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How to Pack for an International Move

One of the biggest challenges of an overseas move is also the most mundane: packing for it. Most people cannot pack their whole lives into a couple of suitcases, so they will need to plan and pack carefully for an overseas move of months or even years.

The first step when packing for an overseas move is to find an international moving company. You can find companies either from recommendations or by searching for international movers on the Internet on Web sites like Relocation.com. Compare the companies' policies, insurance coverage, and guarantees, and be sure to check references. 

While pricing is important, keep in mind that the cheapest moving company is not necessarily the best.  Make sure that you leave ample time to find your moving company – most international movers need several weeks to make arrangements.

Once you have a mover, you need to get on with the actual packing. You probably will not be able to take all of your possessions on an international move, so your first decision will be what to bring and what to leave behind.  Use your move as an opportunity to get rid of all that old junk that just takes up space; anything that you must keep but cannot pack should go into storage. Remember: the more stuff you have, the more you will pay to move it or store it.

Deciding what to bring is crucial.  Bulky and impersonal items like furniture can be replaced in your new home and then re-sold upon departure.  Also leave behind most appliances and electronics that will not work with the different voltage levels outside of North America; locally-purchased appliances are a better choice. Moving is expensive; moving overseas is very expensive, so the less you bring the more money you will save. 

Patricia Linderman, co-author of "The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad," advises that you consider the "groan factor" in choosing what to bring. If an object will make you groan when you open its box -- as in, ‘why in the world did I move that?' -- leave it behind.  Objects like knickknacks and heavy books are likely to cause groans and should only be packed if they're of direct use or great sentimental value.

You should pack enough toiletries and medicines to last you for a few months.  You don't want to be without the essentials, and it can take awhile to find replacements overseas or to receive orders shipped from home.  Personal electronics like laptop computers, cell phones, and music players are often more expensive overseas and should also be packed -- do some research before moving to see how much they will cost, and take into account currency differences. 

Bring a Bit of Home With You

Possibly the most important of all, be sure to pack some objects that give you a sense of home – you might need them if you have a bout of culture shock.  These can be as simple as a few favorite books or a collection of photographs. 

When it comes time to pack and move, be as involved as possible.  No matter how reputable the moving company, it is a good idea to be around while they're packing up your life. You can minimize bad or mistaken packing and will know for sure where everything is going. Keep inventory lists for each box and label the boxes yourself.  If anything gets lost or broken in transit, you will need these records.

No matter what you decide to pack, be sure to keep some personal items out of the boxes and with you. Your possessions probably won't get to your destination as quickly as you do, so there will necessarily be a time when you can't access your things. This can be for only a matter of days or it can be as long as several months. This is a good advice for any move, but for an international move, it's critical because of the distance and complexity involved.

Linderman tells of packing all of her toddler's clothes, only to find herself unable to receive any possessions for nine months.  By that time, the toddler had outgrown everything.  Be sure you keep with you clothes, any essential medicines, important children's toys, and anything that you need for work.

An international move is stressful enough without adding unnecessary stress from packing.  If you plan carefully and double-check all arrangements, you should be able to keep that stress to a minimum.


How to Decide What to Not Pack

Laurel Brown is the author of articles on health, diversity education, history, and astronomy.  She has a background in international and outreach education, editing, and observational astronomy. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the history of science.

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A Moving Company's Moving Story
June, 2012

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