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, 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 this lovely summary of our top tips for moving abroad cheaply.

1. Choose sea freight over air freight

As a website that exclusively offers sea freight, you might find this one a little suspicious, but hear us out. 

When you’re looking for the cheapest way to move belongings overseas, container ships should be your first port of call. According to the World Bank, ocean freight is usually between 12-16 times cheaper than air freight

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 20-30 days to travel from China to the US, a freight plane can nip over in just three (source: Freightos). 

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

It wins out on the carbon footprint front, too; the CO2 emissions of container ships are utterly dwarfed by the nasty coughings of overhead planes. 

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. You know what dear 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 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.

Get a grip on time and you won’t miss the boat. Start contacting shipping companies at least three or 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 MoveHub can help. Just fill in this short form with a few details, and up to six suppliers will be in touch. 

However, make sure you ask for a full breakdown of each quote, so you know exactly what you’re being offered. Shipping companies can offer a range of services, including professional packing/unpacking, insurance cover, and full door-to-door delivery.

Select the size of your move to get free quotes

4. 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. 

This advice is coming straight from the folks at Skyscanner, and boy do they know about flying. 

  • Buy tickets seven weeks in advance for short-haul flights
  • Buy tickets eighteen 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 weirdly 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.

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

5. 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) 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 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, then 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.

BelongingSell it or ship it?
ClothingSell it
BooksSell them
ShoesProbably sell
Kitchen appliancesFor goodness sake, sell them
TelevisionS e l l

6. FCL or 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 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 are 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 2-3 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.

7. 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. You’ll see your hard-earned hoard of unspent pennies shrink as it drops into your new bank account. 

There are ways to avoid this happening, or at least keep the losses minimal. Firstly, you could open an international bank account. Most high street banks in the UK (e.g. Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC) have international branches, and it means you’ll be able to hold multiple different currencies in one account. 

Plus, if you do need to convert your cash, most international bank accounts offer exceptionally low exchange rates. 

The catch? Money. Yes, to open an international bank account, you often need to make quite a hefty opening deposit. For example, Barclays ask for no less than £25,000. 

As an alternative, international services such as TransferWise and TorFX use a fair, mid-market rate that isn’t subject to hidden bank fees.

8. Learn the local language

Familiarise yourself with your new country’s native language. This is one hell of a  wholesome and self-improving journey toward lower living costs. It’s indirect, but it does the trick. 

How? Well, knowing the language means you can mix with the locals, and 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. You can charm local vendors and haggle down prices, impressing them with your knowledge of their mother tongue.

What’s more, if your children arrive with a solid grasp of the local lingo, then public schooling suddenly becomes much more feasible. Otherwise you’ll have to opt for private, English-speaking schools. 

Proper fee-paying face-to-face language classes are the best way to start learning. However, for a budget way to kick off proceedings, try free language-learning apps like Duolingo.

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. 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’re wanting to bring in. This sounds nosey, but it helps border officials calculate customs duty, as well as keep an eye on anything untoward. 

Not that you’d be clumsy enough to declare the untoward stuff. But the vast majority of containers around the world are either x-ray scanned or physically inspected (or both), so don’t even 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. 

Don’t worry – our suppliers are a friendly, helpful bunch, and will be able to help you through the entirety of the customs process.

11. Move to a cheap country

Say that out loud, but with your tongue in your cheek. 

Moving to a country with low living costs is easier said than done, as you might not have much freedom to choose where you’re going. Perhaps you’re relocating for a job, or you’ve already got your heart set on somewhere very specific. 

However, if you haven’t worked out where you’re going yet and you’re still at the ‘stick a pin in a map while blindfolded’ stage, move the blindfold down slightly and stick a pin in one of the world’s more affordable countries. 

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.

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. 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.

To start collecting shipping quotes for your move, simply fill in this form and our suppliers will be in touch. Good luck!