Shipping your household items when relocating – what are your options?

Shipping household items abroad

What are your options when it comes to shipping your household items?

If you’re anything like me and my family then you’ve spent a lifetime building up a house full of stuff. The stuff that make your family unique and individual and different to any other family. Some might say it’s the stuff that defines you, although I like to think that what defines you is inside and the way you act. Anyway, enough of the ‘inner you’ talk, what do you do with all the stuff!

There’s going to be a mixture right? There’s the big stuff like sofas, TV, dining table and chairs, beds and everything else that takes at least two people to force up and down staircases. Then you’ve got your smaller stuff, like bedding, cutlery, DVDs, clothes, shoes, sentimental items and all manner of other things. The questions are – What are you taking? What are you storing? And what are you dumping? It’s a really big deal when you actually get into it.

The way I see it, you have four main options here:

1. Ship your household stuff abroad using a shipping company

2. Do it yourself – Ship your own stuff abroad

3. Buy everything new when you get there

4. Rent a furnished property

Before I get into these options in more detail here’s some insight into what we did and how it worked out.

What did we do when we moved abroad?

Before I get into the options that I think you have, here’s some insight into what we did and how that worked out.

We were sure from the beginning that we would take most of our stuff with us. I was given a relocation allowance from the company I was going to work for, although the volume they gave us was 5 cubic meters. To give you an idea of how much you could fit in 5 cubic meters – it’s probably two sofas, a couple of boxes and some smaller things squeezed into the gaps. So what were we to do upon discovering the items we wanted to take were more likely to be around 27 cubic meters! PANIC

Actually, there was no need to panic. The guys who had contacted me about the role went through the same dilemma and, luckily for him (and me), he had a friend in the shipping and logistics industry. This friend just so happened to own a shipping brokers firm and worked with a large number of companies to get the best price for the customer. This was great news for us. In the end we got a quote for our 27 cubic meters which was the same amount as what my new company were paying for their 5 cubic meters (roughly €3150). Needles to say I fed this back to the company and they didn’t really have a come back for it. As a side note (and something for a later post), the company were very much geared up to relocating young single people. When they realised they needed to source older talent with a broader set of skills (and who often came with families and more stuff) they struggled to accommodate them.

Here’s a rough list of what we got for our €3150:

  • All shipping related costs for our 27 cubic meters, plus insurance cover for €10,000 worth of goods

  • The removals firm to pack all breakables (kitchen, ornaments, mirrors etc)

  • The removals firm to wrap sofas, TVs etc with protective material

  • The removals firm to load and unload all items

  • The same team from end to end – they drove the truck from the UK, through France and into Spain

  • 6 day turnaround from Hampshire in the UK to Barcelona, Spain

One thing that was a bit frustrating was that I was expecting the shipping team to arrive at about 10am on the day they were delivering to our property in Spain, but they turned up at 8am! I was still in bed as I had only arrived at the house the night before so it wasn’t a great start to a long, hot and tiring day.

I’d been in Barcelona for a month living at a friend’s house so it was amazing when all our stuff turned up! I was also picking my daughter, wife and her parents up in the afternoon of the same day so I had a lot of work to do to get the place ship shape. It was August so it was sweltering. I managed to get some order though and they were pleased to see all the things they had sent off in a lorry just a few days before. My daughter was very happy to see her bed made up, her toys in place and her room ready to go. She was slightly more excited about the pool though…

The biggest challenge we had with shipping all our stuff out was then having to ship it all back again when no one was paying for it. This is why I think it’s critical to have a back up plan, or plan b (as mentioned in my post – 8 critical things to consider when deciding whether to relocate abroad). Luckily we managed to wangle a deal out of the shipping company by going direct and negotiating hard! They charged us about €1800 all in to get our stuff back to the UK, which was still pretty painful when we had no money.

Just make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do with your stuff if your relocation isn’t going to plan and you need to reverse things.

Hopefully that gives you a feel for our experience with shipping our household items abroad.

Your options for shipping

Now I’ll run through the options I think you have and some of the factors that might impact your decision on which one is best for you.

1. Ship your household stuff abroad using a shipping company

As you found out above, this is the route we took. It was an easier decision to make for us as my company were paying for it. If I were making the same decision again though I would factor in the amount of stress and worry that comes with this option, and the burden it can be if you want to ship it all back.

There are different options within this one, such as:

Standard shipping – You pay a company and they ship your stuff direct and on its own. This can be as quick as 5-6 days depending on location and country laws. For example, you can’t drive a lorry through France on a Sunday (maybe even the whole weekend). Going through a broker would be a good idea but as a rough guide, 27 cubic meters for us cost €3150 on the way out and €1800 on the way back…

Shared shipping – The company keeps costs low by combining similar trips with the same lorry. When our household items were shipped back to the UK the guys did a pick up and drop off in France using the same lorry. As with the previous option, this could be done in a matter of days depending on location and transport laws.

Container shipping – This is where your stuff is shipped in a container (the ones you see in the docks) so it goes as part of a larger tanker trip. These can have longer turn around times (I’ve heard up to the weeks in some cases) and I’m not sure how well looked after your stuff will be.

If you’re lucky enough to get a company to pay for your shipping then make sure you question the company they use as standard (if they have one) as there may be better deals and service available elsewhere. The broker I used was ET Brokers (http://www.etbrokers-removals.com/) although I think they’re more focused on the UK and Europe. Definitely worth a look and they’re great at finding you a good deal.

Choosing this option is really about how much you value your current furniture. You can always find somewhere to offload your sentimental stuff (photo albums, keepsakes etc) like friend’s garages or lofts. It will also depend on how long you’re planning to stay in your adopted country.

Benefits – Takes away a whole load of stress, frees you up to focus on other things, gives you peace of mind that it’s being handled by professionals, your items can be insured/covered (protected).

Downsides – You’re leaving all your stuff in the hands of someone else, there is a risk that they don’t care about it as much as you do, you have less control over the bit between pick up and drop off, it costs a fair amount of money, you have to work out how much space you need.

2. Do it yourself – Ship your own stuff abroad

Yep, hire a lorry and do it yourself. Its something I seriously considered when we were looking to come back to the UK. Turns out that for my particular journey it would have been almost the same cost as a shipping service after lorry hire, tolls, petrol and ferry costs. It would also have been hugely tiring and stressful although I did quite fancy the road trip. Timings on this one really depend on location and your personal preference, but could be similar to options one and two if you’re doing a European move. There are a whole load of things you’ll need to factor in with deciding whether to do this one:

  • All costs – Including petrol, hire, food, overnight accommodation, tolls, ferries and a healthy sized backup fund in case of emergency.

  • Best route – Do you want the quickest, the shortest, one that avoids mountains, one that avoids tolls etc? A great free site you can use for driving directions across the world is http://www.viamichelin.co.uk, which gives you a load of information on costs (petrol, tolls etc), times and different routes. It also provides the in depth instructions you’ll need so a really good resource.

  • Your ability to deal with driving stress over a prolonged period of time – Bare in mind that if you’re traveling through different countries then you’re likely to encounter totally different styles of driving so it could be pretty stressful. Are you able to keep the red mist at bay?

  • Loading and offloading of all your stuff – this is one of the benefits of using a company, as they’ll do most of the heavy work for you. If you’re moving to a hot country then just consider the time of year and how much hard work it will be in the heat (speaking from experience!)

  • Protecting your items – You’ll need to check you have the right cover/insurance to protect all your household items (and the right insurance for driving in different countries). Think about what would happen if you were unlucky enough to crash the lorry and the bulk of your stuff was destroyed. How would you replace it? This is another benefit of using a company, as they have accountability and you can arrange cover for you items.

  • An additional thing to think about – I don’t mean I have an additional thing for you to think about. I mean it’s an additional thing for you to think about. You’ll obviously need to handle everything, from sourcing a truck, planning the route, working out the costs and pulling everything together. Do you have the capacity to manage this with everything else that’s going on?

This option would be a lot of work, but could also be a lot of fun if you got it right and planned it properly. If you’ve got money to pay someone else to do it though, I would recommend seriously considering going down that route.

Benefits – You have more control over all aspects, you make all the decisions, you have the potential to save some money if you plan well enough, you get to do a road trip, you care about your stuff more than anyone else.

Downsides – Planning takes a lot of time, the journey will likely take a lot of time, you’re probably not an expert in navigating foreign landscapes, you can’t necessarily return the lorry to the same place (some places do offer different country drop offs), if you’re not careful then costs could rack up, you need to be really careful about insurance/cover for your items.

3. Buy everything new when you get there

If I had the cash then this would have been a definite option for me. I’d have sold all the non sentimental items and purchased everything new when arriving in Barcelona. There are a few challenges to this though, such as:

  • Finding the right places to buy your stuff – This can be easier said than done. You’ll definitely need to try and scope out the right shops before you get there so you don’t get stuck without a bed/sofa or worse, TV! Luckily, with shops like IKEA (http://www.ikea.com) being global, you’re probably never that far from having a backup plan. We bought a fair amount of stuff from IKEA in Barcelona and, bizarrely, it was like being in any other IKEA anywhere else in the world. If you’re looking for something a bit more local though then you’ll need to get researching.

  • Checking the prices – What costs a certain amount in your native country may be a totally different price in another. I’m not talking about currency differences, but as a percentage of what you’re bringing home in income. Like for like prices could be totally different as some countries are at a different economic state than others. We found household items in Barcelona could work out a bit more expensive although it might have been that we didn’t find the right places to shop. Once again, planning is key!

  • Logistics – If you’re not buying a car, or you’re getting a mini, are you going to be able to transport all the stuff you need to buy. There will likely be a solution (man with a white van equivalent) but again, it’s worth trying to anticipate this and work out how you’ll get around it. I know at the IKEAs in Barcelona there were guys with vans who would charge you €50 to transport the stuff you had just bought.

  • General timings of when you’ll be able to get stuff – Just something to consider here. For example, if you’re ditching your bed and buying a new one, are you going to have an opportunity to pick one up relatively quickly? What about cooking utensils and other essential items. You’ll just need to make sure you have the things you need early on so that you don’t get caught short.

Then there’s the question of what you do with the stuff in your native country. The obvious thing to do is sell it all and use the money generated to buy your new stuff (keeping your sentimental items at relative’s/friend’s houses). We did that with some of our things (bed, coffee table etc) but not much. Most of it we took with us. The other option is that you store it, or find places to put it all. Although this sounds like a bit of a nightmare (and has associated costs) it could be a good backup plan for the short term. If you did this and you decided you needed to come back then you could sell the stuff you had bought at the other end and not have to ship anything back. If things are going well and you think you’re going to stay long term then you can set about selling the stuff you have in storage (using the help of friends and relatives of course). In terms of storage companies, we’ve used both Lok n store (www.loknstore.co.uk) and Access Self Storage (http://www.accessstorage.com) in the UK. In my opinion, the service at Access was slightly better, and I felt that their company was a bit more professional. Also, at Access you can get into your container anytime day and night using a security pass code. This wasn’t available when I used lok n Store a couple of years ago and it had to be between 8am and 5pm I think. This could have changed though. With Access we had a 150 foot container for all our stuff, which was about £320 a month (ish). We got a deal where the first month was free so it’s worth bartering and playing the companies off against each other to get a good deal.

Whether you sell your stuff or keep it is really down to you, but it’s definitely worth considering both options and thinking about the longer term impact of each.

Benefits – You get loads of new stuff, you don’t have to worry about shipping (or only have to ship limited amounts), you potentially keep your stuff in your native country as a back up, you don’t have to worry about whether your items are safe during transport etc, you get to scope out some places in your adopted country and get a feeling for where things are.

Downsides – You have to pay for it all and things may come with price differences, you have to find the right shops and will potentially need to converse with people who don’t speak your language, you’ll have to get it to your property, if you’re selling your old stuff then you’ll need to manage all of that before you go, if you’re storing your old stuff then you’ll need to pay for it and manage it ongoing until you decide to offload it (or come back).

4. Rent a furnished property

Well this has the potential to rid you of a whole load of pain. As with most countries, your adopted country will likely have different options with regards to the type of property you go for (furnished and unfurnished). This is probably more relevant for the rental market although there is still an opportunity when buying a property to get the owners to leave things behind. This obviously takes away the need for shipping (or reduces it dramatically) and means you don’t have to frantically shop when you arrive to get all the bits you need. Happy faces all round you say? There are, as with everything, a couple of things to consider:

  • Are you happy to use other people’s furniture? – And not just other people, other cultures. It’s likely that different people treat things with varying levels of respect and this will be a greater divide between cultures. I’m not saying that everyone outside of your native country doesn’t look after their stuff, but there’s a chance they’ll do things differently.

  • What if you break something? – It’s one thing having the house to look after and sorting out buildings insurance. Now add the owners furniture and other items and you have something else to worry about.

  • Will it ever really feel like home? – If your place starts off with stuff in it that isn’t really yours, is it ever going to really feel like home to you? If you’re happy with this then it’s not a big deal.

  • Is the furniture suitable for you/your family? – Having a sharp edged marble dining table might not be the best thing if you’ve got a couple of 3 year old children tearing around the house! Just consider your day to day activities and how the household items fit into this.

Again, you’ll have a choice on what you do with your current household items. Sell it, store it or pass it round friends and relatives.

There is also the option that you keep your current property and let it out. That way you can let it as a furnished property and obviously keep your furniture in it. This is a great way to do things as then you’ve got a property ready should you need to return (although you can’t just kick your tenants out). My wife and I rent so we didn’t have the option to do this, but I would have done if we owned our property!

Benefits – Almost hassle free if you find the right property with the right household items, you don’t have to worry about shipping, you can potentially make a bit of money from selling your old stuff and not having to buy new, it hopefully reduces the need to panic buy when you first arrive, you have a ready made house waiting for you.

Downsides – You don’t get to choose the furniture, you’re responsible for your landlord’s stuff (more pressure to look after it), you’re tied in a little bit if you decide at a later date that you want to buy your own stuff (re-negotiations with a potentially foreign speaking landlord)

Summary

Hopefully this gives you more of a feel for the options available to you. It really depends on what situation you’re in now, what is available to you and how you want to manage the first 3-6 months of your relocation. If I put my ‘hindsight hat’ on I wish I’d thought a bit more about the longer term impact of the choice I made. It’s all about giving yourself options and having a plan. What works for a family may not work for a young couple or singleton but having the right information will help you make the right decisions.

As always, I’m more than happy to answer specific questions you might have about this. Just leave a comment on this post or drop me a note using the ‘contact’ page and I’ll do my best to give you some answers.

Good luck with your planning!

Al

The Essential Guide To Planning Your Dream Move Abroad - Downloadable eBook
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One Response

  1. Man and Van London
    September 19, 2013

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