Cheapest way to move belongings overseas: a practical guide

Gabriela Peratello

Moving abroad for work, study or retirement? You’re probably wondering how to move your belongings overseas. Read on for all you need to know.

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Planning your international move

So: how do I ship my belongings overseas? Firstly, you need a plan. Exactly what you need to do will depend on where you’re going and how much you need to take, but generally you’ll want to:

  1. Create an inventory of your belongings

  2. Declutter and downsize as much as possible before the move

  3. Research shipping options and costs, including customs duties, and taxes

  4. Come up with a timeline plan and budget for your relocation

One valuable resource at this point is an online shipping quote comparison tool from a service like Movehub®².

You’ll be able to enter where you need to move your things from and to, and generate 6 different quotes from reputable international moving services.

This can help you get an outline budget pulled together with no obligation, so you can move on with your more detailed plan

Learn more about finding international movers here - plus, if you have pets, get our full guide to pet relocation.

What should you consider before shipping your belongings overseas?

There are different ways to move your belongings, from simply sticking most stuff in storage (or selling it in the US) and traveling with a backpack, to moving your entire life in a shipping container to your new home. Which suits you will depend entirely on the move you have planned.

Consider the following to help you decide what to do with your belongings:
  • Costs of moving: including packing, shipping, customs and tax

  • Convenience and time: self pack or have someone do it for you?

  • Paperwork and admin: some of this you can do yourself, but you’ll usually need dedicated support

  • Speed: how urgent is it to get your belongings at the other end?

We’ll look at the key considerations and options in more detail next.

What is the cheapest way to move belongings overseas?

The most common ways to move belongings overseas are sea freight or air freight. Here’s how they work.

Shipping your belongings by sea freight

Sea freight - also called ocean freight - involves putting your boxes of goods into a container, for delivery by ship.

It’s usually the most cost-effective option for large volumes of household goods - but it can be a pretty slow process, depending on where you’re moving to.

Depending on how much you’re moving you’ll have the choice of

  • Less than Container Load (LCL)
  • Full Container Load (FCL)

As the names suggest, FCL means you have full use of a container (20 ft or 40 ft), and can fill it entirely with your things. LCL means you share a container with others.

If you’re shipping smaller volumes, LCL may be the cheaper way to go, but as your container is shared it may take slightly longer than FCL because loads have to be consolidated, packed and unpacked from the container, and delivered to different destinations.

Shipping your belongings by air freight

If speed and convenience is most important to you, you may prefer air freight.

Air freight will get your stuff where you need it in no time at all. However, as you may expect, it is far more expensive than other options, particularly for larger shipments.

Is it cheaper to ship by sea or air?

It’s far cheaper to ship large volumes of goods by ship compared to by air. In fact, popular moving website Movehub states it can be 12 to 16 times cheaper to use ocean freight compared to air freight³.

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Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information

How do you ship your belongings overseas?

So there are your options. You’re probably still wondering: how to ship my stuff overseas on a practical level?

You can break down your choices into 2 broad categories - self packing and using an end to end moving service.

Using International Moving Companies

International moving companies offer different package options, from a full end to end service which includes packing and unpacking, delivery, and complete support with customs and other paperwork, to partial support services which can be cheaper.

Exactly what works best for you will depend on how much you need to ship and any time or budget constraints you’re working with.

How can you choose a reliable international moving company?

The easiest way to choose a reliable international moving company is to start with a tool like Movehub’s quote generator which comes up with several different costing options for moving services.

Narrow down your options based on availability and price, and then look out for customer reviews and ratings on services like Trustpilot®⁴ and Google®⁵.

Bear in mind also that any company that ships household goods or vehicles from the US by sea must be licensed or registered with the Federal Maritime Commission⁶ - don’t choose any unlicensed provider and double check the credentials of any service you’re considering.

Self-packing and container shipping services

If you’d prefer, you can also look at packing and shipping your belongings using container shipping services. In this case you’re paying pretty much only for the shipping - you’ll need to buy your packing materials, and pack everything up, and then unpack at the other end.

There will also often be more paperwork for you to do, although this does depend on the exact situation and which provider you pick.

Self packing has the advantage of likely cost savings compared to an end to end service - plus you’ll also have more flexibility to get packed and organized on your own schedule.

Tips for saving money when shipping stuff overseas

Moving your stuff overseas is going to cost. But keeping the prices down is still possible - here are some options to consider:

  • Sell or donate non-essential items, to avoid the cost and hassle of moving them

  • Consider storing items that aren't essential with friends and family

  • Compare quotes from different companies to get the best one for you

  • Book your shipping well in advance for better rates

  • Consider getting insurance to protect against loss or damage during the move - it could save you money in the end

Moving abroad is exciting, but does come with its share of practical challenges. Use this guide to how to move belongings overseas from the US to help create your move plan and budget - and take a look at how Wise can help cut the costs of life overseas, too.


  1. Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information
  2. Movehub comparison and quote tool
  3. Movehub - cheapest ways to move
  4. Trustpilot
  5. Google
  6. FMC - international moving dos and don'ts

Sources checked on 08.21.2023

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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