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Overseas Moving: Don't Make These 5 Mistakes

Moving to Mexico? Well that's just south of the border. To England? It's just across the pond. And even Australia, that's just "down under" – even though it takes a full day just to fly there from the U.S.

People have a way of manipulating their thinking to make places seem closer than they are, but don't make that mistake when planning your international move: things are always more complicated than they might seem. 

International moves are different from domestic moves: they require more of everything. More preparation, more awareness, and usually more time from A to B. Here are 5 factors to make your international move a success.

Mistake #1
Not hiring a professional international moving company with expertise in international moving.

Your goods will most likely be shipped by ocean when moving internationally. This means that your shipment will be placed in a large metal container, which will in turn be loaded onto a ship by a crane, usually stacked several containers high.  There can be shifting inside the container can occur while being lifted, and also while the ship is at sea.

And as I learned when I worked as an international relocation consultant, these containers can be dropped from even higher distances. This happened to a pickup truck traveling from the U.S. to Italy: when the shipping container (covered with huge dents) was opened at destination, it revealed a totaled pickup truck. It had clearly been dropped from a crane that lifts the huge containers onto the ship. 

It was fully covered by the shipping line's insurance, but this is not an uncommon occurrence, and  it goes to show what your shipment will face once it's out the door.

Although there might not be much hope for anything inside a dropped container, items packed improperly should be able to withstand the normal amount of shifting that occurs during ocean transit. And that's where quality international movers come in.

If it's packed correctly, you're more likely to have a damage-free shipment on the other end. Ask your moving company how familiar they are with packing for international transit.  How many international moves do they handle per year?  If they don't seem knowledgeable, go with a different mover.

Mistake #2
What we have here is a failure to communicate…

Don't go incommunicado when moving internationally.  Keep a phone line that you will have access to -- whether it's your cell phone or landline -- connected through the time of your departure.  Because you will likely be changing time zones, email is often a convenient way to maintain communication with your moving company.  Set up an email account that you can access from any computer, such as Gmail or Hotmail. 

Is there someone the moving company can contact in the U.S. if anything should come up while you are in transit? Provide an up-to-date list of contact details prior to your departure.

Mistake #3
Not getting organized before the big move.

If you have a full house to pack, you need to be organized.  If you are having some of your goods put into storage while the rest goes overseas, be sure to clearly separate what items are intended for which shipment.  A good technique is to use sticky notes; for example, you can use different-colored paper to indicate which shipment an item belongs in.

Separate everything that must not be packed, such as passports, medicine, or important documents.  Irreplaceable items such as jewelry and family heirlooms should be carried with you, too.  When moving day comes, the packers will move quickly and you might not notice if such things disappear from the kitchen counter until your shipment is leaving on the truck.  Ideally, close off a room in the house for everything you plan to bring in your suitcases or carry-on, or even keep them at a neighbor's house during the move.

You'll also want to make sure you've cleared out things that cannot be included in your shipment.  Items such as paint, aerosol cans and propane tanks are considered hazardous materials that aren't allowed in international shipments.  Save yourself the stress and get rid of these hazardous materials before moving day.

Mistake #4
Cutting it too close

One of the biggest factors in your international move will be time.  Leave enough time in between the last day of your move (when everything is loaded on a truck) and when you are scheduled to leave the country.  It is wise not to schedule your flight for 5 p.m. just because you expect your move to be complete by noon on the same day.  Problems due to weather, traffic and manpower frequently wreak havoc on tight schedules, so it's good to leave at least one buffer day if possible.

Also, ask your international moving company for an approximate delivery schedule. Realize that this is an estimate, and loosely make your plans based on that.

Decide your essential non-furniture items and bring them with you instead of packing them.  For most overseas points, it will be several weeks before you see your shipment again.  From the U.S. to most western European points, it will be at least a month; to inland countries such as Russia, it could be over two months. 

But even with a transit time estimate, bear in mind that customs and the business of the season could add days or weeks to your shipment's transit time. So if you're debating on whether to bring the family's winter coats in your suitcases, and you've been given an estimated delivery date on the cusp of the season, it's probably best to bring them with you just in case.

Another factor to consider is the time required in some countries for medical clearance for you or even for pets.  Relocation.com knows of one relocatee who, at the last minute, needed to push back his international move until the family dog was cleared to go.

Mistake #5
Not knowing the house rules

Different countries have different rules.  It is important to review the regulations for importing goods into your country of destination.  Some countries prohibit the import of alcohol or firearms.  Generally you cannot ship any perishables.  To learn more about the regulations in your destination country, check with the moving company overseeing your move.  You can also check with the U.S. Embassy in your country.

Does the country you're moving to require you to be there before importing your goods?  If there will be a delay in your travel plans that might cause your shipment to arrive before you do, find out the policy in that country. Having the shipment sit at the port pending customs clearance could result in some hefty port storage costs.

What documents do you need to proceed with the customs clearance of your goods?  Discuss this with your international moving company early on, and as suggested earlier, make sure there's a way your moving company can get in touch with you in case they need additional information about your shipment.

Your Next Move:

Liz Shaw, a Relocation.com intern, coordinated international moves for two years as a relocation specialist for Arpin International Group.

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