A Guide to International Moving Costs
Staying in the same country all your life is overrated. If you’re thinking of moving abroad then we’re very excited for you. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in a different culture; everything is new and challenging but it’s an awesome experience. However, there’s a bit of thinking and planning to do before you can get to the fun stuff. International removals aren’t free, and we’d like to guide you through the 11 key costs of moving abroad. Once you know about these, you can start budgeting for your move and get the ball rolling.
We’ve also created some helpful guides to most of the key international moving costs, so you’ll find links to these throughout the page (in bright pink). If you’re moving on a tight budget, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start with our rundown of the 11 cheapest ways to move abroad.
Unloading cargo at the Port of Miami, USA
1. Shipping your belongings
Let’s start with the obvious one. Moving abroad almost always involves bringing a few belongings with you, ranging from a couple of boxes to the contents of a five-bedroom house. You could eliminate this cost entirely by just taking a rucksack, but it’s rare that someone sets off completely empty handed. There are five key things that determine how expensive your shipping costs will be:
- The type of transportation (sea freight or air freight)
- How much you bring (the volume or weight of your goods)
- The journey distance (more miles means more money)
- The destination port (customs duties will vary)
- The time of year (peak season vs low season)
Take a look at our wonderful guide to international container shipping costs, complete with flashy maps and stacks of helpful info.
Estimated cost: Anything from £1000 to £5,000+, depending on the variables above. Use our form at the top of the page to compare removal quotes. Fill in your details and you’ll get accurate, personal quotations from our shipping suppliers.
2. Packing and unpacking
If you thought packing for your holidays was a drag, get ready for a whole new level of drag. Preparing all your belongings for an international shipment is a big task. You need lots of sturdy materials, a detailed plan and some strong arms. Fortunately, most shipping companies offer professional packing and unpacking as part of their service (along with the loading and unloading of your container), so you can breathe easy. They also provide all the materials you’ll need, from industrial shrink wrap to good old-fashioned cardboard boxes. If you fancy a challenge, doing your own packing and loading will save you some money, but the option to use professionals is always there. Either way, your furniture deserves looking after.
For more information, head to our page on moving furniture abroad, where we go into some serious detail about how to pack your belongings.
Estimated cost: Fees for a professional packing/unpacking and loading/unloading service generally start at about £100 for half a 20ft container (15 cubic meters), but more cargo means higher prices. Packing everything yourself can easily cut costs by over 50%, depending on where you source your materials from. You can get large corrugated cardboard boxes for as little as £1.50 per box, while ten-metre rolls of bubble wrap come in at about £5-6.
A container ship sails at sunset
3. Removals insurance
Insurance is obviously a cost you can bypass if you’re a risk taker, but we don’t recommend it. Spend a bit of money on protecting your cargo during transit and everything will be a lot less stressful. Ocean freight has certainly become much safer over the years, what with digital container tracking and strict regulation from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), but it’s never going to be perfectly smooth sailing. Shipping containers can tilt by up to 30 degrees during their journey over the sea, so that’s a lot of slipping and sliding if things aren’t packed properly. Most shipping companies include basic insurance cover as part of their service, but it doesn’t go very far. That’s why we recommend you pay for extra cover or just take out a separate policy that’s much more comprehensive.
Visit our breakdown of international removals insurance for more guidance.
Estimated cost: Quotes from cargo insurance companies are based entirely on the monetary value of your goods, not the volume or weight. To insure cargo worth £40,000 (the typical value of the contents of a three-bedroom house, as estimated by Admiral Insurance) travelling from the UK to Australia, it would cost about £700 to £800. Lower value goods and shorter distances will naturally incur cheaper premiums.
Select the size of your move to get free quotes
4. Hiring storage space
Renting storage space is like getting a new apartment for your furniture, except you’re not allowed to come. There are two reasons you might need to hire some storage space: one, if you’re flying out ahead of your shipment date and your cargo needs a place to wait, and two, if you’re leaving stuff behind that you’d like to keep for when you return (if you ever want to return). Some furniture will have to come with you, some will get sold, and the rest will be in that annoying third category of ‘can’t bring but can’t get rid of’. If you don’t have any friends or relatives who’ll take something off your hands, this is when hired storage space comes in handy.
To learn more, check out our page (and video) about international storage. Yes, it’s very exciting.
Estimated cost: Prices for storage units are based on the size of the space you’re hiring, generally measured in square feet. A 100 sq ft storage space (approximately equivalent to the contents of a two-bedroom house) will cost about £270 per calendar month, with most companies applying a discount if you use them for long periods.
5. Paying customs duty
Customs duty is basically a tax on everything that’s coming into a country. Rates vary between countries and they’re rarely included in shipping companies’ prices, so you need to allow for additional fees when you’re looking at sea freight quotes. Customs duties are great for protecting domestic economies but they’re a real pain when you’re the one paying them. Fortunately, most countries have duty-free policies for people who are importing used household goods for personal use. There are a bunch of specific requirements (that vary from country to country) but ultimately a shipment of furniture for your new house is likely to avoid high duty rates. Australia and the USA, for example, both have duty-free policies for household goods. However, there are certain things that will never escape customs duty, such as motor vehicles.
Have a watch of Ben Tyrell (Head of MoveHub) go into more detail about clearing customs.
Estimated cost: Rates can range from 0% – 100% of an item’s purchased value, depending on what it is and where it’s going.. This sounds scary, but the global average for customs duties is just 1.8%, which isn’t too bad.
6. Getting a visa
Getting all your belongings through customs is one thing, but you need to get yourself through, too. Every country comes with specific visa requirements, so you should make sure you can satisfy them before planning a big move abroad. Obviously there are certain visa exemption arrangements between countries that get along with each other, but most of these arrangements are only helpful to short-term travellers, not permanent movers. If you have a family member from the country you want to move to then you’re in luck; most family-based visas are much easier to acquire than employment-based ones. Otherwise, you’ll most likely have to find a job in a new country before you can move there permanently. It’s a time-consuming process but it’s vital if you’re serious about moving abroad.
We’ve got a wealth of information about visas for all of our most popular routes. If you’re moving from the UK, perhaps you’ll want to read our guides to visas for the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Alternately, if you’re moving to the UK, we have pages on UK visas from the USA and from Australia.
Estimated cost: Visa fees vary widely depending on what you’re applying for and where you want to move. For example, the fees for the most common employment-based US visa are around £450, while the equivalent visa for Australia costs about £2100. Those looking to move to the UK on the General Worker Visa will have to pay between £450 and £1200, depending on the length of their stay. Meanwhile, moving between EU countries is almost always free.
7. Buying a new property
You’ll need somewhere to live in your new country, so the cost of buying (or renting) a house is unavoidable. Unless you’ve been lucky enough to inherit a house from a distant relative in a foreign country, this isn’t really a cost you can ignore. Once you’ve decided on a country and a city to move to, you then need to know about the best neighbourhoods. Speaking to people on expat forums is a great way to do this research, and you can learn lots about living in a foreign city before you move there. Local estate agents will also be able to help you, although their services will obviously come with a fee.
Estimated cost: Trying to estimate the typical cost of a house around the world would be rather silly. Instead, we recommend you check out FairFX’s property cost calculator to see the average price of a house in each country – it’s really easy to use. For example, as of June 2018, the average property price in Australia is £395,026, while it’s a bit steeper in the USA at £408,981.
Colourful houses in Burano, Italy
8. Booking flights
Moving to a new country normally involves more than one flight. You’ll probably want to pay one or two visits to a country before you decide on permanently moving there so you can get a feel for what it’s like. If you need an employment-based visa for your new country, you may have to fly there for an interview. Likewise, you might want to see a house in person before deciding to buy or rent it. Going on multiple international flights sounds expensive but it’s necessary. It’s better than moving straight away and then hating your new country.
Estimated cost: Skyscanner recommend that you should buy plane tickets about 18 weeks in advance for long-haul flights and seven weeks in advance for short-haul flights. With this in mind, one-way flights from the UK to New York should cost around £200 and one-way flights from the UK to Sydney should cost around £400. On Skyscanner, go for the ‘Compare across a whole month’ option to find the cheapest day to travel.
9. Moving your pets
If you’ve decided that your dog or cat (or anything else) really must come with you, they need a plane ticket too. Apart from the really small ones, most pets have to travel in the plane’s cargo hold. Don’t worry, it’s a special pressurised and air-conditioned part of the plane – the dogs aren’t in the same place as the suitcases. Along with the cost of the flight, there are a few other things that you’ll have to pay for:
- Vaccinations (eg. rabies)
- Pet passport
- IATA-approved travel crate
This is a fairly big subject, so we’ve created a very detailed page about international pet relocation costs. It’s got loads of helpful information, price tables, pet requirements for many different countries and some cracking dog photos.
Estimated cost: It usually costs between £500 and £1500 to move a cat abroad while dogs are more expensive, with fees typically ranging between £1000 and £4000. These costs depend on several things, such as the breed and size of the animal and its individual veterinary requirements.
A Rhodesian Ridgeback dog sits on a sofa
10. Buying new furniture
You’re unlikely to bring all your belongings with you to a new country, even if you wanted to, simply because some things won’t be allowed and some things won’t work. Each country has a different voltage system, which makes certain electronic appliances (eg. fridges, washing machines) incompatible once they move countries. For example, the voltage in the UK is a mighty 240V while in the US it’s only 120V, so many electronic appliances bought in the UK will not have enough power in the States. A voltage converter can help in certain cases, but sometimes you’ll just have to buy new/second-hand and leave your old stuff behind. Similarly, if you’re moving to a very hot or humid country then you might want to leave some of your valuable wooden furniture behind. Wood is sensitive to the weather and very old or very thin furniture might suffer in the heat.
Estimated cost: The costs will vary hugely, depending on what you’re buying and where you’re buying it. Check out international sites such as eBay and Craigslist for second-hand furniture and electronic appliances to save on buying everything new.
11. Transferring money abroad
We really do recommend you bring some money with you. Thankfully, in the modern world you don’t have to ship a 20ft container full of cash. You can send it all electronically, but international money transfers come at a cost. We’re here to tell you that you should be using services like TransferWise or OFX instead of banks. Banks will either charge you high fees or give you a deeply unfavourable exchange rate, or both. In contrast, TransferWise and OFX (plus others) give you the real exchange rate and much lower fees. It’s a no-brainer, honestly.
Of course we have our own page on transferring money abroad, full of hot tips and pictures of cash. You can read all about the importance of forward contracts (they’re very useful).
Estimated cost: Most banks charge a 5% margin on the daily exchange rate, so an overseas transfer of £1000 will cost you £50 (plus fixed fees). In contrast, services like TransferWise and OFX charge no margin on the exchange rate and have lower fees.
We hope we haven’t taken away all of your excitement. It’s a long and fairly overwhelming list but nothing you can’t navigate. We think it’s important to have a realistic idea of all the international moving costs so you can budget and prepare properly. Fortunately, there are loads of ways to save money along the way, from cutting down on the furniture you bring to booking flights well in advance. If all these prices have scared you, remember that moving to a new country is a brilliant, mind-blowing experience and you can’t put a price on that.