Getting Your Stuff Overseas (Pods, Containers & more)

GoodMigrations Whale


There is lots to consider and plan when moving overseas. Whether moving for work, a lifestyle change or education, we usually all have items we want to take with us. If you plan on taking more than “excess baggage,” you will need to consider how your stuff will get shipped to your destination.

Which shipping method your moving company chooses to use greatly impacts shipping rates and thus, your bottom line. For this reason, it’s important to understand what it is they are proposing and what your other options are if there are any.

There are 5 factors that shipping companies use to calculate costs. They are weight/volume, mode of transportation, distance, destination and time of year.
5 factors to calculate shipping costs

The first thing to note is how much you decide to ship greatly affects your shipping options. To keep costs down, it’s important to declutter and purge prior to requesting quotes and getting an in-home survey. This step is usually overlooked until after a quote is received and costs are over budget. So be proactive!

There are 3 major ways to ship your goods abroad; depending on how much you are shipping and where you are shipping will naturally eliminate a couple of these.

  • Land Trucks and rail freight (also known as intermodal) are the two types of land shipping methods. This is a great option but only available to those shipping domestically and non-ocean crossing shipping. The costs and speed are both moderate.
  • Air Freight Air freight has by far the fastest transit. This is a good option if you are on a very tight moving schedule. However, this shipping method is also by far the most expensive way to ship. An air shipment can cost 10x that of a sea freight. Unless cost is not important and timing is urgent, it is highly recommended to use bulk shipping via sea freight.
  • Sea Freight Also known as container shipping, is by far the cheapest way to ship internationally but is also the slowest. Depending on the route this could take anywhere from several days to several months. I know several months doesn’t sound ideal however, for people with a medium to large shipment going overseas, this is your only option. Taking some time to plan accordingly will help you be best prepared for any delays.

Sea Freight is the most cost effective and widely used method for overseas shipping.  Let’s take a moment to better understand our options.

The most common type of container is a dry storage container used to ship most household items. Other options include refrigerated containers, ventilated, insulated/thermal containers, and car carriers. 

The most commonly used container sizes for household goods are Lift vans, 20ft and 40ft containers.

Lift Vans

  • Suitable for: Clothing, small furniture, few boxes. Approximately the size of 3 single-door coat closets.
  • Typical measurement: Size 87x45x87
  • Total internal volume: 197 cubic feet

20ft Shipping Container

  • Suitable for: 1-2 bedroom moves or a car with only a few boxes.
  • Typical measurements: Size (LxWxH): 19′ 10.5″ x 8′ 0″ x 8′ 6″ (6.1m x 2.4m x 2.6m)
  • Total internal volume: 1,169 ft³ (33.1 m³)
  • Net shipping load: 61,289 lb (28,200 kg)

40ft Shipping Container

  • Suitable for: 3-5 bedroom moves or a car plus a typical two bedroom move
  • Typical measurements: Size (LxWxH): 40′ 0″ x 8′ 0″ x 8′ 6″ (12.2m x 2.4m x 2.6m)
  • Total internal volume: 2,385 ft³ (67.5 m³)
  • Net shipping load: 57,759 lb (26,600 kg

Overseas shipping container sizes

The volume of your shipment will determine the size of your shipping container. Your full-service international moving company will choose the best fit for your overseas shipment.

Full Container Load (FCL) refers to a container that is filled completely with your home’s contents and only your contents. A Less than Container Load (LCL) refers to a container that is only partially filled with your home’s contents and may be filled with items belonging to other people. An LCL may also be referred to as a shared container.

When your goods do not fill a container (i.e. you have LCL) there are generally three options:

    • The company will consolidate other shipments into the same container (called groupage), typically by putting your stuff in a lift van. A lift van is a wooden box (think of a pallet with walls and a roof); it generally has a length of 86″ (~2.2 meters) so anything longer than this, like a big sofa, will not fit. With groupage, your goods will sit in a warehouse until there are enough to fill a container. If you’re going somewhere that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, or you are shipping during off season, this can take a while.
    • The company does its own consolidation and so is not constrained to shipping every single item in a lift van.
    • The moving company does not consolidate other goods in LCL containers and would, therefore, charge you for the entire container, even though your stuff only fills up part of the container. This is called a sole use container.

Be sure to discuss FCL and LCL when you get your moving quotes from GoodMigrations’ partners. This is very important in getting an understanding of timing and how quickly your belongings will be shipped. 

What if your shipment is already boxed up? What if you aren’t looking for a full-service moving company? What if my shipment is smaller than an LCL? These are also questions to ask yourself.

Another option that some consider are international shipping pods or shipping crates.

PODS Shipping Container Sizes

How PODS work:

A company of your choice delivers a moving and storage pod that is left for you to fill. You will be responsible for packing and loading the pod up. When ready, the company will return to pick up the filled pod and ship it to your destination. This could be a domestic or international destination.

“PODS” come in varying sizes and usually range from 50 cubic feet to 200 cubic feet. Shipping this method can be a more cost-effective way to ship smaller volumes overseas. Bear in mind though that most times, the client is usually required to do the packing and loading themselves. Do a cost comparison of these methods to find the safest and most cost effective way to ship your personal belongs overseas. 

It’s important to choose the right international moving company to help with your shipment. Read our Step-by-Step Guide on How to Hire an International Mover so you can get started and plan for a successful move abroad.

Moving abroad Shipping

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