Congratulations! You are moving overseas! You are about to join 6.32 million Americans currently residing abroad. iContainers specializes in moving Overseas Americans to many destinations. We would like to share with you our vast experience with moving overseas shipping to help you avoid some of the stressful aspects, like delays and cost overruns.

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The people who are the most successful with overseas shipping have a good understanding of the parties involved and their respective roles in the process. Proactively preparing for the move by having a good command of the details is the best method for avoiding common mistakes.

moving overseas shipping: advise on you how to plan a successful door-to-door shipment and avoid the most common mistakes

Understanding the Parties Involved With Your Move

  • You, who will act as the shipper, (individual or company sending the shipment), as well as the consignee, (individual or company receiving the shipment).
  • The moving company, if you decide to let someone do the packing for you, will pack up your belongings before they are put into a shipping container.
  • The freight forwarder will make the booking, arrange the container, issue you a Bill of Lading and track your shipment as it travels by ocean or air. They may also be referred to as the origin agent.
  • The consolidating warehouse, is where your shipment will go if you decide on shipping LCL (less than container load) aka “groupage”. Here, it will be carefully consolidated with the other cargo to fill the container. (Note: I had a bad feeling about my stuff being intermingled and possibly lost among other people’s items, so I added “carefully.”)
  • The international shipping company or shipping lines, are the owners of the ships and shipping containers.
  • The destination port, assesses handling charges and fees.
  • The customs bonded warehouse, is where your belongings are held until they’ve cleared customs.
  • Your destination agent or broker, will clear your belongings through customs and make sure they get to your new home.

It may seem like a lot of moving parts, but these individuals work together everyday. Understanding what they do and when they perform their part of the move will help you to maintain a smooth transition to your new home.

Getting multiple quotes from each party and, clarifying and confirming their respective areas of responsibility are the keys to a successful move.

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Proper Documentation

Having your documents in order is essential. Passport, Employment Identification Number, and work visa are the documents usually required by the country of destination.  As the Shipper, you will need to have an itemized list of all of goods included in your shipment. This document is mandatory if, although highly unlikely, something should happen to your belongings en route. Having organized and complete list will facilitate any inspections or insurance claims. 

Your freight forwarder will provide you with a Bill of Lading, which lists:

  • your name
  • Shipment details
  • Shipping company
  • Points of origin and destination
  • Address of your final destination

Whatever you do, do not lose your Bill of Lading. You’ll need it to claim your belongings, We recommend the following best practices regarding your Bill of Lading: 1) Make physical and electronic copies 2) Be sure the bill is accessible when you arrive in your destination country.

Shipping & Packing

Make a thorough list of all of the items you’ll want to ship overseas

  • Household items
  • Furniture
  • Artwork
  • Kitchen appliances and equipment
  • Electronics
  • Transportation

Go through your home and decide which items you absolutely can’t do without and which items you don’t mind getting rid of.  Be sure you can actually get any items you’re thinking of replacing easily and quickly once you’ve settled into your new country. 

Once you decide what to take with you, it’s time to decide on packing. Just like a local or cross-country move, you can either pack up your belongings yourself or leave the task to a professional moving company. If you decide to do the packing on your own, check with the Freight Forwarder to make sure the truck carrying it, can navigate the streets and access your home. The container is not a moving van. You will definitely need a ramp in order to put your boxes in the container. Ask questions so you know what you’re getting into when you consider packing your own container. The money you save will mean more work for you. Most people are fine with that arrangement if they understand it from the beginning.

A traditional method of shipping items is palletizing. You’ll load your boxes onto pallets and use shrink wrap to hold them in place. Palletizing is a very efficient way to load a container, but it will require professional assistance since the best way to move pallets is with a forklift or a pallet jack.


If your shipment will fill an entire container, you will be shipping FCL (full container load). If not, your shipment will be considered LCL (less than a container load). If you are close to filling the container, it might be to your advantage to book the entire container, eliminating wait time for other cargos that will be required to fill the entire container

Air or Sea

As far as shipping methods are concerned, air travel is faster and possibly more convenient, but the tradeoff is the cost of that convenience. Ocean travel can take several weeks or months, but it is a cost effective option if you have a lot of household items to ship.

Knowing what not to ship

While you’re packing up your home, keep in mind any items that are restricted. These items are usually restricted in every country, so it is best just to leave them out of your shipment.

  • Plants
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Firearms

A few other items that might present problems are food, medicines, fake plants and children’s toy guns, which, unfortunately, can be mistaken for the real thing.

You never know when a customs agent might decide to run a random x-ray inspection of your container, but having an organized packing list, knowing what’s not allowed in your destination country and having proper documentation can go a long way in helping you avoid an inspection. Even with all of the proper documentation, there is no guarantee that your shipment won’t be inspected. In the event that your items are inspected, you could be held responsible for paying handling and storage fees, x-ray inspection costs and the loss of your booking. However, using the suggestions we’ve provided will assist you in being as organized and prepared as possible before your move.


If you decide to ship an automobile, you’ll need to have a special ramp to get your vehicle or motorcycle into the container. Without a ramp you may need the assistance of a professional car hauling company. Your vehicle will need to have the fuel removed, battery disconnected and secured with tension straps. Include your vehicle’s title with your other documentation and make sure your vehicle can pass the safety and environmental regulations in your new country. Motorcycles require similar preparation with fuel and battery and must be crated. Importation of motorcycles are sometimes impeded by protectionist restrictions and import tariffs.  Check with your destination broker and ask for specifics about importing vehicles.

Another consideration when shipping your automobile or motorcycle to your new home is the cost and availability of parts and service for your make of vehicle. Do a bit of research to see how auto shops and mechanics compare in your new country.

8 Common Mistakes in Overseas Moves

  1. Using an unlicensed freight forwarder, list of licensed freight forwarders can be found on the Federal Maritime commission’s website.
  2. Failing to read the contract/estimate before signing or paying. Read the fine print!
  3. Not having all the required documents to facilitate your move
  4. Not knowing the import rules and regulations of your destination country
  5. Not understanding the difference between the two types of insurance, : At Risk and Total Loss
  6. Not having a reputable Destination Agent.
  7. Neglecting to be sure that the truck picking up/delivering your belongings can access your street or building
  8. Do your research. If you can find others that have done a similar move. There are “Overseas American” websites that are great source of information.