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All About International Moving

Moving Internationally is exciting but also quite complex because it often involves more than one moving company and needs to comply with the regulations of different countries. This guide will help you understand the important stages and people involved in getting your household goods from here to there.

Who’s Involved in an International Move

Since your move is in different parts of the world, it is likely that more than one company will be involved in making this successful. You will probably only have contact with one vendor – their role is to coordinate and move your property with all these partners for you.

1. The Shipper

The person doing the shipment. Since you are the owner of all the goods, you are legally responsible for the content of the shipment, the list of what’s in the shipment, for the costs of shipping, the import duties, any paperwork required, insurance, and any discrepancies will be on your shoulders. You are the “Exporter” (the person exporting goods from the country of origin) and the “Importer” (the person importing goods into the destination country).

Make sure you are aware of any potential pitfalls like import regulations, holiday seasons, even labor issues that could not only slow your shipment down, but also add expenses you will need to bear.

2. The International Shipping Company

This is the company you select and they will coordinate the entire move. They will oversee all the other partners in the move. Ask them to clearly list what’s included and what you need to arrange yourself. Also make sure what and when you need to pay for each part of the move – so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises when the shipment arrives in the destination country.

Typically, this company will sign the contract with you, send you the bill, and be responsible for solving any issues or claims you have.

3. The Origin Agent

This is the company that will pack and load the shipment. Usually a local company, they will do the pre-move survey to create a detailed list of the contents of the house so you can get an accurate quote.

4. The Freight Forwarder

The Freight Forwarder arranges the ocean freight and do the export documentation (including a “House Bill of Lading”). The freight forwarder and origin agent (which may be the same company) will arrange to move your goods from your house to the port.

You may also have a freight forwarder involved in the destination country.

5. The Consolidating Warehouse

If you have a full container, your goods may go directly to the port. But if you are consolidating your smaller shipment,  your shipment may be  sent to a consolidating warehouse where it will be packed into a container with other shipper’s goods that are going to the same destination.

6. The Export Port

This is the actual port where the container is loaded onto the ship. The container should be loaded and sealed when it arrives at the export port. The export port Is typically not important to you, as you won’t be dealing with it in any way. The only important thing to check is that the Origin Port Fees and Origin Terminal Handling Charges are included in your quote. They will usually be listed as “Origin Port Fees” or “OTHC” (Origin Terminal Handling Charges). For shipments going from the United States, these fees are regulated and relatively low and they are almost always included; however, it is worth checking to make sure.

Nothing goes to the port that is not already loaded into a container, sealed, and cleared from Export Customs. (Clearance at origin is almost always done by computer.)

7. The Ship Line

This is the company that owns the ship. It will issue the “Master Bill of Lading” or “Seaway Bill of Lading”. For the most part, this will be invisible to you; however, it makes good sense to ask which ship line your goods will sail on, for two reasons:

  • To make sure the quote is based on actual rates, and is not just a “guess”
  • To allow online tracking directly with the ship line

8. The Container Line

The Container Line is the company that owns and rents out the ocean container. This may or may not be the same as the Ship Line, but for all practical purposes it won’t make a difference to you.

9. The Destination Port

This is where the goods are finally unloaded in the country of destination. You will usually have no dealings with the port. However, you will owe them money! It is very important that you check your price quote to make sure that it includes Destination Port Fees and DTHC (Destination Terminal Handling Charges), or at least shows what they will be.

Note – In giving quotes for international shipping, it is routine but almost always unacceptable to exclude Destination Port Fees.

These fees are usually due in the currency of the destination country, and they will often be listed as “not included”. The quote you accept should include them or at least show what they will be. Even if they are not listed, you must pay them, regardless of the amount.

10. The Customs Bonded Warehouse

This is the destination warehouse where your goods will be held until they clear customs. How this is handled will vary from country to country. For example, in Canada the shipper must be present when the goods arrive. In the United States, an entire incoming container is cleared through customs at once, even if there are multiple shipments in the same container. In some other countries, however, containers with more than one shipment must be unloaded and each shipment cleared through customs individually. It is important to find out how this process works and how much time you have before storage and other charges start.

11. The Destination Agent

This is the company in the destination country that will handle the customs clearing procedures, dealings with the port, and delivery to your residence. You can use the Destination Agent as your International Shipping Company/Move Manager to arrange for the entire shipment. Although it is standard to use a company in the country of origin.

Find out who the Destination Agent will be when getting your quote, for the following reasons:

  • To make sure the quote is based on a real figure, and is not just a “guess”
  • To check the reputation and references of the company that will be handling your goods at destination
  • So you can ask the Destination Agent questions regarding import duties, restrictions, and exemptions
  • To address any location-specific concerns about your new home (Is there access for a 40-foot container in the city? Do most residential buildings in that city have elevators big enough to fit my super-sized sofa?)

A Word About Brokers

A Broker is a Move Manager that does not do any of the other work. A Broker is not to be confused with a Freight Forwarder that might subcontract the Origin Agent and the Destination Agent, because the Freight Forwarder is doing something vital to the international shipping process even if you don’t see it being done.

Since a Broker is not doing any of the actual required work, his price to manage the move will be higher than that quoted by any other company he uses, assuming that company would use the same set of services as the Broker. However, often Brokers will give seemingly lower prices than other companies because:

  • They may not use the same set or quality of services that another company might choose.
  • They may not check actual costs until after you have chosen to use their services, and then they may raise the prices through some loophole in their agreement.
  • They do not pay any fees to be properly licensed.

Because of this, a Broker might give you what appears to be the lowest price, but either it ends up being more expensive than the original quote or you get a lower quality of service (more damages, more delays, more problems, more of your $$$ to fix).

Most important, a Broker has no one checking his financial stability. If you pay a Broker and he doesn’t pay the Ship Line, you don’t get your goods! In contrast, the Federal Maritime Commission requires a bond from its licensees, and respected industry trade groups such as FIDI-FAIM check the financial stability of their member companies.

In international relocation services, there are companies who provide end-to-end services in addition to the move including things like housing assistance, business services, help finding schools and much more. Use a reputable relocation services partner and make sure they work with licensed, experienced and trustworthy moving partners.

Isaac’s Moving and Storage
For over 25 years, Isaac’s Moving and Storage has been helping families, international businesses, government agencies, international organizations and educational institutions to re-locate their people all over the globe. Our years of experience and attention to detail are the formula for a stress free international move.

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