Top Mistakes When Moving Internationally

When moving overseas, there are many ways to mess up -- it's a longer distance, there are tons of rules, you have an entirely new culture to get accustomed to. Here are some of the more common mistakes when moving and how to avoid them.

1. Not Following the Rules. Know the rules before moving overseas.  Some countries prohibit alcohol or firearms; you usually cannot ship perishables.  To learn more about regulations in your new home, check with the moving company that's overseeing your move (more on that later).  You can also check with the U.S. Embassy in your country.

If there will be a delay in your travel that might make your shipment get there before you do, find out that country's policy. Having the shipment sit at the port could result in some big extra expenses.

What documents do you need to proceed with customs clearance?  Discuss it with your international moving company early on, and ensure your moving company can get in touch with you if they have additional questions about your shipment.

2. Hiring a Lousy International Moving Company. Your items will most likely be shipped via ocean, so they'll be in a big metal container on a huge cargo ship. This ships get tossed around a bit, so your items could very well get damaged. Your international movers will be packing your items, so it's important you get someone who does it well.

Ask potential international moving companies how familiar they are with international moving packing.  How many overseas moves do they do a year?  If they don't seem knowledgeable, choose a different mover.

3. Poor Communication. Keep a phone line that you will have access to -- cell phone or landline -- throughout your entire move.  Because you will likely be changing time zones, email is a convenient way to maintain communication with your movers.  Have an email account you can access from any computer. Also, leave contact information for them to reach you at.

4. Time Mismanagement. Be sure to leave enough time for everything -- delays can get magnified in an international move because of the distances and logistics involved. Don't schedule a flight for 4 p.m. because you expect your move to be complete by noon on the same day.  If you can, always aim for a buffer day.

Decide your essential items and bring them with you instead of packing them.  For most overseas moves, it will be several weeks before you see your stuff again.  From the U.S. to most western European points, it will be at least a month; to inland countries, even longer.  

But still, bear in mind that customs and the business of the season could add days or weeks to the transit time. So if you're debating on whether to bring the family's winter clothing in your suitcases, and you've been given an estimated delivery date on the cusp of the season, bring them with you just in case.

5. Not having everything packed. If you have a full house that you need to pack, get organized NOW. 

Be sure to clearly separate what items are intended for which shipment: shipment, or storage.  A good technique is to use sticky notes; for example, you can use different-colored paper to indicate the proper shipment.

Separate everything that must not be packed, such as passports or other important documents.  Irreplaceable items such as jewelry and family heirlooms should be carried with you, too. 

Liz Shaw, a intern, coordinated international moves for two years as a relocation specialist for Arpin International Group.