• 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 exciting but costly. 

Just when you think you’ve dealt with one thing, something else crops up. If you’re not careful, things like shipping container costs, 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. 

Select the size of your move to get free quotes

11 top tips for moving overseas cheaply – summary

1. Choose sea freight over air freight
2. Give yourself time
3. Compare shipping quotes
4. Prepare for overseas finance
5. Buy flights at exactly the right moment
6. Get your pets vaccinated
7. Sell the stuff you don’t need
8. FCL or LCL?
9. Sort out your taxes
10. Get insurance
11. Avoid unnecessary customs duty

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 than air freight. 

Ocean freight is currently 16.7 times cheaper than air freight, according to consultant Drewry Supply Chain Advisors

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

According to S&P Global, container shipping capacity is set to grow by 10% year-on-year in 2024, while container volume will only do so by 4%.

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.

For example, if it costs around £7,000 to ship a 20ft container (around £14,000 for a 40ft container) from London to New York, imagine shipping the same amount of households goods via air freight.

Your goods will get there much quicker, but the huge increase in cost likely won’t be worth the convenience.

cartoon plane and container ship

As well as being cheaper, 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.

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 major 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.

You could also check out our comparison reviews of the best shipping companies before getting quotes – this way you’ll get a better idea of which one you’ll be most comfortable using.

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

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. Not only will you have to sort out a return flight for your pet, 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.

You can also get an idea for what you’ll spend on relocating your pet with our guide on pet relocation costs.

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, just put it in the bin. 

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. 

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

Paying tax is really important, but you shouldn’t 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

You’ll never know if you’ll need insurance – but it’s exceptionally important to have it.

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 yourself. 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). 

If you’re curious, we’ve written about what you can’t bring with you to 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. 

Ways to move overseas cheaply: FAQs

Here are the answers to some of our most popular queries about moving abroad without breaking the bank.

Can you move abroad with no money?

You should have money to cover at least your flights, any visa applications you might need, and a few weeks of accommodation fees. You don’t need a huge amount of savings, but it’s a good idea to save what you can in the months or weeks leading up to your move to cover these costs.

In an ideal scenario though, you’ll want as much saved as you can without impacting your life too much in the country you’re currently living in.

How much will it cost to move abroad?

It typically costs between £7,000 and £11,000 to move all your belongings from the UK to most places in Asia and North America.

Moving everything in your life to Oceania or Africa usually costs £6,000-£7,000, while a relocation to Europe will typically set you back £3,000-£6,000.

Other expenses will heavily depend on your situation, but can include the cost of your accommodation, visa, insurance, and travel.

What are the cheapest places to move to?

Here’s a list of some of the cheapest places in the world to move to:

  • Mexico
  • Ecuador
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Colombia
  • Vietnam

Of course, how cheap a place will be to live in will always depend on your lifestyle and additional expenses. Even the cheapest places to live in can become expensive if you don’t manage your finances well.

Can you just move overseas?

You can’t just move overseas without extensive research and planning.

You have to take the steps to ensure you’re allowed to live in your chosen destination, figure out whether you’ll need to work and how to gain permission to do so, and sort out a home to live in.

Then it’s a matter of deciding which belongings you’ll take with, how much of your old life you’ll leave in place, and how you’ll set yourself up in your new location – and those are just the main considerations.

Can UK citizens move abroad?

UK citizens can certainly move abroad – more easily than most countries’ citizens, in most cases.

You also don’t need to worry about losing your UK citizenship if you move abroad.

You can even usually vote in UK elections from overseas.

What is the best age to move overseas?

There is no best age to move overseas that applies to everyone.

Many people in their twenties and thirties move abroad and have a wonderful time, but that also applies to middle-aged people and retirees.

There’s also no wrong age to move overseas. Every experience is different and every relocation is a risk – but so is life. If you want to move abroad, do the research, and make an informed decision either way.