How to plan an international relocation

  • moving
Published on 2024-04-10 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
So you're relocating overseas. After sorting out your visa and residence permit paperwork, it's time to make the move. But before you dive into packing, some essential things must be considered. What is the cost of an international relocation? Are you planning to bring all your belongings, or would you rather travel light? Do you intend to hire professional movers or handle everything by yourself? Here are some practical tips to help you navigate the process.

International relocation: Should you involve your employer?

If your employer is used to sending employees on international assignments, they likely offer an international mobility package. These packages aim to ensure a smooth stay abroad while complying with the host country's laws. They typically cover aspects such as expat compensation, assistance for spouses, children's education expenses, relocation and moving costs, and housing rent.

If you're relocating under an expat contract, it's worth negotiating with your employer for assistance with your move and settling in your host country. Expatriation contracts are typically comprehensive, covering various aspects of international relocation.

However, international mobility packages and premium expatriation contracts are no longer the norm. Company support may be minimal, and while international mobility grants do exist, they're often reserved for international students. European nationals seeking work can explore the EURES Targeted Mobility Scheme for opportunities within the EU. However, if you're relocating on your own, you're likely to bear the moving costs yourself. That's why thorough organization and preparation are crucial for a successful move abroad.

Figure out the typical expenses associated with relocating overseas

Expect various costs, depending on where you are currently and where you're going. Costs vary based on factors like the moving company you choose, the mode of transportation (truck, train, sea, air), distance, the items being moved (large furniture, car, etc.), quantity, professional packing/unpacking, furniture storage rental at departure and/or arrival, moving insurance, and customs duties, which fluctuate based on the rules of the destination country. Watch out for quantity limits and taxes on certain goods like alcohol, tobacco, and cars. Generally, moving expenses range from 3,000 to 10,000 euros, ultimately depending on the countries involved. Moving to a neighboring country is usually cheaper than relocating to another continent. Don't hesitate to get multiple quotes to compare services offered by different companies.

As Charlotte, an expat, says, “It's exhausting, but worth it. It's a wonderful experience and a unique moment, especially for a first time abroad".

Organize, declutter, sell, donate

Before diving into packing, it's crucial to undergo a thorough sorting process. Set aside any nostalgia (temporarily) and be strict with every item. Plan and organize well in advance, as multiple rounds of sorting will likely be necessary to determine what you're bringing with you and leaving behind. This initial step is key to saving money, as it's unlikely you'll be transporting your entire home abroad. Purchasing certain items locally, especially bulky ones, will be more cost-effective. Don't rely solely on movers, as they won't know the importance of each item to you. Handling some of the packing yourself can also help reduce costs, but be cautious with heavy or bulky furniture to avoid injuries and damages. Donate or sell items you don't plan to keep, bringing joy to others while freeing up space and further cutting moving expenses.

Rob, another expat, explains that: “Sorting out what you take and what you leave before packing takes time, and sometimes you don't have any. Anyway, I was a bit ricrac. If I had to do it all over again, right from the start, I'd start emptying the apartment of stuff that's not going abroad. It's cool to give things away, too. Always selling, selling, selling stuff that's going to make you 5 bucks, that's not cool.”

Hiring international relocation experts

Professionals primarily base their cost estimates on the volume of belongings to be relocated. Hence, it's crucial to declutter before hiring their services. Entrusting movers with everything increases the risk of transporting items you won't need abroad. To determine the volume accurately, consider bringing in a technical expert. Many movers offer complimentary assessments by their experts to provide estimates detailing the volume of goods to be moved. You'll also receive a declaration of value to insure your belongings against damage. While it's possible to estimate the volume yourself by assessing each item, this method is complex and not recommended by professionals. Beware of online movers who ask you to calculate the volume to reduce costs supposedly. Any errors in this process could result in unexpected expenses, such as time-wasting, insufficient truck space, incorrect box sizes, or more trips than anticipated. To avoid such surprises, seek assistance from a reputable professional.

Camille also shares her international relocation experience with us: “For the first few weeks, it was more about assembling the furniture and making sure everything fits, only to realize that we had lost a screw and that nothing was holding straight. We spent the rest of the time on the phone with insurance companies and government departments, getting lost in supermarkets and not understanding anything, even though we had learned the language. It's a different world! But it went well. After all, we had decided to go and live abroad.”

Submitting documents to customs

International movers often offer assistance with customs formalities, which can be intricate and vary from one country to another. The guidelines below serve as a reference. Please note that EU nationals relocating to another EU country are typically exempt from customs procedures.

In general, you'll need to provide customs with proof of identification (passport, residence permit, ID), evidence of foreign residence, and a foreign driving license if you're bringing your car. If you haven't yet secured a foreign address, you can obtain a certificate of change of residence from your consulate or embassy. The goods you transport must align with your circumstances, and proof of quantity may be required. Certain items (such as medicines, weapons, ammunition, etc.) may require authorization before transportation, as do pets or plants if you're relocating with them. It's your responsibility to create a written, dated and signed inventory detailing all items being shipped abroad, including their nature and quantities.

“The first few months were very intense in every way. I wasn't sure about the country I was moving to at first. Administrative formalities take up an awful lot of time! You don't realize it, but you're quickly immersed in it. It's the less glamorous side of travel, but it's  inevitable," says Flo.

Sign up for an expat relocation package

Expat relocation services are typically offered by international moving companies and provide tailored assistance throughout the relocation process, including administrative tasks like visa applications, residence permits, driver's licenses, health insurance, and banking procedures. Beyond the technical aspects of the move, it also includes support for the entire family, such as finding schools for children, assisting spouses in job searches, and helping with accommodation searches. Language courses may also be available. While these services come at a cost, they offer a smooth international transition, reducing stress and hassle.