How do we get our stuff to Germany without breaking the bank?
June 17, 2009 5:44 PM   Subscribe

What's the best option for shipping several boxes of household items from Canada to Germany?

In August, my girlfriend and I will be relocating from Toronto to Berlin. Seeing as we'll be there for at least a year, it would be great if we could bring more than just a couple of suitcases of stuff with us. Extra baggage charges on the plain are prohibitively expensive, as are the usual shipping options (Canada Post, UPS, FedEx, etc.). We've been looking for specific information on renting a small space in a shipping container, but online details are slim and mostly relate only to US companies.

We'd mostly be shipping some extra clothes, shoes, books and so on, and delivery time isn't that important. Any tips or experiences would be great. Thanks in advance!
posted by freudenschade to Travel & Transportation around Germany (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We've been looking for specific information on renting a small space in a shipping container, but online details are slim and mostly relate only to US companies.

Could you go in person to the Toronto Port Authority to ask someone there for advice?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:58 PM on June 17, 2009

I know someone who used a shipping container to get their stuff from Australia to Canada. Be prepared for unexpected extra shipping etc. charges, but it's probably still the most efficient method.
posted by Billegible at 7:35 PM on June 17, 2009

Hmm, I don't have any experience shipping from Canada to Germany, but we have shipped stuff via sea freight from Germany to the US (we're wine importers).

What you're looking for is a "global logistics" firm and what you're shipping will be "LCL" or "Less than Container Load" although smaller 20 ft containers are available depending on how much stuff you have. LCL is always more expensive than full container, BUT that doesn't always make the 20 ft containers a good deal, they're expensive too, go figure. Anyway, sounds to me like you won't have more than a pallet or two at the most - a standard pallet is about 4ft x 4ft, and I think you can stack them 5ft high (maybe even higher).

Watch out for extra costs like ground transport from your place in Canada to the nearest major port, and from Antwerp/Hamburg (probably nearest major ports to you on the European side) to your final destination. If you can, try to use the same carrier for both ground and sea transport to minimize the chance of stuff getting lost. Not sure what customs issues you'll run into, but the logistics company will be able to guide you through that.

Try Elsen first and also get a quote from Kuehne + Nagel, they are probably too commercial and expensive for what you need, but it's a good place as any to start! Go into the conversation with a detailed list of stuff you want to ship and their dimensions. And you may have to be flexible about transit time. Our wine takes about 4-5 weeks door-to-door to reach us, but we're on the West Coast, and it is alcohol -- hopefully you would get your stuff faster! Wish I could give you a reference, but our guy at Elsen retired, we never ended up using K+N, and now use a logistics company only does wine (refrigerated don't need that, don't let them sell you any kind of temperature control).

It seems like an overwhelming amount of detail, but it is doable and all the logistics people we've ever talked to have been super professional and helpful, even when we were complete newbies. Sehr sehr sehr jealous that you are moving to Berlin, hope you have a fantastic time :)
posted by booksandwine at 8:30 PM on June 17, 2009

Few points:

1) If you must ship things, make sure you write "Used goods" or "present" or "candy" or something like that on the box. Otherwise you'll be paying import duties. HEAVY import duties. Not. fun.

2) There's little in Canada you can't get in Europe. You're talking big bucks--twice, when you ship back. And shipping FROM Germany is, from personal experience, absolutely insanely expensive.
posted by jefficator at 9:47 PM on June 17, 2009

I'm sure you already know this, but be very careful to document what's in each box in case the shipping service loses it. DHL lost one of my boxes of books (they and the USPS fumbled a handover in the Frankfurt airport as far as I can tell, and both blamed the other), and I really rued the fact that I didn't have a list of which books were in which box, so that I could replace them easily. A friend had a similar experience with a shipping container service, so it's definitely a risk with any method.
posted by ubersturm at 10:18 PM on June 17, 2009

Best answer: We moved from the US to Belgium last year and the cheapest option for us -- by far -- was to use a moving company. We used Allied, who exist worldwide, but I don't know what they're like in Canada, so other options may be better for you. But they took care of lots of paperwork -- and the real work of packing things carefully and putting them in a shipping container -- that made it even more worth it than we initially expected.

Also, you probably know that you don't have to only bring two suitcases on the plane with you. Some airlines will let you bring up to 10 (or more) bags/boxes/etc. Yes, you have to pay for them, of course, but often that's still much cheaper than any alternative. (I race bikes, and we brought 3 bikes, plus boxes with extra wheels, on the plane for a little over $150. Other shipping options would have been closer to $1000 for all that stuff.) All this depends on the airline, but if you're thinking of bringing like 5 extra big boxes and not 30 boxes, this is probably the cheapest and easiest option. I realize you said that extra baggage charges are prohibitively expensive, but have you actually looked carefully at what they will be? We were really surprised to discover how much more affordable they were than other shipping options for some particular items.

You should think hard about exactly what you want to bring, what you absolutely need, what won't even work over here. Lots of stuff we brought I now think we should have just left behind (our American bedsheets won't fit most European mattresses -- who would have thought?) and a few things are in storage in the US and I wish they were here. You probably know this, but so did we, and now, in retrospect, I realize we could probably have saved a lot of money by being even more extra-super thoughtful about exactly what we couldn't live without here.
posted by dseaton at 11:26 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I absolutely second what dseaton said about the baggage fees. When you look at the weight of what you can check vs. the cost of mailing/shipping that same weight, the difference can be huge. I moved most of my stuff from the U.S. to the Netherlands using this method.

I also found the USPS priority flat-rate boxes very helpful. They're not huge boxes, but if you load them up to their maximum allowed weight, they're a very good deal.
posted by transporter accident amy at 12:23 AM on June 18, 2009

When I moved to Germany, I used a relocation company, Interdean, that had partners in both my origin and destination cities (and, looking at the website, they'll probably work for you too). The local company came by, gave an estimate, packed everything up, weighed it, put it in on the crate and off it went. They even kept my stuff in storage while I found a flat, at which point they moved everything in.

Doing less-than-container load is quite easy, particularly if you can get your stuff on a cargo ship rather than a cargo plane. A word of warning, though - get rid of as many books as you can bear to part with. They add up fast when you're paying by the kilogram. Had I known better, I would have taken more cooking items, no CDs, and far fewer books.
posted by cmonkey at 1:50 AM on June 18, 2009

Response by poster: Excellent info from all perspectives! Thanks to those who have submitted. We're exploring a few of the options -- grilling SwissAir on further extra baggage options, and a couple of the relocation companies. More suggestions are always welcome...
posted by freudenschade at 7:36 AM on June 18, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, and as a spelling/grammar nerd, I must apologize for writing 'plain' instead of 'plane' in the original post. Ugh.
posted by freudenschade at 7:38 AM on June 18, 2009

I mainly work with shipments going the other direction [from Europe to the US] but I asked my freight forwarder, and they recommended Welke [] in Canada and -- once you get over there -- Westar [] in Germany.
posted by alynnk at 8:02 AM on June 18, 2009

Also, if you would need/want information about regulations re: importing personal effects, let me know and and I can talk to my own Germans and see what I can find out.
posted by alynnk at 8:08 AM on June 18, 2009

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