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Moving is never easy. Especially when it comes to international removals. With 18 years experience in this game, I’ve realised a lot can go wrong because every country plays by very different rules.

Here is my guide to everything you need to be asking your international removals company before moving abroad, as well as some tips for ensuring you don’t get left high and dry at customs.

Five Questions to Ask Your International Removals Company

1. Who is your clearing / destination agent / overseas partner when moving, and why? 

Because most UK companies will not have their own presence on the other side of the pond, you should ask your removal company who’s on the other end. Make sure you check online reviews! Ask fellow expats for their experience. If you’re not happy with who the removal company is on the other side of your destination, then insist on using another company.

Looking to move abroad soon? Compare vetted, fully-insured international removals companies in 3 simple steps!

2. Get your own boxes or use the professionals?

International moving companies will always recommend their packing material. This is not to try and get extra dosh off you. Most standard boxes or recycled boxes are not designed or fit for international removals, so it’s best to go with the removals boxes because they are of export quality.

3. Make sure you have the correct type of copy of certified documents if needed

In my experience, if you don’t have the the correct certified copy of documents, it can be very problematic with customs. Some countries require certified copies of documents that can only be obtained in your home country… before departure. So make sure you’ve got these before you set off to your new home!

4. Make sure you read your quotation carefully

Transparency is the most important aspect of international removals. You need a clear breakdown of everything your quote does and doesn’t include, in order to budget for potential mishaps. If you don’t understand anything in your quote, ALWAYS ask for a clear breakdown. Look out:

  • Because it’s not always a door to door service.
  • The last thing you want is your stuff stranded in a foreign depot.
  • Some quotes say “assistance with customs clearance”
  • This may seem pretty vague.
  • That’s because it is.
  • If it doesn’t say “full” it may miss out vital services like dropping your belongings only to the local depot and not to your home.

5. Are there any extra costs involved?

One thing you may not expect is a random examination of your container. This means they may open the container at random at their discretion to do a physical examination. Or they could do an x-ray of the whole container. This may lead to the confiscation of one of your items. They may dispose of it, destroy it… or worse… ship it back!

Don’t end up being like that German professor who was arrested in Rome for having a human skull in his luggage. According to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, he said he bought it at a market stall for 50 euros and was only planning on using it for scientific purposes. The man was charged, and skull confiscated.

This happening to you may seem pretty unlikely but if you’re moving to Australia to join the other nearly 2,000,000 expats according to Pack Send it will be a lot easier to trip up.

Your International Removals Quote

What should be included?

  • Dismantling of furniture (be aware that most companies do not consider IKEA, or any flat pack, normal furniture because it’s not designed to be taken apart and put back together again)
  • Making the inventory
  • Loading furniture onto the container
  • Transport to port of exit
  • Local terminal handling charges
  • Preparation of shipping documentation
  • Freight to arrival
  • Destination terminal handling charges
  • Transport to point of delivery
  • Unloading
  • Placing of all items in rooms as directed by you (please note that there will likely be an extra charge for delivering above the first floor – even if there is a lift!)
  • Unpacking and debris removal on day of delivery (if you want to unpack in your own time the removal company may charge extra if they need to come back later to collect the removal boxes)
  • Reassemble of furniture (not flat pack furniture) This can be quite time-consuming as it can often be easier to dismantle than it is to reassemble.

Top Tips for Getting Past Customs

According to Pack Send, Australia is the most popular destination in the world for British expats. This is due to its great quality of life, good economy and sunshine. However, happy expats and travellers will not vouch for it’s infamously strict customs regardless of how much of an A star celeb you are. Johnny Depp’s dogs will bark in agreement due to their near death experience.

The obvious no-go’s are foods of any kind, traditional medicines or herbs, and animals. According to Australian High Commission you’re also not allowed:

  • Any alcohol above the 2.25 litres limit.
  • Any tobacco products or cigars over the limit of 50 grams, or 50 cigarettes.
  • Overseas/ duty free goods with a combined total price of more than AU$900, including gifts.
  • Goods or samples for business or commercial use.
  • Currency of AU$10,000 or more.
  • Plants, parts of plants, wooden articles, seeds, bulbs, straw, nuts and any animals or animal material.

A not so obvious one is soil or objects with soil attached. So watch out for mud on your golfing equipment, lawn mower, gardening equipment, shoes, camping tent and so on. That’s why you can be made responsible for cleaning your shipping container and making sure there’s no mud on your car tires.

Why so strict?

According to Sydney Moving Guide, Australia tries really hard to keep its unique environment and agricultural industries free from pests. It’s a contamination hazard. The soil may be polluted or contain excrement, bacteria, seeds, etc.

You think that’s bad? You can’t even bring tea! Another one that you may not of thought could get confiscated but most certainly can is an artificial Christmas tree. Why? Because it contains real pines. That means that this showstopper will be confiscated.

But it doesn’t stop there. According to The Telegraph, a gun-toting stuffed armadillo was sent to Australia from Texas as a gift, but its journey stopped at Sydney for breaching Australia’s strict laws on wildlife importation. One official said: “Bad taste should have been enough of a reason not to attempt to bring [it] into the country”.

When moving abroad, watch out for the BIO-SECURITY laws

Especially in the 9th most popular destination for Brits… Germany. (nearly 1,000,000 expats) Many people have had major legal issues over seashells that were brought to Germany. We’re not just talking shells off the beach. I know someone who was heavily fined for travelling back with a shell bracelet from Mexico.

How to avoid this?

declare, declare, declare.

Avoid getting left high and dry

There are some places where corruption is common so if you breach the custom regulations you should expect to pay unofficial extra charges. Countries where I know this has happened include Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Watch out for your DVD collection

Especially if you’re moving to any middle eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Dubai or the United Arab Emirates (being the 15th most popular destination for Brits in the world with nearly 40,000 expats.)

Although it’s a popular expat destination for us Brits due to its high disposable income, good working environment and excellent career prospects, if your DVD collection has not been censored to their satisfaction there could be a serious problem. Even if it’s a PG but has some cheeky cleavage, watch out!

Of course, alcohol is a no go. A less obvious one is anything remotely military.

Avoid military uniforms at all costs

That goes for some camo trousers, no matter how fashionable they are at the minute.

Just remember the common restrictions are food, alcohol and medicine, and also be conscious of the potential religious and politically sensitive restrictions. There are some places where corruption and bribery is common so if you breach the custom regulations you should expect to pay unofficial extra charges. Countries where I know this has happened include: Thailand, Kenya and Nigeria.

These are only limited insights for a few places but the reality is that customs regulations vary greatly all over the world. Want to avoid these traps?

Do your homework

Every country is different. So the customs regulations will be different too. 

Want some help? Get an international moving company through buzzmove. buzzmove only works with reputable, international moving companies that all have the accreditation in place and are even underwritten by a guarantee fund in case something goes wrong.

For instance, if the removal company goes out of business whilst your belongings are out at sea on a big container ship, what will happen? They’ll get stuck in the depot and maybe even deported back! But with a guarantee fund (kind of like ATOL for holidays) FIDI will see that the customer is not left high and dry.

Get a packing service for your international move

To avoid any unnecessary destruction of your possessions, leave things to the professionals – they know what is and isn’t allowed. It’s worth using them to avoid any unnecessary mess ups. You can prepay for potential problems with customs. In this case: don’t chance it because you won’t get a refund if, in fact, it does go well.

If you want smooth sailing, I recommend using the packing service.

Need to book an international removals company for your move? Find and compare international removals quotes in under a minute…

Hopefully these tips and tricks help. But what I hope I’ve made clear is that no two moves are the same. When moving internationally, don’t chance anything. Get as much help and advice from the professionals as possible.

For some extra expat tips go to Expat Exchange or click below on the Easy Expat badge.

EasyExpat.com: Information for Expatriates, Expat Guides