The Complete Modern International Moving Process Explained

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The Complete Modern International Moving Process Explained

The Complete Modern International Moving Process Explained

Most people vaguely get how moving their belongings should work. This is because, although the process is complex and lengthy, every single step is organized with the client in mind.

However, if you plan on going abroad along with all of your belongings, or with just a few boxes, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the details. It will help you choose the best moving company with the best quote, while avoiding scammers and potential problems.

There are a few key companies and/or people who make an international move possible. Below, you can find some helpful information on each of them.

The Shipper

The exporter / shipper is the person moving from one country to another. It is the person who needs his/her belongings moved, so basically it’s you. If you’ve moved already and are organizing the movement of your goods from abroad, you become an importer instead.

Regardless of your geographical position, it is your responsibility to learn and stick to shipping regulations and rules. You are also responsible for the organizing needed paperwork, paying import duties, and any other taxes which may result from an unusual situation, a customs inspection, or a port strike. Before your items are shipped, please learn your new country’s laws regarding this matter.

The movers

The international shipping / moving company will take care of your move’s various aspects. They make sure your shipment goes smoothly, they give you an agreement or contract to sign, and they invoice you for their troubles.

You will be corresponding with them for updates, details about Customs or insurance, as well as in case of damages or losses during transport. For most problems and/or concerns for the move, speak to the moving company.


A-1 Auto Transport can help you move your household goods nationwide. Call 888-509-3213 to get a free, no obligation to buy price quote on interstate moving services.


The other people on this list are subcontractors or employees of the moving company. Most of them serve specific functions. When searching for a moving company, we recommend you choose one who uses its own employees instead of contractors for most of its jobs.

For example, if your movers are also destination agents, origin agents, and/or freight forwarders, then all the better. The reasons for this are the following:

  • Communication between all those involved becomes much simpler;
  • If anything goes wrong, the responsibility is centralized;
  • It’s cheaper. The more people/companies handling your goods, the more handling fees you will have to pay.

Therefore, when choosing between a few international movers, have them tell you how much they will do themselves, and what portion of the process will be handled by subcontractors.

Agent at the Origin Point

This is the person/company which will check your move visually. A representative will arrive at your apartment or house to see what and how many belongings you need to move. Afterwards, they will give you a quote for your international move. This is usually quite accurate, with a 10% margin of error.

Packing your belongings and loading them in the truck or container is another responsibility of the origin agent.

Freight Forwarder

The company in charge of exporting and importing your belongings is called the freight forwarder. They take care of consolidating your shipment, preparing the documents, insuring your cargo, booking space for it, etc. However, they don’t actually transport your cargo, unless they are the moving company itself.

The freight forwarder’s role is to mediate between the various moving services and the shipper. It is deal for the moving company to also be the forwarder, since his knowledge on costs, efficient cargo transport, local regulations, and the necessary paperwork will certainly come in handy. He may also be able to help you get a discount with one of the various moving companies he collaborates with.

Consolidating Warehouse

At one point or another during the international moving process, your things will be placed in a container. If they do not take enough space to fill the container, they will be stored and consolidated in a warehouse. Afterwards, they will be matched with other LCL (less than container loads), so they can all be shipped together. Once enough items gather in the warehouse to fill one container, they are sent on their way.

If your items aren’t enough to fill a container, you should take note of the following. First of all, the time you have to wait for your things to get to their destination port may be longer. This is due to the extra waiting time needed for more cargo to arrive at the port. Some warehouses may have little traffic coming their way, so containers are harder to fill.

You can also take a container for yourself and ship only your belongings, even if they do not fill it completely. However, you will have to pay for the entire container, even for the space you don’t use. The price varies depending on your scenario, so it’s best to ask a moving company before making a decision.

The Port of Origin or Export

After you’ve placed your belongings in a container, and it has been sealed, it’s time to take it to a port. There, it will be loaded on a ship and exported. Because of this, the port is named the origin port, the OPD (origin port of departure), or the export port.

It’s important to find out if the quote you receive from the company includes the fees for terminal handling and for the origin port. These charges are normally named OTHC or origin port fees. Sometimes, they are regulated, usually included in the quote and not too high. However, to be sure, speak to your moving company.

Ship Line

The company owning the vessel that will move your belongings is called the ship line. Among other things, its responsibility is to give you a document called the Master Bill of Lading, which acts as a summary of the items you are shipping and as a receipt.

To verify if actual rates were used in determining your moving costs, it’s best to ask the name of the shipping line transporting your belongings. This way, you can verify the quote and even use the internet to track the state of your belongings.

You can transport just about everything with a ship line, from automobiles, to commercial cargo, military equipment, and personal items. They are extremely important to the international economy. Due to this fact, there are certain exemptions and privileges given to ship lines which you, as the shipper, may want to take note of:

  • The ship line cannot be held responsible in case your things get damaged during the voyage or in case they arrive late.
  • Similarly to airlines, your cargo may be overbooked until the next ship becomes available. In this case, paying for extra costs falls on you.
  • If the vessel is damaged and risks sinking, the ship line can and may throw some of its containers into the water without having to compensate for your losses.
  • Sometimes, an unforeseen event, such as a war or a strike by employees, may make a destination port unusable. In such cases, the ship line can declare end of voyage, causing additional costs to fall on you.
  • A ship line will only give you your belongings back after you’ve paid for their work.

However, you shouldn’t let these events discourage you, since they rarely happen. You can also ask the ship line directly about such events or confirm their happening using the ship line bill. Just in case, you may want to insure your items’ safe arrival. Do this, and you’ll be safe from surprises.

The Port of Destination

The place where your goods arrive at, and where customs gives them one last check, is called the destination port. A lot of paperwork, manual labor, and coordination is needed for the process to go smoothly. Bring some extra cash with you for terminal handling and port fees.

These charges and fees should be part of the quote received from the moving company, or at least mentioned. Ask them about this just in case. Also, these charges must be paid in the new country’s national currency.

In some rare cases, such as in third world countries, these fees cannot be inspected in advance. If this happens, speak to the movers in the new country and ask them about what fees you’ll have to pay. If this information is unavailable no matter what you do, you can expect the fees to be at most $2000 US, regardless of the shipment’s size.

Customs Warehouse

Until you speak and pay your fees to customs, your things will be kept in a customs warehouse. Clearing your belongings differs from country to country.


A-1 Auto Transport can help you move your household goods nationwide. Call 888-509-3213 to get a free, no obligation to buy price quote on interstate moving services.


Some states require you to be there personally at your belongings’ arrival, while others are far less strict, allowing full containers to go through customs as soon as they arrive, even when several shipments are placed in each one. Build your plan around this by speaking to your international movers. Otherwise, you may face extra fees due to your negligence.

Destination Agent

The destination agent takes your items through all the various processes they must pass in the new country. They will get them through customs, port activities, and finally deliver them to your home. Usually, people use one of the origin country’s international movers for this aspect of the journey.

In this case, it’s best to collaborate with the destination agent, since he may be familiar with exemptions, import taxes, and local regulations and restrictions. For example, you may find out by talking to them that the elevators in your new country are not be big enough to carry the items you brought from your old home.

Joe Webster

Written by Joe Webster

Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing.

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood.

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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