Shipping Cargo by Sea
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Destination charges | Unaccompanied baggage | "Consigner = Consignee" Rule | Shipping food | CBP guide on Importing HHG to the USA


This page provides tips on shipping personal belongings overseas using cost-effective sea freight services from common carriers Vs. using service from an international moving company.    


Yes, you can ship household goods or personal shipments, i.e. not-commercial goods that are not for sale, using cost-effective sea freight service from a common carrier Vs. an international moving company.

However, please do not confuse sea freight service provided by an international cargo transportation company (a common carrier) and sea freight service by an international moving company (1) or parcel services (2).



1. Unlike with an an international moving company, when you use direct sea freight service from an international transportation company, it is your responsibility on packing your goods:

  • With LCL (Less than Container Load Sea freight Service, i.e. shipping boxed or crated cargo) your items must be boxed, crated and/or palletized and labeled in order to be accepted by the carrier. An international moving company may pack your goods intended to be shipped using sea freight service for an adding cost. You also should keep in mind wood packing restrictions when pack your freight. (Notice: An unprofessional international moving company may not be aware about the ISPM 15 rules. They may use not certified pallets or crates when pack your goodgs for the sea freight shipment. Always pay attention to quality of international moving company that you are going to use for your international shipment by sea).
  • With FCL (Full Container Load - not always available for shipping household goods using sea freight service from common carrier) unlike with an international moving company it is shippers’ responsibility on loading and securing cargo and vehicles (if any) in a sea freight container unless you use in a warehouse quality loading service. Most commonly used sea freight containers for shipping household goods oversea are 20', 40' and 40'HC. An international moving company will load and secure your goods intended to be shipped using sea freight service for you for an adding cost. However finally they will apply to an international shipping company (common carrier) in order to buy sea freight and (if they are licensed on providing sea freight service) will add significant profit on top of the sea freight bought from the international shipping company (common carrier). Always ask the international moving company, which you are going to use on your sea freight, either they are licensed on not. Do not apply for sea freight service to an unlicensed international moving company. Otherwise you may full in troubles on any stage of your international shipment by sea.

Obviously services from international moving companies are extremely expensive. However, they may send to you a surveyor. They would estimate total shipping cost on your international moving, including labor, materials and sea freight cost, and then complete entire shipment on your behalf including packing, loading and securing your cargo in containers.

Then we always recommend considering alternatives between using services from an international moving company and an international transportation company (common carrier). Here is the link to our instant sea freight rates calculator for shipping boxed or crated cargo usung LCL economy sea freight service from an international transportation company Vs. an international moving company.
2. If you ship considerable small cargo for your shipment by sea (less than 0.3 cubic meters of total volume), then using a parcel service possible on your sea freight shipment should be more cost-effective.

LCL shipments with international transportation companies are always have a MINIMUM CHARGE on sea freight shipments.

MINIMUM CHARGE - A sea freight shipment typically is not limited by volume. But it always has a minimum charge.

A minimum charge is the amount that will not go below regardless of volume of your cargo. For example: if you ship by sea a considerable small volume with a total freight charge that calculates an amount below the minimum charge, then you will be charged the minimum anyway.

Often minimum charges are equal to shipping sea freight with the total volume of one cubic meter. For example: $87 per Cubic Meter w/m / $87 minimum. However certain origins-destinations have minimum charges higher than shipping one cubic meter.  

w/m - i.e. Weight or Measurement, which ever is higher. Find more about W/M and Cubic Meter in respect of shipping freight by sea in this link.


Either you use a service from an international moving company or a common carrier or simply carry your goods in the trunk of your car across the border, your cargo is always subject to destination charges. You may find more about destination charges for sea freight shipments in this link.  

In respect of Customs Duty at destinations (as a part of destination charges), household goods and personal effects are allowed to enter most countries without significant duties or taxes as long as it complies with local regulations for importing household goods or personal effects (not for sale). However, those regulations can be quite complicated. 

The first thing that exporter should do before making arrangements to ship household goods or personal effects overseas is to contact a local Consulate or Embassy of the country where the goods will be sent. Ask them about special rules, restrictions or charges (duty and/or taxes) that may be incurred when items reach their destination. It is a good idea to check also if you are unsure about any particular item you want to ship overseas. Certain commodity such as animal skins or products, plants or seeds etc may not be allowed for import.

See if you can obtain a letter of relocation, or if duty exceptions are granted a confirmation letter can be issued by the consulate before you are involved in your international shipment as well. 

Also, you may request customs duty and tax estimation from a destination Customs Broker before making any arrangements on your international shipment. Most likely you will be asked to pay a fee on this service. However, if you are uncertain then it worths your money and time.

If you use an international moving company then always try to obtain as more details related to your your shipment as possible in advance. I.e. before your goods are submitted to the international shipment. Notice: Sea freight may take longer than you plan. When using sea freight on your international shipment keep in mind a possibility of changes in destination country import regulations on the day when your cargo will arrive to the destination.


A portion of luggage that cannot be taken with a passenger and travels to its destination separately, but which is required to be used immediately upon or soon after you or your dependent's arrival at destination, may be considered by the destination customs as an Unaccompanied Baggage.

Sea freight shipments or parts of shipments that compiles with status of unaccompanied baggage are always easier with the destination customs.  

Unaccompanied baggage may include but is not limited to clothing, uniforms, kitchen supply and equipment, portable electronics: computers, TV radio etc, portable air-conditioners, golf and fishing equipment and more. Unaccompanied baggage may not include major items of furniture such as chairs, tables, cabinets, washers, dryers, freezers, large-size refrigerators, beds, mattresses, etc. Always remember about the unaccompanied baggage status when you pack and mark your shipping boxes. If you use service from an international moving company then always ask for a detailed valued packing list done by the international moving company on your behalf.

If you travel to your destination by airplane, boat, train ahead of your shipment, it is always a good idea to declare your international shipment at a time of destination country’s border crossing. Fill out a customs declaration on board of the aircraft, boat or train. Mention in the declaration that your international shipment or part of the shipment is an unaccompanied baggage. Along with your commodity description provide in the declaration an information on your shipment obtained in your booking confirmation: booking #, the origin, vessel, voyage etc. Keep copy of the declaration and use it when you clear your goods with destination customs. 


When moving overseas, i.e. shippers ship cargo to themselves, at a time of booking and filling ship documents we suggest the following the rule:

CONSIGNER (SHIPPER) AND CONSIGNEE (RECIPIENT) MUST BE THE SAME NAME. THERE MUST BE NO VARIATION EVEN IN SPELLING. You may provide any different contact info to sea freight bill of lading as the notify party, but not consigner/consignee.

If you use an international moving company on your shipment then remind them about this role. Check shipping documents prepared on your behalf by the international moving company. Pay extreme attention to information stated in your sea freight the bill of lading, which is the final document on your international shipment and title on your shipped goods.

Following this rule should allow you to avoid problems when clearing sea freight with destination customs. I.e. save time and money on destination customs and/or your sea freight bill of lading amendments.


Food and vegetable or animal products SHOULD NOT be shipped as a part of a sea freight personal effects or household goods international shipment. We suggest avoiding shipping such type of commodity at all. Even small amount of food in your sea freight shipment may result a big problem with the destination officials. 

A sea freight shipment that includs vegetable or animal products may require additional shipping documents like Phytosanitary certificate, Veterinary certificate etc.

If you wish to ship by sea such products anyway, please contact a local Consulate or Embassy of the country where the goods will be shipped. Ask them about the country’s specific import regulations. Ensure that you have obtained all of the necessary documents and certifications for your sea freight shipment in advance, before to arrange your international shipment.
Neither freight forwarder nor carrier can be held responsible for additional costs or delays caused by the failure to provide complete and compliant paperwork relating to any food and agricultural products contained in your sea freight shipment. Professional international moving company should be aware of this role as well.


Shipping live plants or animals is prohibited in household goods shipments when using sea freight on your international shipment. Professional international moving company should be aware of this role as well.


For shipping household goods to the United States by using sea freight you may find helpful this Guide to Customs Regulations from CBP.GOV

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