The last three months have been the busiest of my life. One of the most challenging parts of moving to Brisbane was shipping our belongings abroad.
Everyone seemed to think that because we had shippers coming to pack our things, it was going to be easy for us. How wrong they were!
If you’re thinking of emigrating and were wondering how the shipping process works, then hopefully you’ll find this useful. Either way, I hope it gives you an insight into the last few crazy weeks of our lives getting ready for the big move.
Shipping your belongings abroad: Which shippers to use
Look at the online emigration forums (PomsinOz is my favourite for Australia) and find three shipping companies that are recommended. Invite them around and have a rough list of what you want to take from each room of your house (include the shed and garage) otherwise you could end up forgetting to include everything (like I did!) All of your quotes will come out based on different volumes, which makes comparing them difficult as each company will class a bed or a bike as a slightly different volume. The price you’re quoted is based on the amount of time packing will take and the packing material needed too in addition to the size of the containter – so one quote for a 20ft container will differ from another based on how full they think the container is going to be.
Here’s a few questions you should ask: Who handles your goods at the other end? What fees are/aren’t included? How do they plan to pack your goods – do they bring the container to your drive or street (is this practical?) or take your goods away in a van and then load at their depot (which means you don’t get sight of how tightly it is being packed and runs the risk of you going over capacity without you being on site to comment)? How long can the items be stored before you are charged a storage fee at either end? How many days do they think it will take to pack? How far in advance do you need to book? What is the latest opportunity to move the date without losing money once you’ve made a firm booking, just in case your house sale fell through or there was a family emergency (they usually offer an insurance policy for this if you’re concerned)?
Clean, clean, clean and then store somewhere indoors
I’ve mentioned this before, but the immigration process is REALLY strict if you’re moving to Australia. If you’re taking tools, shoes, bikes, scooters, sports equipment, a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, tumble dryer or anything from outside in your shed or garage then it needs to be thoroughly cleaned. I spent weeks cleaning our things using Jeyes Fluid (apparently it’s useful to clean with something smelly like that so that when they open up the container they can smell that you’ve made the effort) and scrubbing things with an old toothbrush. After cleaning, I’d bring the things indoors and then inspect them again the following day because there were always bits I’d missed. The hardest part of the cleaning was finding somewhere sensible to store the items when they were clean. I couldn’t put them back in the shed where there were spiders, so instead most of them came into our hallway and dining room. By the time shippers came we had a huge barbeque, a few tool boxes and two bikes in the dining room so could barely fit in there to eat dinner.
Get things down from the loft
If your loft is anything like ours, it’s not a fun place to be. For the last few years we’ve avoided going in our loft other than to shove something out of sight and force the hatch closed again quickly so we didn’t have to deal with the growing mass of junk and boxes we had stored up there. Earlier in the year we tackled it by clearing out a lot of stuff for car boot sales and selling on eBay, but we were left with a LOT of stuff (by the way, it turned out that selling in ‘job lots’ on eBay was the most effective way to clear the junk – bundle your items together to sell baby things, DVDs and CDs etc. as doing the actual car boot sales took ten hours a go and people wanted to haggle us below 10p per item – depressing!) Much of what we had left was memory boxes. I had too many baby outfits that I couldn’t bear to give away, kids’ footprints, memorabilia from our travels, my wedding dress, old school books from when Husband and I were children…all irreplaceable items that we didn’t want to get rid of. We had to get everything down from the loft to go through it all and this meant we needed somewhere to store it. With five people spread across three bedrooms, the only way we could do it was to sell our bed and use our bedroom as the main sorting room. Husband and I moved to the sofa bed in the living room. It wasn’t ideal but for the last two weeks it meant we had a big room to use to organise things.
Sell big pieces of furniture
To fit into a 20ft container, we decided to sell some of our big pieces or furniture. We got rid of some chests of drawers and also decided to sell our wardrobes. Many houses in Australia have walk in robes plus we weren’t sure how they’d last the journey in a container. Getting rid of our wardrobes meant packing up the contents which wasn’t so much fun but it gave us a nudge to sort out clothes for charity shops and work out which things we wanted to take with us in our cases.
Selling the kids’ garden play equipment was a difficult decision to make, but the thought of repainting the wooden frames and cleaning every inch of things put us off. Plus as it was just coming up to the summer holidays, play equipment was selling really well on the local Facebook sites so we got rid of it all easily.
Unless you’re getting your shippers to quote on dismantling specific items, assume you need to do it. For us, this meant taking the kids’ beds apart (including two big cabin beds). We were able to keep E in her cot until the last minute but her bedroom became another storage room for all of the flat packed pieces of furniture.
I got a couple of large boxes and marked them clearly with the word ‘LEAVE’. Anything I didn’t want the shippers to touch got put into these boxes. Things like bills we needed to take, photographs I didn’t want to part with, hard drive back ups (x2) of everything on our PC that was going in the container, tablet computers, chargers, jewellery, smellies, laptops, birthday cards for people for the next couple of months, address books, confirmation print outs of things like our accommodation, tickets, passports…
I started these boxes a couple of weeks before the shippers came to give us time to fill the boxes. I also started to group together things that weren’t coming with us that we needed to keep out (e.g. an old vacuum we were giving away after we’d cleaned up, cleaning products and anything we were planning on throwing away at the last minute).
On the day the shippers arrive…
Our shippers were booked to be with us for two days. To get ready for the shippers, think about the things you’d like them to leave until last. They’re usually pretty flexible about what order things go in. We asked if they could leave the kitchen until the second day, along with the sofa bed and television.
My first task (after putting on the kettle and opening the biscuits) was taking them around the house and showing them which items were staying. You need to try to put things together that are staying, as the shippers are working in a team in different rooms and they pack at an alarming speed so you won’t be able to be everywhere watching them telling them as they go. After the first day we had one room clear, so we put all of our cases and things that were staying in that room out of the way and shut the door so they wouldn’t accidentally pack something we needed.
When it comes to your kitchen, make sure all of your food stuff is boxed out of the way so it doesn’t get packed accidentally. Although if your shippers are used to international moves they should be savvy about what can and can’t go in.
The best piece of advice I have is to be available and around on the days the shipping is taking place. There will be questions asked about things, discussions about the preferred way to pack things and you might need to do some more flat packing of items to make more space. For this reason, make sure they pack your tools last as we used our screwdrivers more than ever when the shippers were in and if they’d gone in first we’d have been stuck.
We found it essential to have our kids out of the way while the shippers were in, because the front door stayed open all day and there are people working in most rooms. There is just no way we could have managed keeping three under fives in the house under those circumstances, especially as all of their toys were boxes up too. Thankfully they went to stay with family for a few days, otherwise one of us would have needed to take them out for the day leaving one of us to be around for the shippers.
My top shipping survival tips
On the run up to the shippers coming, fill your fridge with easy meals. There was no time to cook so being able to grab an oven pizza and bag of salad or a ready roasted chicken from the fridge meant we still got to eat something.
Forgive yourself for eating too many take aways. It’s a really difficult period of your life. You’ll probably burn off the extra calories and the kids won’t hurt from missing a couple of home-cooked dinners.
Ask for help. If you have young kids you need help as it’s impossible to do it alone. Whether this comes from a childminder, family or friends it doesn’t matter, but doing all of this with very young children and babies around 24/7 is challenging and really takes it out of you.
Don’t worry that your house looks bizarre. I was worried the shippers would think we were crazy for having an entire room full of flat packed furniture, and for having so much garage stuff in our dining room but they told us we were really organised compared to lots of families and completely on the normal scale. Phew.
Don’t book the insurance offered by your movers. There are cheaper places to get it – check on the forums for advice. I saved about £300 by going with another company and it wasn’t as complicated as the removal company made out it would be.
Finally, I’d also say try to allow yourself some time after the shippers have been to do all of the other admin jobs before you move. There are a lot of things to work through before you go and while you’re busy with the packing/sorting you won’t have time to ring up to cancel credit cards or sort out your child benefit. We spent four weeks after the house sale with family and this gave us some quality time with our parents as well as time to sell our car and do the paperwork.
I think that’s about it. I hope that has given you all an insight into why I didn’t blog for a while last month!
If you’re going through this right now, just remember the time will pass and before you know it your things will be chugging across the sea to your new home and your next adventure.