How do I ship my life to the UK?
June 2, 2005 12:05 AM   Subscribe

I will soon be moving permanently from California to the UK. Besides the headaches of visa applications and plane tickets, I have an awful lot of crap I need to ship over. I'm looking for the cheapest, safest way to ship large amounts of clothing, books, etc. overseas. I don't mind if the cheapest option means it will take 3 months to arrive. Any advice on this matter is welcome.

Thankfully, I don't have to bother with shipping furniture. My issue is with clothing (including bulky coats), shoes, and books. I'm giving away all my soft cover novels to local used book stores, but it's the heavy hard cover "coffee table books" I will need to ship (ugh!).

Also, I have a lifetime of photographs I need to bring with me. I have no idea whether shipping them in albums or out is the best option. And if no albums is best, how in the world do I box them up safely? When it comes to the photos, I'm willing to pay a bit more to make sure they arrive safely without warping or damage.

Please help a clueless lady out. I know there are a few of you lurking these parts who have gone through the same thing. All advice is welcome.
posted by circe to Travel & Transportation around United Kingdom (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
USPS has done a fair job for me in the past. granted you pay for weight, but it's reliable, and cheaper than other shipping carriers. you might look into airline couriers too. check with the airline you're flying on to see what it costs to ship "passengerless goods" -- this is often a good alternative to paying for overweight luggage.

posted by quadrinary at 12:23 AM on June 2, 2005

Is storing them with friends or family in California and sending/bringing them back gradually not an option?
Depending on where you are in the UK, you might have a few months before you need bulky coats, for example, and it might help to spread out the costs a bit ...

For example, an extra (over the allotted weight, which is already 50-75 lbs) suitcase is $75-100, which, for photos that you want to preserve, might be worth it. I hear that for a guitar, it's way cheaper to bring it with you on the plane than to ship it. So on your next trip home, bring one bag, buy a cheap suitcase once home, fill it up, and bring two back with you?

Other than that, go Media Mail for the books, but tape 'em up WELL. I lost one Media Mail package on the way home from Belgium, and it was terribly disappointing.
posted by librarina at 12:23 AM on June 2, 2005

I'd also second the USPS as a "best bet" using surface mail. A few years ago I looked into exactly the same issue and if you take it slow you were still "quids in" to ship using the USPS. Even people who claim to be cheap were nearly double the cost.

The "media mail" I guess is printed matter and that's about half the cost of regular post. There is a weight limit per package - maybe 65 pounds? If you go to the limit you'll find it costs about a buck a pound. This might also be called an M-bag or something like that.

And I'd agree using a suitcase for photos and valuables (even hand-carry). Albums are bulk - you're moving cardboard, but you'd pay to replace them here.

Think hard about what you bring over. Rationalise everything. Things do cost a lot more over here. Do I use it? Enough to spend a buck a pound? Two? Why do I need this? Travel light. Your bearings are completely changing; it might be time to downshift.

I still have boxes of crap I brought over when I moved my whole life ('97) that I've not even opened (my wife still gives me grief about my collection of mardi gras beads). Depending on where you'll be, bulky heavy coats may not even be necessary. I have two long wool coats that I've barely touched in years except to move them from flat to flat or in and out of storage.
posted by sagwalla at 1:01 AM on June 2, 2005

Not only is stuff more expensive here, but so is space. You just won't have the amount of space for stuff as you did in the U.S. So I'd repeat what sagwalla says.
posted by grouse at 1:46 AM on June 2, 2005

M-bags are useful for books and cost about a dollar per pound. Go to your local post office, tell them you need an M-bag for books and they'll give you a large, ugly (and occasionally smelly) canvas sack. Stuff this with books, up to 65 lbs. Tie the books in bundles of 5 or 6 each, and/or tape them up. This is by far the best value in getting your books moved.

I mailed about 7 M-Bags to the UK from the East Coast, and although I never lost any, a couple of them arrived with some badly damaged/waterlogged books. Generally, do NOT ship anything where it would greatly upset you if it were damaged or lost. You're much better off paying the extra-bag fee and taking it on the plane. (Call your airline first, though, as the excess/overweight baggage fees have been going up lately.)

Previous posters are correct about the relative lack of storage space in the UK. If you haven't used it in a year, seriously consider leaving it behind. If you know you will be back in the US before winter sets in, by all means leave your out-of-season clothes and pick them up when you visit. In fact, I would advise to leave behind anything you are not 100% sure about taking, if you will be visiting the States at least once in the 18 months after you move. I eventually ended up throwing away more than three-quarters of my "undecideds."

I was very lucky in a macabre way--I moved fairly soon after 9/11, and at that time the airlines were desperate to get people on flights. So I was able to pick up several round trips to London for a ridiculously small fare, and used my free-luggage allowance on those to bring over most of my (non-printed-matter) stuff for a fraction of what it would have cost to ship. If you have a lot of stuff that you need to bring on a plane, and you can wait for it, check for deals between October and the end of March, when prices are lowest.
posted by Tholian at 2:23 AM on June 2, 2005

Contact your airline's freight desk. I don't know what air rates are anymore, but I know one person, who, not wanting to risk their library to m-bags, had the airline ship it as freight. It didn't travel in the same plane (it went out two days later) but it did go safely.

Triple post on the lack of space. You won't have what you think. If you have any uber-winter weather, don't bother, unless you are moving to the far north. Don't bother bringing the grubby clothes, either -- as a class, the Brits dress far better than we do on almost all levels. You'll need clothing that can cope with damp and cool, that being the core of UK weather. So, the Parkas can stay.

If you work in a business enviroment, expect to have work done to your suits, or replace them. Business dress is of a higher cut than it is here -- plus, the fashion is rather different, English suits fit much closer to the body than American suits.

Yadda Yadda. Everything will change. Have fun. Smile. After about a month, break down, hit a Starbucks and get a cup of Bad American Coffee. It'll help.

Good Luck! Can we crash on your couch?
posted by eriko at 4:35 AM on June 2, 2005

Make sure you make it clear to whoever you use that you want the goods treated as "personal effects" when they are entered into the UK. If you are not careful you could end up being charged duty and/or VAT on you belongings. Here is some information from the HMCE site. Especially take a look at section 4.2
posted by Carbolic at 9:42 AM on June 2, 2005

Make that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). I could have sworn they called themselves Her Majesty's Customs and Excise (HMCE). Maybe they went through an agency name changing exercise like the US did.
posted by Carbolic at 9:47 AM on June 2, 2005

M-bags may be the most cost effective way, and may take as little as four weeks (may take much much longer). BUT, as others have said, wrap your books really well. They will arrive appearing to have been flung around and will be very bruised and battered.
You can also get a moving company to quote you on a grouppage rate for a small amount of stuff. Since California to UK is almost all by sea (via Panama canal) rather than over land, you may be suprised at how little it costs.
Grouppage just means you don't have enough to fill one of those giant metal shipping containers so they'll hold your stuff (not long usually) until a bigger container is traveling roughly the same route.
You can get a quote on this (they come to your house and eyeball your stuff) for free from any major moving company. And as I said, over the sea is cheap, overland is expensive, so you may luck out.
posted by cushie at 3:48 PM on June 2, 2005

I've had good luck shipping large freight containers between countries using DHL. So, if you're talking about crates and crates worth of stuff, you might look into them.
posted by dejah420 at 7:02 PM on June 2, 2005

I think you can put a box into an M-bag; anything that fits, so long as it's not overweight and contains only printed matter. That should help with the damage control.
posted by sagwalla at 3:40 AM on June 3, 2005

I suggest bringing just some nice sexy underwear, some books that I haven't read yet and some duty free cigarettes.

You can leave the Bette Midler CD's behind.
posted by longbaugh at 10:44 AM on June 3, 2005

« Older Residents of Hong Kong   |   blocking "ilicit" sites Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.