Moving abroad? How to pick a reliable international removal company

Katie Russell
You've packed up all your belongings...now what? Here's how to find a reliable international removal company - Getty Images Contributor

Jumping on a plane and starting a new life seems so simple in films (here’s looking at you, Mamma Mia 2). All you apparently need is your passport, a large sunhat and a tiny suitcase.

In real life, however, you’d also want to add your sofa, laptop and entire wardrobe - especially if you are moving abroad for a long time. Transporting all of your worldly possessions to another country requires a great deal of consideration and - unless you’re willing to pay huge excess baggage fees - an international removal company.

Such companies have three types of removals available: groupage, baggage and full container. A groupage service transports your belongings with others’ items, and you only pay for the space you take up. Baggage service is similar, but you instead pay per item. The full container service, on the other hand, gives you sole use of the carrier - which is ideal if you are hauling the entire contents of your house.

The mode of transportation depends on the destination. If you are moving from the UK to a European country, your belongings will likely travel in a lorry. If you are going further afield, however, they will probably travel by boat. A UK removal company loads the goods for shipment and their trusted partner company takes over the freight in the foreign destination.

This service comes at a cost - and can range from £2,000 to £10,500 depending on if you’re travelling to Europe or further afield, according to comparemymove.com. Even so, don’t fall into the trap of choosing the cheapest option. Instead, follow our guide on how to pick a reliable international removal company - according to the experts.

Check their credentials

A lawyer from Harvard is more impressive than an unqualified trainee; in the same way, qualifications are essential when choosing a trustworthy removal company.

Credentials can give you peace of mind - especially since “the removals industry has notoriously low barriers to entry and lots of it can be fairly unregulated,” according to Ian Studd, director general at the British Association of Removers (BAR).

You can typically trust a company that has a FIDI Accredited International Mover (FAIM) certification. A FAIM-accredited mover will complete annual internal audits, as well as an external audit every three years from FIDA, the independent governing body.

Aside from assuring the quality of the service, certifications can also provide consumers with security. If a removal company is part of the BAR, they have an advance payment guarantee scheme which protects consumers if the company goes into liquidation. In this situation, the removal would be carried out by a separate BAR company.  

Choose a specialist

If you’re a jack of all trades, you’re a master of none. That’s why “it’s always a good idea to choose a company that specialises in a certain area,” says Liam Witham, managing director at PSS Removals. In other words: don’t hire a company that usually caters to domestic deliveries if you’re moving to Australia.

Companies that specialise in international removals will be equipped with the right materials, their staff will have expertise in how to pack the containers, and they will often have a good relationship with Customs.

To find a removal service with an international specialism, Studd recommends going on referral platforms and looking at reviews. “Carry out due diligence on the potential service provider. Look at their rating and look at their experience,” he says.

Avoid cash in hand

Companies who offer to take belongings overseas in exchange for cash-in-hand should not be trusted, according to Studd. “If a potential service provider were offering to do a continental or overseas move cash-in-hand, I would advise the consumer to run a million miles.”

Moving abroad requires significant involvement with Customs - not just in the UK but in the foreign destination, too. As such, movers will need to provide bills of lading - a record of traded goods which have been received on board - and other documentation. “The cash-in-hand solution does not sit with that,” Studd says. “That is just not an appropriate way of doing business.”

Expect solid advice

If a removal company is keeping you in the dark, steer clear. As part of their accreditation, reliable removal services are trained to give comprehensive advice. “Any reputable mover will provide a degree of advice to the consumer at the point of raising the quotation - and there’s no obligation at that point on the consumer to place that contract with the mover,” Studd says.

The company should give clear advice through each stage of the process. For instance, a reputable mover will tell the consumer that they need to provide documentation, including proof of employment and copies of their passport, so the company can arrange the transit documents and give them to Customs.

Shop around

Make peace with it now: moving your possessions to another country will be expensive. But you should still try to find the best deal possible.

“We would always suggest that the consumer should market test at least two or three comparable quotations,” says Studd. Ask three companies to give you a quotation in writing, and then consider your options.

When considering the quotations, however, look beyond the price tag. “Look at the service offerings from those companies and make the comparisons that way,” Studd suggests.

Choose one that will pack your belongings

One of the most useful services is for a removal team to pack up the goods, as the team will be “professionally-trained” and will use durable and “industry-approved” materials, according to Witham.

If goods are travelling by sea, they are vulnerable to changing weather conditions, so “having things packed properly and professionally will ensure the safest outcome,” Studd adds.

If any items are damaged in transit, they may be covered by insurance - provided the removal company packed the goods.

The packing service costs approximately 30% of the removal, according to Witham - but is more than worth it for your peace of mind.