When we were packing for our overseas adventure, we were faced with the cold reality that not all the things that we wanted in our new home were going to fit into our suitcases. In addition to clothes, computer equipment and such, we wanted to also include personal items so that our apartment wouldn’t resemble one of those IKEA showrooms.
So how do you ship your possessions across the Atlantic? The next few blog posts will discuss the process involved, including the documentation needed and the unexpected complications that arose during our shipment.
After much research online, we found UPakWeShip, a company that ships items both within the U.S. and internationally, ranging from full containers to a few boxes. We initially selected a 50-cubic foot carton, then upped it to 100 cu. ft. as more things were added to the “to be shipped” list. To give you an idea of size, that 100 cu. ft. would fit on a standard pallet (45” L x 45” W x 78” H). (The carton’s interior dimensions are a little bit smaller.)
The company offers a door-to-door service: We packed the carton (they supplied the materials after we paid a $400 deposit) in our garage in Atlanta, sealing it in cardboard and plastic. Once that was ready, UPakWeShip contracted with a local hauling company to pick it up and send to a port stateside. From there the carton was slotted inside a shipping container and floated to Europe. The port of entry was in the Netherlands, where Customs eyeballed it, checked the paperwork and cleared it for the journey south to Portugal by truck. Lots of steps, any one of which could go wrong.
Since presently there is a glut of container shipping capacity, the cost of overseas shipping has dropped considerably. That said, all the handling, trucking, logistics and insurance cost us a little over $1800+ door to door. Then there was the paperwork, because Customs would need to ensure that 1) the goods were not new, so you can’t resell them 2) you have the right to ship these goods in the first place.
The initial documentation included: a copy of Harold’s passport, a copy of our purchase agreement for our house in Atlanta, plus utility bills (we chose our water bill) for twelve months to prove residency within the U.S. They also required a detailed listing of every single item in that shipment, as well as other documents. By the time that was completed, it was 12-pages long.
As mentioned earlier, UPakWeShip supplied the pallet and the packaging materials (see above). If you’re packing your carton in your garage, as we did, we recommend that you verify there’s enough clearance for the shipping company to remove it. Nothing would be more frustrating that having this entire carton packed only to realize it won’t fit through your garage door. In our test run, we just placed the pallet on the floor, put down the base, erected the carton walls and put the top on. Then measured it against the door. No problem, at least in our case. Also, line up the pallet so it’s easy for the hauler’s hydraulic pallet jack to move it to the truck. The less jockeying around, the better.
The packing process went like this:
To help determine exactly how much packing space we had, we followed UPakWeShip’s directions (they have a helpful online video) to set up their shipping carton, then laid in the first layer of empty Lowe’s packing boxes. We worked out that we could have 16 of these boxes (four per layer) and opted to go for 12 instead. That allowed us room at the top for some single boxes containing our computers and such. We made sure not to overpack the larger boxes as they would then bulge out and make it nearly impossible to wrap the carton in the cardboard case UPakWeShip had provided.
We bought Lowe’s moving boxes as they fit the pallet’s space almost perfectly (see picture below), then smaller boxes or items inside those larger boxes. You don’t have to do this, but we wanted a standard configuration of boxes, rather than a variety of sizes, to maximize the shipment’s load, because no matter what it was going to cost $1800+. Each large box was labelled with a letter (A, B, C, etc.) on two sides so it was always visible no matter what, and the smaller boxes were each given a number. Some people number all the boxes, but this worked for us.
As each smaller box was packed the contents were listed on a spreadsheet. For example, Large Box A contained smaller boxes 1-8, for example. This is important as Customs wants the ability to find an item, if needed. They didn’t do that with our shipment, but they might have if they’d had a question regarding an item.
Here's what that spreadsheet looked like, in this case what was included in Cartons E & F. These only contained clothes which were packed in those luggage "vacuum" bags to prevent any water damage.
Of course, no liquids, food, tobacco, pornography, booze and such are allowed, including anything remotely flammable or explosive. Everything had to be used and at least one year old or else we would be expected to pay customs duty on that item.
Once everything was in place, we enclosed the interior boxes with that outer cardboard, taped it right, attached the paperwork to the sides of the carton (and each box had paperwork attached as well), then wrapped it all in the plastic. More tape, then came the tie-down straps. (See below)
We had everything ready several days before Closing and scheduled the pickup for Tuesday between 9 and 5 (Closing was on Thursday). UPakWeShip contracted with a local shipping company to do the pickup and shipment to Charleston, S.C. The truck rolls up at 5 minutes before 5. He eyes the carton, tries to give a shove and then asks, "Is this a refrigerator?" It's then we knew we have a problem.
We pointed out that it's not a refrigerator, that it's household goods and weighs (best estimate) 900 pounds. At this point the driver informs us he didn't have enough room on the truck and didn't have a heavy-duty enough lift gate to handle the estimated weight. He says someone would be out on Wednesday first thing. As he drives off our real estate agent calls to let us know she'd scheduled the final Buyer Walk-Through on Wednesday at 4 and she hoped that would be OK with us. Of course, we wanted EVERYTHING out of the house at this point, but hey, why not?
A half an hour before the Walk-Through on Wednesday a truck shows up to collect the carton. This driver had an empty truck, a heavy lift gate and a pallet jack. A total pro, he loaded our bundle and was pulling out of the drive just as one of the new owners arrived. We couldn't have timed it better, but we wish we hadn’t had a full day worrying. But huzzah! The carton was gone, and just in time to make friends with Hurricane Irma. You remember her, don't you?
How did that encounter with Irma go? Check out the next post to find out.
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.