Relocation. Even seasoned global nomads endure the enormous process of moving out with a bit of stress. With procedures completely different from place to place, you must ask the right questions to follow the rules and regulations of your new country in order to make a smooth transition.
Relocation companies assist in this entire process, making a tough task easier. They can do as much of the thinking and work as you need them to do, at a price you must be willing to pay. Many large companies, embassies, schools and other employers include a relocation package in their employment contract, some with an already-approved short list of agents to use. But sometimes you’re left to do a little research on your own.
There is a difference between a relocation company and a moving company. A relocation company offers a wide range of services, including finding a place to live, locating schools, and helping you become acclimated to a new culture. A moving company provides professional packing and shipment of household goods. Some
companies are full-service, covering all aspects of a move from start to finish – easier, but more expensive. For the purpose of this article, both options will be referred to as relocation companies.
If you’re researching companies on your own, there are some essential basics to cover. First, choose a member of FIDI (Federation of International Furniture Removers), the largest global alliance of independent quality international removal companies. Additionally, a company’s association with FAIM (FIDI Accredited International Movers) is an asset.
Even when your employer handles the majority of the relocation, you often must get quotes to compare. Quotes will give you a good idea of what services can be provided and their cost, so that you can add to or subtract from your list of relocation needs. It also gives you a good feel for the company and the service you might receive. Because pricing is such a complex process, most companies require an in-home survey to give you the most accurate quote. Some will provide online quotes, but these are only for small shipments of a few household goods.
However, price shouldn’t necessarily be the determining factor for hiring – or not hiring – a relocation company. More important are their reputation, experience, worldwide locations and track record. We’re talking about all of your household items being packed tightly into a container and shipped to the other side of the world, make sure the company values those items as much as you do.
The basic shipping of your possessions from one location to another is pretty straightforward. The overall shipping rates are based on the volume and destination. The moving industry works in volume as opposed to weight for sea shipments; air freight typically calculates by weight, but it’s rare to have household goods shipped this way. Volume can be expressed in cubic feet or cubic meters (to convert, divide cubic feet by 35.3148 to get cubic meters). Some employers provide a weight allowance for household goods rather than a volume allowance, so be sure you understand what is being calculated.
As explained by James Sanderson of Links Moving Beijing, it’s helpful to understand your shipping options and terms. Three common shipping terms that you will come across are FCL (full container load), LCL (less than container load), and GPG (groupage or consolidated load).
FCL refers to the exclusive use of a 20-foot or 40-foot steel shipping container that holds 30 cubic meters to 60 cubic meters, respectively. LCL is an exclusive shipment, but the personal effects are encased in wood. The volume is typically a maximum of 10 cubic meters, and this type of shipment is rare out of Beijing. GPG is a cost-effective way to ship, typically containing less than 15 cubic meters headed for popular destinations (Europe, the US, Australia). Shipments are consolidated into a 20- or 40-foot container before being shipped. Because of consolidation, transit time is increased, but it’s a great option if you have a smaller amount to ship, if you have time to receive it, and if you only want to pay for your portion of freight.
Luckily, most reputable relocation companies have websites with thorough explanations of the entire process. There are links to other sites for more helpful information, downloadable forms, checklists and contact information. The online FAQs are particularly helpful.
Do adequate research, get referrals from people you trust, and make your own judgment call on whom to hire. It’s your relocation, and it’s important to make the decision that’s right for your family.
Below is some advice garnered from Allied Pickfords and Bri Smith (the mom pictured on the left).
Things to Consider When Choosing a Relocation Company:
Do you need complete relocation services, such as storage, repatriation needs, or specialty transport (pets, cars)? Or is your shipment straightforward enough to contract for moving only?
The agency needs to be the point of contact for all other elements of the move (movers, freight forwarding company, customs, destination).
The agency needs to know the rules of the country you are in, as well as the country you are going to. Do they know what can and cannot be shipped? Do they know all documents that must be provided at each step?
Are they FIDI/FAIM members?
Does the agency have an office at the destination country?
Good to Know:
A sea shipment takes around three months, including customs clearing. An agency may quote four to six weeks, but many things can add to a delay. Air shipments are usually around one to two weeks.
Summer is the busiest time to move.
You’ll need receipts for any major purchases made in China. Also, hold on to any original customs forms you had when you first moved to China, so that items brought into China will not be taxed.
Antiques dating from less than 150 years ago are legal to export. If made before 1949, items are subject to customs inspection and fees. Anything of museum quality (Tibetan artifacts, rare woods, or anything made before 1794) is not permitted for export.
Play it safe. If your furniture or other large items look antique, get appraisals and/or certificates for them. The customs officials going through your container may hold up your entire shipment if they are left to make the judgment on whether or not a certain piece of furniture is an antique.
Transit insurance policies are based on today’s replacement value. Consider the value of your personal effects and other insurance options.
Anything listed as “bedroom furniture” might result in a 100 percent tax, whereas other furniture usually avoids this fee. Be careful if you plan to ship back more bedroom furniture than you brought with you to China.
Swede Anna Kjellson and her family are planning a move back to Stockholm from Beijing this summer. While her husband’s employment contract states that families should start discussions about staying or moving six months before a contract ends, reality makes it very difficult to plan ahead. This makes all of the practical parts of the move even more challenging, from finding schools and housing to the shipment of household goods.
Having experienced previous international moves, Kjellson has learned to rely on the relocation companies and their expertise. She found that most companies were quite helpful with streamlining the process. This is their business, after all, and sometimes we tend to assume the worst and create undue pressure on ourselves. She ended up hiring K2 Corporate Moving Systems, a company with headquarters in the UK, as well as offices in the US, Sweden and Singapore. She worked with the Singapore office. Even if contracting agencies on your own, these companies are designed to take on the burden. “Of course it’s a tough time,” says Kjellson, “but if you want to remain an expat abroad, it’s worth the trouble.”
In addition to having a complete relocation for family household goods, Bri Smith has the unique moving experiencing of contracting a second container on her own. From her own research, she learned that piggybacking on a work relocation package isn’t necessarily the best way to ship goods internationally for her future furniture
business in the US. Excess weight on a shipment can cost up to USD 3 per pound, whereas sometimes a second container works out to be less expensive.
The most important piece of advice she can offer is to go through a broker. Start by asking companies you do business with; otherwise, all major relocation agencies have brokers, which are often listed on their website. In Smith’s case, she had bought furniture through several dealers, one of which had a broker they used for their own international shipments. Among other things, they helped her with any language problems that arose.
As a pleasant surprise, it wound up costing less that she expected, and it is going to take less time to receive the shipment of furniture than her household goods shipment (which will take 30 days port-to port; approximately two months overall). Also, the paperwork wasn’t as burdensome as she expected.
With a little help, your move doesn’t have to be a source of stress and worry. Just remember to get several quotes, make sure communication is clear (even if you have an interpreter), and plan ahead whenever possible. Very little is negotiable in the relocation business, so knowing exactly what you want up front makes the process move more smoothly.
If you have the opportunity, observe other moves in your neighborhood early on – drop by to see their packing standards and crew. If you know a family that has moved recently, ask for positive and negative feedback.
Advise the crew of items you’ll need immediately when your shipment arrives so they can load it last and unpack it first.
Don’t cut the timing too close. Leave at least one day for buffer, just in case the packing and loading takes longer than expected.
Most relocation companies insist on it, but you should request a physical survey to understand estimated volume, costs, and anything additional such as crating, stairs, handling pianos, etc.
Try to plan in advance where you want your furniture and major appliances to go in your new home by mapping out a floor plan and giving it to your crew leader. This can save on frustration during on moving day.
Set aside full sets of bedding and make beds first thing upon unloading/unpacking. At the end of the day, you’ll be tired and won’t want to hunt down the sheets before getting some rest.
Be specific about what type of packing you want, especially when contracting companies on your own. From China, some typical practices include crating (there are sometimes bugs in the wood, which can ruin your furniture), or packing certain items in dirt. Insist on cardboard and bubble wrap if that’s what you want.
FIDI/FAIM members with 1,500 full-time dedicated staff members. Offers the largest fleet of trucks and the most warehouse space of any mover in East Asia. Provides post move follow-up. With every shipment, Asian Tigers makes a donation to a support program.
(6415 1188) www.asiantigers-china.com
Asian Express International Movers
Founded in 1979 with four locations in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. FIDI/FAIM accredited. Employs over 250 people. Offers downloadable information from their website, including customs hints, duty calculator and insurance forms.
(8580 1471) www.aemovers.com.hk
With more than 800 locations worldwide in over 40 countries, Allied Pickfords has eight China offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dalian, Chengdu, Suzhou and Shenyang. Offers international, domestic, local and office moving services, with a Move Coordinator to assist throughout the process from door-to-door.
(800 988 6683) www.alliedpickfords.com.cn
K2 Corporate Moving Systems
Visit their website for contact details; they have offices in the UK (headquarters), the US, Sweden and Singapore.
Links Moving Beijing
Wholly-owned moving company established in Hong Kong in 1997 with full range of household moving services and storage options. Now handles over 3,000 international moves worldwide each year. Website offers information including freight container sizes and details; online quotes available for smaller shipments. Keep an eye out for specials, such as free air freight with certain container sizes or percentage discounts for early booking during peak seasons.
(8447 7496) www.linksmoving.asia
Crown Relocations, Beijing
Crown Relocations’ services include domestic and international transportation of household goods, home and school search, storage, expense management, policy consulting and program administration, online tracking tools, transit protection and intercultural services. The company provides services for corporations, diplomats and private customers. Crown Relocations, a division of the Crown Worldwide Group, serves over 10,000 customers in over 250 locations in 55 countries.
(5801 8088) www.crownrelo.com