not-needed items, earn a few extra dollars and create space to help organize the leftovers. A way to incorporate some fun into the event is to throw a barbecue/going away party for yourself. Invite the neighborhood, your friends and family to rifle through your castaway belongings before the general public is allowed. Though it may be a little harder to haggle for a good price with a friend or loved one, at least you will know it went to a good home.

3. Now, as the pile of “to be shipped” items grows, is the time to start looking for sturdy boxes, different sized bubble wrap and strong tape. The earlier you start organizing, making a list (and, as the saying goes, checking it twice) of the items, and carefully packaging them, the happier you will be in the long run. Don’t leave it till 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 the customs officials decide to open the crate. As you’re putting the items in boxes have a friend or loved one help write down the detailed list. That itemized inventory list will be your friend later down the road. Also, use more tape and bubble wrap (or clothing and blankets for cushion) than you would think. 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 very lackadaisical; others will tax certain items heavily or forbid them all together. For example, Argentina does not allow electronics like televisions and posts an 80 percent tax on an automobile’s worth.

5. Choosing a moving company. In today’s world of globetrotting, the business of moving someone’s personal belongings internationally has grown beyond a one-company monopoly. Therefore doing your homework on the different shipping choices is vital. There are a number of operations that will help with the process, depending in what country you are in, and whether or not you are located on the west or east coast of the United States. Depending on where the final destination is, it may be beneficial to hire more than one business to help with shipping the goods within United States territory, storage of the container before shipment and the final transfer to end resting spot. Most companies base their shipping fees on the amount of weight per container (or portion of container if your shipment is minimal). Also the price varies greatly whether shipping via air, road or sea. Obviously, going the water route is slower and less costly. Other aspects to the bill include packing materials and labor costs attached if they do the packing, loading and shipping to place of departure, clearing of customs at destinations (we will discuss this a bit more later on), and the final delivery.

Make sure to ask for a transparent pricing list, references or testimonials from past clients, the ability to have a means of tracking the goods, and insurance options. Another important subject to bring up is getting your goods to you by the time needed. The moving company will be knowledgeable about 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 the ISO 9002, the Registered International Mover Certification, and the Overseas Movers Network International.

6. Insurance. Insurance can be multi-leveled, depending on what your final destination is. Of course, it is vital to get insurance on the goods while they are being shipped. 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 goods abroad or offer an extension while they are in transit.

7. Getting your stuff through customs. This is an important part to the equation. Some countries are kind and not too investigative when foreigner’s personal belongings come through the line-up. The variation in standards can even depend on the individual customs station and different agents when it comes to the way things are handled. If you don’t speak the language, it is highly suggested to hire a company to assist in the paperwork. The shipping company that 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 of any restrictions. As stated before, there may be taxes on the value of the car and you will need to show multiple notarized copies of the title, VIN number and details of the ride. A couple of points to think about when deciding whether or not to bring the car: is it going to be difficult to be serviced in the new country and will it stand out like a sore thumb (some countries, like Argentina, demand the original country’s license plate to remain in use).

9. More importantly, can the family pet come? That was a requirement when we were choosing where to live abroad. Most countries have thrown out the quarantine idea – 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 isn’t 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, as well as 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 cabin of the plane. Each airline has a different procedure in regards to small and service animals.

10. If all of this seems like too much hassle or too much expense, the other option is to leave the majority of your belongings back at home. Sometimes packing light and only bringing what can fit in a suitcase can be a liberating experience. Chances are your new country is going to have all of life’s necessities. There have been expats that have brought everything with them, down to staples and toilet paper. Remember that the less you bring, the less the shipping will cost. For storing your prized positions left behind, there are secured storage areas or large crates (if you have a place to house it) that will keep the goods out of harm’s way.

11. What occurs when it is time to move back to your native country? The same pertains to researching the moving companies that work in the foreign country of residence. To find out who are the reputable businesses to work with ask fellow expats for any recommendations, check English newspapers for ads showcasing international movers and contact your embassy to see who they would suggest. After accumulating the above information, it is important to ask the same questions that were required before; how long have they been in business, are they insured, do they have testimonials from prior clients, do they offer extra insurance for personal items, how will they assist you in keeping track of your goods, are they a member of FIDI. The majority of foreign businesses do not have as strict of guidelines to adhere to, so it is mandatory to do your homework on their past business practices.

If you start your packing early, do your homework with country regulations and research the different moving company options, you will avoid an enormous amount of headache down the road. It will give you the chance to do what really matters when moving abroad; staying in the moment when saying good bye to loved ones, seeing new and exciting things while making the transition, and learning the ways and words of your new chosen culture.

Links of interest:

Moving Companies

Shipping International

123 Movers

International Movers

Sterling International


Information Sites

American Citizens Abroad

The Association of Americans Resident Overseas

Escape Artist

International Living

Government advice

Living Abroad




Animal Moving Services

Air Animal

Pet Movers

Pets On The Go

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