Planning on moving abroad? Congratulations! It’s an exciting time ahead. However, there are some logistical things that you need to think about first. You’ll most likely have some belongings that you want shipping somewhere. Depending on the size of the move, this can range from a couple of boxes to the contents of a fancy five-bedroom house.

International container shipping rates can sometimes be a pretty complex business but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. On this page we’ll break down all the factors that determine shipping costs and help you make the best decision for your move. To start collecting quotes now, simply fill in the form at the top of this page. You should also take a look at our top 11 cheapest ways to move abroad.

Before you go on and read, watch Ben Tyrrell (Head of MoveHub) explain the basics of international container shipping costs:

Container shipping costs by country

Take a look below to get an idea of how much your move is going to cost. We’ve focused on some of our most popular journeys from the UK and the US, but you can use this as a rough indicator for any route. Check out the lovely maps and tables. You can hover over any country to see the typical rates. 

Shipping rates from the UK

Destination Port20ft Container40ft Container
New York, USA

1825 ()

2420 ()

Los Angeles, USA

1762 ()

2337 ()

Sydney, AUS

1360 ()

1804 ()

Melbourne, AUS

1332 ()

1766 ()

Auckland, NZ

1560 ()

2069 ()

Montreal, CAN

1894 ()

2512 ()

Vancouver, CAN

1903 ()

2524 ()

Singapore, SIN

765 ()

1016 ()

Shanghai, CHI

1602 ()

2125 ()

Hong Kong, HK

1784 ()

2362 ()

Cape Town, SAF

1320 ()

1751 ()

Limassol, CYP

1009 ()

1339 ()

Barcelona, ESP

818 ()

1085 ()

Marseilles, FRA

801 ()

1063 ()

Shipping rates from the USA

Destination Port20ft Container40ft Container
London, UK

1241 ()

1460 ()

Dublin, IRE

1275 ()

1500 ()

Barcelona, ESP

1374 ()

1616 ()

Hamburg, GER

1195 ()

1406 ()

Montreal, CAN

649 ()

812 ()

Vancouver, CAN

3966 ()

4957 ()

Tokyo, JPN

2487 ()

2926 ()

Singapore, SIN

3111 ()

3661 ()

Shanghai, CHI

2511 ()

2954 ()

Hong Kong, HK

2369 ()

2787 ()

Sydney, AUS

3798 ()

4468 ()

Melbourne, AUS

3725 ()

4383 ()

Auckland, NZ

4013 ()

4721 ()

We’ve sourced these shipping rates from WorldFreightRates.com and they’re based on the port-to-port transportation of a full container load of household goods worth £40,000 (or $55,000). This amount is based on the average value of the contents of a three-bedroom house, estimated by Admiral Insurance. These rates are excluding things like taxes and duties, of course.

If you want to know more about the differences between 20-foot and 40-foot containers then we discuss them in more detail further down the page. We bet you can barely contain your excitement.

The five factors of shipping costs

There are five key things that determine international container shipping costs:

  1. The volume or weight of the goods
  2. The type of transportation
  3. The journey distance
  4. The destination port
  5. The time of year

1. The volume or weight of the goods:  It’s not officially one or the other because it depends on what type of shipping you’re using. When it comes to sea freight, the dimensions of your goods are the most important, while planes care more about the weight of your goods.

2. The type of transportation:  Will your goods be flying or sailing? The mode of transport will determine both the price and the time it takes for your belongings to arrive. Air freight tends to be the quicker and more costly alternative to sea freight, so if you’ve got time to spare then you should definitely opt for the ocean.

3. The journey distance:  This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re shipping your stuff halfway across the world then it’s going to cost more than a short trip across the Mediterranean. Whether your move is port-to-port or door-to-door will also affect costs; if your shipping company is going to transport your goods all the way from your old front door to your brand new one then this will bump up the price. Despite this, we thoroughly recommend door-to-door services as they can prevent logistical headaches.

4. The destination port: Customs duties and service charges are unavoidable but they will vary from country to country. Naturally, the arrival destination of your goods will determine how much you have to pay in the way of customs and taxes. Check out our breakdown of these various charges near the end of the page.

5. The time of year: International shipping has peak seasons, just like any other industry. These generally occur in the summer (between August and September) and just after the Chinese New Year (between January and February). During peak season, demand is greater, prices are higher and capacity is more limited. It’s best to avoid shipping at these times if you want the lowest prices.

Select the size of your move to get free quotes

Shipping container sizes

There are actually about 16 different kinds of shipping container, but luckily there are only two that you need to know about: the 20-foot and the 40-foot. The rest are generally for business-related and industrial moves. Here are all the key dimensions of the 20-foot and 40-foot containers (no prizes for guessing how long they are):

Measurements20ft Container40ft Container
Exterior Length6.06m / 20ft12.2m / 40ft
Exterior Width2.44m / 8ft2.44 / 8ft
Exterior Height2.60m / 8ft 6in2.60m / 8ft 6in
Interior Length5.9m / 19ft 4in12.03m / 39ft 5in
Interior Width2.35m / 7ft 9in2.35m / 7ft 9in
Interior Height2.39m / 7ft 10in2.39m / 7ft 10in
Cubic Capacity1170cf / 33.13cbm2387cf / 67.6cbm
Floor Space150 sq ft305 sq ft
Max Gross Weight30480kg30480kg

20-foot container

A 20-foot container will typically hold the contents of a three-bedroom house. This means stuff like furniture, beds, fridges, TVs and storage boxes. The actual volume of a 20-foot container is 33 cubic metres (cbm), but in reality there is normally only about 25-28 cbm of usable space. If cbm doesn’t mean anything to you then here are some other ways to visualise the space inside a 20-foot container. It’s about the size of a single garage, and it can hold all this stuff (but not all at once):

  • 100 washing machines
  • 400 flat-screen TVs
  • 200 full-sized mattresses
  • 50-60 fridges
  • 48,000 bananas
  • 10 standard pallets

We’ve also made a nice infographic to give you an even better idea. If you’re lucky enough to own five bikes then it turns out you can bring all of them.

Boxes: 16 x medium boxes, Kitchen: 1 x american fridge, 1 x small fridge, 3 x kitchen appliances, Bedrooms: 1 x wardrobe, 1 x double bed, 1 x single bed, 2 x lamps, Lounge: 1 x sofa, 4 x chairs, 1 x table, 1 x armchair, 1 x television, Various: 1 x motorbike, 4 x bicycles

40-foot container

A 40-foot container will give you double the amount of space and it doesn’t come at twice the price, so it’s definitely better value for money if you have a lot of stuff to bring. Most houses with four (or more) bedrooms will most likely need a 40-foot container, unless it’s one of those trendy houses without much furniture. The 40-foot container technically contains 67 cbm of space, although only about 54-58 cbm ends up being usable. If you want another visual aid, just double the numbers we gave you for the 20-foot container. Here’s that funky purple infographic again:

Boxes: 28 x medium boxes, Kitchen: 1 x american fridge, 1 x small fridge, 3 x kitchen appliances, Bedrooms: 1 x wardrobe, 1 x double bed, 1 x single bed, 2 x lamps, Lounge: 1 x sofa, 4 x chairs, 1 x table, 1 x armchair, 1 x television, Various: 1 x motorbike, 4 x bicycles, 1x car

Once you’ve chosen a container, you’ll need to pack all of your belongings. Check out our super handy guide to moving furniture abroad.

Shipping a car

Can’t leave your trusty four-wheels behind? When it comes to shipping a car, the 20-foot container is big enough but it won’t leave a lot of room for other cargo. Therefore, if you want to bring your car along with the contents of your household then you’ll most likely need a 40-foot container. Here’s our guide to shipping cars.

Full container load versus less than container load

Depending on the volume of goods you want to ship, you may not need to pay for the use of a whole container. Shipping companies have devised a system for people with smaller amounts of cargo where several customers can share the space of a single container. This is called a ‘less than container load’ (LCL) or a part-load shipment. Typically, people who are moving the contents of a one-bedroom flat can opt for LCL, but volumes greater than that will usually require a whole container. This is called a ‘full container load’ (FCL) or sole-use shipment. It’s a bit like the difference between a private taxi and a bus.

Why choose full container load?

It’s better value. In terms of cost per cubic metre, you get more bang for your buck with an FCL. The shipping company will charge you a flat rate for the use of the container rather than making you pay for the specific volume of your goods.

It’s faster.  When you’re sharing a container with other people’s cargo, there’s more waiting involved. Belongings have to be loaded and unloaded at each port and then placed on separate trucks, while an FCL shipment doesn’t need to be opened until it’s at your new house. The extra time required by LCL can vary, ranging from 4-5 days to a couple of weeks. It all depends on where you’re going and the company you’re shipping with.

Your goods are safer.  With all the extra handling, LCL comes with an increased risk. The loading and unloading that happens at each port means that LCL shipments are moved around more often than FCL shipments. Naturally, this puts your belongings at greater risk of being damaged. FCL is much more advisable if you have fragile goods to bring with you.

You can ship a car. If you’re sharing the use of a container with other people, transporting a car is too risky. Cars are very safely secured in shipping containers but they are big and heavy things, meaning there is always the potential for damaging other people’s cargo. FCL is the solution here.

Why choose less than container load?

It’s the cheapest way to ship small volumes. If you don’t actually have that much stuff to bring with you, it would be silly to hire a whole container. Everything will just rattle around once it starts moving. LCL is the most cost-effective method for smaller moves and it’s quite common that someone will have only a couple of boxes to bring. Students who are travelling abroad just for a year or so regularly opt for LCL. However, there is a point where you should switch from LCL to FCL, even if you don’t have enough to fill a container. Shipping companies advise that any shipment over 15 cbm should be sent by FCL, as this is actually more economical.

Sea freight or air freight?

Choice of transport is another big factor when it comes to international shipping costs. It’s all about balancing your priorities. What’s more important to you, getting your things shipped as quickly as possible or keeping costs down? Moving your belongings by sea and by air are the two most popular options for international moves.

Why choose sea freight?

Sea freight is comparatively low cost. Generally speaking, sea freight is about five times cheaper than air freight. To give you an idea, shipping the contents of a one-bedroom flat from the UK to Australia by sea costs around £1700. Ship the same contents by air and you’re looking at a bill of around £7000. See our price comparison table below for more details.

Container ships are the most eco-friendly option. In contrast to air or road transport, ships on the ocean are the least detrimental in terms of carbon emissions. 

Sending a container from Shanghai to Le Havre (France) emits fewer greenhouse gases than the truck that takes the container on to Lyon” (Rose George, Ninety Percent of Everything).

Why choose air freight?

Cargo planes are faster. If you’re in a hurry to ship your belongings, transporting them as air freight is by far the fastest method of shipping. Between any two global destinations, it will usually take about 1 to 3 days. Compare this with a container ship’s journey from the UK to Australia, which takes on average 32 days. The ocean is a big place and a ship full of thousands of steel containers can only go so fast (about 23 mph).

Flying your stuff is safer. Shipping by air is your best bet if you want to transport a small amount of your more valuable and time-sensitive possessions. Air freight tends to be more closely tracked and monitored than sea freight, making losses less likely. You’ll find insuring your belongings as air freight is cheap, reflecting the low risk involved.

Comparing sea and air freight rates

Wondering how the prices differ? We’ve made another lovely table to give you a better idea. As you can see, there is a pretty huge difference. If you go with sea freight then you’ll have to wait a lot longer for your belongings to reach their new country, but the benefits to your bank account are significant.

Destination PortAir Freight Rate (250kg)Sea Freight Rate (250kg)
New York, USA

1799 ()

451 ()

Los Angeles, USA

1801 ()

458 ()

Montreal, CAN

1823 ()

468 ()

Melbourne, AUS

1798 ()

329 ()

Auckland, NZ

1815 ()

386 ()

Cape Town, SAF

2211 ()

326 ()

Tokyo, JPN

1822 ()

391 ()

Singapore, SIN

1839 ()

271 ()

Hong Kong, HK

1828 ()

440 ()

Shanghai, CHI

2086 ()

396 ()

Limassol, CYP

1888 ()

271 ()

Marseilles, FRA

1840 ()

271 ()

We’ve sourced these prices from WorldFreightRates.com and they are based on the port-to-port (or airport-to-airport) transportation of a 250kg load of household goods worth $30,000. The sea freight rates are for LCL.

Truck freight or train freight?

If your international move doesn’t involve crossing any oceans then sea freight is irrelevant. Of course, planes are still an option, but your cheapest solutions for a land move are trucks and trains. Even a move from the UK to Europe will most likely not need a container ship, as trucks can take the ferry.

Why choose truck freight?

Trucks are more flexible. We’re not referring to those articulated lorries that can bend round tight corners. Transporting your belongings by road means that they can be delivered right to your door without loading and unloading along the way. Unless you’re moving to a house next to a train station, opting for rail means that your goods will have to be transferred to a truck before they can reach you. What’s more, a truck’s time schedule is much less restricted than that of a train.  

Why choose train freight?

Rail is more economical and more ecological. Double whammy! Trains are the container ships of the land, offering a cheaper and greener alternative to trucks. They are also more reliable when it comes to reaching their destination on time, as they are not subjected to the traffic problems and bad weather that can blight road travel. Old, dependable locomotives!

Other costs to consider

It doesn’t stop there. Once you know the volume and/or weight of your goods, the container size, whether it’s an FCL or LCL shipment and what kind of transport you’ll be using, there are still a few additional costs that you need to think about.

Customs duties

You can’t do much about customs duties. Your destination country will tax your cargo whether you like it or not, along with fees such as port service charges and terminal handling charges. However, these will of course vary from port to port so you should speak to your shipping company beforehand about what to expect. Our key piece of advice is to declare everything you’re bringing into the country and don’t take anything that isn’t allowed. Have a watch of this video to understand more about customs and to learn what shipping companies can do to help you through them.

Container inspection fees

With the technological advance of electronic scanning machines, it’s unlikely that your container will be physically inspected. In the USA, just 5% of inbound containers receive physical inspection, and it’s even less common in European ports. However, if the scans give customs staff any reason to be suspicious then your container will most likely be opened and investigated. In this scenario, shipping companies will usually ask you to cover all the charges incurred by this process.

General Rate Increase (GRI)

A General Rate Increase (GRI) is the average rise in base shipping rates implemented by shipping companies. They are designed to cover the continually increasing costs faced by freight carriers and they occur very regularly (sometimes once a month). A continual cycle occurs: shipping companies implement GRIs, demand falls, they lower their prices, demand rises and another GRI is implemented. This is what makes container shipping prices so volatile. Consequently, once your Cargo Ready Date (CRD) has been agreed with your shipping company, be sure to check whether it falls before or after a new GRI as this can make a significant difference to the price.

Inland delivery charges

You need to make sure that your shipping company is clear with you about what service they are providing. They might only be offering you a port-to-port rate, which means they’ll deliver your container to its destination port and then you’ll have to deal with it after that. This can often be more costly than opting for a full door-to-door service and it’s a bunch of logistics that you probably don’t want to deal with. Be kind to yourself and make sure your container is being taken all the way to your new home.

Quarantine fees

Quarantine fees sound like a thing reserved solely for animals, but this is not the case in some countries. In Australia, for example, people there are worried about foreign pests (eg. insects or bacteria) disrupting their ecosystem. Officials will inspect all items coming into the country, looking for unclean pieces of furniture and outdoor equipment. This inspection comes with a fee, along with further charges if they find something that shouldn’t be coming in. It’s important that you know about any quarantine process before you start packing your belongings, so speak to your shipping company.

Do I need shipping insurance?

In short: yes. International shipping isn’t always smooth sailing, so insuring your cargo is a no-brainer. There are, however, several reasons why international shipping has become an increasingly safe prospect for your belongings, so you shouldn’t worry about opting for sea freight.

Intermodal transportation

This fancy term basically means the use of several different types of transport. By utilising steel containers with standardised, universal measurements, the global shipping industry has found a way to move cargo seamlessly between sea transport and land transport without having to unload each time. The same container can travel by ship, train and truck all the way to your new house. Handling of goods is less frequent which means damages are far less likely. There are 50,000 merchant ships in the world fleet and they have all embraced intermodal transportation.

Tracking

Most international container ships can hold over 10,000 20-foot containers with the world’s largest container ship carrying up to 18,000 – the mighty Maersk Triple-E. To put that into context, the biggest container ship in 1956 could hold only 800 containers. With all the steel boxes on board these modern vessels, it’s vital that they are all accounted for. Most shipping companies use ISO codes to track every container electronically.

Regulation

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulates all global shipping. The sea can be a dangerous place so it is vital that the IMO hold all container ships to rigorous standards.

So, although international shipping is safe, it doesn’t mean that accidents don’t happen. Getting shipping insurance is a sensible option and shipping companies strongly advise it. You can check out our specific guide to international removals insurance.

Next steps

Hopefully we’ve made international shipping costs a little easier to navigate. There is a long list of factors and considerations but nothing that MoveHub or your shipping company can’t help you with. The next step is to find your best price. There’s an easy way to do this: simply fill in the form at the top of this page and up to 6 suppliers will get back to you with their quotes. If you’re having to choose between several shipping companies, we go through 2018’s best shipping companies here. Best of luck with your move!

Fun fact: in one year, the average container ship travels the same distance as a journey to the moon (and halfway back)!