Packing An Expat’s Life Into A 20-Foot Container

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It’s depressing for expats to think they can load their whole life in to a container and see their furniture and belongings drive off on the back of a lorry.

The container ships by road, rail or sea, depending on how far an expat is relocating.

Shipping containers come in 20 or 40 foot lengths.

A good point to remember before ordering your container is the door is around 7.5 feet high and wide. Measure large items to make sure they fit and dismantle them if you can so they go through the door.

A container measures 1,170 cubic feet and takes a maximum weight of 6,700 pounds.

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Your life on a lorry

Do not expect your container to stand on the ground for easy loading. For loading and unloading, the container generally sits a few feet off the ground. Some shippers will supply ramps and stands, others will not, so ask the question when booking.

The big question is how much fits into the container?

According to international movers Movehub, a two bedroom apartment or terraced house will generally go into a well-packed 20 foot container, which is just over eight feet tall and eight feet wide. If you are lucky, you should be able to squeeze in a family car as well.

Bin packing theory, a mathematics problem, suggests the most efficient way to pack a limited space is to pack the largest items first and then slot the smaller packages and odd shapes around them.

Packing tips

Here are some more packing tips:

  • Don’t make boxes so heavy they are difficult to lift or likely to split
  • Wrap plenty of padding around fragile objects and, if necessary, splint them with wood or other rigid packing so they do not bend and break
  • Mark the boxes with a code and keep an inventory of the each box on paper or a spread sheet. This makes finding individual items easier. Mark the code on each side of the box so you can pick it out of a pile from each end
  • Check with the customs authorities of each country the container is likely to pass through for the prohibited items, not just at the destination
  • Keep a day bag of travel documents, financial paperwork and other belongings you will need on your trip and for the weeks you may have to wait for your container to catch up, especially if you are travelling by air and the container is shipping by boat.

Lastly, cost the price of packing and shipping your belongings against buying new ones at the other end of the trip – sometimes this can work out cheaper.

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