Ocean freight is between 12 and 16 times cheaper than air freight

You should start contacting shipping companies three to four months before your move

Buy tickets for long-haul flights eighteen weeks in advance — seven for short-haul flights

People who say that “the best things in life are free” have clearly never moved abroad. 

Relocating to a brand new country is as exciting as it gets, but it costs money. 

Just when you think you’ve dealt with one thing, something else crops up. If you’re not careful, things like shipping, visas, and flights can set you back a serious amount of cash – and that’s before you’ve even got to your destination. 

But you shouldn’t let money worries put a downer on your big plans. Luckily, we know how to cut your moving costs, and we’re delighted to share our advice with you.

A key way you can cut down on costs is to compare companies to get the best deal. Don’t have time to scroll through the internet, finding shipping prices? 

Try using our simple quote tool to speed the process up. All you have to do is tell us a bit about your trip, and we’ll pass your details on to our expert suppliers who’ll be in touch with free quotes, tailored to your move. 

Before you start reading, have a watch of Ben, Gary, and Becky explain our top tips for moving abroad cheaply.

1. Choose sea freight over air freight

When you’re looking for the cheapest way to move your belongings, sea freight should be your first port of call, because international container shipping costs are considerably lower.

Ocean freight is typically between 12-16 times cheaper than air freight, according to the World Bank.

Why is this? Well, there’s currently massive overcapacity in the global sea freight industry, which means supply is outweighing demand and keeping prices low.

Air freight also comes at a premium because it’s significantly faster than sea freight. While a container ship might take weeks to travel to China, a freight plane can nip over in no time.

If you’re moving in a serious hurry, air freight might be your only option – but for any sensible international move, sea freight is essential.

cartoon plane and container ship

Sea freight wins out on the carbon footprint front too. The CO2 released by container ships is utterly dwarfed by the nasty emissions of the planes overhead.

For example, two tonnes of freight travelling 5,000km on ocean waters would create 150kg of CO2. Put that same freight on a plane for 5,000km, and you’ve got 6,605kg of CO2. It's clear who Mother Nature would prefer. 

For more information, take a look at our comparison of typical sea freight and air freight rates.

Select the size of your move to get free quotes

2. Give yourself time

You may delay, but time will not” – Benjamin Franklin.

Mr. Franklin certainly wasn’t one to dilly dally when it came to planning his international relocations. Time is humanity’s greatest commodity, so don't waste it stumbling around in a last-minute panic.

Almost every aspect of your move will benefit hugely from you getting it sorted sooner rather than later. Once you know where and when you’re going, there’s nothing stopping you from setting a date for the shipment of your belongings. 

If you leave it too late, you’ll be left with two rubbish choices: flying your stuff for a crazy price, or arriving several weeks ahead of all your cargo. It’s a no-brainer, really.

Keep time on your mind, and you won’t miss the boat. Start contacting shipping companies at least three to four months before your planned move date.

3. Compare shipping quotes

Every sensible customer shops around a bit before committing to a purchase. This might be excessive behaviour when you’re buying a pint in the pub, but it’s sound practice when it comes to moving overseas. 

There are multiple shipping companies operating on almost every route around the world, which means you’ve got a choice to make. It’s important that you consider your options before going with the first freight forwarder you find.

This is where we come in. We can make this part of the process a million times easier with our custom-built quote tool. All you need to do is provide a few short details about your trip, and our trusted suppliers will get back to you with free quotes to compare.

4. Prepare for overseas finance

When you move abroad, you don’t ever fully uproot. You’ll always leave a piece of you behind. 

This is especially the case with money. If you’ve got savings in a bank, you’ll probably need to draw on them once you’re up and running in your new country. 

But this gets expensive, because transferring money abroad comes with all sorts of fees and unfavourable exchange rates.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Wise, an easy-to-use online international money transfer service which uses the real exchange rate, and charges low fees.

How much could you save? Well, its service can be up to 8x cheaper than high street banks.

Join more than 7 million people and start using Wise today.

A free moving overseas checklist to download

Make sure you're well prepared before you move

5. Buy flights at exactly the right moment

While we heartily recommend that your cargo takes the watery route to your new home, we generally assume that you’ll be flying there. 

However, it’s not necessarily the most advanced planners that get their hands on the cheapest flights. You’ve got to choose your moment. 

  • Buy tickets seven weeks in advance for short-haul flights
  • Buy tickets 18 weeks in advance for long-haul flights

So, if you can hold your nerve, it’s better to hang on a bit instead of just buying the tickets as soon as they’re released.

If this advice isn’t specific enough for you, most airlines also recommend Sundays as the best day of the week to book your plane tickets

The worst day? Wednesday. 

Naturally, off-peak seasons offer the best opportunities for finding cheap flights, so you should always try to fly when there aren’t many tourists heading the same way – if you have the luxury of choosing when you go, that is.

There are even sites that will send you email alerts when flights are particularly cheap.

If moving abroad still feels overwhelming, here’s everything you need to do, in one handy checklist.

6. Get your pet vaccinated

Before you set off for your new adventure, make sure your pet is properly vaccinated. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to get this organised, to avoid any stress and any last-minute fees. 

By getting your four-legged friend up to date on its jabs, not only will you be looking after its health, but you might also be able to avoid it having to quarantine

Different countries implement different rules, but generally, quarantine comes with all sorts of fees. If you’re moving to Australia, for example, the cost of quarantining your pet for 10-30 days is roughly AUS $1,200

If you fail to sort out your pet’s paperwork and vaccinations, unfortunately, you might have to part way with your pal, as it will be refused entry to your new home country. 

This will come with additional flight costs (as well as a whole lot of emotional baggage). Not only will you have to sort out a return flight for your pet whilst abroad, but you’ll probably have to deal with last-minute price hikes. 

Want to make the whole process of moving abroad with your pet easier? Why not let Starwood give you a helping hand? Not only do 95% of users recommend this company, but Starwood Pet Travel has also been voted Pet Relocation Company of the Year by the Australian Emigration Awards.

To find out exactly how much it'll cost you to use Starwood services, pop your details here, and they'll get back to you with a free quote.

7. Sell the stuff you don't need

We’re pointing out the obvious here, but the less you bring, the cheaper your shipment will be. If you can trim the fat before loading up and shipping out, you’ll be spending significantly less money. 

When you’re moving to a new country, you should take half the stuff and twice the cash you think you’ll need. It’s time to be completely brutal with your belongings. 

Choose something you currently own and try to imagine life without it. If you feel okay, you don’t need it. If you can’t imagine life without it, then try a bit harder

That big television in your front room? Sell it. Your big winter coat? You won’t need it if you’re moving to a warm country. Your dog? Only joking, you don’t need to get rid of your dog.

But in all seriousness, vaccinations, and passports for your pet can be pricey, so if Fido and Mittens are coming with you, check out our detailed page on pet relocation.

Once you’ve decided what you’re leaving behind, you can then start to sell it on websites like eBay. You’ll be shrinking your shipment, and making some extra cash on the side. 

If it won’t sell, donate it to charity, or give it to a friend. If literally nobody wants it, maybe just put it in the bin. 

So what kind of stuff should you leave behind? An important thing to consider is whether the cost of shipping the item will exceed the cost of buying it again in your new country. 

You can always just follow the six-month rule: if you haven’t used it in six months, you probably don’t need it. Check out the table below for some guidance.

8. Decide between FCL and LCL

The overseas shipping industry is awash with acronyms (AWA), some less necessary than others. 

Once you start looking into sea freight, you’ll be presented with two options: Full Container Load (FCL) or Less Than Container Load (LCL). 

With an FCL, you’ll pay a flat rate for the full use of a whole 20ft (or 40ft) container, while LCL involves sharing a container with other people. It’s basically like the difference between a taxi and a bus.

cartoon FCL v LCL

If you're only shipping a small amount of cargo, LCL is the more cost-effective option.

However, this stops being the case once you reach around 15 cubic metres of cargo. After this point, you’re better off hiring a whole container, even if you’re only filling half of it. 

So why is that? Well, in terms of cost per cubic metre, LCL is about two-three times more expensive than FCL

While an FCL container can be delivered seamlessly from one door to another, an LCL shipment has to be carefully put together in a warehouse before shipment (as everyone’s separate cargo arrives), then unloaded at the destination port. All this extra time and labour naturally leads to a higher cost. 

If this all sounds a little complicated, no bother; once a professional shipping company is taking care of your move, they’ll be able to help with the LCL/FCL decision.

9. Sort out your taxes

Let’s not mess around: at MoveHub, we think paying tax is really important. But we don’t think you should be doing it in two countries. 

Once you know you’re moving abroad, make sure you notify your current government about it. People can often end up paying income tax twice, and only reaping the benefits in the country they’ve moved to.

Most countries have a fairly simple exemption process; for example, if you’re leaving the UK, you just need to complete the P85 form and send it off to HMRC. 

Meanwhile, if you’re still going to be receiving interest from any UK-based savings after you’ve moved abroad, you should complete form R105 and send it off to HMRC. This will stop the government taxing you on your interest income, as you’ll be paying income tax abroad instead. 

Americans still have to file a tax return even when they’re living abroad, but they can complete forms 2555 and 1116 to ensure that they pay a lot less.

Select the size of your move to get free quotes

10. Get insurance

It's never a sure thing that you'll need insurance – but when it's useful, it's exceptionally useful.

The best way to avoid spiralling costs if something goes wrong is by putting that risk onto an entity that's totally separate – plus it can give you peace of mind during the often stressful moving process.

Make sure you get health insurance, life insurance, travel insurance, home insurance, and removals insurance sorted as early as possible.

In the event that anything goes wrong, you'll thank your past self profusely for your forethought. Just make sure you get a few quotes for each one.

11. Avoid unnecessary customs duty

Getting your belongings through customs is never a simple process, but you can certainly take steps to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible. Take shortcuts, however, and your move overseas could be dogged by additional costs, stacks of extra paperwork, and misplaced items.  

Pretty much every country in the world will require you to complete a detailed, itemised inventory of every belonging you want to bring in. This sounds nosey, but it helps border officials calculate customs duty, as well as keep an eye on anything untoward. 

The vast majority of containers around the world are either x-ray scanned or physically inspected (or both), so don’t bother trying to sneak anything through. 

And don’t do it accidentally, either – make sure you know exactly what is and isn’t allowed into the country you’re moving to. Some countries can have restrictions on some pretty peculiar things, such as ballpoint pens (Nigeria), chewing gum (Singapore), and Kinder Eggs (the United States). 

Correct packing is another must. During physical inspections, if your goods are a nightmare to look through, the procedure will take even longer and you’ll be charged additional fees. 

What next?

If you already know where and when you’re moving abroad, you’ve got things to be getting on with. 

Firstly, you should make a list, and prioritise the most important stuff – or just borrow our checklist.

Some things are fairly quick (e.g. buying flights), while other things can take a bit longer, such as telling your dog that he can’t come with you.

As long as you’re prepared, you can make sure every aspect of your international move is as cheap as possible. No pressure.

Remember, when it comes to shipping things abroad, a key part of keeping the price down is shopping around. If you want to make this easier, join the thousands of expats that have used our custom-built quote tool to help them with their move. 

Simply pop a few details about your move abroad in this short form, and our expert shipping suppliers will be in touch shortly with their best deals.