Should You Ship Your Stuff When Moving Abroad?
Should I ship my stuff abroad? It’s a question that crops up repeatedly on expat forums. How to ship things abroad, which companies to use, and what to ship. I shipped things from the UK to New Zealand using seven seas. It’s probably about as far as you can get, and New Zealand has fairly strict rules on what you can and cannot bring in to the country. So how do you ship stuff to New Zealand?
You’re visa application was approved, you’ve got your flights sorted, and now your going through all of your stuff ready for the big move. Let me guess, you never knew you had so much stuff?
Despite having meager possessions already, as our rental was furnished and I’d previously downsized to travel, we had what seemed like a lot of stuff. Especially when moving permanently to become an expat in new Zealand.
After a lot of research and more downsizing our somewhat meager possessions, we decided to ship some of our personal possessions. Every expat is different however, and we all have our own requirements and needs. That’s where my guide to shipping your stuff abroad comes in. What do you need to consider when deciding if and what stuff you should ship? What are the important questions to ask the shipping companies? Do you need to worry about customs?
What You Need To Consider When Deciding What Stuff To Ship?
There are 5 important things to consider when deciding if and what you should ship. By now you should have reasonable knowledge of what your arrival plan is, for example, have you found somewhere to live already or will you stay in temporary accommodation. Do you know exactly where you will be living? Do you have a job to go to or will you search once you arrive? Is the move permanent, or a temporary one such as a working holiday visa?
In general, and especially for New Zealand, I would suggest living in temporary accommodation initially and finding somewhere longer term once you are here. If you are arriving on a working holiday visa and only intend to stay for a relatively short time, it’s probably best not to ship your stuff if possible due to the expense, but of course it all depends on what you decide with regards to these 5 important factors to consider when shipping your stuff abroad.
If you are not allowed to bring something into the country, then of course you cannot bring it. In general this is probably involves common sense, and a google search of ‘country’ and ‘shipping restrictions’ should bring up a list of forbidden items. For example, in New Zealand weapons such as flick knives are prohibited. Other items such as certain medicines require a permit to be arranged. Some items are ‘risky’ and must be declared, such as wooden items or outdoor equipment. This is generally because New Zealand has strict rules in place regarding the import of unwanted flora and fauna which could be a threat to the native ecosystem. For example hiking boots must be thoroughly cleaned to be imported. If you chose to import them you must declare them, clean them, and I recommend stating that they are cleaned on your packing list.
Cost is a huge factor. It’s not cheap to ship a household to the other side of the world, and in reality may be cheaper to sell/ donate your large items and buy replacements upon arrival. This is particularly the case if your furniture is big and bulky, not particularly expensive, sentimental or unique. Again, knowing what your living arrangements are once you arrive makes a huge difference too. Perhaps your furniture won’t suit your house, especially if you are downsizing or moving to a different climate.
The more you ship, the more you pay. The further you send your stuff, the more it will cost. It’s definitely worth having a browse online and seeing what replacement furniture would cost in the country you are moving to.
When do you need your stuff to arrive? If you are shipping furniture can you manage without it until it arrives? It can easily take 12 weeks for your stuff to ship from the UK to /new Zealand, which is a long time to wait for certain items. Sometimes it’s just not practical because of the time frame. Sadly I had to leave behind a fantastic moses basket as I was 7 months pregnant when we arrived in New Zealand, and our shipment wouldn’t arrive before my second baby was due.
Will you need it in the meantime? If you are going summer to summer then great, ship your bulky coats, but if you will need them when you arrive make sure you have some space in your hand luggage, and only ship things you can manage without.
Like for Like
How easy is it to buy a similar item to what you already have? In the Western world the likelihood is high. Unless you have a family heirloom or custom made item, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a similar item, even in New Zealand where we have less variety of shops compared to the UK.
In New Zealand, trademe.co.nz is a great website used by Kiwis for everything, including buying second hand furniture. Like most places everyday household items can be picked up from shops such as Bunnings, Briscoes, and Mitre 10. Look online to help you decide if its worth bringing certain items or not.
When shipping electrical consider the power. Both the plug sockets and power voltage is likely to be different, so is it worth packing lots of electrical items when you will need heaps of adapters to use them? Personally, I limited my electricals, and small items like my mobile and e-reader can be charged through a USB cord, so I could simply buy the power plug compatible for New Zealand sockets and power supply.
Sentimental Value and Importance
What does the item mean to you? Is it something that is essentially irreplaceable because of its importance to you, for example personalised wine glasses that were a 21st gift. If so, ship them. They might not be something you use much but the sentimental value is more important. Actually, if it’s a small item like jewelry, I suggest putting it in your hand luggage as that’s probably the safest way to transport anything abroad.
How important is the item? I suggest personal documents all travel with you as hand luggage, and that you make copies of everything and email them to yourself just in case. However those framed degree certificates would take up valuable space as carry on luggage, so it’s probably better to ship them instead.
Choosing A Shipping Company
How do you choose a shipping company? A quick google search will bring up plenty of choices, but which do you use? Firstly, ask for recommendations from expat groups on facebook and forums for people who have already moved to the same country as you.
Secondly, after considering the 5 factors above about what to ship, you are likely to have an idea of the amount of space you will require. For example, a whole container, or a move cube. We sent a medium move cube (1.87 x 1.46 x 1.12m ) using seven seas, as it suited our requirements best.
Thirdly, you should research the following 4 things before choosing your shipping company. Most offer similar services, but it’s always worth finding out the details and obtaining a few quotes before choosing your shipping company.
Does The Shipping Company Include Insurance?
Most shipping companies should include insurance as an extra cost. This is against loss/ damage of your shipment, but it usually will not cover items broken during transport. It is unlikely that your shipment will be lost, however I personally think it is always worth insuring your belongings when shipping items.
What is the expected shipping time frame?
The majority of shipping companies will have the same expected time frame for your destination, however it is always worth asking this in case there is a significant difference. Also, it will confirm to you how long you are likely to wait for your stuff (it will usually be an estimated time frame). This will also help you decide what to ship as you will have better knowledge of when your items will arrive.
Door to door or port to port
Do you want to pay for door to door delivery or port to port. Port to port is cheaper, but it means you have to arrange independent transport of your possessions to the port when you leave and arrange pick up at the other end. If you are shipping a large amount of stuff you may well need to hire a vehicle to transport your shipment, in which case is it worth it? We paid for a door to door delivery service, giving us 2 hours approx each side to load//unload our 3m³ move cube.
Do they provide packaging materials?
You want to make sure your stuff is packed safely and securely, but how do you pack it? This was one of the reasons why we chose seven seas, they had a water tight plywood box for us to pack. They provided us with packing tape, dispenser, marker pen and packing list and customs forms to complete. For extra we could purchase boxes and bubble wrap. Perhaps it’s naive of me, but having a water tight box was definitely a big plus in my mind when shipping my things. We chose not to purchase boxes and packaged the box ourselves, but again choose what suits your requirements best.
How to Pack Your Stuff
Now your ready to go, make sure you to pack carefully. The shipping company is likely to give you several requirements which are actually just common sense. For example, put large heavy items in the middle of the box/container and at the bottom. Label everything, and put any items that need to be declare, require permits, or are classed as ‘risky’ as near to the front as possible so if Customs needs to check the box they can.
Seven seas made this easy for us with their packing list. We described and numbered each individual package and then listed all of the items included on their ready made packing list. e.g. no.1. Black suitcase containing clothes, shoes. No. 2. Cardboard box containing books, DVDs. I think most companies will provide you this.
The customs costs are usually additional to the shipping quotation as they are unique to each case. However, for New Zealand, if you are a returning resident who has been away for over 21 months, or if you are moving there, you can generally take ‘household items’ without paying customs fees and Tax (GST). If you are bringing new unused items, cars or car parts, commercial items, and other vehicle related items you will have to pay some fees. Generally, being clear and open with your packing list, declaring any items you need to, will help your shipment clear customs quickly.
Customs will require personal information as to your residence status for the country you are moving too. This is likely to be your passport and visa. Again, seven seas were great and requested this information from us before shipping our box.
It’s a lot of work, but moving abroad is not easy. I hope my guide has helped you decide what to ship, how to do it, and what to expect. Please comment below and let me know who you shipped your stuff with, and what your experience is. Save this guide for later on pinterest, or share it and help other expats to move abroad and set up their new home abroad.