How To Pack Items for an Overseas Move

By Amy DeYoung

Packing for an overseas move is no small task. If you’re moving overseas for the first time, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed at the thought of narrowing down what belongings you’re bringing, how to pack items so they don’t break in transit, and what steps you should take to make the move a smooth one.

Declutter Heavily

Did you know that the average American home has 300,000 items? Unless you live an incredibly minimalistic lifestyle, you likely have thousands of things you’ll need to go through before your move.

Remember that the fewer items you bring with you, the less you’ll have to move and pay to be transported overseas. Go through your items and ask the following questions:

  • Do I still use this? Have I worn this or used this recently?
  • Is this practical for my new home? For example, you won’t need sweaters if you’re moving somewhere hot. Other countries may also dress more formally, so consider your current style and if it fits in with the new culture.
  • Do I have room for this in my new home?
  • Can I store this for later use? For example, holiday decorations, specialty kitchen items, and furniture you love can all be easily stored and saved for your return or a later shipment.

During your declutter, consider what items you want to give away to charity, sell, and pass on to friends and family. Throw away or recycle any items that are beyond repair.

Arrange for Storage Solutions

The average American home is significantly bigger than the average home worldwide. If you’re moving abroad, it’s unlikely that you’ll have space for all of your belongings. Unless you’re willing to declutter most of your belongings, you’ll need to consider your storage options.

If you’re planning on returning home, arrange for storage of large items, heirlooms, and furniture. It’s especially important that you leave furniture behind because it will be costly to transport overseas and may not even fit well in your new home, as your current furniture is probably designed to fit inside larger American homes.

Look for rental storage spaces that are dry, secure, and offer humidity control to ensure your items don’t age prematurely. Label all boxes clearly. Not only is labeling your boxes helpful for you later on, but it can help your friends and family find your belongings if you need them to ship something overseas.

Create a Packing Checklist

Create a moving checklist that lists all the practical items you’ll need for your trip. List out which essential items you’ll need to keep in your carry-on and what items can be shipped ahead of time.

Keep the following items on you at all times:

  • Visa and passport
  • Identification, such as a birth certificate
  • Airline tickets and important documents
  • Medications
  • Laptop and charger
  • Phone and charger
  • Adapters and converters
  • Marriage certificate
  • Moving company information
  • Credit cards and cash
  • Insurance policies
  • Items with sentimental value
  • Small first aid kit
  • Toiletries, like shampoo, a toothbrush, and deodorant
  • Several changes of clothes

Keep these items in your carry-on bag or as your personal item on your flight in case your checked luggage gets lost or separated from you at any point.

Research Customs Regulations & Airline Baggage Policies

Before entering a new country, research customs regulations in that area. You may not be allowed to transport certain items, such as electronics or medications, yourself. Don’t risk getting stopped at customs and having your items confiscated.

While you’re researching customs regulations, take a moment to review your airline’s baggage policy. If you’re taking multiple airlines, verify that they all have the same policy and note any differences that you’ll need to account for. Depending on your budget and timeline, it may be worth upgrading to an extra baggage allowance. Always weigh your baggage before you leave. It can be hard to estimate what 50 versus 60 pounds of luggage feels like on your own, and you don’t want to be stuck paying big fees or being forced to part with some of your things.

Pack Fragile Items Carefully

Shipping items overseas puts your belongings through a lot, making careful packing crucial for keeping your things intact.

Follow these tips to pack your items safely for an overseas move:

  • Purchase strong cardboard boxes. This is not the time to skimp. Corrugated boxes are recommended because they can be closed shut, providing the most security for your belongings.
  • Reinforce the bottom of the boxes with packing tape to prevent the boxes from buckling and opening when they’re lifted.
  • Wrap fragile items tightly in packing paper, bubble wrap, or soft clothes.
  • Fill empty spaces in boxes with bubble wrap, plastic wrap, or blank newspaper.
  • Label boxes containing fragile items as fragile on all sides so your movers can easily see which boxes are fragile.
  • Double pack electronics that have glass screens to prevent cracks.
  • Wrap sharp items, like cutlery or items with sharp corners, with extra packing materials to prevent them from ripping through the box or other household items.
  • Use specialty boxes, like wardrobe boxes and mirror boxes, to pack clothing and mirrors. These can save you space and provide extra protection for fragile items.
  • Speak with your international movers about the best way to move or ship specialty or high-value items, like artwork, musical instruments, collectibles, and more.

Roll or Vacuum Seal Clothing and Linens

Saving space in your boxes and luggage saves you money and effort during any move, especially a move overseas. Clothes and linens can easily take up a lot of space if packed loosely. Instead, roll your clothes tightly to save space.

Space bags and vacuum sealed bags are another great way to save space because they can help you pack twice as much in the same space.

If you don’t have a vacuum in your new home, opt for the space bags because they don’t require a vacuum to open. All you need to do when you reach your new home is kneel on the space bags to release the air, then open the zipper.

Utilize All Empty Space

This packing tip sounds counterintuitive, but you’d be surprised how you can fill many empty gaps in your luggage or moving boxes.

Check these common missed opportunities:

  • Fill your shoes with soft clothing, like socks, scarves, and undergarments.
  • Pack items inside any bags, baskets, or containers you’re bringing.
  • Roll up T-shirts and place them inside your boots in place of boot holders.
  • Fill any bottles, like shampoo or conditioner, to the brim. Leave behind any mostly used products for a friend or family member to finish.
  • Layer your items smartly by packing shoes and other hard items at the bottom of your luggage rather than fitting clothes and soft items in the crevices around the items.
  • Store small items inside clothing pockets. The items will be well-padded and tucked away.

Closing Thoughts

Moving overseas can be stressful, but planning ahead and creating a detailed moving checklist of everything you need to do before your international move can significantly reduce your stress. The most crucial part of packing items for an overseas move is planning and decluttering or limiting how many items you bring. You’ll be too busy exploring your new home to miss many of your belongings anyways, so keep the process simple and only pack what you truly need.

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