International Moving Costs

Moving abroad can be the most exciting thing you ever do! However, understand the costs before you dive in, it can save you dollars and headaches!

Living abroad can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences, but for those considering an international relocation, they may not come cheaply.

For young singles with a suitcase and a backpack the cost can be minimal, but for families moving a 4 bedroom home it’s usually tens of thousands of dollars.

Not only that, but being away from friends, family and the comforts of home for long periods can be lonely, depressing, and debilitating, so the expat life isn’t for everyone.

If you’re up to the challenge, however, your shipping costs will be determined by:

  • The international moving company you choose
  • The weight and volume (cubic feet) of your household goods
  • The distance between your old and new homes
  • Transportation method (land, sea, air freight)
  • Additional moving services like storage, crating, and unpacking
  • Insurance

Let’s take a look at each more closely.

1. Packing and Shipping Your Household Goods

The biggest costs associated with international moves are packing and shipping.

The less you ship the cheaper your move will be, but unlike local and interstate moves where do-it-yourself packing saves money, on an international move, this isn’t the case.

Why?

Because international movers are required to label each box as if they’ve packed it.

This is due to restrictions on what can and can’t be moved, and though they may ship pre-packed boxes, they’ll have to inspect them first.

In other words, you’ll be charged a flat-rate based on the weight and volume of your household goods.

If your shipment weighs 8,500 pounds and takes up 1,000 cubic feet of container space, the price for packing and shipping will usually be a flat rate whether the crew packs 50 boxes or 100.

Unless you’re moving to an adjacent country, your items will be:

  • Loaded onto a shipping container
  • Hauled by truck to the nearest port
  • Transported by ship to a port in your destination country

For delivery, it happens in reverse.

The best ways to minimize overseas move costs are downsizing and storing items you won’t need in a public storage facility in your home country.

Due to their resources, experience, and global reach, we recommend working with a well-known national van line when relocating overseas.

Average Cost: As little as $1,000 to well over $20,000.

2. Shipping a Vehicle

Though international auto shipping is relatively inexpensive, moving your car to a new country may not be a great idea.

Not only are traffic laws different, but expats usually need to jump through lots of insurance, licensing, and regulatory hoops to be in compliance.

Vehicles are subject to import duties too, which are based on age and value.

If you’re moving to a developed country with straightforward laws, driving may increase your sense of independence.

On the other hand, in some developing countries, foreign drivers are subject to “shakedowns” by entrepreneurial police officers looking to make a quick buck.

To some, encounters like these are amusing, but to others, they’re quite stressful.

If you do decide to ship a car you’ll have the option of having it transported inside an overseas container (along with your household goods if you have less than a container load), or on a roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) ship.

With the latter option, your car will be taken by truck to the port and driven onto the ship.

Average Cost: $1,000 to over $4,000 (excluding destination fees)

See the top car shipping companies

3. Insurance

Like local and interstate ones, international moves usually include a free insurance policy option.

Keep in mind though, the basic no-cost coverage is minimal at best.

If something gets lost or damaged during transit you’ll likely be compensated pennies on the dollar to have it repaired or replaced.

Purchasing additional insurance (valuation) like Full-Value Replacement Coverage is almost always the way to go, and you’ll have multiple deductible options from which to choose.

It’s also important to declare a value equal to or greater than the total cost of the items you’re shipping.

Average Cost: A few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

See our moving insurance breakdown

4. Customs Clearance, Duties, and Taxes

In many countries used household goods imported for personal use are exempt from duties.

In some instances, however, there are fees for specific items like electronics and appliances.

Most reputable international shipping companies will include duties and taxes as line items on their contracts, but keep in mind, they’re only estimates.

Nearly every international moving company has trusted partners in foreign countries that act as facilitators to get your personal effects pushed through customs without any major issues.

Regulations can vary greatly from one country to the next, which is why choosing a moving company with international experience is a must.

Average Cost: Usually about 2%, but may be significantly higher in some cases.

5. Storage

It’s difficult enough finding a new home or apartment when moving within the same country, but when language and cultural barriers are factored in it can add another layer of difficulty.

That means storage is often a necessity because rushing into a new residence before you’ve explored the area thoroughly can make an unsettling situation even worse.

Enlisting help from seasoned expats or hiring a real estate firm experienced in dealing with foreign customers will help ease the transition.

But remember, if you’re moving halfway around the world transit time will be measured in weeks or months.

Oceangoing vessels aren’t fast, but that time may be well spent living in a hotel or guesthouse and getting to know the areas you’re considering.

Average Cost: As low as $100 per month for small shipments, to thousands if you’re storing the contents of a home.

Cost of Storage Breakdown

6. Visa Fees

When entering a foreign country for work, studies, or vacation you’ll need a visa.

Depending on your final destination you may have the option of getting one on arrival, but that’s not always the case, like in Vietnam for example.

If you’re relocating for a job your employer should help with arrangements, and in some countries, seniors are entitled to free or reduced-price retirement visas.

Citizens of developed countries can usually get entry visas at the airport, but if you’ll be living there permanently, need to extend your stay or apply for a long-term visa, the assistance of a local “helper” may be required.

Average Cost: Less than $50 for short-term visas in some countries, to well over $1,000 for permanent resident ones in others.

7. Lawyer Fees

Though the services of a lawyer aren’t generally necessary on international moves, many companies relocating employees hire them to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Most information regarding visa requirements and duties can be found online, but even on official websites you’ll likely find it to be outdated and incorrect, and not surprisingly, when that’s the case, it’s not their problem, it’s yours.

For complex immigration and customs issues hiring a local law firm may be a feasible solution, but you’ll want to get references beforehand.

In some countries, bilking foreigners out of their money is an industry unto itself, so getting tips and advice from fellow countrymen knowledgeable about local culture and regulations is imperative.

Average Cost: Less than $100 to many thousands depending on the country and complexity of your situation.

8. Travel

Unless you’re young, fearless, and unencumbered, you may need to travel to your new country a time or two before moving permanently.

Overseas travel is expensive, so this is usually reserved for corporate moves, but if you prefer the methodical approach and don’t mind paying a few thousand dollars for peace of mind, it may be a wise expenditure.

Booking your flights and lodging well in advance is a great way to save money, but you’ll want to factor in food, lodging, visas, and entertainment as well.

Average Cost: $500 at the least, to well over $1,000.

9. Temporary and Permanent Accommodations

In the old days finding a new home or apartment needed to be done in person.

Now with virtual tours, teleconferencing apps, and easily accessible networks of friendly expats that’s no longer the case.

If you’d rather get the lay of the land for a few months before signing a lease or buying a home, consider staying in a hotel or guesthouse temporarily.

They’re often relatively inexpensive, and getting familiar with a new country at your own speed is a great way to ease into the transition.

Just like in your home country apartment rentals will require a deposit, though they may be negotiable.

Renting and buying will also likely be different for foreigners than it is for locals, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before signing a contract, and as always, other expats are great resources.

Average Cost: From a few hundred dollars for apartments in developing countries like Cambodia and Tanzania to million-dollar homes in others like the United Kingdom and Australia.

10. Regular Trips Home

Though they’re often overlooked by eager adventurers, regular trips home are necessary for maintaining sanity when living overseas.

Make no mistake about it, culture shock is very real.

Sometimes it’s instant, while in other cases it takes months to reach critical mass, but either way, you’ll need to spend quality time at home to recharge your batteries.

Average Cost: A few hundred dollars to more than $1,000.

FAQ

How do I get an international moving quote?

Getting a free quote can be done online, but you’re better off having an in-home estimate.

What additional costs are there for an international move?

You’ll also want to consider things like cost of living, moving pets, driver’s license fees, and expat health insurance.

How will my things be packed for an international move?

Packing for international relocations is similar to long-distance moves, but generally more packing materials like bubble wrap is used for added protection.

How do I get a phone number overseas?

Getting an overseas phone number is as easy as picking up a SIM card at the airport or a local phone shop.

International Relocation Terms

  • FCL – Full container load
  • LCL – Less than container load
  • FMC – the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is the agency that oversees and regulates the country’s international ocean transportation network
  • Door to door service (D2D) – When your household goods and automobiles are shipped directly from your old home to your new one, whether you’re moving domestically or abroad
  • Sea freight – When your items are transported by ship, which is usually the case with international moves
  • Customs duty – A tax imposed on imported and exported goods
  • Duty-free – When items are exempt from customs duty

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