MSC container ship, Pixabay royalty-free image

Ultimate Expat Guide For Shipping Household Goods Overseas

Today, our shipment of household goods arrived in our driveway in Switzerland after an 8-week journey that started in our driveway in Oregon on June 30th. I finally have more than one pair of jeans to wear! Touille was ecstatic to see her monkey bed. And Travis – well, Travis was most excited to see the sole can of Nalley jalapeño chili he threw in at the last minute, despite my concerns about the “added weight.” Considering that I shipped my sewing machine, musical instruments, 50+ pounds of bead and art supplies, and more clothes and shoes than he’ll probably own in his lifetime, this seems fair. Here we share tips, the timeline, and the total cost of shipping household goods overseas from the USA to Europe, all from personal experience.

Our shipment of household goods overseas arrives in Switzerland
Feels like Christmas in September in the Switz!
Our shipment of household goods arrives in Switzerland after 8 weeks
Our dining room in Switzerland isn’t so empty anymore. Now we just need furniture.
Our dog doesn't care about the cost of shipping her monkey bed from Oregon to Switzerland
Touille is certainly happy we shipped her monkey bed. She’s 6 years old and has had it since she was a puppy.

From our house in Eugene – by way of Portland – our shipment was trucked overland across the breadth of the US to New York, where it was loaded onto the MSC Ilona, a cargo vessel bound for Antwerp, Belgium.

It then snaked its way along the Rhine River all the way into the heart of tiny, land-locked Switzerland, birth place of the river itself.

Trav was excited to find a maritime website called Marine Traffic where we could track the progress of our shipment.

MSC America cargo ship, Pixabay royalty-free image
We were surprised to discover that even a cargo ship of this size can travel the Rhine as far inland as Basel. *Pixabay royalty-free image*

My precious can of Nalley Jalapeño Hot chili is barreling toward me at a blistering average speed of 18 knots.

Travis Carney

This ends a chapter for us that started back in May when we first started looking into international moving companies. It was only a couple of months before Trav’s estimated July start date for his new job in Switzerland.

As per our usual, I did a brief Google search, randomly clicked on a company called iContainers, completed their 5-minute online estimate, and was sold. I was immediately encouraged by their online calculator showing the estimated cost of shipping our household goods. It was a lot cheaper than I expected.

When I cheerfully told Trav I’d successfully ticked off one of the big tasks on our seemingly endless “to do” list, he started firing questions at me, the first of which was:

How do you know it’s not a scam?

closely followed by:

Do you even know if it’s a real company?

Did you call them?

Did you read any reviews about them?

Where are they based?

What about Customs – do they handle that?

Did you look into it?!

GAH! Obviously I hadn’t done any of those things.

Luckily, he got down to the icky “research” part that I so abhor. Reviews by other customers weren’t readily available on any online sites, but he read about the company, confirmed it was legit, found several other companies, and got estimates for shipping household goods from them.

Ultimately we settled on iContainers.

It was by far the least expensive and the only one we found that didn’t charge a higher base rate to cover their standard policy of also actually packing your things for you.

Truck sent by iContainers for international relocation, Oregon to Europe
We saved at least $1000 by packing and palletizing our own shipment, which we preferred to do anyway, in part because we were still throwing things in boxes and madly packing the morning the shippers arrived.

Because we weren’t shipping that much (no furniture), we opted for an LCL – Less than a Container Load – under the ocean freight option.

iContainers also advertises “door to door” service, though it’s a bit deceptive. They do offer to make all the arrangements for your shipment, but some segments of the “door to door” won’t necessarily be included in your initial estimate. I don’t think this is intentional – it’s just a confusing and complicated process.

To start off, the billing and services offered are broken down into the basic shipping services, which cover a main port area to the export port: for us, Portland to New York.

Since we needed to get our things to Portland, they offered to send a truck to pick up our pallets from Eugene for an additional, reasonable fee. The initial quote we received included the pick up and delivery fees to Portland, land freight fees from Portland to New York, and ocean freight fees from New York to Basel, Switzerland.

The cost was $895 to ship just over 700 lbs (about 300 kg) on two partially full pallets. This quote was later amended twice to reflect additional fees, in part due to more weight than we originally estimated.

I blame Trav’s can of chili.

The ultimate total was $1131.40.

Trav's Nalley chili, part of our household goods' shipment from the US to Europe
Trav’s $1954 can of chili arrives, safe and sound.

iContainers was also very clear that we would owe Customs fees after our belongings were cleared in Basel and that we would need to make arrangements for delivery overland from Basel to our home near Fribourg. These fees were separate from iContainers services and would need to be paid at time of delivery in Basel.

They referred us to several Customs brokers in Switzerland. Trav contacted them shortly before we left the States but didn’t get any responses.

Then a few days before our shipment was scheduled to arrive in Basel, I received an email from a company called SACO completely out of the blue. They included a complete estimate for all fees associated with clearing our shipment with Customs and delivering it right to our door. After weighing van rental costs and gas prices, we opted to have them deliver rather than drive to Basel to pick it up.

The total for these services ended up being 336 CHF for mandatory Swiss fees and 420 CHF for SACO to clear our items with Customs and for delivery.

The total was 756 CHF/$823, bringing our total cost of shipping to $1954.

Not exactly chump change, but considering how expensive it is in Switzerland, it was totally worth shipping household goods overseas.

And now to unpack!

Relaxing after receiving our household goods' shipment from overseas
With our shipment delivered, we can relax and enjoy a late lunch on our terrace before diving into the job of unpacking.

More Useful Tips for Shipping Things Overseas

1. Don’t panic if you don’t have a home address in your destination country when you start the shipping process.

We didn’t have a fixed address in Switzerland when we were still in the US or for a month after our arrival. We used Trav’s work address as a “destination” and updated it on the bill of lading without having to pay additional fees shortly before our shipment arrived.

Just make sure to inform your shipping company that you don’t have a permanent address in your host country and inform them as soon as you have a fixed home address.

2. You can save money by packing your own boxes, but also palletizing your own shipment.

If you’re palletizing your own shipment, you might have to provide your own heat-treated pallets and shrink wrap.

Your local lumber company should be able to help. We paid $13 each for our two pallets from a local lumber company in Oregon that used the correct wood approved for international shipment. The wood has to be correctly treated to prevent against insects or any contamination hiding out in the wood that could spread. Make sure to ask the lumber company for the required certificates if they don’t provide them.

You’ll also need to shrink wrap your load. We bought a massive roll of shrink wrap at a local UHaul center for about $10.

3. This might go without saying, but insure your stuff!

Though rare, ships occasionally don’t arrive at their destination with your stuff. A cargo ship carrying gravel was recently involved in a collision with 2 passenger ships in Basel last month.

Ask your shipping company about insurance and what it covers. Insurance for our shipment was provided by iContainers.

Have you moved internationally?

If so, did you research international moving companies? Would you recommend them or not? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.  

Are you a newly arrived expat in Switzerland? These posts might be useful.

Know Before You Go
  • Website for iContainers
  • Official website for SACO
  • When we move again, we’ll likely use both iContainers and SACO again for shipping household goods, this time from Europe to the USA. *None of the links on this page are affiliate links, nor did we receive anything for recommending any companies. We were just happy with them.
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