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Preparing for a Long-distance Move

The experience of moving to a new home can be freeing and exhilarating, but it can also be stressful and maddening. Preparing for a long-distance move feels like a second job in the run-up, like some project management task someone handed you where you’re paying to do it instead of getting paid. 

preparing for a long-distance move


I have done big moves many times now, domestic and international, and there is a certain joy to shedding possessions so you don’t move with things that you don’t really need or want. Most of the people with hoarding problems I’ve encountered in my life are really just people who have seldom (or never) needed to move. There’s no pressing need for them to pare down so the clutter just builds up. 

In many ways it’s easier to move within your own country than it is to move to a foreign one, even if you’re going from one coast to another. In my younger days when I had a corporate job, the company promoted me and paid for my move from Nashville to New York City. That was a dream: they boxed up all my things, loaded boxes and furniture onto a big truck, and pulled my car up into it too. On the other end they unloaded everything and I was good to go. 

When we’ve moved on our own or helped our daughter out, we’ve either rented a truck, paid a moving company, or used one of those pod systems. You load up the pod, they pick it up, and then they deliver it to your new address. You unpack it yourself (or pay for some help) and then they take it away on the designated day. 

There’s a huge price difference between that corporate option and the DIY ones, but even those aren’t cheap. You have to really shop around. 

Then there’s the question of how you’re going to get your car to where you’re going if you’re not driving it yourself. Unless your cousin Ed is ready to drive it there, you might need to use an auto transport service to take care of it. Then you have to choose “enclosed” or “open” pricing, which can be anywhere from 50 cents a mile to $2 a mile. See Sherpa Auto Transport reviews to get an idea of prices and how the service works. 

The process gets much more complicated when you cross international borders though. Once you find the place that speaks to you and you’ve done a trial run to make sure it’s a great fit, then it’s time to start figuring out what to do about all your belongings. 

International Relocation – The Minimalist Approach

Since I’m the author of a popular book about moving abroad, naturally I get a lot of questions about this from readers. It comes up almost as much as healthcare for expats and what to do about a mailing address

I’m not really a very good guide on how to make a big move though because I (and a whole lot of expats I know) have taken a rather minimalist and gradual path to moving to a new country. For most people using this method, there are several steps: 

1) Fly where you’re going with suitcases, maybe paying extra baggage charges.

2) Pick up whatever you need locally (obviously much easier if you rent a furnished apartment). 

3) Each time you go back to your original home, bring back more of what you left behind. 

international relocation with suitcases

There are variations on this method, such as people who can bring a whole SUV- or truck-load of things to Mexico or Guatemala because they’re driving from the USA or Canada. Or from the UK to Portugal.

Regardless, the rush to bring that second and third batch can depend on your storage situation where you left. If you’re paying for storage, you’re in a hurry. If things are sitting in a relative’s garage, which is the case for me, it might take years. 

The interesting thing about this method is that most people realize they don’t miss hardly anything they left behind. A favorite kitchen utensil here, some favorite keepsakes or framed photos there. Once you learn to live with less, you will probably realize you don’t mind so much. You don’t need 200 outfits after all and you aren’t going to read many books twice anyway…

The ease of doing this can depend greatly on where you’re moving to of course and it has gotten much easier over time almost everywhere. When I first moved to Mexico it was hard to get a whole lot of household items and if we did buy them they would cost twice as much as they did in the USA. Then the stores started stocking more, Mercado Libre came along, then Amazon Mexico launched. Now there’s hardly any reason to bring anything heavy down from the north. 

Some countries can be tougher though. Expats in Argentina always complain about the crappy overpriced electronics there and in a lot of places it’s tough to get quality clothing, sheets, and towels without spending more than you wanted. Sometimes you have to pull up a calculator and figure out whether it’s cheaper to load up a suitcase in your origin country and pay extra bag fees or to just suck it up and pay double for nice towels in your destination country. 

Keep in mind that there are ways to get creative about the baggage situation. Some premium credit cards give you some kind of credit you can use for anything, such as extra bags. I used one of those credits on our first move down to the house we bought to check two bags each. If you fly business class, you usually get two or sometimes three checked bags included. That might justify the premium fare, especially if you can find a good international flight sale.  

A Long-Distance Move With Big Loads

international moving companies

The articles about moving abroad that you see in some publications talk a lot about the perk of importing $10,000 of goods duty-free or the perk of being able to bring in your own car. I seriously wonder how many people actually take advantage of those supposed perks because I’m not sure why your average person will pay high shipping fees to bring a container’s worth of goods and a car to Panama or Ecuador and then arrange how to get it all to their new front door. 

I’m sure there are some people who are bringing specialized tools, musical instruments, antique furniture, or other special items, but in general I’d say it’s nearly always more financially advantageous to get what you need locally. This is especially true with furniture in Latin America and Asia: you can usually get a local craftsman to build something custom for you at a cost that’s far less than you would have spent to ship a dresser, a wardrobe, or bed frame. And it’ll fit the space perfectly.

I’ve seen friends that were in my city in Mexico for only six months or a year order metal end tables or wooden bookcases because the work was so inexpensive. They just left them when they moved out. 

In many developing countries, you can actually get things fixed too, so they last longer. Twice I’ve had a laptop cord die and I didn’t have to buy a new one: I got them repaired for a few dollars at TV repair shop—yes they still have those in many countries. There’s a shop in the market near our house that does one thing really well: they repair blenders. I’m getting ready to make a trip to a tailor to get a backpack and a daypack outfitted with new straps after the old ones came apart. 

Depending on where you’re going, you may be able to move goods by land, especially if you’re just moving from the UK to somewhere else in Europe. Otherwise, it’ll probably be by air or by sea. The sea route costs can depend on the actual route, for distance and for logistics if there is a canal to cross, for instance. If you do need to ship a bunch of things to another country though, here are some aspects to keep in mind: 

1) The easiest option, but the most expensive, is to hire an international moving broker who will arrange everything from door-to-door and take care of all the paperwork. Then you only have one company to deal with. Or if you’re lucky and you’re getting a corporate job transfer, maybe the HR department will handle the headaches! 

2) You can just pay for the shipping of goods with one company, then the transportation to/from the ports with other companies. This works better for a full container load (FCL) rather than a less than container load (LCL)

3) If you don’t have enough to fill a container, you’ll have to pay for the whole thing anyway or sign up with a company that combines customers into one container. This is popular for people moving to or from Belize, for instance, since there’s just one main port and nothing is very far from there. It’s not so easy for giant Mexico or other countries with multiple shipping ports. 

4) What about DHL? Yes, if you’re not shipping furniture or other huge items, you may be able to just use an international shipping company to get your goods from your old city to the new city by air freight. This will be fast, the second-fastest way after taking them on a plane yourself, but it’s seldom cheap.  

5) Shipping a car to another country is more complicated and expensive than moving goods to another country. There are extra fees involved, extra documents involved (especially if there’s still a loan on it), and permits that your sofa doesn’t require. Again, do your homework: because of differing emissions laws, importation laws, and tax issues, you will have to get very detail-oriented to get car shipping done right. You may want to check local dealer prices where you’re going first to see if it’s worth it. 

Moving Internationally With Pets

relocation with a pet

I have no first-hand experience with moving a pet to another country but I’ve heard plenty of stories good and bad from people who have done it. One small dog or cat is no big deal, especially if driving to Mexico or within Europe overland. Multiple versions of either gets more complicated, then when you get outside of cats and dogs, you start running into smuggling laws and quarantines, especially with tropical birds and reptiles. 

Speaking of quarantine, you’re probably in for a long separation time if you’re moving to an island. You need to read the local requirements carefully because Fido may be put into solitary in a shelter for weeks or months—at your expense of course—before you can join together again.

Even when that’s not the case, you’ll need your domesticated animal to have all the right shots and have the paperwork to prove you have done it. 

How about you? Have you gone through some kind of long-distance move to another country? Did you use one of the international moving services or did you pare down first and just take what you could carry?

Kale Eros

Monday 9th of January 2023

Thanks for sharing this blog, Keep it up!


Wednesday 4th of January 2023

I have been thinking of moving overseas to be closer to my friends, and this article really helped out a lot thank you for bringing this to our attention, I am sure there are a lot of people who want to live a life with less stress and financial burdens. Thanks again


Tuesday 3rd of January 2023

Thanks for another great article Tim! My wife and I are working on 4th move, which will also be our first out of the States. Yes, moving within the US is much easier than crossing an international border.

Keep up the great work, please!!