International moving guide: How moving abroad works

International moving guide: How moving abroad works

Moving abroad isn’t as simple as moving down the street, across town, or even to a different state. The cost of choosing the wrong mover can be substantial and there are plenty of stories about price gouging, lost or damaged goods, and movers who become unreachable when something goes wrong.

Because of the stakes involved, it’s important to understand the process of moving abroad and how to properly select a mover. This international moving guide will educate you on the different choices you have along the way and the cost impact they’ll have.

To begin, it’s important to know just how international movers get your stuff from point A to point B and who’s involved. Some large moving companies have offices around the world and may be able to handle your move from start to finish using their own people and equipment.

However, most don’t have this kind of global reach and will use partner companies to complete the job - much how an airline uses alliances to help them get a passenger to a city they don’t serve directly.

Let’s walk through an example to illustrate the steps involved. "John" is moving from New York City to Amsterdam and hires a moving company in New York called XYZ Moving. XYZ Moving comes to John’s home, packs up his stuff, and transports it back to their warehouse where they’ll measure the size of the shipment and provide him a final price. XYZ will then transport his shipment to the nearest port.

This is where the first partner comes in, since XYZ will need a company with a ship that can actually transport John’s stuff across the ocean. This partner is known as a carrier. The carrier sails across the Atlantic Ocean to the Port of Amsterdam.

This is where the second partner comes in. The shipment will be picked up at the port by a local moving company in Amsterdam, known as a local partner, local agent, or release agent. This company clears John’s stuff through customs and delivers it to his new home in Amsterdam. Case closed.

There may occasionally be other companies involved but this scenario covers your basic international move. Fortunately, John doesn’t have to coordinate all the partners. He just hires XYZ and it’s their job to manage the process.

Given this, the important thing is that you hire the right moving company up front since they're responsible for managing anyone they bring on as a partner. You’ll deal with this company to take care of payment, ask questions, and get updates.

Now that you’ve got the big picture, read through the other sections of this guide (see below) to get an in-depth view of the process: learn how to find a reputable mover, how to compare quotes, how different options you have will impact the final price, and how to protect yourself in the event of damages.

Next in the series (coming soon)
 Preparing for your move and getting quotes from movers 
 Shipping and container options
 Comparing quotes, choosing a mover, and insuring your move
 Packing, delivery, and completing your move

Adam Vagley


Adam Vagley

Adam Vagley is co-founder of GoodMigrations (, which makes it easy to move anywhere in the world with free city guides and other resources for relocating abroad. He’s lived and...

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