Moving Furniture Abroad
If you’re moving abroad then you’re probably hoping to start a new life, but that doesn’t mean you want everything to be new. Better weather, different food and a new job are all very exciting, but there are some things that expats can’t leave behind when they move. Children and pets are first on the list, followed closely by furniture. You don’t realise how much you love your furniture until you imagine leaving it all behind. If you haven’t realised it yet then just imagine a bit harder. Beds, chairs and tables can hold very special places in our hearts, no matter the price. A hand-me-down sofa might be worth more to you than a very expensive mirror (although both are probably very precious).
It’s vital that furniture is given the utmost care during the shipping process. With all the varnished pieces, wooden corners and glass surfaces, there’s a lot that can go wrong. You don’t want to get to your new country and be opening up a container full of shards. It all starts with correct and proper packing. Shipping containers can tilt by nearly 30 degrees during their journey over the ocean, so you need to secure and wrap your belongings like they are very delicate babies. We’re here to offer you the best tips for proper furniture packing before your international move. We’ll cover typical costs, planning, leaving things behind, storage space and useful materials, along with packing guidance for specific furniture items.
Follow our tips closely and you’ll be a furniture-packing demon in no time.
How much will it cost?
Short answer: it varies a lot. The rates people pay depend on several factors, such as how much furniture they are bringing and where they are shipping it to. Typically, a 20ft container filled with furniture would cost about £2000 to send from London to New York, and a 20ft container can normally hold the contents of a two-bedroom house. If you’re lucky enough to own a three-bedroom house (or bigger, wow) then you’ll probably need a 40ft container, which is naturally more expensive to ship. You can use our page on international container shipping costs to get a better idea, or enter your details at the top of the page to get up to six free quotes.
Should I do my own packing?
The vast majority of shipping companies will offer professional packing and unpacking as part of their service, but you don’t have to opt for it. Fees for a professional packing service start at around £100 for 15 cubic meters of cargo (about half a 20ft container), and prices increase with the amount of stuff you’re bringing. Doing your own packing can cut costs by as much as 50%, it just depends on where you get your packing materials. Large corrugated cardboard boxes typically cost between £1 and £2, and standard 10-metre rolls of bubble wrap cost around £5.
Planning your packing
Dismantling and wrapping your furniture sounds very exciting, we know, but you can’t start just yet. First things first, you need to create a plan for your packing. Here’s our plan for how you should create your plan. There’s no such thing as overplanning.
1. Check all the details of your new place. Make sure you know about any furniture that’s over there. There’s no point dragging a wardrobe across the ocean if your new home has already got one. You also need to know the exact dimensions of your new home, especially the doorways. Imagine the sadness of bringing your favourite sofa only to find it won’t fit through the front door. It would have to become one of those weird garden sofas.
2. Create an inventory of your furniture. Grab a pen and paper and list all the items of furniture in your house. A nice, clear list can really help you get a better understanding of the situation – so get someone with good handwriting. Once you’ve listed everything, you can go through it and cut it down. Look for any duplicates or unnecessary items and cross them out. If you do it properly then you should be left with just your bed and your nicest chair.
3. Choose your packing materials. There’s more to this than boxes and sellotape. Overseas packing presents a whole world of wonderful materials, such as corrugated cardboard sheets, furniture blankets and plastic stretch wrap. Once you’ve decided on which items you want to bring, you should consider the materials you’ll need to pack them (see below for more information). Write it all down and then add a bit more for good measure.
4. Inspect your furniture. If you’ve got violent children then you probably inspect your furniture fairly regularly. You need to check the condition of each item and take photographs of any existing damage. That way, if anything gets bumped in transit then you can prove it and claim on insurance (if you have it). You should also be inspecting your most delicate pieces of furniture and deciding whether they need professional packing.
5. Find some strong friends. If you’ve got friends with big arms who are happy to help you, they can be a lot cheaper than hiring professional packers. Just don’t leave it until the last minute to ask them. Decide on the date(s) you’ll be packing your stuff and tell your pals.
6. Get started. A proper plan will make sure you don’t waste any time or money packing stuff that you shouldn’t or can’t bring. It will also prepare you with all the right materials and assistance. Once you’re done using your furniture list, you can roll it up and use it to point at stuff while you tell your family and friends what to do.
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Leaving things behind
The less you bring, the less you pay. It’s a simple fact of (shipping) life. Obviously there will be some pieces of furniture that you won’t be able to part with, but there are lots of good reasons to leave stuff behind. Have a think about some of these points before you prepare your final list of items to ship.
- Will it be cheaper just to buy it again in your new country? Some things are irreplaceable (like your armchair that has slowly molded into your shape) but other things can easily be replaced. Consider the cost of shipping something versus the cost of buying it new.
- What will the weather be like? Wooden furniture is actually very sensitive to the weather, bless it. If you’re going somewhere humid then your antique pieces might suffer, while very dry weather is not good for fine furniture. New, thick furniture is your best all-rounder here.
- Will it actually fit? We’ve already mentioned this one (because it’s very important). Make sure there’s space in your new home for every item you want to bring. Checking the width of your new doorway is a must.
- Do you really need it? Yes, it’s essential to your life now, but your life is about to change. If you can think of a friend who might make better use of something than you are, maybe it’s time to hand it over. Likewise, selling stuff on websites like Gumtree is super easy.
Make use of local storage facilities, like your Mum’s house! Once you’ve decided what you’re leaving behind, there’ll be things that you won’t be able to sell or give away. This is where hired storage spaces become very useful. If you don’t trust your friends or relatives to look after something properly, simply lock it away somewhere until you return (if you’re actually planning to return). Storage facilities come in a huge variety of sizes in order to suit your needs, ranging from tiny cupboards to massive warehouses. A popular option for families is the 100ft space, which is about the size of a regular garage and can normally deal with contents of a 2-3 bedroom house.
Materials for packing
You need to wrap and pack your furniture correctly, but good luck wrapping and packing correctly without the proper materials. Sturdy packing equipment is essential if you want your furniture to arrive in one piece.
What you need
Here are some of the most important materials you’ll need to make your stuff container-friendly:
|Corrugated cardboard sheets||Thick, tough cardboard will be your bread & butter when it comes to proper packing|
|A range of cardboard boxes||Different sizes for different things, such as small book boxes, dish packs and wardrobe cartons|
|Bubble wrap||It sounds silly but three layers of bubble wrap will basically make your wardrobe invincible|
|Plastic shrink wrap||Not very bubbly but super stretchy, good for keeping things tightly in place and protected from dirt|
|Furniture blankets||Big, thick, industrial blankets to wrap around each piece of furniture|
|Sealable plastic bags||Well done, you’ve dismantled your furniture, but where are you going to put all the screws and small parts?|
|Rope||It’s no secret that things like to move around inside a shipping container, so rope is a great way to tie everything down|
|Tape and dispenser||Do not forget the dispenser; you don’t want to be pausing things all the time while you find the end of the tape|
|Labels and big pens||You might think you have a good memory, but you will forget what’s inside each box unless you label everything|
We understand that the range and variety of packing materials on offer can be pretty overwhelming, but everything we’ve mentioned will come in useful at one point or another.
Where to find it
If you’re using a professional packing company, they will provide you with all the necessary equipment and include it in the overall cost. However, if you’ve decided to go it alone then there are loads of options when it comes to finding packing materials. There’s certainly no shortage of packaging wholesalers online, such as U-Haul, Kite Packaging or Amazon. You can also go a bit old-fashioned and try your local hardware shop. Supermarkets normally have lots of cardboard boxes to spare, although you should always check these for loose crisps. There will always be things at home you can use too, such as blankets and duvets (for padding) and old boxes. However, you must not skimp on the quality of your materials. If your furniture is important enough to come with you, it deserves to be wrapped up safely and properly.
General packing tips
Nothing you put in that container should be exposed or loosely packed. Give all your boxes a good shake and if anything rattles then you’ve done it wrong. If you can see the leg of a chair or the corner of a table, start again. We’re sure you’ve got enough common sense to get by, but these tips should help you avoid all the common packing errors eg. shrink wrapping your dog.
- Use space intelligently. If you’re bringing any cabinets or chests of drawers, you may as well make full use of them. While you’re packing, gather together all the smaller items that you’re taking with you and then put them inside the drawers. However, the drawers themselves must be removed before transit. Just shrink-wrap them so their contents stays in place.
- Disassemble everything you can. It might feel a bit sad pulling apart your favourite pieces of furniture, but you’ve got to be cruel to be kind. If they want to come with you then they need to be as compact as possible. If something can be dismantled in any way then you should dismantle it. Bed frames, tables, chairs – show no mercy. You can use small, sealable plastic bags to put the screws and small parts in. Just make sure you take pictures or notes while you disassemble so you know how to put things together again.
- Look after your fragile items. When it comes to packing your delicate items, give it everything you’ve got. Corrugated cardboard sheets, bubble wrap, blankets, the whole lot. Remove any glass parts (if possible) from your pieces of furniture and wrap them separately. If they can’t be removed then put cardboard cutouts around them. Tape a big ‘X’ on any glass surfaces so, if they break, they probably won’t shatter.
- Protect the corners. The corners of your furniture are your heroes on the front line. Of everything you’re bringing, they will be most at risk during the move day. You can buy special ‘furniture corner protectors’ that are perfect for the job, although pieces of thick cardboard are also very effective. Either way, just make sure there’s something between them and the walls of your shipping container.
- Go easy on the shrink wrap. This industrial cling film is brilliant at holding your stuff in place and protecting it from dirt. However, it doesn’t get along with wooden furniture. It causes moisture stains and it can damage the varnish on your more expensive items. You need to find an alternative, the best being a combination of cardboard and bubble wrap.
- Add wax. Speaking of delicate wooden furniture, you can go one step further when it comes to protecting your expensive surfaces. A layer of ‘finishing wax’, applied with a microfibre cloth, is a great way to prevent your wooden furniture from getting any scratches along the way. A few marks on your kitchen table and it looks ‘used’ and ‘loved’, but too many and it just looks dreadful.
- Start packing early. Packing will take longer than you think (unless you think it will take really long) so it’s good to get started early. A couple of months before the move date is best. Refer back to your list of furniture and highlight the items that you won’t need until after you’ve moved. You should pack these first, working down the list toward the items that you use most regularly.
- Load the container in a sensible order. Start with the bigger, heavier items and put them around the sides of the container. It’s a good way to spread the weight and it creates a cushion for the more delicate items in the middle. You should allocate one box for all your essential items that you’ll need upon your arrival (eg. toothbrushes and tea bags) and put this at the front of the container.
Packing specific items
If those tips weren’t detailed enough for you, we’re also going to go mega niche and explain how to pack certain specific items. Sofas, mirrors, grandfather clocks – we’ve got you covered.
Packing a mirror
Broken mirrors are bad luck, so you don’t want to be sending a 20ft container of bad luck to your new country. Pack your mirror properly and you’ll have a life of good luck. Firstly, as mentioned before, it’s important that you tape a big ‘X’ on the surface of your mirror. This way, if the mirror cracks then it’s much less likely to shatter. A broken mirror looks bad but a shattered mirror is basically useless. Cover your mirror in bubble wrap, lay a sheet of corrugated cardboard on either side and then secure everything with tape. You can then wrap it in a big blanket for extra protection. Don’t forget to put separate pieces of thick cardboard around each corner of the mirror.
Packing a lamp
There’s nothing nicer than a really beautiful lamp to light up your living room. If you’re lucky enough to own a good lamp, we don’t blame you for wanting to bring it with you. Remove the bulb and the lampshade first and pack them separately. You’ll be left with a headless lamp and a long wire. Wrap the wire around the body of the lamp and secure everything with tape. Cover the lamp with bubble wrap and place it in a suitably sized box. You’ll want to cushion the lamp with some crumpled newspaper to make it feel extra safe. This will also give it something to read on the long journey over the ocean.
Packing a sofa
It’s not every day that you find a truly comfortable sofa. Most of us spend a fairly large part of our lives sitting on couches and watching television, so it’s important that they do the job properly. If you’re bringing your sofa, the first thing you need to do is try to remove its legs if possible. It sounds gruesome but it will help you get it through all the doorways. Take off all the covers and cushions and pack them separately along with the legs. After that, things get a bit fiddly, but it’s all necessary.
You need to disassemble the frame. Turn the sofa on its back and remove the staples at the base with a Flathead screwdriver. This should allow you to take off (or at least roll back) the upholstery, exposing most of the sofa’s frame. Using a screwdriver or an Allen wrench, remove the screws and bolts that hold the arms, the seat and the back of the sofa together. You should be left with a totally unrecognisable pile of upholstery, pieces of wooden frame and screws. Make sure everything is wrapped thoroughly and safely – a dismantled sofa is still prone to damage if it isn’t packed properly. If your kids want to help but they aren’t strong enough, ask them to take photos while you work so you know how to reassemble the sofa again.
If you need to know how to pack an armchair then just read this section again but swap ‘sofa’ for ‘armchair’.
Packing a desk chair
If you work from home (and your work involves a desk) then a quality desk chair is a big priority. Fortunately, most desk chairs are really easy to disassemble and way less hassle than a sofa. Start by pulling off the wheels – most desk chairs have wheels that pop off pretty easily. If the pop doesn’t happen then try pulling a bit harder. After that, there should be a knob on the bottom of the seat that you can turn until the seat is loose enough to remove. Do the same with the back of the chair. You’ll be left with a strange structure that looks like some kind of insect. Cover each part in bubble wrap and box it all up. If your chair looks difficult to disassemble then simply refer to the original instruction manual. If you’ve lost that then God help you.
Packing a table
Remember the sofa? You need to become a furniture butcher again. Turn the table upside down (not during dinner time) and remove all the legs. This should be pretty easy to unscrew but it may take a bit of elbow grease. Most table legs are attached by something called a ‘leg assembly’, which is a combination of screws and braces. Go at it with a decent screwdriver and you should be done in no time. Once the legs are off, wrap them in a combination of cardboard and bubble wrap. The table itself should be protected by a thick blanket and a few sheets of corrugated cardboard. Make sure you’ve done everything properly; if your table gets damaged on the way then you might be eating your first meal in your new home off the floor.
Packing a grandfather clock
The section you’ve all been waiting for. What’s a home without a big grandfather clock? If you own one then it’s probably very special to you, as most grandfather clocks are tall, expensive and made of very nice wood. To prepare it for the journey, you must first take off the access panel and mess around with the inside bits. There will be several different parts within the clock that all need sufficient protection. The chains need wrapping in newspaper and then joining together with twist ties so they don’t move around during transit. You need to put some foam padding around the cables and the pendulum needs removing entirely. Just lift it a bit and it should unhook from the top. Pack it separately and then cover the clock in cardboard, bubble wrap and blankets.
You’ll have other belongings that don’t classify as furniture but are still worth a quick mention. It’s fairly simple; if the item is small enough, just put it in a box. Dishes, glasses and crockery should go in robust cardboard boxes, although you shouldn’t put too many things in one box. Use blankets and newspaper to make sure small delicate items won’t hit each other during their time in the container. Paper plates and dish towels are also useful ways to create buffers without adding too much weight to your cargo. Similarly, books should go in boxes but never too many in the same box. If you get carried away then you’ll end up with a box that’s just too heavy to carry.
Cleaning your furniture
When you hear the word ‘quarantine’, you probably think about people and pets. Well, you should think about furniture too. Some countries (eg. Australia) have some serious restrictions on the cargo that people import, and they can get really fussy about items of furniture that appear unclean. Even small things like bits of dust, dirt and mold can eventually have a damaging effect on local ecosystems, so you need to arrive with your cargo looking pretty spotless. If a customs official finds one dirty item of furniture then they might end up unpacking everything, and you don’t want that. Obviously gardening items such as tools and outdoor furniture are the main culprits for bringing dirt into other countries, but all your indoor furniture needs a proper inspection too. It sounds a bit gross but wood is a popular place for tiny insects, so you need to check it for signs of infestation (eg. tiny holes). The other incentive to dust and clean your belongings is that is reduces the chances of stains and scratches during transit. Spend a bit of time sprucing up your furniture and you’ll be doing everyone a favour.
Choosing a professional mover
By ‘professional mover’ we don’t mean Michael Jackson, although he was very good. A professional mover is a company that will help you pack all your stuff and send it abroad. They have a lot of expertise and will prove extremely helpful. Obviously their services come at a fee, so you might decide to go it alone if you want to save money. It all depends on a) how many belongings you have, b) how delicate they are and c) how capable you feel.
We hope this page has made you feel super confident about packing everything yourself, but we also understand that professional assistance during such a stressful time is invaluable. A moving company will come round to your house and do the relevant preparation, assessing all the items you’d like to bring and deciding what materials are required. After that, they’ll pack everything with great care and load it onto the container for you. It sounds wonderfully helpful, but then again some people relish a challenge. Especially if the challenge saves you a lot of money. Just do everything properly and you’ll avoid a containerful of smashed mirrors, broken tables and wobbly chairs.