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. Sometimes quite a lot of money, too. 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 there. But you shouldn’t let money worries put a downer on your big plans! Luckily, our wise heads at MoveHub know how to cut moving costs and we’re delighted to share our advice with you.

Before you start reading, take a look at our video below for a quick summary of the cheapest ways to move abroad.

1. Choose sea freight over air freight

The cheapest international shipping option is via the open waves. Sailing your stuff across the sea is miles better value than doing it through the air. You can send a lot more cargo on a ship than you can on a plane and at a mere fraction of the cost.

Take this as an example: to send the contents of a one-bedroom flat from the UK to Australia, it would cost about £1700 by sea or nearly £7000 by air. Yes, the savings are big.

Obviously ships take longer than planes to reach their destination, but that’s one of the reasons they’re so much cheaper. A plane full of cargo can get from the UK to Australia in about two or three days, while a container ship will take up to one month.

This is why advanced planning is our next bit of advice! You can read our wonderful page about container shipping costs to learn a whole lot more.

2. Give yourself time

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

Ben was thinking specifically about moving abroad when he wrote that. Almost every aspect of your move will benefit hugely from 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 then 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.

And we’re not finished yet: visas, work permits and pet passports (if necessary) can also get more expensive if they’re applied for at short notice. You don’t want to be paying premium prices for fast-tracked visa applications and expedited shipments. If you’re bad at time keeping then we strongly recommend that you invest in a good watch.

3. Compare shipping quotes

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 choosing the first shipper you find.

This is where MoveHub comes in. Fortunately, we can help you make the right choice. Just head here or go to the form at the top of this page and enter your journey details. Up to six suppliers will get back to you with their best price.

Obviously ‘best’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘lowest’; make sure you check with each company as to what their offer includes. Add-ons such as door-to-door delivery, professional packing assistance, and full cargo insurance are usually good things to have.

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4. Buy flights at exactly the right moment

Hold on! There is one thing that mega advanced planning doesn’t really help with: flights.

It turns out that the cheapest time to buy plane tickets is not simply ‘as soon as possible’ but actually at a very specific time. This exact moment varies depending on the route, although some studies have tried to work out a general rule. Skyscanner reckons that seven weeks in advance is the best time to buy tickets for short haul flights and eighteen weeks 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 weirdly specific enough for you, airlines also recommend Sundays as the best day of the week to book your plane tickets. Off-peak seasons naturally 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.

Handy sites like JacksFlightClub and Hitlist will send you email alerts when flights are cheap.

5. Sell the stuff you don’t need

When you’re moving to a new country, you should take half the stuff (and twice the cash) that 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 it feels ok, 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 very pricey, so maybe it’s time to assess the true value of your furry friends. If Fido and Mittens are coming with you then check out our mega-detailed page about pet relocation.

Once you’ve decided what you’re leaving behind, you can then start to sell it all on websites like eBay. If it won’t sell, donate it to charity or give it to a friend. If literally nobody wants it then maybe just put it in the bin. Lastly, you can hire a bit of cheap storage for your nonessential sentimental items (eg. your old teddy bear).

So what’s the point? You’ll make some extra cash by selling all your unwanted items, and the less you bring, the cheaper your shipment will be. 

6. Use groupage shipments

It can get lonely in a shipping container. If the total volume of your belongings is small enough then it’s possible to share the space with other people’s stuff.

There are two options when it comes to overseas shipping: Full Container Load (FCL) and Less Than Container Load (LCL), and LCL is much more cost-effective. Providing the size of your cargo is no more than around 15 cubic metres, opting for LCL will give you much better value.

7. Open an international bank account

Sounds pretty glamorous, right? An international bank account will save you from a world of money headaches. Moving money abroad and earning a new salary in foreign currency can make things quite complicated. You’ll be subject to exchange rate fluctuations and all sorts of transaction fees. Fortunately, there are clever ways to deal with your finances during an international move, and it can save you quite a bit of money.

Most importantly, an international bank account allows you to hold several different currencies at the same time, so you don’t have to convert your cash. If you do need to transfer money abroad, these fancy bank accounts also come with good exchange rates and low fees. International bank accounts are fairly easy to set up, although they do normally require a large opening deposit.

As a less scary alternative, international services such as TransferWise use a fair, mid-market rate that isn’t subject to hidden bank fees. Don’t worry, there are always people out there who want to help you.

8. Move to a cheap country

If you’re not fussy about where you go, why not choose somewhere cheap?

For some people, moving abroad is more about getting away from their home country rather than their new location. At MoveHub, we recently took every country’s cost of living data and turned it into a big colourful map. Feel free to check it out and use the info to help you with your decision making. If it’s simply hot weather you’re after, sunshine and humidity comes much cheaper in Southeast Asia than it does in Australia. Fuel, food and beer are cheaper, too.

However, you’ve also got to think about more serious things like healthcare and education. Higher day-to-day living costs might end up being worth your while if the country also provides state-sponsored healthcare and free public schooling. International schools are a great option in non-English speaking countries, but they can be rather expensive.

9. Learn the local language

Sorry, here’s a more sensible suggestion: familiarise yourself with your new country’s native language (and have your kids learn it too).

If your children arrive with a solid grasp of the local lingo then public schooling suddenly becomes much more feasible. What’s more, if you know the language then you’ll save money in all sorts of ways, particularly by being able to mix more easily with locals. Nobody will have better knowledge of your new town or city than your neighbours and colleagues. If they’re nice people, they’ll tell you where you can get the best value for money, from bars and restaurants to hairdressers and shops. The faster you integrate with the community, the better.

If you’re going ultra rogue and moving to a country that uses different numerals (eg. China), learning these will help you spot the best bargains in supermarkets. Imagine all those ‘2 for 1’ signs you could be missing. Free language-learning apps like Duolingo are the perfect place to start.

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10. 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 HM Revenue & Customs. Americans still have to file a tax return even when they’re living abroad, but the forms 2555 and 1116 ensure that they pay a lot less.

Ok, the boring tax part is over.

11. Do your own packing

This one really depends on how determined you are to save money. Doing your own packing takes some serious effort but it means you avoid paying for a moving company to do it for you.

It’s important to make sure all your stuff is packed neatly and tightly so as to minimise any movement or damage during transit. That’s why we’ve got complete guides on loading a 20-foot container and loading a 40-foot container. Yes, we’re very thorough.

Your moving company should help to provide you with free packing materials, and if that’s not enough then you can normally find other supplies for free on places like Craigslist and U-Haul. Make sure you get a few strong friends round on packing day; it can take up to five hours to load a 20-foot container. A 40-foot container? Don’t ask.

(It’s ten hours.)

What next?

If you already know where & when you’re moving abroad then you’ve got things to be getting on with. Maybe you should make a list and prioritise the most important stuff. 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. Joking again, please bring your dog. As long as you’re prepared, you can make sure every aspect of your international move is as cheap as possible. No pressure.

To start collecting quotes for your move, fill in the form at the top of this page and our suppliers will get back to you. Good luck!