Home Moving to the UK Relocation Relocation options for moving to the UK
Last update on August 23, 2019

If you’re moving to the UK, what’s the best way to send your furniture, belongings or car? This guide explains air freight, shipping and international moving companies in the UK.

Moving your belongings to the United Kingdom can seem like confusing business, with a varied range of transport options available and a crowded marketplace of relocation companies.

Whether you’re moving to the UK from Europe or farther afield, there are plenty of options to ensure your belongings arrive safely. There are, however, many factors to consider before choosing an international moving option to make sure you keep costs down, avoid damage and breakages and receive your belongings on time.

How can you decide which international moving option is best for the items you need to relocate to the UK? This guide explains the pros, cons, timeframes for delivery and relative prices so you can choose the best international removal option for your situation and belongings:

International removals

When moving to the UK a number of other factors need to be considered, such as if you have to pay customs or if there are restrictions or quarantine for items you want to bring to the UK. Alongside this there are the usual issues to research, such as security of your belongings and what packing and delivery is involved on your side. Cost is one of the biggest factors; you can find better rates for large items with only certain forms of transport, such as shipping your furniture or a car, while other relocation options are quick but get costly up for heavy items, such as air freight.

A decision to make is whether to hire an international relocation company. The answer mainly depends on your free time you have and how much you are prepared to pay. International moving companies typically take care of any potential issue that may arise, which is ideal for time-strapped expats but fees range depending on what services you require. How can you decide which is the best international moving company for you? Read about each relocation option below.

You can check moving companies and relocation companies on Expatica’s listings, or post a question to Expatica’s relocation experts on Ask the Expert.

Relocation to the UK with air freight

Airports across the UK accept significant volumes of air freight every week. Heathrow receives the most by a significant distance, followed by East Midlands, Stansted and Manchester. This means sending items to the UK by air freight can be a speedy and painless choice.

Air freight rates

Air freight is the quickest and most expensive method of moving your belongings to the UK. Because the cost can be several times higher than shipping freight, it’s best used those who need to relocate smaller quantities of belongings or those who need certain possessions in a hurry.

When sending items by air freight, you’ll usually be charged based on weight, which means transporting heavy items such as furniture pieces can be cost prohibitive. With this in mind, some home movers choose to send urgent items by air and their other belongings by sea.

Air freight transit time

Regardless of where you’re moving from, it’s not unreasonable to expect to get your belongings in around a week when using air freight. Indeed, if you’re moving from the US to the UK, you might be able to receive your possessions even quicker.

How to find air freight companies

As with the other forms of relocation, it’s easy to compare basic quotes from different companies online. These will give you an idea of what your shipment will cost to send, but usually won’t include key charges such as insurance, minimum shipment costs and packing. With this in mind, it’s worth speaking to international moving companies directly to get an exact quote of air freight rates.

How air freight works

Some international removal companies (especially if you’re taking advantage of a door-to-door service) will want to visit you and survey your belongings before giving you a final quote. Once you’re happy with the air freight rate, you can arrange a date to have your items collected. From this point, most companies will give you full details about which flight your possessions will be on, and you should have the opportunity to track the progress through key checkpoints.

Packing for air freight

When sending by air freight, you’ll usually be allowed to pack your belongings yourself, although many companies will offer packing services at an extra cost. If you take the DIY option, it’s important to make sure you don’t overpack cases and boxes and take extra care with breakable items.

Who should use air freight?

Air freight is the quickest and most convenient way of sending your items to the UK, especially if you live near an airport. Speed comes at a cost, however, so if you’re on a tight budget consider transporting by shipping container instead.

Shipping companies

While the UK has dozens of sea ports, some are far more popular than others. Located in Suffolk on the east coast of England, Felixstowe is the UK’s biggest container port, with the equivalent of 3.5m containers handled each year. Because of its convenient location, Felixstowe is the most commonly used port by shipping companies.

The Port of Southampton (on the south coast of England, also a leading port for vehicle import), Tilbury (in Essex, near London) and Grangemouth (in Scotland) are among the other most popular destinations for shipping containers.

Shipping freight rates

One of the key benefits of shipping freight is cost. Shipping is already significantly less expensive than sending items via air freight, but if you choose to group your belongings with those of other people or other international removal companies (as a groupage deal), you can move your belongings on a lower budget.

Shipping transit times

The biggest downside to shipping frieght is how long it takes. While you might be able to ship belongings across from the US to the UK in the space of a couple of weeks, often the process takes much longer. If you’re moving from Australia, for example, you could be looking at at least a couple of months door-to-door.

How shipping freight works

As with air freight, you can find shipping companies through their own websites and price comparison sites. Most companies will base their quotes on using shipping containers of set sizes. For example, a 20-foot container should be big enough to carry the contents of a three-bedroom house,while a 40-foot container is more suited to a four to five bedroom house.

If you have enough belongings to fill a full container, your items can be easily loaded and shipped directly. In some cases, even if your load is smaller than a set container size, you might be able to have it crated and delivered at the same speed.

If you’re not sending a huge amount of belongings, or you’re looking to save some money, you can choose to have your items grouped with those of other customers. While this is the cheapest option, it can also take longer time because ships won’t usually take containers until they’ve filled all available space. Items sent by groupage can also take longer to get hold of at the final destination.

Packing for shipping freight

Before choosing a shipping company, look at their terms and conditions carefully, especially regarding packing. Some sea shipping companies will only insure and ship your goods if they’ve packed them, while others will let you pack items yourself.

International moving companies UK

Should you use shipping?

Sending your items to the UK by shipping freight is a common and cost-effective method, with regular routes and plenty of UK destinations available to receive your possessions. It can be slow though, so plan ahead and consider sending any urgent items using a different method.

Using a relocation company

If you’d want to take some of the stress out of your move or think you won’t have time to arrange the logistics yourself, there are lots of international relocation companies that provide full door-to-door services.

While using a relocation company may be more expensive than booking the individual elements of the relocation yourself, they can arrange everything from packing to customs forms and inventory lists on your behalf.

In some cases, it may even be cost-effective to use a professional relocation company, especially if your move involves using more than one form of transport (shipping and then road freight, for example), as the costs of arranging each part yourself can add up.


If you hire an international moving company, you’ll need to plan you move well in advance. While the multitude of companies shipping goods to the UK means it’s a buyer’s marketplace, the best companies also book up very quickly.

While there’s no set timeframe in which you need to plan your move, for a full door-to-door service you should typically allow up to three months between contacting the removal company and moving abroad.


This is an area where different companies have different rules. Some will refuse to insure your belongings if they haven’t packed them (this especially applies if you use shipping freight).

In such cases, it can be worth considering paying extra for a professional packing service. Not only should professional packing reduce the likelihood of breakages, it should also allow you to fit more belongings into a smaller space and make it easier to sort your possessions at your new home.

DIY versus using a relocation company

It’s possible to organise the logistics of your move to the UK yourself but it can be a time-consuming and stressful.

There are several things to consider. Firstly, how much money are you likely to save by arranging each element of transport yourself? Secondly, how much time can you spend on packing and administration such as insurance and inventories? Finally, how cautious are you about the move? If you’re stressed just thinking about this, it’s probably better to get professionals in.

How to choose a relocation company

For relocation companies, moving people to the UK is a lucrative business with customers often spending thousands of pounds for full door-to-door services. While this means it’s a crowded and competitive marketplace, it can be difficult to differentiate between some of the services on offer for the prices quoted.

The best way to check if a company is reputable is to see if they are registered with a regulatory body, such as the  International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations or the International Air Transport Association.

Some research will also help, comparing online quotes for different services and reading reviews of each company. If possible, source some personal recommendations, too. Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a few companies, you should contact them directly to get a better idea about what they offer and at what final price.

Good relocation companies should be knowledgeable, helpful and transparent. If the company isn’t prepared to offer you a full itemised price list and information about what happens if something goes wrong with the shipment, then alarm bells should be ringing.

Customs and importing a car to the UK

If you’re moving to the UK from another European Union (EU) country, than you don’t usually need to pay duty on your personal belongings. People moving from outside of the EU may also be able to claim tax exemptions on certain charges.

You will be asked to fill in form C3 when your items arrive in the UK, and using this form customs officers will work out how much money (if any) you need to pay. For full details of customs charges when moving to the UK, you can check out the UK government’s guide.

If you want to import a car to the UK, you will need to arrange registrations plus contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) within 14 days after your car arrives; the HMRC will inform you if tax and duty are payable or not, and how much. If you use a relocation company, they will typically do the paperwork for you.