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What’s the Best Way to Move Overseas? Best Air & Sea Freight Options

What’s the Best Way to Move Overseas?
Best Air & Sea Freight Options

Need to know the best way to move overseas? Our comprehensive guide on the best air and sea freight options for moving overseas will help you make an informed decision.

The best moving overseas freight option for you and your family will depend on your budget, the type and volume of items being transported, and your required speed of delivery, reliability, safety and security.

Based on over 85 years’ international moving experience, this detailed guide covers everything you need to know about your sea freight and air freight options, providing in-depth understanding of the types of freight available, how are they costed, their advantages and disadvantages, and the process involved in each.

Follow our guide on the best moving overseas shipping options to help ensure you choose the international freight option that best meets your budget, timeframe, reliability, safety and security requirements.

As the largest moving company in the world, with over 1,000 service centers across 180 countries, successfully delivering 48,000 international shipments annually, UniGroup Worldwide International Movers will help ensure your move overseas is safe, seamless and as stress-free as possible.

Moving with UniGroup safe, seamless and stress-free

Moving with UniGroup safe, seamless and stress-free

For your convenience, you may:

What is Air Freight?

Air freight - Fastest way to move your belongings overseas Air freight - Fastest way to move your belongings overseas

Air freight is the shipment of unaccompanied goods between countries via an air carrier, which may be via a specific charter flight, a commercial flight, or a passenger flight. Air freight shipments can travel in and out of just about any commercial or passenger airport in the world.

Air freight is the fastest way to ship your belongings overseas. You can expect a door-to-door delivery within seven to 15 days, depending on your origin and destination.

What Type of Items Should be Shipped via Air Freight?

Given the speed at which items shipped by air freight arrive at their destination, air freight is the best moving overseas shipping option for high-priority items that you will need immediately on arrival (but may not fit into your accompanying luggage), such as:

  • Clothing
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Children’s toys
  • Office equipment.

While air freight can be ideal for relatively small or light shipments, it can become quite costly for large shipments.

If you will be shipping most of your belongings by sea freight (which may take weeks or even months to arrive), you may want to consider a small air freight consignment for essential items that you would like to have immediately on arrival.

How is the Cost of Air Freight Calculated?

There are three main determinates used when calculating the cost of air freight:

  1. The route your items need to travel: what is the distance between your origin pick-up point and the destination delivery point
  2. By comparing the volume of your shipment with the weight of your shipment; whichever of the two figures is higher will be used as the chargeable weight
  3. Common air freight surcharges.

The Route

This criterion is self-explanatory: the longer the route, the higher the cost. This higher cost can be attributed to factors such as additional fuel and staffing expenses.

The Volume

The volume of your items (how much room the items take up on the plane) is calculated by multiplying the length, height and width of the item.

The result is then multiplied by a pre-determined weight-to-volume scale, which is usually 167kg per cubic meter.

Once the multiplication is complete, the final number is:

  • Kept as is if it is a round number (ie. 100kg)
  • Rounded up to the 100kg (ie. 99.6kg would become 100kg).

The Weight

This is the total weight of the items being shipped, including all packaging materials.

Air Freight Cost Example

As an example, let’s calculate the cost of an air freight shipment if it:

  • Weighed 95kg in total
  • Had dimensions of 1.5m x 1m x 0.5m.

To calculate the volume of the shipment in cubic meters, you multiply the dimensions: 1.5m x 1m x 0.5m = 0.75m3.

Multiply the answer (0.75m3) by the airline’s pre-determined weight-to-volume scale, which is usually 167kg per cubic meter: 0.75m3 x 167kg = 125.25kg (volumetric weight).

As the volumetric weight of the shipment is 125.25kg, which is more than the actual weight of the shipment, you will pay freight on the volumetric weight of 125.25kg.

Alternatively, if your shipment had weighed 150kg in total, you would pay air freight on the actual weight as this is the higher figure.

Common Air Freight Surcharges

There may be additional airline surcharges included in the cost of air freight, including:

  • Fuel surcharges
  • Automated Manifest Service (AMS) surcharges (a system used for the processing of electronic air manifests)
  • Security surcharges (sometimes referred to as a War Risk or Risk surcharge)
  • Screening surcharges (this usually only applies if the shipper is unknown)
  • Dangerous Goods surcharges (applicable only if your shipment contains dangerous, hazardous or restricted items)
  • Currency Adjustment Factor (CAF) for fluctuations in exchange rates.

How the Air Freight Process Works

The air freight process can vary depending on the provider, however, ours includes several easy-to-follow steps, from packing, preparation and location transportation, through to international transportation, customs clearance and delivery.

Packing and Preparation

  1. Packing: your belongings will be safely and securely prepared and packed, with a detailed inventory list compiled for each box; this inventory list is essential for smooth customs clearance
  2. Make Ready for Transport: your belongings and moving boxes will be clearly labeled, and all relevant customs and security documentation will be completed.

Local Transportation

  1. Pickup and Transport: your belongings will be safely picked up, loaded and transported to our warehouse for weighing and security sealing for superior protection. They may be placed inside an air cargo pallet, a lower deck container, a box-type container or an air and land intermodal container (depending on the volume of your belongings and the type of airplane on which they are being shipped) for added protection
  2. Incoming Checks: your belongings will be double-checked for labeling errors and re-labeling if required; customs documentation will be double-checked
  3. Airway Bill Prepared: a master Airway Bill will be prepared
  4. Transport to Airport: your belongings will be safely and securely transported to the airport, with the carrier informed ahead of time of their arrival.

International Transportation

  1. Outgoing Checks: administrative checks will be performed to ensure all paperwork is provided and in order
  2. Loading: your belongings will be carefully loaded onto the aircraft, and prepared for a safe flight
  3. Flight: your belongings will be quickly and reliably transported overseas by air
  4. Incoming Checks: as your belongings are carefully unloaded from the aircraft, the shipment will be thoroughly checked against all shipping manifests, and then loaded onto a truck for dispatch.

Customs Clearance and Delivery

  1. Customs Clearance: your belongings will be processed by the destination customs authority, cleared for transfer and collected by our reliable, professional movers
  2. Delivery: we will help ensure that your belongings are safely and securely delivered to your new home (or into storage) on-time and intact.

What are the Different Types of Air Freight Aircraft?

Your belongings may be transported in several different types of aircraft, including passenger aircraft, dedicated cargo aircraft (also known as ‘freighters’), combination aircraft or (although less likely) super transporters.

Passenger Aircraft

Passenger aircraft are often used to transport air freight consignments. Depending on the size, type and configuration of the aircraft, some passenger planes can carry as much as two semi-trailer loads of freight. For instance, a Boeing 747-700 can hold just over 400 passengers, along with over 150m3 (5,000ft3)of freight. Freight is usually placed inside specially designed containers or pallets that lock into place in the cargo area, which is located immediately below the passenger deck. Many passenger aircraft also have pressurized and temperature-controlled areas below the passenger deck for the transportation of pets and animals.

Cargo Aircraft or ‘Freighters’

Dedicated cargo planes can carry huge volumes of air freight. For instance, when configured as a dedicated cargo plan, the Boeing 747-400 can transport up to five semi-trailer loads of freight, or 735m3 (25,000ft3). Cargo aircraft look much the same as passenger planes on the outside. However, all the seats are removed, and the carpeted floor is replaced with electric rollers that move pallets. Freight can also be placed on a lower deck, which is fitted with specially designed containers or pallets that lock into place. Loading and unloading occurs through various hatches on the sides of the aircraft and sometimes through the nose. Cargo planes are loaded either via the nose of the plane or through large cargo doors on the side.

Combination Aircraft

As the name suggests, the main deck of a combination aircraft accommodates both freight and passengers. Generally, the front half of the main deck will be equipped with passenger seating, while at the rear, the seats will be removed to hold cargo. Freight is loaded on the main deck through a large cargo door on the side of the plane.

Super Transporter

Specialist super transporters are designed to transport heavy, oversized items such as industrial generators, helicopters and even other planes. They have a huge cargo area, often located above the plane’s cockpit. It is unlikely that household goods would find their way onto these enormous planes.

What are the Different Types of Air Cargo Containers?

Air cargo containers for your move overseas Air cargo containers for your move overseas

There are three basic types of air cargo containers:

  • Air cargo pallets
  • Lower deck containers
  • Box containers.

The type of air cargo container used for your shipment will depend mainly on the volume of belongings being shipped and the type of aircraft on which they are shipped.

Air Cargo Pallets

Air cargo pallets are specifically designed to be used with conveyer systems in terminals and aircrafts. The bottom of each pallet is secured to the deck of the aircraft. A net is then placed over the top of the cargo, which is held in place by tension straps, effectively securing the cargo to the pallet. In some instances, a contoured cover (known as an ‘igloo’, ‘hulahut’ or ‘cocoon’) may be placed over the top of the shipment for added protection.

Lower Deck Containers

Lower deck containers are completely enclosed and designed to house shipments that are placed in the lower cargo decks of aircraft. If a lower deck container is used, your shipment will be placed on shelving inside the container, with the container doors (constructed from metal, fabric or a combination) securely closed and sealed. Lower deck containers lock directly into aircraft restraint systems. As such, there is no need for tie-downs or nets.

Box Containers

Developed in standard sizes to make uniform shipping possible, box containers may be constructed from plywood, fiberglass, wood, metal or a combination of these materials. Box containers are used to consolidate shipments for quick and easy handling.

What are the Advantages of Air Freight versus Sea Freight?

Air freight could be the best way to move abroad, as it offers several advantages:

  • Air freight is the fastest means by which to transport your belongings, with delivery taking between seven and 15 days, depending on your destination
  • It can be a safer form of transport when compared to sea freight. Container ships move in six different directions, often travelling over 20m (65ft) with each roll, as often as seven to 10 times per minute. With air freight, your belongings are not tossed about for weeks on end, nor are they subject to the same delays and variables
  • It can be a more reliable form of transport when compared to sea freight:
    • Your belongings will be in transit for a much shorter period, and subject to fewer (if any) stops along the way. Both factors mean less handling, reducing the risk of breakage or damage
    • Arrival and departure times of flights are highly reliable, and missing a flight should not cause too much of delay because flights depart so regularly.
  • When compared to sea freight, the customs clearance process can be more efficient, reducing the potential for delayed delivery
  • You receive a dedicated tracking number for your shipment, which allows you to check on the location and progress of your belongings in real time
  • Air freight is extremely convenient. Airlines have a huge network of destinations across the globe, so your belongings can be transported by air freight to just about anywhere in the world
  • As air freight transportation times are shorter than that of sea freight, and subjected to less handling and movement, insurance costs can be lower
  • Air freight offers a high level of security, with airport safety controls tightly managed across the globe, which helps reduce the risk of theft.

What are the Disadvantages of Air Freight versus Sea Freight?

The disadvantages of shipping your belongings by air are minimal, with a few things to keep in mind:

  • Air freight is a costly international transportation method. As with most services, convenience and speed comes with at a price. However, the higher price does not mean you can’t get great value for money. Simply ship the bulk of your consignment via sea freight, and reserve air freight for those items that you’ll need immediately and high-values items
  • Air freight is subject to weather conditions, with inclement weather such as snow, hurricanes, storms and fogs delaying plane departure times. However, given the regularity of flight departures, any delays are usually minimal
  • Some items physically cannot be shipped by air freight (necessitating the use of sea freight), including:
    • Very large items:
      • A height of more than 1.5m (5ft)
      • A width of more than 2m (6.5ft)
      • A length of more than 2m (6.5ft).
  • Some dangerous goods are not allowed to be shipped by air freight (with some also not allowed by sea freight):
    • Corrosives materials, like acids and alkalis
    • Machines with petrol powered engines, like lawn mowers, chain saws and other power tools
    • Explosives, fireworks and flares
    • Fuel, petrol, oil and paint
    • Drain cleaners and solvents
    • Ammunition, gunpowder, mace, tear gas and pepper spray
    • Radioactive materials
    • Poison
    • Aerosols such as hairspray, perfume and aftershave
    • Electronic devices that contain lithium metal, cells or batteries.

How to Request an Air Freight Quote

If you’re considering an air freight shipment, you will need to have some information on hand to help ensure our international moving experts can provide you with the most accurate quote possible, including:

  • Total number of pieces in your shipment
  • Dimensions (height, length and width) or your shipment
  • Total weight of your shipment
  • Pickup and delivery addresses
  • Pickup and delivery times
  • Delivery deadline (if applicable)
  • Whether the shipment is stackable.

Once you have all this information on-hand, contact one of our friendly international moving experts who will be able to provide you with a timely, accurate quote on the best air freight options for moving overseas.

To help ensure our international moving experts can provide you with the most accurate, and cost effective, air freight quote possible, make sure you have the dimensions (height, width and length) and weight of your items on hand.

What is Sea Freight?

Sea freight - Most cost effective way to move overseas Sea freight - Most cost effective way to move overseas

Sea freight is the shipment of unaccompanied goods between countries (port-to-port) on large container ships. Sea freight is, by far, the most affordable way to transport your belongings overseas. With approximately 90% of all international freight shipments undertaken by sea freight, it is universally the most common mode of shipping.

When using sea freight, your belongings will be placed inside reinforced steel shipping containers, before being stacked on high-capacity cargo ships that sail regular international routes on fixed schedules.

There are primarily two fixed sizes of reinforced steel shipping containers:

  • 20 foot which holds approximately 30m3 (1,000ft3), equivalent to the contents of an average three-bedroom home
  • 40 foot which holds approximately 60m3 (2,000ft3), equivalent to the contents of an average four to five-bedroom home.

The sizes of shipping containers are fixed and universal worldwide so that they can be easily and efficiently stacked on board ships, trucks and trains anywhere in the world. Furthermore, this allows all container freight infrastructure globally (forklifts, cranes, etc.) to be designed, built and installed to a single consistent specification, thereby streamlining freight logistics globally.

TIP: If you ship by sea freight, it is imperative that you understand the maritime law of General Average, whereby in the event that an emergency voluntary sacrifice is made to safeguard the vessel, cargo or crew from a common peril (e.g. jettison of cargo to extinguish a fire), or expenses are incurred otherwise, the loss is shared proportionately by all parties with a financial interest in the voyage. In other words, if there is a loss on the ship which is transporting your belongings, whether your belongings are directly affected or not, if you are not specifically insured against General Average you may incur significant expense to compensate those who were affected. Therefore, when shipping by sea freight consider insurance that includes coverage for General Average and Salvage.

How Long Does Sea Freight Take?

While sea freight is the most economical way to ship your belongings overseas, it is not the fastest. Delivery times for sea freight are highly dependent on both the origin and destination of your shipment.

Some general estimates include:

  • Between Europe and North America: four to six weeks
  • Between Asia and North America: six to eight weeks
  • Between Australia and North America: six to eight weeks.

Some approximate examples of port-to-port (not door-to-door) shipping times include:

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland to Melbourne, Australia: 50 days
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong to New York, America: 35 days
  • Cape Town, South Africa to London, United Kingdom: 25 days
  • Brisbane, Australia to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam: 16 days
  • Auckland, New Zealand to Barcelona, Spain: 42 days
  • Boston, America to Maputo, Mozambique: 40 days
  • Paris, France to San Francisco, America: 45 days
  • Singapore, Singapore to Brockville, Canada: 50 days
  • Beijing, China to Darwin, Australia: 13 days
  • Washington DC, America to Santiago, Chile: approx. 36 days.

In addition to these port-to-port shipping times, keep in mind that additional time will be required for:

  • Loading your shipment onto the vessel at the port of origin, which can take up to a week
  • Unloading your shipment from the vessel at the destination port, which can take anywhere up to three weeks
  • Clearing your shipment through customs, which is highly dependent on your contents and the country in which your shipment arrives, and can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

What Types of Items Should be Shipped via Sea Freight?

Sea freight is suitable for shipping all types of items. Given its lower cost, it is particularly beneficial when shipping heavy, bulky and large items.

Sea freight can also be used to ship some dangerous and restricted goods that cannot be shipped using air freight.

How is the Cost of Sea Freight Calculated?

The cost of sea freight is calculated based on three criteria:

  1. The route your items needs to travel: how far the distance is between your origin pick-up point and destination delivery point
  2. The volume of your items (how much room your items take up on the ship)
  3. Common sea freight surcharges.

The Route

This criterion is self-explanatory: the longer the route, the higher the cost. This higher cost can be attributed to factors such as additional fuel, staff and crew expenses.

The Volume

The volume of your items (how much room the items take up on the ship) is calculated on cubic meters or cubic weight. Cost is determined by the greater of the actual weight or the volumetric weight.

Start by multiplying the length, height and width of the item, then the result is multiplied by a pre-determined weight-to-volume scale, usually 1,000kg per cubic meter.

Once the multiplication is complete, the final number is:

  • Kept as is if it is a round number (ie. 100kg)
  • Rounded up to the 100kg (ie. 99.6kg would be become 100kg).

Sea Freight Cost Example

As an example, let’s calculate the cost of a sea freight shipment, with the actual combined weight of the items equal to 1,000kg, and the following dimensions:

  • 1.30 x 1.10 x 0.60 = 0.858 rounded up to 0.86
  • 0.90 x 1.90 x 0.50 = 0.855 rounded up to 0.86
  • 1.50 x 1.50 x 1.25 = 2.81
  • 1.25 x 0.50 x 0.60 = 0.375 round up to 0.38
  • So the total is = 4.91 cbm
  • 4.91 x 1,000kg = 4,910kg (volumetric weight)

In this case you would pay for 4.91 cbm, but if the weight of your shipment was 5000kg you would pay for 5 cbm (5000kg / 1000kg = 5 cbm).

Common Sea Freight Surcharges

There may be additional surcharges for sea freight, including:

  • Bunker Adjustment Factor: this is a fuel surcharge
  • War surcharge: the outbreak of war can have a serious effect upon sea freight and international trading routes, even if they are in international waters. If your shipment must sail through, or in the close vicinity of, a war zone there may be an additional war surcharge to offset the higher degree of risk
  • Port Congestion surcharge: if a port is congested or there is a Labor dispute at a port, ships may lie idle waiting to be unloaded. If a ship is idle, this generates significant costs for the owner of the vessel. In this instance, surcharges may be imposed on freight to recover costs or lost revenue. These are usually charged as a percentage of the total freight cost
  • Security surcharge: this is charged by individual ports to cover any additional security measures that may be required to protect shipments against theft
  • Terminal Handling surcharge: some ports may impose a fee for the handling of containers at both the port itself and in the consolidation warehouse.

How the Sea Freight Process Works

Packing and preparing your belongings to move abroad Packing and preparing your belongings to move abroad

The sea freight process can vary depending on the provider, however, ours includes a number of steps, from packing, preparation and location transportation, through to international transportation, customs clearance and delivery.

Packing and Preparation

  • Packing: your belongings will be safely and securely prepared and packed, with a detailed inventory list drafted for each box; this inventory list is essential for smooth customs clearance
  • Make Ready for Transport: your belongings and moving boxes will be clearly labeled, and all relevant customs and security documentation will be completed.

Local Transportation

  • Pickup and Transport: your belongings will be safely picked up, loaded and transported to our warehouse for weighing and security sealing for superior protection
  • Incoming Checks: your belongings are double-checked for labeling errors and relabeling if required; customs documentation is double-checked
  • Transport to Port: your belongings will be safely and securely transported to the port, with the carrier informed ahead of time of their arrival.

International Transportation

  • Outgoing Checks: several administrative checks will be performed to ensure all paperwork is provided and in order
  • Loading: your belongings will be carefully loaded onto the cargo ship, and prepared for a safe voyage
  • Voyage: your belongings will be safely and reliably transported overseas by sea
  • Incoming Checks: as your belongings are carefully unloaded from the cargo ship, the shipment will be thoroughly checked against all shipping manifests, and then loaded onto a truck for dispatch.

Customs Clearance and Delivery

  • Customs Clearance: your belongings will be processed by the destination customs authority, cleared for transfer, and collected by our reliable, professional movers
  • Delivery: we will help ensure that your belongings are safely and securely delivered to your new home (or into storage) on-time and intact.

What are the Advantages of Sea Freight versus Air Freight?

Sea freight could be the best way to move overseas, offering several advantages:

  • Sea freight is extremely cost-effective and can save you a considerable sum of money when compared to air freight
  • Sea freight is more flexible than air freight, with just about anything being transportable. If you need to move extremely heavy or bulky items, like industrial parts and machinery, sea freight might be the best option. If you need to move dangerous or restricted items that cannot be sent via air (such as batteries, flammable and corrosive materials, weapons or gases), sea freight might be your only option
  • Sea freight is the most carbon efficient, environmentally-friendly mode of international transportation, particularly as cargo ships use considerably less fuel than aircrafts
  • Given the longer timeframe of sea freight, it allows more than adequate time to accurately complete any required documentation, helping ensure that customs clearances are as smooth as possible.

What are the Disadvantages of Sea Freight versus Air Freight?

There are few disadvantages to sea freight to keep in mind:

  • Sea freight is slower than air freight. Cargo ships move at an average speed of 25km per hour (15mph), while aircraft move at an average speed of 925km per hour (725mph). There is simply no way to expedite the sea freight process
  • Sea freight can be more prone to delays, due to climactic conditions like storms, port congestion, lack of capacity at particular times of the year on particular trade routes, and other unforeseen events. While ‘Acts of God’ (such as the weather) are an unavoidable risk of sea freight, our international moving experts will do everything in their power reduce the risk of these potential delays
  • Sea freight is more likely to be damaged than air freight; it is in transit for a much longer period, and cargo ships are more prone to movement than aircraft
  • Shipping routes and schedules are fixed, and can be quite rigid. There are simply not as many cargo ships leaving as often as there are planes.

How to Request a Sea Freight Quote

If you’re considering sea freight, you will need to have some information on hand to help ensure our international moving experts can provide you with the most accurate quote possible, including the:

  • Total number of pieces in your shipment
  • Dimensions (height, length and width) or your shipment
  • Total weight of your shipment
  • Pickup and delivery addresses
  • Pickup and delivery times
  • Delivery deadline (if applicable).

Once you have all this information on-hand, contact one of our friendly international moving experts who will be able to provide you with a timely, accurate quote on the best sea freight options for moving overseas.

What Types of Sea Freight are There?

Moving your belongings internationally in shipping containers Moving your belongings internationally in shipping containers

There are three types of sea freight that can be used can use to move your belongings internationally:

  • Full Container Load (FCL) – your belongings fill a full shipping container (or nearly), and/or are the only items in the shipping container
  • Less than Container Load (LCL) – your belongings fill only a portion of the shipping container, and are consolidated with other consignments and types of goods from other shipping companies
  • Groupage (or Shared Shipping Container or Consolidated shipment) – your belongings are consolidated with other like shipments by the same shipping company.

The best sea freight options for moving overseas will depend mainly on the volume of the items you need shipped and your delivery timeframe requirement.

What is Full Container Load (FCL)?

Full Container Load (FCL) freight transport is where your belongings fill a full shipping container (or nearly), and/or are the only items in the shipping container. FCL is the fastest and most reliable form of sea freight, and it is also the most economical. FCL is great if you have a large volume of goods to be shipped, and carries the added benefits of not having to share your container with other users, direct shipping to high-volume ports, and no involvement by freight forwarders.

There are two fixed sizes of reinforced steel shipping containers:

  • 20 foot which holds approximately 30m3 (1,000ft3), equivalent to the contents of an average three-bedroom home
  • 40 foot which holds approximately 60m3 (2,000ft3) equivalent to the contents of an average four to five-bedroom home.

How Does Full Container Load (FCL) Work?

If you opt for FCL, the transportation of your belongings will involve the following steps:

  • Our highly trained, dedicated movers will come to your home and safely and securely wrap and pack your belongings that need to be shipped
  • We will prepare a detailed, descriptive customs export packing list and all necessary documentation to help facilitate prompt customs clearance at your destination
  • Our highly trained movers will safely pickup and load your belongings, before their transfer to our warehouse for weighing and security sealing for superior protection
  • We will carefully transport your belongings to the port, where your containerized shipment will be loaded onto the vessel
  • At the port of arrival, your belongings will be processed by the destination customs authority, cleared for transfer, and collected by our reliable, professional movers
  • We will help ensure that your belongings are safely and securely delivered to your new home (or into storage) on-time and intact.

What are the Advantages of Full Container Load (FCL)?

When it comes to moving abroad shipping options, FCL offers several advantages:

  • It is the most economical mode of international freight transport if you have a full (or close to full) 20ft container worth of belongings (nearly and up to 30m3 (1,000ft3)). This is because it is a sole-use shipment without involving other consignments or freight forwarders, and no additional handling required
  • Generally, it has a faster transit time than Groupage or LCL because there is less handling involved, your shipment isn’t waiting for the remainder of the container to be filled by another consignment, and fewer unforeseen delays (such as difficulties in clearing customs because of multiple shipments)
  • When compared to Groupage and LCL, there is less risk of damage to your belongings because there is less handling involved.

What are the Disadvantages of Full Container Load (FCL)?

The only notable drawback to an FCL shipment is if you have much less than a full container (30m3 (1,000ft3)) it may not be as cost effective as an LCL or Groupage shipment.

What is Less than Container Load (LCL)?

Less than Container Load (LCL) freight transport is where your belongings fill only a portion of the shipping container, and are consolidated with other consignments and types of goods from other shipping companies or freight forwarders. If you do not have a large enough shipment to fill an entire container, an LCL shipment can be a cost-effective way to transport items overseas. LCL shipments are mostly sent through a freight forwarder or a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) and rarely directly with the shipping line. You only pay for the space that your items take up within the container, rather than paying for an entire (possibly half empty) container.

If you opt for LCL, your belongings will be carefully wrapped and packed, and will then usually be placed inside wooden liftvans (plywood crates), which will be loaded onto shared commercial cargo containers. LCL can be a great option if you cannot fill an entire 20ft container, but don’t have the time to wait for Groupage, or the budget for air freight.

How Does Less than Container Load (LCL) Work?

If you opt for Less than Container Load (LCL), the shipment of your belongings will involve the following steps:

  1. Our highly trained, dedicated movers will come to your home and safely and securely wrap and pack your belongings that need to be shipped
  2. Your wrapped and packed belongings will usually be placed inside secure wooden liftvans. These are plywood crates built specifically for international transportation, and are usually 220cm (86 inches) high x 220cm (86 inches) long x 120cm (47 inches) wide
  3. The liftvans will be transported to our freight forwarder’s warehouse, where they will be loaded into a shared shipping container. This container will include other shipments (some of which may be commercial consignments), all of which need to be transported to the same destination
  4. Once the container is full, it will be transported to the closest port and shipped to its final destination
  5. Once the container has arrived at the port, the various consignments within will be deconsolidated
  6. Your belongings will be processed by the destination customs authority, cleared for transfer, and collected by our reliable, professional movers
  7. We will help ensure that your belongings are safely and securely delivered to your new home (or into storage) on-time and intact.

What are the Advantages of Less than Container Load (LCL)?

When it comes to moving overseas freight options, LCL offers several advantages:

  • Sharing a shipping container means that you are also sharing the cost. Rather than ship a half-empty container and pay for the entire thing, LCL ensures you pay only for the space you use. This makes LCL a very cost-effective freight method for small consignments
  • LCL shipments are generally shipped more quickly than other shared shipping services, such as Groupage. So, if your shipment is somewhat time sensitive (and you don’t have the budget for air freight, or a half empty container), LCL might be the answer
  • LCL is a safe and secure way to transport your belongings overseas, particularly as our highly trained, dedicated movers pack, wrap and load your belongings with the utmost care
  • While Groupage is only offered to and from the most popular destinations, LCL has a much wider global network.

What are the Disadvantages of Less than Container Load (LCL)?

There are some drawbacks to LCL that need to be kept in mind:

  • As LCL shipments contain items from multiple individuals and organizations, there can be unforeseen delays in clearing customs due to:
    • More stringent inspection processes
    • The nature of the other items in your container
    • Incorrect documentation pertaining to the other items in your container.
  • Cargo is at higher risk of damage during transit if the other items in your container are not correctly wrapped, packed loaded and secured.

What is Groupage?

Groupage freight transport (also known as a Shared Shipping Container or Consolidation shipments) is where your belongings are consolidated with other like shipments by the same shipping company. In our case, we will consolidate your shipment with other people moving to the same destination, in containers solely controlled by us.

Groupage is by far the cheapest way to transport smaller shipments overseas because you only pay for the space that your items take up within the container, and we’re able to offer lower rates because we consolidate multiple shipments to areas that we specialize in. This makes Groupage the perfect freight choice if you only need to move a few boxes or a couple of pieces of furniture, and you’re not pressed for a delivery time.

If you opt for Groupage, your belongings will be carefully wrapped and packed, and then transported to our warehouse and loaded into a shipping container. This container will include the belongings of other UniGroup customers moving to the same destination.

What is the Difference Between Less than Container Load (LCL) and Groupage?

Whilst the LCL and Groupage sea freight options may seem similar (you only pay for the space that your items take up within the container), there are a couple major differences between them.

In LCL, your belongings will usually be placed inside wooden liftvans, and then loaded onto a shared shipping container with other types of freight, managed by one or several freight forwarders.

In Groupage, your belongings will be placed directly into a shipping container, where it will be consolidated with the belongings of other UniGroup customers going to the same destination.

How Does Groupage Work?

If you opt for Groupage, the transportation of your belongings will require the following steps:

  • Our highly trained, dedicated movers will come to your home and safely and securely wrap and pack your belongings that need to be shipped
  • Your wrapped and packed belongings will be transported to our warehouse, where they will be loaded, and consolidate with the belongings of other UniGroup customers, into a shared UniGroup controlled shipping container
  • Once the container is full, it will be transported to the closest port and shipped to its final destination
  • Once it has arrived at the destination port, the various consignments inside will be deconsolidated
  • Your belongings will be processed by the destination customs authority, cleared for transfer, and collected by our reliable, professional movers
  • We will help ensure that your belongings are safely and securely delivered to your new home (or into storage) on-time and intact.

What are the Advantages of Groupage?

When it comes to moving abroad freight options, Groupage offers several advantages:

  • Sharing a shipping container with other UniGroup customers means that you are also sharing the cost, and benefiting from economies of scale and volume from shipping routes we specialize in
  • As experts in packing and loading household goods for international shipments, the fact that we pack and secure the entire contents of the container, and manage the entire shipment ourselves, helps ensuring that everyone’s belongings are transported carefully, clear customs smoothly and delivered safely to their new home.

What are the Disadvantages of Groupage?

There are some drawbacks to Groupage sea freight that should be considered before you choose this option:

  • As Groupage containers are filled with a consolidation of multiple consignments, they will not be shipped until they are full, which inherently will take longer than FCL and LCL shipments. As such, Groupage should not be used for urgent or time critical shipments
  • As there is additional manual handling of the consignment, the risk of loss or breakage is increased. However, UniGroup will take the utmost care with your belongings, and transit insurance can protect against accidental or unforeseen damage
  • Groupage may only be available for certain, more popular destinations where it is likely that a shared container will be regularly filled by multiple customers. If you are moving to a less popular destination, Groupage may not be available
  • The smooth and timely customs clearance of your belongings can be affected by customs clearance issues pertaining to other consignments within the consolidation.

What Types of Shipping are There?

UniGroup moving your belongings door-to-door UniGroup moving your belongings door-to-door

There are three types of shipping that can be used to move your belongings internationally:

  • Door-to-Door
  • Port-to-Port
  • Door-to-Port and Port-to-Door.

The best shipping options for moving overseas will depend mainly on the volume of the items you need shipped and your delivery timeframe requirements.

What is Door-to-Door Shipping?

Door-to-door shipping is where the mover takes responsibility for moving your items overseas from your existing home to your new home; they literally pick-up your belongings at the door of your old home, and deliver them to the door of your new home. It is the most common way to ship Full Container Loads (FCL). In this type of shipping, once your belongings leave your home your container should only be opened for any necessary customs inspections, reducing the risks associated with double-handling, such as damage, theft and exposure to the elements. Plus, it is a very convenient way to ship; once your shipment is picked up, you don’t have to lift a finger until it is delivered.

What is Port-to-Port Shipping?

UniGroup moving your belongings port-to-port UniGroup moving your belongings port-to-port

In port-to-port shipping, your household goods are shipped from one sea port to another sea port (rather than from your existing home to your new home as in door-to-door shipping). Port-to-port shipping is most commonly used in small shipments, where freight forwarders consolidate your shipment. Port-to-port shipping can be less appealing than door-to-door because the container may be opened multiple times and there is a greater chance of double-handling. However, in port-to-port shipping, your belongings are generally protected by a liftvan or plywood box for additional protection and security.

What is Door-to-Port and Port-to-Door Shipping?

Door-to-port or port-to-door shipping is a combination of the two methods above. While it is safer than port-to-port shipping, this method of shipping carries increased risks of double handing when compared to door-to-door shipping.

The Best Way to Move Overseas? How to Choose Between Sea Freight and Air Freight

Choosing between sea freight and air freight when moving overseas Choosing between sea freight and air freight when moving overseas

When deciding on the best air and sea freight option for moving overseas, you should weigh up factors such as cost, speed, reliability and safety.

Cost

Cost is usually the most important factor when deciding between air freight and various sea freight options, as you will probably have a budget in mind for your international move. Typically, air freight is more expensive than sea freight.

To make an informed decision on cost, it helps to understand how international freight charges work:

  • Air freight: is charged based on either the actual weight or volumetric weight of your shipment, whichever is the larger of the two
  • Sea freight: is charged on either a per container rate, volume or volumetric weight of your shipment. If you are transporting less than a Full Container Load (FCL), such as in Groupage or a Less than Full Container (LFC) Load, your price will likely be determined by cubic meter
  • And generally, for both air and sea freight, the quicker you require your freight to be delivered to your destination the more expensive it will be, (ie. expedited air freight v. standard and FCL v. Groupage).

With larger and heavier shipments, sea freight is often cheaper. However, as a shipment gets smaller, the margin between the prices gets smaller and sometimes air freight can even be less expensive.

For most shipments, you can use the following general rules to determine the most cost-effective transportation option:

  • Shipments weighing more than 500kg (1,100lb) are generally too expensive for air freight, and will therefore require sea freight
  • Shipments weighing between 150kg (330lb) and 500kg (1,100lb) may be cost-effective to send by air freight or sea freight, depending on the shipment route required
  • Shipments weighing less than 150kg (330lb) can generally be transported via air freight at a cost-effective price.

Speed

While household items are in transit, they are exposed to many hazards. As such, the quicker the transit time, the less the risks of theft, loss and damage.

When it comes to speed, air freight is the much more attractive option, with deliveries usually taking approximately seven to 15 days, depending on your origin and destination.

Delivery timeframes for sea freight are highly dependent on both the origin and destination of your shipment. Some general estimates include:

  • Between Europe and North America: four to six weeks
  • Between Asia and North America: six to eight weeks
  • Between Australia and North America: six to eight weeks.

Some approximate examples of port-to-port (not door-to-door) shipping times include:

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland to Melbourne, Australia: 50 days
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong to New York, America: 35 days
  • Cape Town, South Africa to London, United Kingdom: 25 days
  • Brisbane, Australia to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam: 16 days
  • Auckland, New Zealand to Barcelona, Spain: 42 days
  • Boston, America to Maputo, Mozambique: 40 days
  • Paris, France to San Francisco, America: 45 days
  • Singapore, Singapore to Brockville, Canada: 50 days
  • Beijing, China to Darwin, Australia: 13 days
  • Washington, America to Santiago, Chile: 36 days.

To calculate an approximate port-to-port delivery timeframe for your shipment, try this sea freight shipping duration calculator.

In addition to these port-to-port shipping times, you need to keep in mind that sea freight will require additional time for loading onto and off the cargo ship, and customs clearance.

When moving overseas, you may be fine with the additional time taken to transport your items by sea freight, particularly if you don’t yet have permanent accommodation arranged. The extra month or so will give you plenty of time to find a new home so that your belongings can be delivered direct to your new address, instead of into storage.

Reliability and Safety

Air freight can be a safer, more reliable form of international shipping when compared to sea freight. Cargo ships move in six different directions, often travelling over 20m (65ft) with each roll, as often as seven to 10 times per minute. With air freight, your belongings are not tossed about for weeks on end, nor are they subject to the same delays and variables.

Air freight can also be a more reliable form of transport when compared to sea freight.

Your belongings are in transit for a much shorter period, and subject to fewer (if any) stops along the way. This mean less handling, reducing the risk of breakage or damage.

While flights might be delayed by inclement weather, airlines tend to be quite rigorous with their schedules. In addition, if your consignment misses a flight, this shouldn’t cause too much of a delay as flights depart regularly. In comparison, sea freight is generally subject to weekly schedules. So, missing a sea freight cut-off could result in a week-long delay, rather than a few hours or a day.

Disclaimer

We have been furnished with the above information, however, UniGroup Worldwide gives no guarantees or undertakings concerning the accuracy, completeness or up-to-date nature of the information provided. It is essential that users verify all information contained here before taking any action, or relying upon it. UniGroup Worldwide Moving cannot be held liable for any actions taken based on the information contained within this Guide.