Planning on moving abroad? You’re probably thinking of ways to cut costs, like not buying insurance. But wait! This is a silly idea and you might end up kicking yourself for it. We offer loads of advice on how to save money when moving overseas, but skimping on insurance is not one of our top tips.

Sending your belongings across the ocean is a bit more risky than moving a few miles down the road. The vast majority of containers arrive in their new country tickety-boo, but it’s impossible for a shipping company to guarantee the safety of your goods. Someone drops something. Storms happen. Nobody’s ever actually disproved the existence of huge sea monsters that like eating furniture. You just can’t take any chances out there.

Container terminal

What is removals insurance?

It’s perfectly simple. Removals insurance (or marine cargo insurance) will protect your belongings while they move from one country to another. It depends on the type of policy you choose (see below) but, generally speaking, your cargo will be protected against loss and damage from the moment it leaves your house until it reaches your new front door.

The high seas sound dangerous but actually the most common claims made by international movers are not very exciting. They usually relate to dents, scuffs and scratches. A container ship can tilt by up to 30 degrees while it sails over the ocean, which can lead to a little bit of slipping and sliding inside the containers. We all like furniture to have that ‘loved and worn’ appearance, but ‘bruised and battered’ is a bit far. Pack your belongings properly, get removals insurance and you’ll sleep easy.

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Different types of removals insurance

Every insurance provider offers their own unique policies with slightly different terms, but here is a general idea of the options you’ll encounter. Your choice ultimately depends on your budget and how risky you’re prepared to be. If your furniture’s important enough to bring with you, it’s important enough to be insured properly.

Total loss coverage

This is the cheapest option. Total loss coverage depends on the entirety of your belongings being lost or destroyed before you are reimbursed. If a mighty storm sends half your furniture into the ocean but the other half reaches the port, you won’t be getting a payout. On the other hand, if your whole container splashes into the sea then you’ll get the money to replace everything. Partial loss is no good to you here.

Named perils coverage

Your furniture is a little bit more protected with this one. Named perils coverage will insure your goods against a list of specific things, but not everything. Common perils on this kind of policy include vehicle accidents, fire damage and theft. As with total loss coverage, you’re protecting your belongings against the most major events, but you’re still not covered for the most common problems. A burnt sofa is getting replaced, but a scuffed sofa is going straight into your new home.

All risk coverage

This is the one that your furniture really wants you to buy. All risk coverage is the most expensive option but it’s worth it. All your belongings are protected against any kind of damage, as long as they are professionally packed. If you pack everything yourself, the insurance company will just blame the scrapes and scratches on your naff packing.

Valuing your goods

All these insurance companies need to know the total value of your goods, and that’s down to you to work out. You’ll be asked to create a detailed inventory of all your belongings and their individual values. These are based on each item’s replacement cost at destination, not the amount of money you originally bought it for. If your plush leather three-seater sofa cost £1000 to buy in your home country but a similar product in your new country is only £750, this is the amount you value it at. However, it’s also vital that you don’t undervalue anything. There’s no point saving on premiums if you’re not going to get an adequate payout.

Working out the replacement cost of your items in your destination country sounds like hassle, but there are several helpful resources available to you. Speak to the people at the embassy of your new country, who should have access to information about typical prices and the cost of living. You can also get in touch via forums with expats who are already living out there. If all else fails, there’s a stack of information on the internet – just make sure to verify it with a reliable source.

Your inventory is also there to help you make a claim once you’ve received your goods. If you notice a dodgy dent on your priceless dining room table then you need to be able to prove that the dent wasn’t there before shipment. If you’ve prepared your inventory properly, that should be easy. For all your particularly expensive items, make sure you describe their pre-shipment condition in a lot of detail and take loads of photos. Use a good camera and get all the angles.

Lots of shipping containers

Choosing a removals insurance provider

Who will you buy your removals insurance from? You’ve got two choices: a shipping company or a separate insurance company. Either will do the trick, but you must make sure you’re paying for it. Removals insurance offered for free by a shipping company is almost always too good to be true. The limited liability coverage that they talk about is usually worth just £40 per item (or box of items) and you have to prove that any damage has been caused by their negligence. What’s more, it only covers you for total loss. So it’s barely any money and you’ve got to jump through several hoops to get it. If your £2000 flat-screen television gets smashed up on the open waves, £40 just won’t cut it.

This is why you need to make sure you’re paying for proper coverage, either as a paid add-on from a shipping company or a separate policy with an insurance company.

How much does removals insurance cost?

The vast majority of removals insurance policies typically cost somewhere between 1-4% of the total declared value of your goods. Naturally, the more comprehensive and protective the policy, the higher the percentage. The difference between one or two percent sounds negligible, but when that’s applied to £30,000 worth of household goods, one percent can make a big difference. It makes sense to shop around.

Keeping insurance costs down

The cost of your insurance depends almost entirely on two things: the value of your goods and the distance they are travelling. If you’ve already chosen your new country then you can’t do much about the distance, but you can do something about the value of your goods.

Take less stuff, duh. Look at everything you want to bring and decide whether it’s really worth it. If you think really long and hard, you’ll find that some items are probably not that necessary. The less you bring, the less you’ll have to insure.

There’ll also be things that are very high in sentimental value. If you’ve got something that’s ultimately irreplaceable, what’s the point of insuring it? This sounds slightly counterintuitive, but if your grandma’s paintings catch fire in the warehouse, you can’t exactly buy them again.

Container trucks

Packing things professionally

You might have all the right gear, but you’ll still never be as good as a professional packer. We’ve already mentioned that many insurance companies will not give you full coverage unless your belongings have been packed by professionals, so in some cases you don’t really have a choice. This is particularly the case with very delicate or expensive items, such as pianos, antiques and Persian rugs. Let the people with the know-how box up your things.

Checking your removals insurance policy

You’ve got to read the small print! We all like to skip over the terms & conditions, but there are some that just can’t be ignored. You must know exactly what your insurance policy covers before sending your belongings in a container over the sea.

In particular, there are certain common perils related to sea freight that it’s important to be protected against. If they aren’t included in the policy, most companies will offer them as optional add-ons for an extra fee. These are:

Mould and mildew. Inside a shipping container, damp is a very real possibility, especially if it’s travelling through the tropics to get to your new country. Once it gets humid inside a container, your belongings are exposed to the risk of mould and mildew. Professional packing and a secure container will help enormously, but there’s no way to guarantee 100% protection from mould.

Electrical derangement. No, this is not when your washing machine goes crazy. It’s when your electrical appliances stop working after transit, even though there is no physical sign of damage. Sometimes things go wrong with the circuitry of white goods as they travel over the ocean. If you’re bringing over a few electrical appliances, insuring yourself against electrical derangement is wise.

Pairs and sets. What good is a set of four dining room chairs if one of them is broken? Or a pair of blue china dishes if one of them has shattered into a thousand pieces? If part of a pair or set breaks during transit, having this cover means your insurance company will pay for the replacement of the whole pair or set. It sucks to be the part of the pair that survives the journey, because you get binned and it’s all the fault of your weak partner.

You should also check the policy for items that you aren’t allowed to bring with you. If your furniture gets damaged by another object in your container that you weren’t supposed to bring, you won’t be able to make a claim. Think twice before you take your gas cylinders, buckets of paint, swords and switchblades.

Making a claim on your removals insurance

You’ve opened the container and unpacked your belongings into your new home. Let’s say there are a few damages you need to report. Maybe your favourite mirror’s cracked and your coffee table’s bashed. What now? You need to make a claim, and quickly. Every insurance policy will give you a grace period after the arrival of your goods in which you can make a claim, which is normally around seven days (but it varies widely).

It’s no good waiting until you need to make a claim to work out how to do it. Each insurance company will have a slightly different procedure that you need to follow. Get your head around this procedure before your goods get going across the sea, so you know exactly what to do if they arrive damaged. Yes, this involves more reading of the small print.

What next?

Hopefully you’re feeling all fired up about removals insurance. It’s a vital part of international relocation and it’s not a cost you can cut. If you’re thinking of moving abroad, you’ve probably got a few belongings that you’d like to bring with you. Fill in the form at the top of this page for shipping quotes, and up to six of our suppliers will get back to you with their best prices. For more information, check out our page about international shipping costs.