International moving guide: Preparing for your move and Getting quotes
A lot of expats, me included, decide it’s worthwhile to ship the contents of their home to their new country. But many expats I’ve spoken to moved abroad with just a few suitcases. Before any serious planning, it’s worth taking into consideration whether you actually need to ship your things.
In my case, it was cheaper to ship our stuff than to replace everything in Australia given the high cost of replacements. If we were moving to a cheaper country, it might have made more sense to sell or store everything and purchase new furniture. Or maybe you want to ship some big items while replacing the smaller things at your destination.
Part of this depends on how long you intend to be abroad. If it’s short term it may not be worth taking anything other than your clothes. If you’ll be abroad for a longer period of time, or indefinitely, it is nice to have the comforts of home like artwork and books.
Also, many electronics will not work in a foreign country without adapters and converters and some television formats differ across countries. (For example, the Netherlands is on the PAL format while its neighbour France is on SECAM).
There are a number of things that should not be shipped with your mover: jewellery, perishable goods, plants, seeds, and dirt, important documents such as visas and financial records, alcohol, hazardous materials etc.
Whichever you choose, you need to think about just what you want to take with you. Walk through your home with a notepad, noting what items you want to ship, store, sell, or donate to charity. This will be a useful exercise for when the movers come as well, since you’ll already know what you want to ship.
When it comes to getting quotes, the most important thing is to make sure you’re only dealing with reputable movers. Request the company’s license number and licensing agency (the agency will differ by country) and look it up. Some companies may list their license on their website. You can also look at customer reviews of the company on GoodMigrations.
Many movers have forms on their websites that allow you to request a quote. Some of these are just basic contact forms while others ask you to fill out a detailed inventory of what you’re shipping. From the detailed versions you may get a price estimate. This isn’t a bad way to narrow down the field, but you should have the movers conduct an in-home survey of the stuff you’re taking.
An in-home survey is the best way to get an accurate quote and this also gives you a chance to evaluate the company: was the company representative professional, knowledgeable, and on time?
Price quotes are typically based on the weight or volume of the goods you're shipping, and can sometimes be based on both. When you receive the quote, it should specify the estimated weight or volume and the cost.
For example, the quote might say you have an estimated 1.000 cubic feet of stuff to ship and it will cost 10.000 euros. Alternatively, it might say you have an estimated 1.000 cubic feet of stuff and the moving company charges 10 euros per cubic foot. You’ll need to do the math yourself to figure out the rough cost.
(I say "estimated" here because that’s just what it is: an estimate based on the visual survey. The final price is determined once the mover you choose picks up your goods and takes them back to the warehouse for a full measurement. The final price may be a bit more or less based on this measurement).
The quote should also call out additional charges you’ll incur for things like difficult access. For example, if you live on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator you’ll be charged since the movers will have to negotiate four flights of stairs. If you live on a very narrow street that can’t accommodate a large moving truck, again, you may be charged if they have to park a block or two away and carry your things over this additional distance.
If you have a "favourite" from among the movers who have provided quotes, but the favourite isn’t the cheapest, you can ask if they’ll match the price of their competitor - or at least lower the price a bit (as long as the lowest price is from another reputable company). However, it is important to note that price is not everything. There are plenty of stories of people who went with the cheapest option and ended up paying loads more because they unwittingly hired a disreputable company.
Quote prices may expire after 30 days unless you send a deposit. This deposit shouldn’t amount to more than 10% of the total quote amount. As mentioned, ultimately the quote is only indicative: you'll get a final price once your things are picked up and measured at the mover’s warehouse. Experienced, reputable moving companies should be able to provide a quote that's the same or very close to the final cost. If the final price does end up being more than the quote, the mover should have a legitimate reason for the difference.
Quotes will typically not include any quarantine inspection fees. This is the fee paid to government inspectors at your destination for the quarantine inspection.
The mover may indicate a delivery timeframe in the quote - for example, 8-12 weeks. The delivery timeframe is dependent on the origin and destination of your goods. On a route like New York to Amsterdam, the timeframe would be shorter than if you were shipping from Bangkok to Amsterdam.
Some movers may even be able to specify the ship and sailing date for when your goods will actually leave the moving company's warehouse and be shipped to the destination. Make sure you ask the company when it's likely to ship out.
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