All movers are not created equally. The scams that plague domestic moving — damaged property, price gouging, delayed delivery — occur with international moves as well, where the stakes are much higher. While most moving companies provide consistently good service, the internet is littered with horror stories of people whose moves went poorly.
Here are five things you need to do to protect yourself.
#1 Get quotes from at least three companies
Even if your friend had an amazing experience with such-and-such company, you should get quotes from at least 3 companies about 8-10 weeks prior to your planned move date.
Many companies offer online forms you can fill out to get an instant quote. These instant quotes are a good way to whittle your way down to three companies, but you should never hire a mover based on these alone.
Any reputable company will insist on sending a representative to your home to conduct an in-home survey. You should not be charged for this visit; if any company says there is a fee, take them off your list for consideration.
These in-home surveys are important for a couple reasons. First, the representative gets to see in person how much stuff you’re moving and will be able to give you a more accurate quote. Second, you’ll get an opportunity to see whether the person is punctual and knowledgeable, which will give you an idea of what the company is like.
#2 Verify that each company is licensed
Most companies list their relevant licenses on their websites (check the bottom of the homepage). If you don’t see it, ask for it. Then check the license number on the relevant licensing body’s website. In the United States you can check a mover’s license on the U.S. Department of Transportation site. Any U.S. moving companies that ship internationally via the ocean must also be licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission.
#3 Make sure you compare the quotes
Once you’ve received all the quotes, it’s critical that you compare them. One quote may be $3,000 and one may be $5,000.
The cost difference may be explained away because one company is simply more expensive. On the other hand, the movers may be offering very different services.
What is not included is as important as what is — will they provide packing materials, cover clean-up at your destination, and pay for port charges if shipping by sea? Are they picking up from your old home and delivering to your new home, or only delivering to the nearest port? If you’re unclear about what is included or what a term refers to, get clarification in writing.
#4 Insure your move
Things can and do go wrong during international moves, even with the best of companies: a box falls during loading and breaks dishware, the shipment sits in a humid storage container and some furniture gets moldy, part of a shipment gets lost (seriously, it happens). You need to protect yourself against these things. In fact, some moving companies require you to insure your move.
Many moving companies have their own insurance companies that they’ll recommend to you. While these may be separate legal entities, you can see the conflict of interest here. Talk to your existing home, car, or rental insurance provider to see if it’s something they offer or if they can make a recommendation.
There are generally two kinds of insurance offered: Total Loss and All Risk. Total Loss insurance will only compensate you if your shipment is 100% damaged or lost. If you pack your own goods you can only get this type of insurance. The reason is that most people are not experienced packers, so the contents are more likely to be damaged.
All Risk insurance covers both individual items (i.e. a mirror gets broken) and the total shipment for all types of damage and loss. A moving company may specifically exclude some items in its Terms and Conditions, however, so make sure you read the fine print.
#5 Document the condition of each item and make sure the movers sign off on the condition
Document, document, document. Take photos and videos of the stuff you’re shipping to document the condition of each item. And when the movers come to your house to pack and create an inventory, they should write the condition of each item on the inventory and provide you with a signed copy. This way, if anything does get damaged, you’ve got plenty of documentation to show it wasn’t already damaged when they packed it.
There’s a key theme running through these five tips: be proactive. When you take these extra steps to protect yourself, you minimize the chance that your moving experience is a bad one.
Adam Vagley is co-founder of GoodMigrations, a free resource for people moving abroad to find international movers, read customer reviews of those movers, and get tips from the comprehensive moving guide. Adam was inspired to launch GoodMigrations after his own experience moving from New York City to Sydney, Australia. He can be reached on Twitter at @GoodMigrations. His personal expat blog is http://theviewdownunder.blogspot.com.
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