International moving guide: Shipping and container options

International moving guide: Shipping and container options

Moving from Brussels to The Hague is a fairly straightforward process since your things will just be trucked across the border. But if you’re coming from overseas you have two options: shipping via air freight or ocean cargo.

Given that air freight can be prohibitively expensive and most people go with the ocean cargo option, we’ll talk about some shipping options you need to think about since they’ll impact your final cost. The choices are door to door, port to port, door to port, or port to door shipping.

When you ship door to door, the movers come to your home to collect your things and deliver them to your home in the destination country. This is a full-service move and you don’t need to be involved in between for the most part.

Shipping port to port involves the most work. You’re responsible for getting the contents of your home to the nearest port and then for retrieving the shipment from the port in the destination country. This is only a feasible option if you live relatively close to a port.

Door to port and port to door are two sides of the same coin. The movers will either manage the move between the origin home and the destination port or between the origin port and destination home.

Shipping to or from port may be cheaper on paper, but remember that you’ll still need to organise transport from your home to the port or vice versa. This is particularly hard to manage if you don’t speak the language in either location.

When you’re shipping over the ocean all of your stuff will be put into a container for the trip. There are two standard container sizes: 20 feet (6,1 meters) long and 40 feet. A 20 foot long container can generally fit the contents of a 1-2 bedroom house. A 40 foot long container would be more appropriate for a 3-5 bedroom house.

When you have enough stuff to completely fill a container, it’s known as a Full Container Load (FCL). But what if you don’t have enough to fill a container? When my wife and I moved to Australia we only took a few pieces of furniture from our apartment, kitchenware, and clothes.

This only took up a partial container and is referred to as a Less Than Container Load (LCL). If you have a Less Than Container Load scenario then you’ll have one of three options.

One option is that the moving company can consolidate other shipments into the container. This is known as Groupage. They’ll segregate the different shipments by putting each one in a lift van, which is a large wooden box that’s roughly 7 feet (2,2 meters) long. Anything longer than this, like a big sofa, won’t fit in a lift van.

The lift vans are then placed in the container. With groupage, your stuff will sit around in a warehouse until there is enough to completely fill the container. If you’re going somewhere off the beaten path, this can take a while.

The second option is that multiple shipments are consolidated in a single container without the use of lift vans. Not all companies will be able to offer this option.

Finally, some moving companies may not offer consolidation at all, and would charge you for a full container even though you don’t use all of the space in the container. This is called a sole use container.

Previous in the series
 How moving abroad works
 Preparing for your move and getting quotes from movers

Next in the series
 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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