Moving House Abroad: 20 Packing and Moving Tips From An Expert

So we’re moving countries again next week. New tax system. New car registration system. New everything.

At least we’re not moving far geographically, this time. So while we’re in the middle of all this packing mayhem, I thought I’d share my packing and moving tips for moving house abroad, since this is the third time I’ve moved countries between two different continents, and about the zillionth time I’ve moved house in total.

  1. Have the biggest clear-out. Some people say to do it before you start to pack but I find it’s better to do it as I’m packing because that way I know what space I have and what I need to take.
  2. Make the most of your luggage allowance or the space in your car. We like to do as few trips as possible. When we moved from England to China and from China to Northern Ireland, we just took what we were allowed to have with our plane tickets.
  3. Don’t waste money, time, space or the environment on bubble wrap (or even newspaper). Wrap your delicates in your clothes. Seriously, you have these squishy things and these delicate things, put the two together!
  4. Pack out any space inside mugs, pans etc with clothes or other fabrics.
  5. Try to keep books to a minimum. Those are heavy and they take up a LOT of space. Anything that’s not a profound, life-changing, awe-inspiring tome of knowledge with a cover that belongs at the Tate should be switched for a Kindle version (get the Kindle app for your phone or consider a Kindle tablet), and take the hardcopy to a charity shop.
  6. Weigh your suitcases! Use your bathroom scales or get a hand luggage scale. If they’re over 35kg (about 70lb) most airlines won’t take them, so at that point, your best plan is to split your luggage and pay for an extra bag.
  7. In your carry-on, have a few things in case your checked bag gets lost. You’ll want at least a change of clothes and a toothbrush.
  8. Take a handbag/purse. This one’s mostly aimed at guys. You are leaving valuable luggage space on the table if you don’t get a man bag or laptop bag and pack it to the max with bits and bobs. You are allowed to take a carry on case and a handbag/laptop bag in the cabin of every airline.
  9. If you have medications to take with you, be sure to get a doctor’s note (in America) or print out a photo of your prescription (in the UK) so you can prove you were prescribed them properly. Look up what you can’t take into the country, because some places (like UAE) have very, very strict rules. Never, ever take prescription meds into a country with the sole intent to give them to someone else.
  10. Pack your cosmetics according to the temperature of the airports you’ll be passing through. Any cosmetic that’s super-unstable in heat or coldness should go in your carry-on, if possible. Check out my complete guide to traveling with cosmetics.
  11. If you’re moving with a hire vehicle such as a self-drive van, be sure you’re legally allowed to cross country borders with it. Some vehicles won’t let you, or charge you extra for “insurance”.
  12. If you’re taking a fridge, there are special rules for moving a fridge. Don’t ever lay it flat on its back. Empty it and defrost it before traveling. Tape the doors so they don’t fall open and get damaged. Either move it upright or, if your van can’t do that (as many can’t), prop it at an angle using a sturdy box. If that’s not possible either, lay it on the side opposite the door hinges. Let it stand 8-24 hours before turning on, depending how long it was in transit.
  13. Shipping companies will move your stuff around the world if you need them, but they are very expensive, so be sure you really want to take everything you’re moving.
  14. Label your boxes. Even small boxes packed in a suitcase. It’s too easy to forget what’s in them when you arrive, and that means you have to open them all before figuring out which room they go in.
  15. Take boxes directly to the room they’re for. That keeps your thoroughfare clutter-free while you’re emptying things.
  16. Protect your new carpets by putting down cardboard or linoleum in the main walkways e.g. around your front door. Otherwise, everything will get grubby, fast.
  17. Get your electricity, heating, water and broadband services connected up before you arrive. Some countries can take over a month between you signing up and them actually connecting you!
  18. Take a flashlight or torch, a blanket and a solar battery charger (if you’re moving locally, get a solar generator and some charging panels) as backup in case your electricity isn’t on when you arrive. I have moved house dozens of times and I have almost never arrived to find the electricity is working immediately.
  19. Check the car licensing restrictions before moving your car. You may have to swap your licence for a local one, and you will almost certainly need to re-register your car, and you may have to do this within a fixed time. In China, if you want to drive, you’ll need to apply for a driving test and pass it.
  20. If you don’t have curtains, yet, you can get some privacy by draping towels or sheets over the curtain rails, or if you have the right kind of windows, you can jam the top of a bedsheet in there and cover the windowpane with it. If none of these apply, get some liquid Windolene (not the spray stuff) and put a thick layer over your windows with a cloth. People used to do this all the time back in the 80s and 90s.

Moving abroad is pretty stressful, but try to focus on the end point – living in your exciting new country! And share your best tips in the comments!

Author: Torie Adams

I am a thirtysomething travel writer, lifestyle blogger, photographer, and USA Today bestselling author in Northern Ireland, aka Mama Adventure. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.mamaadventure.com Twitter: @mamaadventurez