There are dozens of International Removers and Overseas Moving firms plying to win your business to pack and ship your home contents and personal effects to your new home abroad. But what if you don’t want men you don’t know packing stuff you might no longer need? Are you allowed to pack your own boxes? Are there any pitfalls? This article is designed to help put your mind at rest and provide some practical advice.

Many of the moving firms in the UK will provide a full pack and ship service and insist that they do the packing. Naturally there is a vested interest as they want to employ their staff and take control of your shipment for commercial gain. If you pack, however, you can manage the size of the shipment and its budget and potentially save thousands of pounds in charges!

Are You Allowed to Pack Yourself?

It's a free world, of course you are! Some salespeople from moving firms will try to convince you that your shipment will be seized by customs and that you will not be insured if their firm does not pack your goods. This is untrue.

Dealing with the issue of customs firstly, let’s briefly consider the process at most destinations around the world. An inventory (or packing list) is provided and signed by you as the shipper. In addition, the declaration which details the import status of your shipment is completed and signed by you as the importer. The moving firms do not make the declarations, nor sign the packing list as the exporter - you do!

It’s a fact that if you pack the boxes yourself and take an accurate note of the contents, your declaration and inventory will be more accurate than a packer from a moving firm who does not know you or your goods – and you can better answer a Customs Officer’s queries if you have placed the items in the boxes yourself. So don’t be afraid of customs matters – just make sure you are aware of any restrictions before you pack anything. All of that information is available online nowadays.

The insurance question is fairly simple to deal with. Anything which is not suitably packed is not insured on an all risk basis. It is possible to purchase ‘Total Loss’ insurance only. Generally Total Loss insurance will only reimburse lost items, or goods damaged by ship overturns or container leakage – please look at any small print before purchasing insurance cover.

If your goods are of low or sentimental-only value, you may consider the savings made on insurance premiums as a suitable benefit; after all, money cannot replace some items. If, however, you do have a valuable dinner service for example, you can always instruct your shipping firm to ensure it is suitably packed to meet the insurer’s requirement before it is collected for shipment. Take specialist insurance advice from your shipper’s own insurer, if this is of concern.

What Packing Materials Do I Use?
Strong boxes are important. Remember that your goods will be stacked in the container one box on top of another. Containers are a minimum of 8ft high inside and imagine you could have boxes stacked one on another up that height – and your box might be at the bottom.
Most countries around the world insist that packing materials comply with ‘ISPM 15’ regulations. This is an international standard issued by local Forestry Commissions to ensure that wooden packing cases, pallets and crates are all treated. This means that insects will not bore into the wood and travel to your new country, with consequences to the environment. Additionally wood has to be sourced from a sustainable forest.

If you use untreated or wood not endorsed by a known supplier, you risk the destruction in or re-shipment from your new country. If you need wooden cases, you should purchase the materials from a Timcon registered supplier (details found on the timcon website http://www.timcon.org ). Do not make your own with materials purchased from a d.i.y. store without advance advice.

Cardboard boxes should be a minimum of ‘double wall’. This means that they are thicker and stronger than single wall cartons. If you purchase boxes from the internet, make sure they are strong enough for export purposes and check they are thick. Use small boxes for heavy goods like books and tools, larger ones can be used for soft goods. The removals standard ‘tea chest size’ is 18 x 18 x 20 inches – this is an optimum size for handling through household doors.

Use bubble wrap, tissue paper and newsprint paper to protect the contents. For particularly fragile items, make sure the item cannot get crushed inside the box. When you wrap items that don’t fit in boxes (such as furniture), you can use bubble wrap for most things, but make sure again the bubbles don’t burst as the items are picked up. Usually the plastic based bubble can cause ‘sweating’ of wooden furniture goods. If you can get a hold of the moving firm’s specialist non-pop bubble with treated interior layers, this does not sweat furniture. ‘Softline’ bubble wrap can be purchased from a specialist supplier. Many moving firms still use ‘export blankets’ which is a multilayered paper material designed to be manipulated around furniture items – rather like wrapping an awkward Christmas present but on a large scale and with a high level of protection.

Transport Options

Your shipping options will vary depending on the amount of goods you have and the handling process employed by the shipping company. There are basically 4 solutions – one of which will suit you the most:


Clearly the quickest option, but also pound for pound, the most expensive. Usually a few bags or boxes might cost little more than a sea freight service depending on your destination. If you just have a couple of boxes it is worth getting quotes for airfreight as a comparison to seafreight.

Seafreight Part Loads

LiftVan or Cased Shipments are large wooden crates that contain only your goods. They are collected from your premises and loaded mechanically into shipping containers. The advantage of this method is that physical handling is not required and all of your goods are kept together. Usually this is the preferred method of commercial shipments.

Removal firms will recommend cased shipments often if delivery at destination could be made by many changes in trucks – for example, shipment to United States of America could be unloaded at a port such as New York and then hauled interstate to its destination thousands of miles away, perhaps as far as Seattle on the opposite coast. Cases should also be considered seriously for any extra fragile or difficult to load items, such as a piano or a large glass cabinet.

Groupage Services are available through specialist household shippers. This system basically loads your loose boxes and furniture in a container destined to a popular port such as in Australia or New Zealand. This service is also common for Canada, USA, South Africa, Dubai, Bulgaria and Spain.

Even if you use the cheap solution of groupage, if your shipment is heading long distance at destination (over 200 miles for instance), you ought to consider investing in a case. For ‘loose’ Groupage Services remember that your shipment will be handled by staff in a loading warehouse and hence your goods must be packed to a high standard. The warehouse staff are usually pretty reliable in the specialist overseas household shippers, but every makes errors and has bad loading days! Also bear in mind someone has to make sense which boxes are yours and what’s inside – so accurate documentation is a key element in the successful delivery of your goods.

Seafreight – Container Loads

Sole-Use or Full Container Services are quite simply where your goods are loaded at your house, direct into the container which will take it to your new house overseas. A customs seal is placed on the container at the point of loading and removed at the point of unloading – nobody (other than Customs, Quarantine or Immigration Officials) can break the seal thus giving peace of mind that there will no warehouse mix-up before departure.

Container sizes do vary. The smallest standard size is 20ft x 8ft x 8ft 6ins high and will carry the contents of a typical 3-bedroom house. A car and some boxes can also be placed in the same container to save on transport costs and provide some security.

It is usually just as cost-effective to have a sole use container if your load is just over a half of a container. This is because the transport at each end of the journey is direct to and from your homes to the port. So, if you have 500 cubic feet (14.2 cubic metres) or more of goods to ship, why not get a quote for a Sole-Use load?

The largest standard container (accepted at all ports) is 40ft x 8ft x 9ft6ins high – a high cube. Some are even 45ft or 46ft long for some destinations.

What Happens At Destination?

What happens to your goods at destination is just as important as to how they are packed. Every country of destination has different priorities and systems in place to deal with inbound shipments at its border. For shipments within Europe, the process is simpler because of the Freedom of Movement of Goods. But depending on your destination, some processing still may be required.

For Overseas destinations, your goods will be processed by and liable to potential inspections and fees from different bodies:

Shipping Line – if you have a container of your own, there may be some elements of costs that are only payable locally.

Port Authority – the port which unloads and handles your cargo from the ship raises a fee for this and sometimes the charge is payable locally by the importer.

Customs – present in every country to collect taxes and control restricted goods. They can demand a physical inspection of any item in your shipment, so there would then be a cost to unload the container into a bonded storage premises so that customs can view the item/s in query. Random inspections and specified item inspections can take place.

Quarantine – this department checks that your goods are not carrying restricted species including wood boring insects, live animals or plants. This may include such simple items as untreated wood; dried flower displays; mud on items such as shoes, bikes, etc; ‘dirty water’ collected in machines such as washing machines and fridges. In Australia and many other destinations a physical inspection of every shipment can take place to ensure compliance to strict rules.

Destination Costs

Again every destination has different methods of importing personal effects. In Australia and much of New Zealand, for instance, all the goods are unloaded in a bonded facility to allow easy access of officials. In the Middle East, some countries expect to be able to walk inside the containers without unloading, hence a gap has to be left for an Inspector. In the USA, X-Rays are pretty much mandatory – in Canada the importer must make an appointment to meet the Inspector and sign the documents in his presence and show any goods on demand. Inspectors in South Africa, Malaysia, China, Thailand, India, etc. all have different processes and associated costs.

Delivery of your goods from the port to your new property is fairly straightforward if your property is accessible and not above a first floor.

If you have an appointed agent, they will be able to advise all the costs of port handling; any dues to the shipping line; customs and quarantine inspections, etc. They cannot give advance notice of extra services required as a consequence of further inspections by quarantine or customs nor any duty or quarantine processing. If an agent, such as leading Self-Move operator, www.ewepack.com is appointed, you can make advance payment to cover your shipment through to delivery, subject to the official fees mentioned.

More and more shippers are choosing to load their own containers and handle customs clearance themselves and pay any local fees direct to the shipping line or customs officials. Depending on which shipping mode is used, they are making sizeable savings.

With some preplanning and free advice, for the ‘hands-on’ person, a Do-It-Yourself shipment is ‘do-able’. You could save thousands of pounds and make it a fun experience!

Written By:
Steve Lawson-Smith

Useful resources:
www.EwePack.com: a self-move assistance shipping firm for UK migrants
www.Timcon.org: the UK timber packaging controlling body
www.space-pods.co.uk a UK container hire and sales company

Steve Lawson-Smith, EwePack.com, High Street, Buntingford, Herts. SG9 9AH
Tel: +44 1763 272 489 Fax: +44 1763 273 290 steve@ewepack.com

About The Author
Steve Lawson-Smith is the 44 year-old Director of EwePack.com which specializes in Self-Move Overseas Shipping services. A fairly new concept to the UK market the business was established in 1999 and boasts experience at all levels in providing solutions to people who want assistance to move their own goods and save on Removals firms premium charges.

Steve started driving trucks at 18 and learned the trade of a removals packer in the family transport business. Then Steve worked for 10 years for the world’s leading removalist firm as an estimator and sales manager throughout London and the Home Counties. Then for another 10 years Steve worked for a specialist shipper travelling the world to oversee customs clearance and deliveries of all kinds of goods in locations across the world including most major cities in Europe and USA as well as Asia and Africa. This brought the experience in destination handling and local customs needs which is invaluable to assist the firm’s clients.

In the last decade, Steve and the family business has spearheaded container handling in the domestic environment for Mobile Self Storage and You Pack, We Ship services.

Posted 04Jun2009