How do I move my worldly goods across the Atlantic?
March 1, 2015 5:59 PM   Subscribe

I have recently acquired and accepted an exciting job opportunity in Sweden -- a two-year postdoctoral research post. It's great! I'm excited! I ... don't want to sublet other people's houses for two years. So I need to move my furniture (and a whole bunch of academic reference books, without which the postdoc isn't going to go so well) from their current location across the Atlantic. How do I best do this? Difficulty: I'm an American and me and all my objects are currently in semi-rural Canada. And I can't drive.

I start work in Sweden on May 1st, and I have temporary furnished housing in Uppsala for 1-3 months starting from that date, which should give me time to find a flat. However, I finish work at my current job mid-April; there really isn't time for me to go to Sweden and househunt before May (thus the temporary flat).

Where I am is Fredericton, New Brunswick. I'm here on a one-year work permit. Nothing I own can stay in Canada; it all has to leave with me. I have access to a storage unit near New York City where I could keep things for a while; NYC is my Stateside home base (where my family is.)

Other relevant information: I can't drive. Not 'won't', but 'can't legally'. My budget is relatively small (say, $4000 absolute maximum, and I'd like to spend no more than $2500 if I could.)

I don't know where to start with this one. The last time I moved across the Atlantic, I was a Master's student and went with one suitcase! But two years is a long time and I'd like to have a real home while I live abroad.
posted by byzantienne to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Moving an 8 hour drive from US to Canada with furniture (and not a full apartment's worth because Iived with roommates) cost me about $6000, with my employers 60% discount. I totally get that you want to have a real home, and I know what it's like to be done grad school and tired of feeling like you're in perpetual transition.* But* moving a whole apartment's worth of furnuture and stuff to another country is going to cost you more than $4000.

I think the way to have a real home is to take the things that have either practical not-easily-duplicable value for you (e.g. your books) and anything with sentimental value plus your basic personal effects (clothes). Sell your funiture and rent a nice (i.e. not grad student apartment furnished with stuff the landlord collected or discarded from their own home over the years) furnished apartment in Sweden. Get a place where care has been taken in the decor and it will feel like home shortly.

For the best way to ship the things you will take, you should contact the international office for your new employer. They may well have relationships with shipping companies that will get you a discount, or be willing to pay some of the cost. At the very least, they should know the best shipping company to use. Most universities will have a relocation office to work on this kind of thing.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:07 PM on March 1, 2015 [13 favorites]

I concur with the poster above - take the important things, store or dump the rest.

At the end of 2013 I moved from the UK to Canada using Pickfords. I had no furniture or crockery, just a lot of books, a guitar, a few kitchen bits, a couple of big suitcases or clothes, art and craft things, some cameras... that cost about CAD$1500 to ship. And it's not quick - I sent it all off mid-November and it didn't arrive until later January. Like you, I was going for thrifty even though I'll be here indefinitely.
posted by averysmallcat at 6:14 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the above. Even within the US, it's often cheaper to buy and then re-sell furniture if you're staying a few years or less. Even including the total to store any particularly sentimental stuff while you're away, you may be better off taking that route.
posted by cogitron at 6:20 PM on March 1, 2015

A postdoc is temporary by definition and two years will fly by.

Never love anything that can't love you back. They have very nice furniture and Sweden, home of IKEA, ferchrissakes, and you can buy a lot of it for $4000.
posted by spitbull at 6:24 PM on March 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I had an IKEA dining table I loved in NYC. I bought it new for $200, kept it 2 years, sold it when I moved for $180 to my neighbors.

I missed it after a few years of moving about, when I settled in one place again. I bought it again, new, for $200.

I essentially rented a table for $10/year and did not have to pay for moving or storing in the years I did not want it.

Do some large scale version of this with all of your non-precious stuff.
posted by slateyness at 6:45 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

With an entire household of belongings and furniture, you're looking at either shipping a container or part of a container. Your belongings will lag while in transit and then while going through customs. It could take many weeks to months. You'll also have to get it from whatever port it arrives at to your home. It's expensive and time consuming. Unless you're willing to pay a steep premium to have your stuff (which it sounds like you're not), I think this won't be worth it for you. Pare down and consider storage or selling your things.
posted by quince at 7:05 PM on March 1, 2015

I moved all my world possessions across the US for a postdoc and I wish I had just stuck them in storage. Seriously - get a storage unit, 2 years will fly by. If you end up getting a job in Sweden then return to get your things and you'll have more money to ship them out.
posted by Toddles at 7:45 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Two years is just not worth it to bring furniture across the ocean. Keep your stuff in storage in Canada or America or wherever is easiest. Be ruthless and sell off anything you can first though. If storage is $100/month, is it really worthwhile to keep that $40 set of target shelves?
posted by k8t at 8:00 PM on March 1, 2015

LCL is a partial container, ie consolidated with other cargo, in case you are still considering this and you would need to contact a freight forwarder. There are a lot of extra fees involved, not to mention haulage fee to get your belongings to and from the port.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:56 PM on March 1, 2015

As for the books--if you're sending them from the US, you probably want to use USPS M-bags. (Scroll down to the bottom). I imagine the Canadian postal system also has some kind of international media mail.

It will cost way more than $4000 to move any significant amount of furniture across the Atlantic, even if you send on the slowest of boats. Honestly, you also don't know if the furniture you own will even work well in your apartment in Sweden, and turning down a great place because your couch doesn't work well there, or worse, having a place you like where the furniture is just wrong for the place, would be too bad.

Here's my suggestion: don't take any furniture or kitchen stuff. Sell almost everything before you leave Canada unless it's something that is truly irreplaceable (and I don't mean just expensive). Spend your time in rented digs looking for a place you really love and give yourself your $4000 to buy things you love that work for the place. You're going to be there 2 years--it's great to settle in there and be at home and create a happy environment for yourself, but it's not going to be the same home as you had in Canada or the US, and I think trying to replicate that will be an expensive mistake. Maybe you can find some light/packable things that will say "home" to you and take those with you.

You can store stuff, but truthfully, I've moved cross country six times, and I've left stuff in family basements or in storage lockers, and every time, I've come back and unpacked the things that I loved or wanted enough to keep and pack up after a pre-moving purge, and thought "why the hell did I keep this?"
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:33 PM on March 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I used Rainers Overseas movers to move a 1 bed apt (2 people, 2 cats) from CA to Australia and it was under 3k (this was a one way ticket though). They packed for us and that includes insurance. There was a decent lag so we gave our stuff a head start and visited family, flew over and rented a place, and lived pretty bare bones until our stuff showed up. MeMail me if you have questions.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:22 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

All the cross-Atlantic postdoc people I know shipped their important books and papers, plus a few selected personal belongings. The rest they either put into storage or sold.

Bear in mind you may very well end up in a furnished sublet once you are in Sweden. Speaking from experience: many overseas postdocs end up subletting local postdocs' furnished apartments in Copenhagen while the local ones are out doing overseas stuff themselves.
posted by kariebookish at 2:04 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi. I was you last year, although coming from Ann Arbor, MI and going to Copenhagen. I went with an excess baggage shipper.

I sent about 40 cubic feet of stuff. That's really not very much- no furniture, just clothes, work books, and things I couldn't bear to leave behind. (e.g. only electronics I brought were laptops, tablet, and phone).

I cannot recommend the doofus company I went with (memail me if you'd like to know) because it turns out they woudl have charged me the same amount for 100 cubic feet of stuff (I asked about this ahead of time, and they flat-out lied about it, hence my disrecommendation). The price was near the lower end of your cost, though.

I do have a good rec from another company I worked with in the process though, again, memail me if you'd like to hear about it.

I do *not* recommend shipping furniture; I recommend selling as much of it as possible. Most excess baggage shippers will not take serious furniture (I did keep a small set of shelves my dad built, but had to box it up to send it). Besides, unless you have high-quality pieces, they won't do so well being bumped around over the Atlantic. And if you do have high-quality pieces, 4000$ won't be enough to move them overseas. Maybe you can find someone moving to New Brunswick?

Also where are you moving in Sweden? Stockholm is notoriously hard to find housing in; here in Copenhagen, many people (myself included) actually find it by finding someone else in your department who is leaving. I'm not subletting, but rather I purchased the furniture they had when I took over the lease, and I'll probably try to pass it on the same way when I go. (Easier for everyone). Supplimented with IKEA and the magical furniture taxi, and my apartment is quite cozy indeed!
posted by nat at 2:48 AM on March 2, 2015

[op. wrote they're headed for Uppsala...]

I did my two-years other-country Postdoc out of suitcases, and sent my books in boxes per mail. Not ideal, but as others said, it's temporary, and so it is a good idea not to spend too much money and energy (not trivial!) on the move itself.
posted by Namlit at 5:00 AM on March 2, 2015

Having been in the shipping business I can concur with everything that was said above, and I'll add this: most people who move their personal belongings find out on the other end that a lot of their stuff arrives broken. Especially if you go the cheap route and don't have professional packers crate up your stuff, but even when you do. Think of all the packing material your new furniture has arrived with. Very likely you will not pack your stuff the same way, because packing matrial = space = extra shipping costs. Sure, you could insure your belongings (extra cost) but then you've waited two months to get broken furniture just to have to wait longer to sort out the insurance reimbursement, and in the end you still have to go buy replacement furniture. For a short term move, not a forever move where you're taking valuable and irreplaceable antiques, it just isn't worth it to take furniture. I wouldn't even bother taking it out of Canada unless it's something spectacularly special.
posted by vignettist at 6:06 AM on March 2, 2015

The only furniture I would move is family heirloom level that noone else in your family can take, that you just can't bear to put into storage, and even then instead of shipping it whole I would see if a carpenter or cabinet maker can deconstruct it so it can ship more like flat pack than a fully assembled piece.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2015

I want to nth everyone who says to sell your stuff now and just buy new things when you get to Sweden. Like slateyness, I have purchased used Ikea furniture on Craigslist (couch for $100, Poang chair for $40, etc.) and then sold them for the same price or even more 2+ years later when I moved. Here's my tip: sell whatever you can bear to part with for cash, stuff it in an envelope, and then when you get to Sweden, you'll have a bunch of cash that you can go blow at Ikea (or put in the bank if you find a furnished place). I did that on my last cross-country-U.S. move, and managed to get a new bed, a new dining room set, a used couch, several bedside and end tables, and a papasan chair with my envelope cash when I arrived in my new city. Basically all the same furniture I'd had in the old place, except most of it nicer, and I didn't have to pay to move any of it cross-country.
posted by jabes at 3:33 PM on March 2, 2015

Yep, only shlep what you absolutely have to take. Only store things that are absolutely irreplaceable.
Speaking from experience.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:59 PM on March 2, 2015

Don't move furniture. If it's a family heirloom, store it with family, otherwise get rid of it.

You can send the books cheaply via Media Mail.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:40 AM on March 3, 2015

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