International removal companies – finding the right one for you!

The Expatability Chat Podcast

Choosing a removal company for your move overseas

How do you find the best international removal companies? How much is a removal company? How do you know you are choosing a reputable firm?

Start looking early! Plan a long way ahead because there is a lot involved.

And don’t go for the cheapest option. There’s more to this big move than price. 

Tips on the extras to look out for, so you’re not taken by surprise later on.

You’ve got an awful lot on right now, and moving house is one of the most stressful times in the person’s life. Make sure you choose an international removal company that can help remove as much of the stress as possible.

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Welcome aboard the Expatability Chat podcast, helping expat parents navigate the challenges of moving and living overseas. With Carole Hallett Mobbs, Expat Life Mentor and Consultant and founder of

Hi, welcome back to Expatability Chat. In this episode, I want to go through how you choose a reliable removal company for your move abroad, and this is something that you need to start planning a long time ahead of your actual move. Moving overseas isn't quite the same thing as moving house in the same country. Well, that's an understatement, isn't it? For a start, you have this enormous big wet area called the sea to cross. I'm going to give you some tips on choosing the right removal company for your needs.

As you'll be handing over all your worldly goods to this chosen removal company you need to be fully confident of their abilities to take care of it all. So I'll take you through the steps you need to help you find the right company for your move. The main thing is you need to find an international removal company who is professional and organised, making overseas relocations run smoothly because there's an awful lot involved in moving from country to country. So, as I say, the main thing here is to start looking very early, a long way ahead.

You need to have at least two months before you move, preferably much, much more. And you need to find out what the likely time scale is in the current climate, whether there are extra quarantine precautions and so on. Information that's coming from ports and from removal companies at the moment is that there are quite a few backlogs and congestion charges that may up your bill. And sometimes you don't find out about them until you are actually waiting to take delivery of your container.

So find a very professional removal company rather than go with the cheapest. It's better to prepare further ahead of time than you may consider necessary. Some quick tips, which I'll go into in more detail in a moment.

Get several quotes so that you can compare the different services and the prices that you'll get offered. The cheapest isn't always the best option. Choose an accredited company for support and backup if something goes wrong, ask for personal recommendations if at all possible. Insurance is absolutely vital. There are various types of insurance and I'll talk about those in a moment. And use a professional packing service. You won't save much by not using one of these professional parking services, but what you will save in time, energy and stress is amazing.

Plan every step with great care. You'll have different removal options for different items. In this episode, we're going to look at shipping and containers. Those are the ones that go by sea on a big boat! You've also got air freight that you can use, and if you're moving perhaps within the same continent, you could choose a road service. Usually you'll have a combination of all three. And it all depends on where you're moving from and where you're moving to. So if you're moving to another continent, the bulk of your possessions will travel to new home by container ship. As I've mentioned in previous episodes, this slow voyage means that you are without most of your belongings for quite some time. Depending on where you're heading this could be about two months, possibly more. Therefore, it's quite a good idea to send a small amount by air as unaccompanied airfreight. And you can use that to send the important items such as computers, cookery stuff, some extra clothes and so on.

Airfreight is charged by volume, but it's definitely worth sending a few items that way so that hopefully they'll arrive before your shipment. It's not always guaranteed, though, because everything still has to go through customs and that includes your shipment as well.

You may want to ship a vehicle such as a motorbike or car. Again, I've talked about this in a previous episode, but it's a good idea to see if you can ship your vehicle with the same company that ships your household goods just to save on paperwork and bureaucracy. The size of the vehicle may be included in the container size for your household goods. When you're shipping a vehicle, you need various documents. Generally, a shipper export declaration form, a declaration of dangerous goods form and probably a hell of a lot more as well. Dangerous goods, because fuel, you know, and a good shipping company will do all this for you. Don't forget to insure your vehicle for international shipping. Make a note of any damage already on the vehicle before you ship it. Write it down, take photos of it. Ensure that your vehicle has been recently serviced so that your car will start once it reaches the destination.

Also learn from one of our experiences. We shipped our car from Germany to South Africa. The shipper's disconnected the battery before transporting the vehicle, as is normal and to be expected. They did reconnect the battery because they need to drive it off of the container. But the connection wasn't tightened fully, which meant after a few weeks driving on the South African roads, it worked loose. A few weeks after our arrival, we found ourselves stranded in literally the middle of nowhere, actually in the wilderness of Africa, because the connection had finally detached. We were miles from home in an area where lions and elephants roam free. Luckily, my husband was able to fix it very easily and very quickly - once he'd worked out what the problem was! So make sure you know how to fix your own vehicle.

OK? Still timing and choosing your international removal company. If you're not on a relocation package that includes the services of a specific removal company, you will need to find your own. So here are some pointers to help you make that decision. As I keep saying, start researching as soon as you know that you're moving overseas because this process can take a lot of time. Get your calendar out and start writing dates down. You need to have at least two months before you actually ship your goods, preferably a lot more, because the actual process of getting quotes takes a very long time. Especially if you're getting quotes from more than one company, which is what you should be doing so that you compare the options.

Obviously, the best way to choose a removal company is to have friends and colleagues recommend one. But that only works if you've got friends and colleagues who've done the same international move as you. So go with your instincts. You will be trusting all your worldly goods to these people. You need to have confidence in them. Gut instinct is really hard to quantify, but I think you know what I mean. So once you start asking removal companies for quotes, you will probably be given an estimate, first. There is a big difference between quotes and estimates. An estimate is simply that - a guess = an estimate, whereas a quote is something a little bit more final and written down. To get a valid quote, to get an accurate quote, somebody will need to come and visit your house. They will need to walk around your house and do something called the in-home survey or the in-home assessment.

They definitely cannot make a firm and binding quote until they have visited your home and assessed the contents. An estimate may differ wildly from the actual quote that you get given. So sending an assessor around to your home to calculate precisely how much needs to be packed is proving quite tricky this year. Some companies are offering something called 'virtual assessments', which you do via a camera and you may run into problems with this. It's really difficult for a layman to accurately estimate how big items are, how much space they'll take up in the container. When the packing is eventually done based on your own survey, you may well incur extra charges because you have underestimated how much space you'll need.

So while these virtual surveys are useful at this time, you do need to cover your own back and perhaps insist on somebody coming around in person to do the survey assessment for you. If a potential company won't do this for you, perhaps look elsewhere, or at the very least ask for clarification on how this is really going to work to avoid you paying the penalty. So to clarify, to get a true, accurate and binding quote, a company needs to send an assessor to your home to calculate precisely how much needs to be packed, how much space it will take up on the container.

Therefore, if you're going to get several quotes, which is recommended, this process alone will take time to help you narrow down your choices. Click on the link in the shownotes, which will take you to a fabulous tool where you'll get free quotes from about five removal companies. Now remember that this tool doesn't take the place of a human assessment. However, it will give you valuable insight and a fairly accurate idea of how much your move will cost. And then you can further research your options.

So get in touch with at least three removal companies for actual quotes. What you're looking for here is confidence in their abilities, professionalism, friendliness and efficiency. Find out what their services include. Some include insurance, packing and unpacking at the other end. Others will want you to get your own insurance. Some include packing materials in that quote. With others, this may well be an extra. Remember, as with everything, you get what you pay for. People automatically gravitate to the cheapest mover they can find and this is really not a good idea. You're moving your most prized possessions and you want someone to care for them as much as you do. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. There are plenty of cowboys out there.

Dodgy movers are just as proficient at appearing at the top of search results as good movers. And there are plenty of horror stories on expat forums of people who were scammed by moving companies. And there's really not much recourse if this happens to you, particularly if you've already moved. You're better off paying for peace of mind with a reputable company than going with a super cheap option. This doesn't mean you should never choose the most affordable option, of course, but you should be wary of any major differences in price between quotes.

So consider your total costs. It's important to consider your whole relocation costs in total and not just simply focus on the cost of the mover. For instance, let's say that when you get your new location, you need to stay in a furnished apartment, because you won't be receiving your shipment for about two months. Furnished homes generally cost significantly more to rent than unfurnished homes. So although one mover may be more expensive, if they can get your things to the destination a month earlier than the more affordable mover, your relocation cost may cost less overall. You pay more for the mover, but now you don't need to rent furnished accommodation for an extra month. Does that make sense?

Factor in everything. And think about the level of service and the extras that you need. When you move abroad there are many options that can increase or decrease the overall price. For example, a full container load vs. a small amount into a shared container or split container. Including all packing materials. You should never underestimate the number of boxes and packing material that you need.

Something else that isn't always included is what's going to happen to all the boxes when you've unpacked at the other end? So a clean-up of the packing materials at your destination is a really useful extra to look into. What about putting all your furniture back together again? When you move furniture and flatpack goods, it's all all made back to flatpack again and somebody needs to put that back together at the other end. Is this something that you're comfortable doing or would you require help and assistance with this?

What about dealing with customs? let me just pop in here... You want the shipping company to deal with all the customs and bureaucracy at both ends for you. This is not something that you want to get involved in, if at all possible. So you need to consider what you want the movers to do and what you want to do for yourself. For example, a door to port service is where a mover picks things up at your house and delivers them to the port nearest your destination.

This is going to be cheaper than door to door. But what if your port is three hundred and fifty miles away and you then have to deal with all the customs, finding your container, shipping everything back. or transporting everything back? Do you really want to do that yourself to save a few pounds? I really don't think so. What you're looking for is a door to door service. I also recommend asking the shipping company awkward questions. Don't shy away from them, just be a bit of a pain for a while.

You're paying a hell of a lot of money for this service. So here are a few questions to ask the shipping company. Ask them if they insure your possessions during transit. Most will, all of them should, but not all of them do. And it may come in as an extra cost. And insurance is vital.

Ask them what they do to avoid boxes and containers going missing. It very rarely happens, but it does happen. And they need to admit to this and explain how they deal with it. Don't panic. It's usually just a paperwork issue or they've mislaid the container in the absolutely massive car park type place. Like when you can't recall where you parked your car at the airport.

Ask them as well what their item loss rate is. If they avoid these questions or claim that nothing ever goes missing, they aren't honest, so cross them off your list and move on to the next company. It's like a school saying that no bullying ever happens. We know that that's not true and they're just lying. The chances of anything going missing are very, very slim indeed. But it does occasionally happen. There may be accidents at sea or a rare collision in port when a container or two falls off the ship. This actually happened last year to some people in a group I belong to. So I know that it does happen. And this is why good insurance is vital. Included services, make or break a good removal company and it sorts the good guys out from the not so good guys.

Find out what their included services are and make sure you get this in writing. In my opinion, the following inclusive services are mandatory: insurance. I can't keep saying this often enough. So many people refuse to get insurance, but if a container falls over, you have literally lost everything you own. Some companies offer insurance, but it's not always included automatically, so please make sure you check. Insurance is to cover against loss or damage during transit. So make sure you purchase it before making the booking.

You also need, this is one that doesn't often get thought about, but you also need to contact your own home contents insurer to find out if your policy will cover your belongings while they are being packed up. If one of the removal company people drops a rare Ming vase outside on the driveway while they're putting it on the lorry, who is liable? Your home insurance company.

So I recommend the insurance for sea-shipping should be compulsory, especially for a long ocean crossing. The fact that most shipping companies include a 'debris clearing service' should give you an indication as to what might possibly happen during shipping. It doesn't bear thinking about, but you really must not bury your head in the sand with this. Insurance costs are usually around one percent to five percent of the total value of your goods.

Something else I recommend to be included in your removal quote: customs and delivery to your new home overseas.

As I mentioned just now, I wouldn't recommend dealing with the customs and so on yourself. Your chosen removal company should deal with all this for you. They have the contacts at all the destinations and they know how to deal with it. That's part of their job. So they should deal with customs on your behalf. Once everything is cleared, customs, your goods will either be placed into temporary storage until you are ready to call it on for delivery, or delivered to your new home straight away.

A door to door service is a really good call. Confirm the way that this usually works with your removal company. Don't make assumptions that this is what will happen. Sometimes you need to specify everything. You also need to know when to expect the lorry.

A good customer relationship helps so much. Customer service is, I think, a lot more underrated now than it used to be. Good customer service is what makes or breaks everything. And when you're doing something as stressful as a move overseas, you need the best customer service ever.

Choose an accredited removal company. There are thousands of removal companies to choose from and all of them promise to be the best. And of course, that's not true. Some will be better than others, but how do you know who to trust? First of all, look for the IAM logo. I am stands for International Association of Movers. Any company with this logo is guaranteed to have world class service and an above average track record of safely delivering items.

You should also look for FIDI which is an acronym in French, which I'm not even attempt here, but it's basically the International Federation of International Movers. Also look for testimonials. Past customer testimonials are a safe way of judging how honest a removal company claims to be. Keep an eye out for the long reviews, that are a few lines and not just a sentence as they're a better measuring stick?

Something else you need to be aware of is you won't have obviously the same packing crew as you did in your home country. It may well be outsourced or subcontracted out on another continent. And the difference in customer services between continents could be quite shocking, perhaps. So while your service in one country may be exemplary, at the other end, it might be less so.

And talking of packing services, don't pack it yourself. Choose a removal company that includes the packing service. It's nowhere near as expensive as you may think, and it saves such a huge amount of stress. And it's really quick. It's so much quicker than you could ever do. Insurance is often cheaper if the company packs your items themselves, so that's something to consider as well. These professional packers can squeeze far more into a box than you ever can. They can make space out of thin air, it really is something to watch. And this means that you will have fewer boxes, meaning your move will cost less.

You can also ask for an unpacking service in your new home if you wish. This isn't something I've ever gone for, but I know others who do and who highly recommend it. In general, professionally packing your items greatly reduces the risk of breakages and from anything going missing. You'll have a tidy, organised box to unpack when you arrive at your new destination.

Although in my personal experience, this isn't actually guaranteed. Yes, they can pack a lot more into a box than you ever can, but they don't really think too hard, sometimes. I'm recalling discovering a heavy cooking pot packed on top of a delicate glass bowl. It obviously didn't survive the whole journey. I'll give you pointers on preventing this in another episode so you learn from my problems. Professional packers are really incredible. It's quite daunting watching strangers move through your home with the speed of locusts, but it's well worth it in the long run. In a future episode I will give you tips on how to plan for packing day so that everything goes in the right boxes. You don't have big cooking pots on top of glasses and making life a lot more easy for you.

So how much will the removal company cost? That's a 'how long is a piece of string type of question', I can't answer that. Have a run through the quote system that I linked to in the show notes and you can take it from there. International shipping depends on such a lot of different criteria it's impossible to suggest an average figure for a move.

Some shorter, lighter moves may only cost £1,500. Some could see you parting with upwards of £10,000. Look at what else they offer when you're working at whether to go with them or not and don't go with the cheapest. The only way to know for sure is to get a quote from the professionals. To get an idea of how much you likely may have to spend, there's some basic information and calculations in my book 'Plan and Prepare to Move Abroad'. Remember, these are only guidelines, not an official estimate. I'll pop a link to the book in the show notes for your information.

It's actually easier to predict what size of container you'll be given. Standard container sizes are 10 feet, 20 feet and 40 feet long. For an average family, if you're not shipping a vehicle, a 20 foot container usually works. This will allow you to move a fair amount of furniture, sofas, beds, wardrobes and so on. But it really does depend on your family and the amount of stuff. The contents of a four bedroom house with everything included may need a 40 foot container. And this is why you need to bring in the professionals. As a rule of thumb, a 20 foot shipping container can hold around sixteen boxes, plus large kitchen appliances like a fridge, a freezer, a cooker, microwave, a washing machine, as well as all bedroom furniture, like a double bed, and a single bed and a wardrobe, dining table, chairs, sofas, TV and bicycles. It's quite shocking, isn't it? How much will fit into what appears to be a very small space?

A 40 foot container can house all of the above, but about twenty eight boxes plus a car. I just find it amazing how they fit it all in and then manage to unpack it all as well. If you only have a small amount to ship, some companies offer the option of sharing a container with somebody else on the same voyage.

This works out as a really good cost saver. It may also make the journey a little bit longer because you have to wait for everybody to be ready at the same time. However much you work out yourself, your estimate will not count as they need to send somebody to your property to get an accurate, binding quote. And now can you see why it takes so long to get a set of quotes that you can compare?

So to summarise, allow lots of time to make quotes, to make your choices, to get everything done. Make sure you are fully insured. Everything. Good service is vital. And this, of course, is customer service.

And make sure you know what you want and what you need. For example, do you need insurance included? Packing materials included? Are you going to go for a packing service? Yes, you are! Promise me?! Door-To-Door service or door to port. No no! You want door to door! You don't want to be dealing with customs in a foreign country. Choose a well regarded company. Check their credentials and testimonials. Anyone that's got good testimonials is always worth looking at, but beware, the testimonials can also be forged in this day and age.

So look for the trade body logos, the testimonials, get an idea of prices through the comparison tool I've linked in my show notes to find the best company for you. Each scenario and each family's individual needs are different. It's important not to focus exclusively on the price or you may end up paying more than you bargained for.

Rely on your removal company to take as much of the inevitable stress away from you as possible. They are the experts and they can advise you on any specific questions that you may have.

You've got an awful lot on right now. Moving house is one of the most stressful times in a person's life and you're moving to a whole other country. So make sure you choose an international removal company that can help remove as much of this stress as possible.

So run your details through the linked comparison tool to get some ideas of prices. I go into a lot more detail about planning your packing for a move abroad in my book, which is also linked into the show notes. So please take a look at that too.

All the very best for your move. And I look forward to chatting with you again soon. Bye bye.

Thank you for listening to the Expatability Chat podcast, please check out for more free information and resources and follow me on your favourite social media. Don't forget to join me next week for another episode. Until then, bye bye.

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