Moving Abroad

Packing Tips for International Relocations

Post last updated on:


by Cyrus Kioko


Packing for an international relocation? Buckle up, because cramming your entire life into a suitcase and a couple of boxes is no small feat. You’ve got to tackle the dilemmas of deciding what’s essential, ride the emotional rollercoaster of bidding farewell to things that have been part of your story since God knows when, and solve the logistical puzzle of fitting everything just right —  the works! 

But with the right tricks up your sleeve, you can turn all that frenzy into a symphony of seamless organization.

So, what’s the game plan?

Here are the top packing tips for international relocations:

  • Start packing early. 
  • Research your destination’s customs regulations.
  • Master strategic packing.
  • Protect your items – both in storage and transit.
  • Pack with your destination’s culture in mind. 

Let’s peel back the curtain on each of these tips to see how they can turn your packing process from chaotic to a breeze.

Start Packing Early

Packing for any move always feels like a chaotic mixture of unexpected hurdles and flat-out laugh-out-loud mishaps, never mind those seemingly inevitable, panic-inducing “Oh no, where did I put that?!” moments. Boxes pile up, belongings seem to multiply overnight, and the hunt for that one elusive item becomes a daily saga.

But when it comes to international relocations, the chaos gets an upgrade into a full-blown circus act.

You’re not just contending with boxes and bubble wrap. Oh no! You’ve also got to juggle customs regulations, master the intricate dance of international shipping logistics, and come to terms with the daunting reality of the sheer distance your belongings must travel. Suddenly, the hunt for that elusive item feels like a mere warm-up act for the grand spectacle of challenges awaiting you in the realm of international moves.

With all that on your plate, the last thing you need is a last-minute packing frenzy. 

Procrastination is the silent killer of relocation sanity. Most of us have fallen for seductive charms, thinking we have all the time in the world until, suddenly, we’re in a mad dash with the moving truck glaring at us from the curb.

Giving yourself a headstart (ideally, of about six weeks) will help you avoid that kind of last-minute panic so you can enjoy a calm, collected departure. It’ll also give you enough time for:

  • Adequate preparation. Preparing for an international relocation is a whole project in itself. You’ve got to make housing arrangements, round up all your documents, and figure out how the heck you’re getting your stuff from Point A to Point B. Mind you, this list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the countless details you’ll need to iron out before the big move. Giving yourself a headstart will give you enough time to get methodical with your preparation, ensuring you cover all bases and avoid any last-minute scrambles.
  • Tetris-level strategizing. Packing isn’t just about tossing items into boxes; it’s a strategic game of spatial awareness. Starting early allows you to channel your inner Tetris master, carefully planning how to maximize space, prevent breakage, and ensure everything fits together like a perfectly coordinated puzzle.
  • Dealing with the unexpected. Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs when you least expect it. Maybe one or two moving boxes decide to spring a leak, or perhaps you discover that you forgot to update important paperwork. Starting your packing process early will give you the flexibility to handle unpleasant surprises with ease.
  • Sentimental farewells. Packing isn’t just about boxing up belongings; it’s also about saying goodbye to a chapter of your life and embracing the adventure ahead. Starting your packing process early gives you the time to reminisce over old photographs, laugh at mementos from your past, and maybe even shed a tear or two (no judgment here!).

Research Your Destination’s Customs Regulations

You’re probably thinking, “Why do I need to worry about customs when I’m just trying to pack up my stuff?” I get it: reading customs regulations isn’t most people’s idea of a fun time. The thing is, this is one of those “gotta do it” tasks.

Every country has its own rules about what you can and can’t bring in — and trust me, you don’t want to be caught off guard at the border with something you shouldn’t have packed.

Take Australia, for instance. They’ve got pretty strict regulations about bringing in certain foods, plants, and even wooden items. So that wooden coffee table you love might need a special permit or, worst-case scenario, could get confiscated at customs. Not fun, right?

Similarly, the UK and the US have certain restrictions on foods (particularly fruits, vegetables, and meat products), medications (especially those containing narcotics or controlled substances), and certain types of firearms and ammunition. I could keep going, but those examples should do the trick. 

Keep in mind that it’s not just about what you can’t bring — it’s also about what you should bring. Typically, this would include:

  • Travel documents for you and anyone tagging along. These include your passport, visa or entry permit, work/study permit (if applicable), printed itineraries or reservations, and any other necessary travel documentation. Make sure you have copies of these documents stored electronically or with a trusted person back home in case of loss or theft.
  • Essential medication. This includes prescription medications for chronic conditions or allergies. Ensure you bring an adequate supply, along with any necessary documentation such as prescriptions or medical certificates. Some countries require travelers to declare their medications upon entry, and having the proper documentation can prevent any issues at customs.
  • Permits for restricted items. You’ll need a permit to bring in restricted items such as products derived from endangered species, cultural artifacts, or firearms. Make sure you’ve got all the necessary paperwork for restricted items and have it readily available for inspection at customs.
  • Pet documentation. Almost every country has some paperwork hoops to jump through if you’re bringing your furry friends along — it’s all part of their efforts to keep diseases in check. So if you’re relocating with your pets, make sure you’ve got their paperwork sorted out. That usually means having vaccination records, health certificates, and maybe even some import permits ready to roll.
  • Driving license. If you plan to rent a car or drive in the destination country, you may need an international driving permit in addition to your regular driving license.

See how a little research now can save you a ton of headaches later? 

So grab a cup of coffee, sit down with your laptop, and spend a bit of time familiarizing yourself with the rules of the road in your new home. Your stress levels — and your beloved possessions — will thank you later.

Master Strategic Packing

Remember when I mentioned channeling your inner Tetris master earlier? This is the part of our discussion where you get to learn what that actually means. 

Strategic packing is a two-part process that involves:

  • Deciding what items to take with you, sell, store, discard, or donate.
  • Figuring out how to efficiently pack the items you’re taking with you to make the most of available space.

Let’s tackle both steps separately:

Deciding What to Take With You, Store, Sell, Discard, or Donate

This decision is critical because there’s a lot on the line:

  • Overpack, and you’ll find yourself burdened with hefty shipping fees.
  • Underpack, and you’ll be shelling out cash to replace the very items you left behind or sold/donated.

So, how do you strike the perfect balance?

The best approach is to sort your items into the following categories:

What to Take With You

Think about the cost of shipping vs. replacing when deciding what goes into this category. Be sure to consider your destination’s customs regulations, too, to make sure the items you’re planning on taking with you aren’t banned or restricted. If you’re set on bringing some restricted items, make sure you’ve got all the paperwork sorted and follow any extra rules they’ve got in place.

Once you sort out all that fun stuff, move on to the next big decision: figuring out what to pack in your carry-on luggage and what to include in your household goods shipment. Your household goods shipment will likely arrive later than you, so you need to ensure you’ve got all the essential items you’ll need to sustain yourself until it arrives.

Your carry-on luggage should include items you’ll need between the time you leave your home and when your household goods shipment arrives. Think necessities like:

  • Toiletries
  • A fresh change of clothes
  • Important documents such as passports and visas for you and your travel companion
  • Medication
  • Comfort items you typically need when traveling, like kids’ toys, snacks, travel pillows, etc
  • Electronics, and 
  • Anything else you can’t go too long without.

Having these essentials on hand will keep you ready for unpleasant surprises like delays, emergencies, and wardrobe malfunctions.

Now, onto your household goods shipment. This is where the bulk of your stuff should go. Think furniture, appliances, clothes, kitchen gear, the works — basically, anything you can live without for a little while until it catches up with you.

What To Store

You need to think about these 4 factors when deciding what items go into storage:

  • How long you’re planning to stay abroad. Think about how long you’ll be away. If it’s just a short trip, it won’t make sense to haul everything with you. Stuff you won’t need right away but will miss when you get back home? That’s what storage’s for. But if you’re in it for the long haul, you might want to bring more or just sell off the extras.
  • The cost of replacement vs. cost of storage. Ask yourself, what’s cheaper? Keeping those items safe in storage or buying them all over again later? If they’re pricey or hold sentimental value, storing them could be a no-brainer. But if they’re easy to replace or storage costs are sky-high, it might be time to say goodbye (i.e. sell or donate).
  • How often you use the item under consideration. Be honest; how often do you really use it? If it’s a daily necessity, it’s probably worth bringing along. But if it’s collecting dust in the corner most of the time, you might be better off selling, donating, or putting it in storage until you come back.
  • The risk of damage in transit. Think about how fragile or delicate your items are and the chances of them getting banged up along the way. If you’ve got something rare, expensive, or flat-out hard to replace due to its sentimental value, it might be safer to keep it in storage. 

What to Sell, Discard, or Donate

Packing for international relocations isn’t always about bagging stuff up for storage or transit; it’s also a great chance to declutter.

You’ve got three key decisions to make here.

First up is deciding what to sell. Take a good look around your home and identify items you no longer need or want but still have some value. Maybe it’s that old couch that doesn’t quite fit your soon-to-be-home’s aesthetic or that fancy blender you never use. Whatever it is, round it all up, snap some pics, and create listings on your favorite online marketplace or hold a yard sale. Who knows, you might score extra cash to help with your move. 

Next up is picking out what to donate. Got some gently used clothes, books, kitchen gadgets, or any other items that could use a new home? Why not give them way and collect some good karma points along the way? It’s a win-win situation – you clear out space, give back to the community, and feel good knowing your pre-loved items are finding new life elsewhere.

Last but not least is discarding the junk. Be ruthless here – if it’s broken, unsellable, damaged, or just plain useless, it’s time to say goodbye. There’s no point in lugging around dead weight. Recycle what you can and toss the rest.

Packing Your Items to Make the Most of Available Space

Every inch of space counts when you’re packing for an international relocation, so you need to go out of your way to make sure you’re making the most of what you’ve got. Now, there isn’t a magic formula for squeezing every last bit of space out of your luggage; everyone’s circumstance is different.

But just because that’s true doesn’t mean I’ll use it as a cop-out! Here are some tried and tested tips you can use to make the most of the space you’ve got:

  • Use packing organizers. Packing organizers like cubes or compression bags are game-changers. They maximize space and keep similar items together, adding efficiency to your packing and making unpacking a breeze.
  • Roll your clothes. Yeah, I know, folding has been your go-to move since forever, but it’s time to shake things up. Rolling is where it’s at! Not only does it save space and keep wrinkles at bay, but it also lets you sneak extra items into those awkward nooks and crannies in your luggage.
  • Fill out empty spaces. Think outside the box (pun intended) and use empty spaces (such as inside shoes or between larger items) to stash small, soft stuff like socks. Every inch counts, remember?! Plus, filling out those gaps will also create a snug fit within your luggage, preventing your stuff from bumping into each other during transit. 
  • Use vacuum-sealed bags. These can be a real space saver when packing bulky, compressible stuff like bedding and winter jackets. Pop your items in, suck the air out with a vacuum cleaner, and watch them shrink. Just remember not to try this with delicate fabrics like your grandma’s favorite quilt; the pressure from vacuum sealing might cause damage — in this case, flatten the quilt’s intricate stitching.
  • If space is hard to come by, prioritize multi-purpose items. This can be a neat way to save space. Multi-purpose items serve more than one function, allowing you to pack fewer individual items without sacrificing utility.

Protect Your Items – Both in Storage and Transit

Don’t get so preoccupied with getting everything we’ve discussed so far that you forget about keeping your items safe. This goes for items you’re relocating with and those you leave behind in a storage unit.

Here’s how to protect items in both categories:

How to Protect Items You’re Relocating With

Protecting items in this category starts with using the right packing techniques. If you’ve been following closely, you’re probably thinking, “Didn’t we just cover that?” Yeah, we did, but if you revisit the section on “mastering strategic packing” and give it a closer look, you’ll see we mainly talked about choosing what to pack and how to cram it all in smartly.

So what exactly do I mean by “using the right packing techniques” in this context?

A couple of things:

  • Considering weight fragility and distribution. You need to consider how heavy and fragile your items are when packing them. Heavy, non-fragile items should go in the bottom so they don’t they don’t crush their lighter, possibly more delicate counterparts. The heavy stuff also needs to be evenly distributed on the bottom. Otherwise, your moving boxes and suitcases will get lopsided and possibly collide with other luggage in transit.
  • Wrapping and cushioning fragile items. Wrap fragile items individually with bubble wrap, foam padding, or soft clothing to create a protective barrier against bumps and jolts. Place them snugly in the center of the suitcase/box, preferably surrounded by extra cushioning materials like crumbled paper and packing peanuts to prevent shifting.
  • Labeling luggage with fragile stuff. This is an underrated way to protect fragile items. Simply slapping the “Fragile” label on a box or suitcase can make a huge difference in how movers handle it.
  • Taking inventory of your belongings. Keep a detailed log of everything you’ve packed and how much it’s worth. This nifty trick will come in handy if — god forbid — your items get lost or sustain damage in transit. It’ll let you know exactly what got lost or damaged, solidifying your claim for compensation from the moving company or third-party insurance.
  • Investing in quality packing materials. Quality packing materials, like sturdy boxes and bubble wrap, offer much better protection from the bumps and bruises of shipping. They’re built tough to handle whatever the shipping gods throw their way, whether it’s rough handling or a sudden rainstorm. Plus, they can be custom-made to protect fragile items and accommodate oddly shaped stuff.

How to Protect Items You’re Leaving Behind in Storage

A lot of the measures for protecting items you’re relocating with apply here too: 

  • Take inventory so you know exactly what you left behind.
  • Invest in quality packing materials to protect your items from weather, pests, and other types of damage. 
  • Label your boxes so the movers know what to toss around and what to handle with care. 
  • Wrap and cushion fragile stuff for the same reasons we discussed above. 

Now, onto the extra measures:

Choosing the right storage facility is key. Opt for a place with a solid reputation and top-notch security measures. I’m talking surveillance cameras, beefy locks, on-site security personnel, a safe where you can stash valuables, gated access, and maybe even a moat (okay, maybe not the moat, but you get the idea).

Oh, and don’t skimp on insurance! Ensure your precious cargo is covered in case of any storage mishaps. If the storage joint doesn’t offer insurance, you can always snag your own policy. Just make sure you read the fine print. Seriously, don’t skip that part.

If you’ve got stuff that’s sensitive to temperature swings, like wooden furniture, electronics, or artwork, consider splurging on a climate-controlled unit. Moisture, extreme temperatures, and pests can do quite a number on these items, so make sure they’re protected. 

Lastly, don’t ghost your stored items. Schedule regular check-ins to ensure everything’s A-OK. Keep the storage facility management in the loop about your whereabouts, too, and make sure they’ve got your contact info just in case they need to get in touch with you for urgent updates.

Pack With Your Destination’s Culture in Mind

You need to consider your destination’s culture when packing, especially when it comes to clothing. What flies back home might raise eyebrows or even offend folks where you’re headed. So before you start tossing clothes into your suitcase, spend some time understanding your destination’s local customs and social etiquette. It’ll help you pack threads that fit right in and show respect for the local culture.

Oh, and it’s not just about your wardrobe choice. You’ll also want to give the rest of your stuff a quick once-over to make sure you’re not bringing along anything that might rub people the wrong way, like religious symbols or controversial literature.

Cyrus Kioko
Cyrus is a seasoned blog post writer with over five years of experience in crafting and editing articles spanning technology, lifestyle, and finance niches. Fueled by an authentic passion to contribute valuable insights, he has invested thousands of Netflix-less hours in research for this site. Each piece he writes is aimed at empowering readers to make well-informed, real-life decisions. Holding a degree in commerce and armed with ample copywriting courses, he brings both expertise and a touch of nerdy flair to the table.
Photo of author