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If you’re moving to another country and wondering how to ship household goods overseas, one of the biggest hurdles you are likely to face is how exactly to get all of your stuff over there in one fell swoop.

Hiring movers might seem like the obvious choice since it’s how you would move your things if you were just relocating domestically but did you know that there are companies that solely focus on overseas shipping –  and some who actually specialize in this type of move?

Movers vs Freight Forwarders

Many people may initially feel that hiring movers would be the best choice to handle the international transport of their personal effects. However, this is not the case! Movers are not versed in the different dynamics and policies of international shipping in the same way that international shipping companies and freight forwarders are.  

While a moving company might provide packing, warehousing, and loading services, often, they are not able to provide you with the best international shipping rate for a wide array of reasons.

First, international shipping companies are often under yearly service contracts with ocean freight carriers and can pass the savings on to you! A moving company that does not regularly handle international shipping would be subject to pay the full tariff ocean rate from a carrier for the one ocean container.

It is like buying retail vs wholesale!

Hiring a Freight Forwarder

Now that you know the difference between a mover and freight forwarder when it comes to international shipping, here are a few things to consider when researching an international freight forwarder to help you move:

  • Does your freight forwarder offer shipping of household goods AND vehicles? Not many of them do, so do your research!
  • Prepare a packing list and moving checklist in advance. Include your origin and destination names and addresses as well of information about each piece of furniture such as length, width, height, and value.
  • Get cargo insurance (Here’s why)
  • If you are shipping an entire household worth of goods, provide your freight forwarder with the number of bedrooms in the house and note if they are heavily or lightly furnished to help determine the ocean container size you will need.
  • Determine the extent of the services you will need. Will you need packing on-site or in-house? Will you load, block, and brace the cargo yourself?
  • What freight terms do you require? DDP, DDU, C & F destination port, CIF destination port. Your freight forwarder can help you decide.  View our freight terms glossary here.

The International Shipping Process

Only a few of international freight forwarders will provide you with full service. Within the Los Angeles county and Bay areas, ETC International freight System provides on-site and in-house packing. We work directly with the shippers to establish the best mode of transport and proper packing to keep your belongings safe.

A full disclosure and quote are provided to you prior to your booking. This is especially important when shipping personal effects, as it can be difficult to determine exactly how much you have until we start the packing and loading process. We offer shipping regardless of whether the container is full with your goods only, or if you only need part of one. 

Packing done by the shippers are subject to cargo insurance restrictions, they can provide a total loss coverage, also called FPA, however, partial damages are not covered. To remedy that, we recommend the use a professional certificated packer to help ensure that your belongings are packed securely and properly.

Full Container Shipments – what to expect

Containers are delivered on a truck chassis which stand 4’ off the ground requiring the container to be dropped on the ground. So your items can be loaded into the container as conveniently as possible, we employ a special service to position the container. This can be quoted separately once the address of the job is known.

Most container positioning is done on a live load basis, in which the driver is on standby for one or two free hours and thereafter charges around $85.00 per added hour. You can also choose a drop and pull, where the container on a chassis can be dropped and pulled up to 3 days later.

Less than A Container Load (LCL) Shipments – what to expect

For shipments that are less than a container load, every item must be boxed or in a bin. We highly recommend that you ship boxes on a pallet that has been heat treated (HT stamped). HT pallets are typically available for purchase directly from your international shipping company.

Air freight shipments can also be palletized, the advantage here being the handling, as a forklift will move the entire pallet, preventing the handling by hand of every single box. The disadvantage of a pallet is that it adds to the entire volume & gross weight and depending on how you pack it, the added volume may change.

Airlines or steam lines will calculate the volume weight based on the length, width and height. The freight forwarding billing will reflect the exact weight and dimensions, which will show up on your bill of lading (legal document). (Calculator link) – (Ocean containers dimensions)

Customs Inspections

When dealing with United States or foreign customs, you may be required to undergo an inspection. These cannot be quoted, as they are random and priced according to the exam performed. You will be given the means to pay the warehouse representing customs directly.

Some countries offer a free moving certificate, which will help expedite the clearance of your shipments. Across the board, delays do not constitute a claim. Warehousing & overseas delivery is an important component of your shipping. We recommend that shippers always communicate with the agent handling the customs & deliveries.


In conclusion, If you intend to relocate overseas, start early with your packing list and keep adjusting it until near completion. Our goal is to know the volume of your shipment, give you the best shipping option and of course get everything to your new home as quickly and easily as possible!  Click here for your international freight shipping quote.

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