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International Moving, The Basics!








Air - Most expensive way of moving items over seas.  These shipments are designed to ship the items a transferee will need till the sea shipment arrives but can not fit in his own suitcases.  These normally are not designed to ship furniture.   Cost is done by space most of the time unless the customer is shipping an extraordinary amount of heavy items.  

Normal size air shipments are less than 100 cubic feet (4 x 4 x 5).  Transit times are generally 14-22 days depending on customs.  A big issue in this is that since space it the driving force in cost, it is most effective to ship clothes in lay down wardrobes.   The down side of this is that the clothes are going to get wrinkled and may need to be pressed at the other end and this is not covered.   If there are clothes that need to be treated differently then we can use stand up wardrobes, but reality says that it is more cost effective just to pay for the pressing at destination.       

Sea - This is the least expensive way to ship overseas.   Cost is done by weight or space depending on the size of shipment and customers needs. Containers used for these shipments are wooden lift vans (3.5 ft by 7 ft by 7 ft approximately and steel containers either 20, 40, 45 feet and high cube 40 and 45 feet in length.   Transit times will vary depending on where the shipment is coming from and going to.   As a fail safe, 6-8 weeks transit time is about right.   Between USA and UK is 4-6 weeks and USA and Asia is 8-10 weeks as examples.   Lift vans are going to take longer as they have to be consolidated into steel containers at a central location.   Which means it may sit for an extra couple of weeks waiting for similar lift vans to be brought together for the consolidation.  

Waterproofing the sea shipments is something that is very important to everyone.   On steel containers the container is checked for even pinhole leaks.  When the container is dropped off at origin moving company, one person goes in side the container and is shut inside it.   His job then is to move around the container looking for any amount of light at all.   Lift vans are water proofed by having plastic lining all inside the wooden container.

Storage - Is generally done if a transferee sells their house at origin but does not want or can't take all their belongings to the country where they have a temporary assignment.     The items are stored until the employee returns and then the goods are delivered back out to a new home. Some times storage is needed if a home is not ready when the transferee arrives in country.  

Demurrage   - This is when a shipment is inside a steel container and the container is not returned to the port in proper amount of time. Generally it is because a customer's home is not ready and it is cheaper to hold it in the container for a couple of days than unload the shipment and put it into storage.   However, some times customs can take extra time to clear the shipment and the container has to be kept longer than the free time.   Even though customs is the responsible party for this delay, the customer must still pay the demurrage charges as customs has no liability for this.   Please pay special attention to the customs section below as it is very important to control costs.  


The origin agent is the moving company that is responsible for packing, loading and inventory of the shipment at origin.   A trucking company will take the shipment to the airport or sea port.   Then the airline or steam ship line will transport the shipment from port to port.   We hire a company in the destination country to assist and coordinate customs clearance with the local destination agent in the new country.   Then there is another trucking company in the new country to move the container from the port to the destination moving company.    The moving company at destination will deliver the container to thenew residence, unload, unpack and remove the debris.   That brings us to Ace/Atlas; it is our job to bring all these companies together to give our customers a one stop shopping experience.  


Customs are completely different from country to country.   Every government has their own policies and procedures when it comes to this area. For the most part, they have no rhyme or reason as to why they do things and they answer to no one.   Clearing customs can take one day or 3 weeks and any where in between.   Inspecting containers post 9/11 is done a lot more and costs will be passed along.   Most are done by X-ray but some are manually inspected as well.   Giving the customs department easy to read and properly filled out paperwork helps, but guarantees nothing.   If the inspector ishaving a bad day and wants to take it out on someone, they can and do.   Passports must be scanned and emailed now; fax copies will not be acceptedat any time.  


Unlike domestic moves, there is no free coverage given at all.   If the account does not purchase insurance on the shipment, then there is $0 liability on any ones behalf for damage or loss.   Cost being charged to ETC is $20/$1,000 on sea, $15/$1,000 on air and $9/$1,000 for catastrophic loss only.   This is a full replacement coverage with a $0 deductible.   Employees should fill out a valued inventory form stating the worth of their belongings.   If customer will not fill this out then minimum we allow is the weight of the shipment multiplied by $8 per pound. Example is 5,000 lbs shipment minimum policy would be $40,000.  


Furniture is handled differently.   On domestic moves we just pad wrap furniture with our nice thick quilt pads.   Unfortunately they are too expensive to be sent over seas and never to be seen again.   So each piece of furniture must be wrapped by paper or dolphin pad and then corrugated card board used to box up each piece of furniture. Remember that containers do not have air ride suspensions like domestic trucks. Containers must be loaded floor to ceiling and if any room is left over, a bulk head wall must be built.   Also space is an issue because if youcan not get every thing into the original container, the overflow cost is astronomically expensive.   So if the space is tight, then the crew will be dismantling the furniture as much as possible tomake the load as compact as possible.   At destination the crew will then un-wrap all the furniture, reassemble, put into place and then empty all the boxes that were packed at origin as well.   They will remove all this debris when they are done and this is all standard operating procedure.

Packed by owner boxes are strongly discouraged on international shipments: not only from an insurance issue but from a customs issue as well.   If a customs department sees on the inventories that boxes were not packed by the neutral third party company, they get more suspicious about the contents inside those boxes.   This means the customs agent is more likely to target that shipment for inspections which costs more money and slows the shipment down.  

The most common move in international is called door to door service.   This means the transferee opens the door at origin and opens the door at destination and every thing else is done for them.   There is also warehouse to door and door to warehouse.   But in the corporate world this is rarely ever done.  


What items require crating?   This is an age old question in the moving industry.   Crating is an additional charge over and above the cost of the move and is not cheap.   My policy for our customers is any piece of marble larger than 20 inches in any one direction, glass table tops with any one measurement larger than 48 inches, any plasma tv that does not have the original packaging material, any piece of artwork that is valued at more than $5,000 each and finally any kind of fragile item that is to large to fit into an ordinary box safely (chandeliers, taxidermy, etc...).


There are 2 ways to ship autos, either in the container or roll on roll off (RO/RO).   Depending on cost which is varied by amount of household goods, number of vehicles and locations will depend on which cost is better.   A container with vehicles takes longer to clear customs which can be a factor as well.   Nothing may be loaded inside the auto if it is going ro-ro, just like shipping the auto domestically on car carriers.  


Depending on what country the transferee is going to and if that person is a citizen of that country along with what they are shipping in will determine if they will have to pay any duties and taxes.   Asia is the most difficult region for this topic.   US citizens returning to the United States rarely have to pay any duties or taxes.  


Atlas is the 2nd largest motor carrier in the United States.   Moving companies are like car dealerships, so the local offices are independently owned and operated by people other than corporate office. International shipping is not like domestic in that we do not have to use Atlas or Ace agents only.  


On every single move we are given by an account we send it out to bid to 3 different companies on every step of the process.   We have vendors set up that we deal with all the time and they are aware of our service requirements and clear they are being bid against on each move.   Our goal is not to have the cheapest move possible, but to have a high level of quality service at a competitive price.   If we took just the cheapest price, then the quality of service would be very low.  

Cost of fuel is something that is hitting the industry hard.   Keep in mind that the trucks, boats and planes all run on this and our costs have doubled in the last few years.   The big trucks get all of 5 miles to the gallon.


This is one of the toughest things to do in our industry.   Normally on international moves you are dealing with high level executives, and they have an expectation that every thing must go perfect.   Keep in mind that the people who are actually doing the moving for a living just have high school educations.   The average guy doing this makes $15 per hour. (with over time they are making around $40,000 per year) Packing and moving furniture is very tough to do every single day of your work life.   In order to provide the kind of white glove service wanted by some people being moved the cost of moving would increase by 50%.   In this day and age we all know that companies do not write blank checks for relocations.