As the number of people who up sticks and head for a new country increases year by year the international shipping market for personal goods grows and becomes more sophisticated. Where once an international migrant was at the mercy of one or two freight agents when it came to finding the best shipping rates, now you can quickly and easily compare quotes from a wide range of international shipping providers by filling in a single form on the internet.

But straight shipping costs only tell a small part of the tale. The international shipping business is global in reach and incredibly complex. What factors affect personal cargo prices, how can we expect the industry to change in 2015 and what can an international mover do to minimise the cost of transporting their treasured possessions to their new home abroad?

Freight rate trends

The shipping industry was hit hard by the 2008 financial crash, and it has struggled to come back from it in years since. Shipping giants such as MAERSK, for example, have been losing revenue year on year since 2010.shipping rates are so low right now that it’s cheaper to ship your belongings continuously for an entire year than it would be to keep it in a storage facility. What does this mean for the average consumer who wants to move abroad? Cheaper freight rates!

In order to understand why we’ll need to put on our economist’s hat for a minute.

The overwhelming majority of international freight – both sea and air freight – is not due to people moving countries but to the transport of commodities between nations. As the economic growth of the industry has slowed, demand for consumer goods, construction material and fuel has been depressed. As a result, demand for shipping those goods and materials around the world has also been depressed. Low demand for shipping means that freight carriers have been forced to lower their prices to compete for the remaining business.

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While demand has slowed, supply has increased massively. Several years ago, when the demand was high, shipping companies invested in ships with a much larger capacity. Investors, then, felt that freight rates would grow quickly. As demand stagnated, freights were left with too much capacity, which increased competition between shipping lines, and lowered freight rates. What’s more, shipping lines are still increasing their capacity, meaning that rates should be getting cheaper yet.

So, despite the optimism of some analysts, with global economic prospects looking much the same over the next couple of years as they have in the past couple, good deals on international shipping look set to continue.

Factors which affect the price of your freight

When shipping personal and household goods between countries you’ll most likely be dealing with a shipping agent rather than a shipping company directly. This means you’ll pay just one company who can arrange a door-to-door service for your belongings. But how are the costs they quote you calculated? In general, they’re made of three main cost elements.

The cost of freight

This forms the bulk of the cost and is dependent on the distance between the point of origin and destination as well as the mode of transport: air freight is always more expensive than sea freight (but is also much quicker). Here are the rough prices of transporting 1,000kg of goods from the UK to various destination cities.

The costs above are purely indicative, yet they demonstrate that air freight prices are not only much higher than sea freight prices but also wildly more sensitive to differences in distance. The actual cost of shipping will depend not only on the weight of goods to be shipped but also the volume that they take up when packed – This is due to the high cost of airline fuel and the ability of sea freight companies to take advantage of increased logistical options, leading to longer transport times but much-reduced costs.

20 ft vs 40ft Cost of Shipping Comparison

CountrySea Port20ft Container Cost40ft Container Cost

3,700 ()

6,700 ()


4,200 ()

6,900 ()

New ZealandAuckland

3,700 ()

5,000 ()

New ZealandChristchurch

3,500 ()

5,600 ()


4,200 ()

6,700 ()


4,200 ()

5,500 ()

USALos Angeles

4,800 ()

6,400 ()

USANew York

4,800 ()

6,500 ()

South AfricaCape Town

3,400 ()

7,300 ()

South AfricaJohannesburg

3,800 ()

7,000 ()

Hong KongPort of Hong Kong

3,600 ()

5,000 ()


4,200 ()

5,800 ()


3,300 ()

4,300 ()

The cost of handling

The cost of clearing customs in the destination country is often rolled into the cost quoted by the shipping agent, with any extra costs arising at the destination port invoiced to the customer on delivery. Custom rates vary from country to country. Some agents will also include packing your goods (so they take up the minimum space possible) and offer optional insurance for your valuables at a cost of around 5% of the insurable value.

The cost of haulage

A door-to-door service will also include transporting your goods to and from the ports/airports involved. While this cost can be negligible if you’re moving between two major world cities it can be very significant when you’re moving to a town that isn’t near a major port or to a rural area where there’s a limited choice of local hauliers.

Finding the best shipping companies

Choosing the best shipping company for your international move is a case of more than just comparing several quotes for the best price. Often you’ll be transporting goods of high value (or at least high sentimental value) that are critical for making the transition to your new life as smooth as possible.

Here a few questions you might consider asking your prospective carriers:

  • Do you bill by weight alone or by volumetric weight? How do I verify the cost that appears on my invoice?
  • Do you offer a tracking service so I can monitor the progress of my shipment?
  • Do you offer a packing service to minimise the potential of damage to my belongings?
  • How do you ensure the quality of the hauliers you hire at each end of the route?
  • What is the process for making an insurance claim? How soon can I make a claim? What is the typical wait for a pay out?

If you’re stuck for questions to ask your shipping company, check out our page here. Getting answers to the above should ensure that the few weeks you spend waiting for your shipment aren’t filled with sleepless nights.