Shipping Overseas: What to Expect

One of the topics that I frequently see on immigration threads is the dos and don’ts of shipping belongings overseas.
How do you find a good company? How much does it usually cost? What’s the process like? Is it even worth doing?

Entrusting your precious belongings into the hands of strangers who fly or float it across to a foreign country sounds pretty scary – and a lot of the time, it really is the luck of the draw on whether it is a good or bad experience!

If you’re thinking of shipping belongings overseas to your new home, it can be overwhelming when you’re faced with the complete unknown. Therefore, I asked some seasoned immigrants to share their experiences so that you can at least jump into it with some idea of what to expect… Good luck!

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What should I ship abroad?

What you decide to send over to your new home depends on many factors. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I purged as much as I can?

I know better than anyone how hard it can be to let go of your belongings but you’re moving to a new country which warrants a new start! Try and invest serious time in cutting down your ‘stuff’ as much as you can, as shipping companies usually go by ‘volume’ and not ‘weight’. Local charities will benefit from your donations, or you can make some extra money by listing them on e-Bay. There’s no better feeling than that sense of accomplishment after you’ve had a serious sort-out.

  • Can I easily replace these items in my new home country?

You should seriously consider whether the price of shipping your items overseas is more than the price it would be to sell it and re-buy at the same quality.
If you’re on a budget and your belongings are just run-of-the-mill furniture, bikes, garden gear or technological devices, it might make more sense to sell them and re-purchase them abroad.

 Voltage and digital rights vary depending on the country – So that device or DVD you’re finding hard to let go of may not even work in your new home!

Of course, if these items are of sentimental value (like photographs) or are particularly high-priced or difficult to find (vintage or heirloom furniture) then that’s a different kettle of fish.
It is ultimately your decision whether your items are special enough to make the shipping investment.

  • Could I buy extra suitcases and pay the extra checked luggage fees?

For things like clothes and shoes, it may be worth researching how much your airline charges for additional checked luggage on your flight. If you can simply purchase 2 or 3 extra-large suitcases and add them to your flight, and you are willing to put in the labour at the airports, it is guaranteed to save you a lot of money when compared to shipping costs. You could even consider using a ‘self-storage’ location and gradually taking more items via suitcase back with you whenever you come to visit.

  • Will I appreciate having familiar belongings with me abroad?

A lot of newcomers agree that having their furniture and other home comforts in their new country helped ease the transition (especially if you have kids). This is definitely worth considering if you think you or your family will be susceptible to homesickness. However, do also consider whether your items will fit and/or suit your new home! A different country could mean a completely different lifestyle.

Shipping Container

What can I expect from the process?

The general consensus? ANYTHING. No matter how much research you do or reviews you read, it seems that the unexpected can always happen when shipping belongings overseas.
Some immigrants encountered unexpected legal issues, damaged items or delays. Others experienced tracking problems and were left uninformed about where exactly their belongings were…
From the very start, ensure that you pick a company that promises CLEAR and CONSTANT communication throughout the process – and choose one that suits your own personal and unique circumstances.

  • Research companies and compare quotes and reviews.

A lot of immigrants agreed that the majority of companies had both positive and negative reviews online which clearly shows how unique each experience can be. Despite this, it is worth reading through them and getting a feel for their services. Online ‘expat’ groups on Facebook are also a God-send when asking for recommendations and advice.

With regards to price, a trend that I noticed was immigrants choosing the ‘middle’ priced quote as price often reflects quality, but definitely try and play one off of the other and get the cost down as much as you can. Overall, be prepared for a significant price tag $$$!

  • Choose a company that suits your unique situation.

–   Do you need help packing and documenting your belongings efficiently for Customs? Select the company that includes this in their service (and ensure they will pack it all with care).
–   Don’t have a significant amount of belongings? Consider sharing a container if you don’t mind waiting for it to be filled.
–   Will your belongings arrive at their destination before you? Choose a company that will store it abroad until you get there.
–   Are you happy to pick up your own items or do you want them to deliver it all to your door?
–   Do you need Insurance for your expensive items? Remember: Shipping companies may not insure if you pack yourself.

  • Explain your immigration status

It is important that your chosen company understands whether you are moving permanently or on a work permit basis. Items can be held at the border if there is any doubt or confusion about your status.

  • Be prepared when checking in your items at the point of arrival.

If you have small children, many families advise arranging alternative care if possible during this time. The receiving process can be time-consuming, full of paperwork and often located in hard-to-find areas. So make sure you have all your documentation, a large van that will fit all of your pallets and a working GPS!

Front Door Key


  • In hindsight, newcomers agree that if they were to do it all again, they would ship LESS. So bear that in mind when packing up your life!
  • Despite this, many found that having familiar items around them helped them settle into their new homes abroad quicker.
  • Finally, expect the unexpected. Delays and lack of control seem to come hand-in-hand with shipping belongings overseas. However, it will all work out in the end and you’ll be reunited with your home comforts before you know it.

S 1 Ep 6 – Packing & Shipping Overseas | Andrea from South Africa

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