Common sense may be to save money on shipping by leaving most of your household belongings behind, but experienced expats and migrants give an alternative perspective

Congratulations – your departure date for your move overseas is drawing closer and you’re making your final plans for life in your new country.

But no matter whether you’re moving to Australia or New Zealand, the USA or Canada, one big dilemma facing all migrants and returning expats is how much of your household belongings should you take with you?

If you frequent the many online expat forums and migrant Facebook groups you’ll see this question being asked over and over again.

The choice being do you pack everything you can into a 20ft or 40ft shipping container or alternatively sell everything apart from the essentials and things of sentimental value to have a fresh start in your new country?

packing a shipping containerThe second seems like a very appealing option – after all you can save a lot of money on shipping and why not start your new life with a new set of furniture and other belongings?

As we are an international removals and shipping company, we naturally have a vested interest in you taking more of your personal belongings and furniture with you.

So rather than trust us, why not listen to the advice of British migrants and expats who have returned from the UK to their home country?

We have scoured many of the online moving overseas forums and groups to bring you some of their more independent advice.

Should you save money on shipping by taking less?

expats packing move abroadWe spotted one thread on the popular Mumsnet forum where this was discussed when a mother asked for advice about shipping belongings from the UK to Australia.

One mum replied:

“I can’t give much help about which company you should use, but the golden rule of less is more unless of course you have amazing furniture etc. Sentimental stuff to bring, just box up. Good luck…”

Sounds like sensible advice.

“I was really surprised how expensive Australia is and wish I’d brought a lot more stuff with us…”

However, other mums were quick to challenge this. ‘SconeInSixtySeconds’ replied:

“I disagree with Chloe (sorry Chloe). I was really surprised how expensive Australia is and wish I’d brought a lot more stuff with us (even little things like baking tins/ craft stuff quickly add up). We’d planned to just buy stuff from Ikea over here, but even some of that is substantially more expensive – I guess it depends on the age of your children etc. (mine were totally up for shipping all their toys – these are v.v. expensive generally over here – at Christmas it was cheaper to buy in the UK and pay for shipping over here for stuff like Playmobil and Lego).”

Other forum members in the thread agreed:

“We have used PSS twice and have absolutely no complaints. I agree about bringing all your stuff. It is very expensive over here and you tend to just end up with make do stuff instead of nice stuff.”

Here are some other comments from the same discussion:

“I agree with Scone, pack everything you can, my regret is getting a 20ft container rather than paying 3k more for the 40ft. We have certainly spent more than the extra 3k replacing the stuff we gave away, its expensive here!”

“I agree to just bring everything- you may as well if you have it! It is less effort than offloading everything and then buying it at the other end.”

“I agree with the others. Who wants to go out and buy another mop bucket?”

(Although, we’d advise, if you do bring your mop make sure it’s very clean so as to avoid problems with customs and biosecurity!)

“Take as much as you can. The thing we regret most is we left too much behind. Costs an absolute fortune getting it all back.”

On the PomsInOz forum they take a similar view.

Barry says: “Take as much as you can. The thing we regret most is we left too much behind. Costs an absolute fortune getting it all back.”

Another commented ruefully: “Take everything you can. Its expensive replacing everything this, we learnt the hard way.”

Beware of false economies

Many migrants have found leaving most of their belongings behind to be a false economy as furniture and other items can be more expensive or even have less choice available in other countries – particularly Australia and New Zealand. It can therefore be much more cost effective to take everything with you.

At face value your belongings may not seem that valuable but when you add up the cost of replacing every little kitchen utensil, let alone larger furniture items, it can soon add up.

The Association of British Insurers estimates that the average 3-bedroom family home contains items worth a total of £55,000. The average cost to ship a shipping container overseas to popular migrant countries such as Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada, is around £4000 – £5000 including packing and door-to-door delivery.

You don’t need to be a genius to do the maths.

Here’s the experience of another member of PomsInOz :

shipping container overseas removal“We took a 20 foot container for £4300 plus $500 to clear and it was a great decision. It’s amazing how much could go into it. A 5 bedroom 2 reception house of 2 adults and 3 children. Included a crated piano, 5 bikes, beds fridges, sofa for 2 sets of lounges, dining suite, bedroom furniture for 4 bedrooms, and seats, snooker table, washing machine and dryer, coffee tables and TV cabinets X2, desks for study, 4 flat panel TVs, all kitchen equipment, countless cutleries accumulated for different types of entertaining.”

Another member shared:

“It’s cheaper to ship everything out buy everything new is expensive and the stuff you sell over here you would get much for and when you’re missing the UK it’s nice to be surrounded by your own stuff

I paid more for a sofa, fridge and washing machine since arriving than I did to ship the whole of my house!”

“I paid more for a sofa, fridge and washing machine since arriving than I did to ship the whole of my house!”

Another alternative – take less and start afresh

There are other however, those who disagree and were happy to let go of old things. This can particularly be the case if you don’t have much or if the furniture you have is already old and past its best.

On the Kiwis Migrating Home Facebook group, one returning expat shared:

“We moved back 10 years ago and still have stuff in boxes! I wish we had been brutal with what we did and didn’t bring out.”

Another advised:

“Take personal items that mean something.. get rid of everything else… new life, new home is much more therapeutic.”

So you need to weigh up what’s best for you and your situation. Everyone’s circumstances and preferences are different.

For example in a discussion titled “To ship or not to ship” on ExpatForum a member asked:

packing suitcase“Hi Everyone

Just needing some advice.

Has anyone moving to New Zealand shipped any of their “stuff” or did you just buy everything new over there? What is more cost effective?”

They received a mix of advice including:

“Use it as a chance to have a clear-out but keep as much as you think you need. Shipping is a lot more cost effective than buying new and the quality of the things you own is probably higher than what you’ll be able to buy in New Zealand.” 

“Upon further consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that unless I can replace all of my household goods for less than $5,000 (highly unlikely) – we’re shipping it all.”

“Use it as a chance to have a clear-out but keep as much as you think you need. Shipping is a lot more cost effective than buying new”

“I shipped everything over. I wish I hadn’t. I brought too much, and it can be difficult to get a decent price on trade me due to the lowering economy for items you wish to sell.”

“I would advise anyone coming here, to settle here first, make sure you will definitely stay, and then ship your prized possessions over.”

“My advice is to make sure you bring the things that are personally important to you – and if you’re questioning whether you should bring it, then bring it. There are a few things I decided not to bring that I always seem to want now!”

What’s not worth shipping?

wardrobeSo shipping everything regardless may not be such a good idea. If you have things you don’t want there is no point in bringing them with you.

Also some things may not be useful in your new country.

For example, large wardrobes. Not only are they bulky and so more expensive to ship, but many countries have built in storage space as one member on Kiwis Migrating Home, discovered:

“One of the things I wish we hadn’t moved was standalone wardrobes. The houses we’ve lived here in NZ since moving had built-in wardrobes in every room so there’s not much use for them. Also the car… we love our car but it’s a model they don’t sell in NZ. Any parts for repairs are really expensive and take a while to get here.”

What should you definitely take?

There are some items that people almost universally agree you should take – an example being white goods such as large kitchen appliances.

On PomsInOz someone commented:

“All white goods are much more expensive over there….my daughter is taking everything-washer, dryer, dishwasher, fridge freezer, Dyson!!”

white goods - fridge-shippingAnother agreed saying: “We’ve found white goods expensive here so we’re pleased we brought our washing machine and tumble dryer (although you then need to get plugs changed over).”

Other items worth taking are good quality furniture.

On Kiwis Migrating Home someone advised:

“Definitely stock up on some furniture which is cheaper. Small things like nice dinner sets, linen etc are worth stocking up on too, but all need to be in ‘used’ condition. If you bring new big ticket items just state that and pay GST here.

PS best decision we made was moving back to NZ, hope it works out for you.”

Ikea also always seems to be a big topic of conversation amongst people moving o Australia and New Zealand.

As of writing there are no Ikeas stores in New Zealand so many migrants like to take Ikea furniture with them, but that is set to change soon.

In the meantime many migrants are stocking up on Ikea furniture before they leave the UK.

Just remember though, when moving to most overseas countries, migrants and returning nationals need to have owned their items for a minimum period (usually 12 months) to avoid taxes on entry.

So if customs find your shipping container stacked full of brand new items still in their original unopened packaging, you will be liable to pay the appropriate import duties and sales tax.


Advice for buying furniture and other items in your new country

buying furniture in AustraliaIn Australia they have only have about 10 Ikea stores across the whole continent, but there are more local delivery points. “We have IKEA here too so you can still get pretty cheap bookshelves, bedroom gear etc. from there.” However, others have commented that Ikea in Australia is often much more expensive than in the UK.

Wood, especially hard wood, can be in short supply in Australia and New Zealand which makes quality furniture expensive as it’s often imported.

Some people on a budget have done well buying second hand once they arrive.

Members of PomsInOz  commented:

“We bought outdoor furniture when we got here from Gumtree and second hand shops pretty cheaply. (That also means you have something to sit on while waiting for your container to arrive).”

Another said:

“Each person’s own choice. I got my extra-large fridge and 7kg washing machine for $100 each off Facebook marketplace from someone returning back overseas. I’m happy with how I did it anyway.”

“We bought outdoor furniture when we got here from Gumtree and second hand shops pretty cheaply.  (That also means you have something to sit on while waiting for your container to arrive).”

But others warn:

“Definitely depends where you end up in Aus. We found second hand furniture and appliances really expensive and in short supply here.

Try pricing everything up on Australian sites including all your casserole dishes, trays utensils the small bits soon starts to add up as well as the large stuff, xx”

Another agreed saying:

“If you are moving to a city area then you may be able to get things cheap on FB etc when here, but we are rural and there is either nothing on FB Marketplace or it is the same price as buying new.

It took so much stress away as well, knowing that you didn’t have to go out and buy all the boring bits like pots and pans, cutlery, pillows etc.”

Getting the balance right

Spouse of Scouse on BritshExpats Forum gives some balanced advice on moving to Australia:

woman and“Having done the Oz – UK – Oz move twice, I agree that it’s a good opportunity to downsize. The first time we took no furniture or big electrical items at all, the second time was an ‘everything’ job….

Don’t underestimate the cost to replace items that you know you’ll use, nor the pittance you’ll get if you sell them. In addition, it’s surprising how much personal stuff we collect that’s hard to part with. Photos, important documents, nan’s crystal that you inherited, that sort of thing.

There really aren’t any ‘musts’, that all depends on you and your family. But from my experience – if you know that you’re going to use an item and it’s in reasonable condition, take it if room allows. Best of luck with the move!”

It also pays to do some research beforehand so you can decide what’s right for you. Fortunately with the advent of the internet it is very easy to do a cost comparison as other migrants have discovered:

“We are shipping everything will cost a lot more to start all over again. Find an Aus furniture store Amart, Ikea etc and add up how much it will cost you to replace everything including all the little bits.”

The final decision is yours

We hope the advice of experienced expats and migrants has been useful in helping you decide what to take.

Do you research as shipping to Canada or the USA can be quite different from shipping to Australia or New Zealand.

But it is something that a lot of migrating couples agonise over. As one wife posted triumphantly on PomsInOz: “We had the same argument eventually I won – shipping everything. Now my husband has finally agreed it was a good idea to have our familiar things especially the kids!”

living room furnitureBut it’s not all just about the money. There are other unexpected advantages of shipping your belongings with you.

For example one mother commented “For us, we found it handy to bring lots of things with us as our kids were 2, 4 and 5 when we arrived and shopping was a lot of hard work!”

There is also another important benefit you might not have thought of, as ‘Flossie’ on Expatforum discovered:

“We found that by having our own beds and stuff, it felt much more like home. Maybe that’s a woman thing as most women I’ve spoken to have said the same thing. When our stuff arrived, my little boy said, “Now it smells like home.”

Starting a new life in a new country is a big upheaval, having some of your familiar belongings around you can make all the difference to making you feel at home in your new home!

PSS International Removals are here to help whatever you decide

So in the end it’s up to you to decide how much to take – there are pro and cons whichever way you go.

“When our stuff arrived, my little boy said, “Now it smells like home.”

The good news is that no matter whether you decide to ship just a few boxes or your whole household contents, we have the perfect shipping and removals service for you – all at very economical prices.

So start planning early and give our team a call. They’ll be happy to give you various pricing options to help you with your decision. We are also quite flexible so you can make changes to your inventory right up to the last minute – but before you rush off in a panic to stock up on Ikea furniture, do check with your Move Manager that there is room for it all on your container!

Why not book a free no-obligation home or video survey with one of consultants to help you decide how much or how little of your belongings you wish to take with you?