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Homes Overseas December 2008


Moving home is accepted as being one of the most stressful events in our lives, and one we experience on average once every seven years. However, add an international dimension to the equation and the potential for disaster magnifies significantly.

When you have decided to move, most reach for the Yellow Pages, or search the Internet. Firstly ensure you look for an accredited overseas specialist remover. Many companies often advertise something they are not, having only the basic domestic skills and no international knowledge, with their sole expertise being simply to deliver your possessions to the warehouse of a trade shipper.

Take great care in selecting your removals company as payment will be required in advance. True specialists will be at least accredited to the British Association of Removers “Overseas Group” which offers a financial bond for customers payments to ensure delivery in case of financial difficulties, but also look for FIDI-FAIM membership which ensures your mover has been independently audited. They will spend in excess of an hour in your home during the survey and will know personally their overseas agents (who will handle your possessions at the other end), the exact transit times for vessels and be able to discuss customs procedures.

There are three main methods of transit: dedicated vehicle (removal truck), shipping container and air freight.

Dedicated vehicle; this transit method entails your possessions being packed and loaded into the vehicle being driven directly to the place of destination, and then unloaded and your possessions unpacked. Services using dedicated vehicles are usually restricted to where a move is within a continent, such as Europe. This service allows you to specify collection and delivery dates.

Exclusive container; mainly for shipping by sea, packed and loaded at your residence, which is security sealed and taken immediately to the port for shipment. This avoids any undue delays and will meet a pre-determined schedule (subject to weather / port strikes etc). The average customer will need a 20ft long metal container. The next size is 40ft long and some locations allow 45ft. There are even supercube containers which have additional height. Freight costs are fixed based upon the actual size of container used.

Many countries, the UK included, will allow normal customs clearance to be done without a physical inspection so the container goes intact to the final residence before being unloaded. Heightened security, however, like to the USA, means more containers are being ‘pulled’ for either x-ray or physical inspection. Australia and New Zealand have strict quarantine restrictions so will always have the containers unloaded for full inspection normally at an agents Customs bonded warehouse. If special inspections, fumigation, or cleaning, is required, expect an additional charge to be made.

For customers who don’t need or require their own shipping containers there are various alternatives:

Groupage by container – there are a number of consolidation services that specialise in household effects. Here, a number of consignments are loaded into one container and then shipped to the destination. It can however take time to consolidate a full load and some companies delay this even further by waiting until a 40ft container is full. Although this does minimise the overall cost, can you afford to wait? These containers are consigned to one selected agent at the destination who will act for all the customers. No one client can gain access to his or her goods except via the agent. So ensure the minimum service accepted is; “cleared Agent’s warehouse free and ready for collection”, otherwise be prepared to be held to ransom. Some companies have used this ploy to gain higher rates after initially quoting low to get the business.

LCL via freight forwarder – LCL means less than a container load, with transit organised via a freight carrier. The advantage here is that there is no delay whilst waiting for groupage, but it is more expensive. Your mover will collect and pack your possessions into a protective crate. Care must be taken as there are many forwarders offering cheap rates but are not all together kind at handling your cherished possessions.


Airfreight is for you if you want or need some items urgently at destination, perhaps the bare essentials to allow a family to survive whilst awaiting the main sea shipment. A small consignment can be cost effective. Airfreight is charged on size or weight, whichever is the greater or directed by the airlines (they like to avoid planes being full of low paying volume cargo). As a guide, allow 5kgs per cubic foot for the weight to volume ratio. Like LCL, it is unwise to send loose goods to airports as they are not known for their tender loving care. Over-packing in special palletised airfreight modules is the way professional companies will complete the service and minimise the weight.

Your choice of transit method will depend largely upon how much you have to move, when you need it at the other end, and how much you are willing to spend. Your specialist remover will be able to advise you of which is the most appropriate method, and make all the arrangements.