How To Ship Your Stuff Safely to the U.S.

(AP Photo/The Paris News, G.J. McCarthy)

Standing in my east London kitchen nine months ago, I wondered, how many spatulas does a girl need? I was trying to trim a collection of seven and had so far only ruled out the one stained yellow and a wooden thing with a fungal infection. It was our last chuck out before big men would heave our belongings into a van, then onto a boat bound for the U.S.. Shippers charge by bulk and weight, so I compromised on a pair of spatulas, reasoning that one would get lonely. If Noah took two of everything, so could I.

Shipping is the most popular option for those who aren’t prepared to dispose of their furniture just because they’re moving somewhere on the other side of an inconveniently situated ocean. And it’s a good one, so long as you’re cautious. First, know that, whichever company you chose, it will be expensive. Your company can provide a quote online or over the phone, but it’s safer to request a house call in which a surveyor will measure your belongings and give you a more accurate estimate.

Eventually, we slimmed our stuff to a modest twelve boxes – plus an armchair and a guitar – and our shipping costs still came to nearly £1000 with insurance (around 10 percent of the total). We did get cheaper quotes, but we settled on a company that got top reviews.

On average, it takes a minimum of four weeks for your boxes to reach you, though it’s more likely to be a couple of months. Don’t despair: if you need to look for a place to live when you arrive in the U.S., this delay could actually be helpful. This way, you won’t have to clog up your hotel room, office or friend’s apartment with sofas and dusty cardboard towers.

Most shippers will wrap and pack for you, and even bring their own boxes. But don’t leave them to it. Check they’re using the containers wisely (remember, you’re paying for the space your stuff takes up), and make sure they swathe your treasures properly. I bubble-wrapped our breakables myself, knowing our shippers would only provide paper.

If you’re not taking furniture and want your stuff to arrive quickly, there is another option. Companies like FedEx and DHL will fly your boxes, and they’ll get to you within a week. It’s not as pricey as you might imagine, although they do generally charge by weight rather than bulk so you’ll need to do the maths before deciding if this is a more economical option than traditional shipping.

But before posting your worldly possessions, bear in mind that this is the DIY choice. You’ll need to buy your own boxes, then pack and weigh them yourself. (Cue some sweary conversations with your bathroom scale.) And when they arrive, you’ll need to print off and present a customs form.

If you’re really prepared to pack light or want to offset some of your shipping costs, you could simply pay the excess baggage fees and take more on your flight. We paid Virgin (who allow up to 10 extra bags per adult) £64 for two gigantic extra bags. We did it online, saving £8 per case. (Subsequent bags would have cost £72 each online or £90 at the airport.) I won’t pretend it was fun navigating JFK with our own height in luggage. But this way, we had an immediate skeleton set of possessions, including bed linen and towels – things that we’d definitely need inside of two months. Oh, and I may have sneaked an extra spatula in a side pocket.

What are the best ways to ship items internationally? Tell us below:

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis