Relocation options for moving to the UK

Take the stress out of your move to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, or England with our guide to relocation options to the UK.

Relocation options UK

By Sarah Fairman

Updated 12-1-2024

Whether you’re moving to Britain for the food or the weather, organizing your removal is likely high on your to-do list. First, you need to find a place to live, perhaps in one of London’s vibrant neighborhoods, another charming UK city, or the wild British countryside. Then, it’s time to plan your move. Thankfully, the UK has plenty of international transport hubs, so you have many options for organizing your relocation.

We’ll outline the best ways to move your household to the UK, including the best shipping methods, how to pack, and relocation companies. So get ready to enjoy your new life in the UK with this guide, covering:

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Relocating to the UK from abroad

Getting ready to move to the UK might seem overwhelming. As well as finding a job and arranging visas, you have to decide how to get your furniture and personal possessions to the UK. There are many things to consider when it comes to moving: how to keep your items safe and which method of transport will be most efficient. Cost and time are, of course, important, but it’s essential to check which customs apply to your items, especially since the UK is no longer in the European Union.

A row of townhouses in Cardiff, the Welsh capital

If you’re fretting about the logistics, hiring an international removals company can make your move easier. These companies handle the entire move for you: packing, transport, customs, and unpacking. While it can alleviate some of the stress of moving, these services come at a high price. Therefore, it can be helpful to compare your relocation options to the UK on comparison platforms such as:

Another option to find relocation companies in the UK is to check our directory.

Air freight options for relocation to the UK

If you ship your belongings by air to the UK, there are plenty of airports to choose from. Heathrow airport handles by far the largest amount of cargo in the UK and is the busiest airport in Europe. Other international airports in the UK include:

Who should use air freight?

As it’s the speediest method of transport when moving to the UK, air freight is suitable for essential items. However, prices can get quite steep, as they are charged according to their weight. That means that it’s best saved for lighter, urgent items.

In addition, air freight is very carbon-intensive compared to other methods such as sea freight. So if you want to start a sustainable life in the UK, it’s best to choose another option.

How air freight works

Before approaching delivery or removal companies, you should assess how much stuff you need to move and what you will send by air. First, make sure you know how much they weigh. Then, you can begin sourcing quotes from different services. However, to provide the most accurate estimate, companies might visit you to assess your shipment or inspect it virtually.

Heathrow airport arrivals

Your selected service should tell you which paperwork you need and which customs to prepare for. Then, either they will pack up your belongings and transport them for you, or you can arrange your own transport to the airport.

Air freight: transit times

As we’ve already mentioned, air freight is pretty fast. Usually, shipments reach their destination within a week or two, depending on where you’re relocating from. This is great if you have urgent items or only a few lightweight things to move. If you don’t have any large items, you could also pay for extra baggage and pick your belongings up at baggage reclaim. However, remember that you will need to go through customs and that restrictions apply to certain items when flying.

Air freight costs

Although it’s quick, air freight costs quite a lot more than other shipping methods. For example, you might have to pay a minimum of US$150 to ship by air, and your items will then be charged according to their weight. This can begin at around US$1.50 and reach US$8 per kilo during times of high demand.

Packing options

When packing for air freight, it’s important to use lightweight materials to keep your costs down. You can also save money with reusable containers such as suitcases. In addition, your shipping company might have some eco-friendly options such as biodegradable packing peanuts, so if the environment is your thing, get in touch with them.

Finding an air freight company

It can be tricky to choose which air freight company to use. First, you need to decide whether to handle your own shipping or leave it to a global relocation company. Bear in mind that you might need to do extra research into additional costs and insurance.

Relocating to the UK with sea freight

Another relocation option when you’re moving to the UK is to ship your belongings by sea. If you’re on a tight budget and have time on your side, this can save you a lot of money. The UK ports industry handles 95% of UK imports and exports, and there are 120 commercial ports in the country. The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk handles most containers in the UK. Other ports include:

Who should use sea freight?

What it lacks in speed, sea freight makes up for in cost savings. So it’s a good option for your relocation to the UK if you’re keen to keep costs down when shipping heavy items over a long distance.

Containers ships at the Port of Liverpool.

Another bonus of sea freight is that it’s far more environmentally friendly than sending your belongings by air. Shipping emits only a fraction of the CO2 that air freight does for the same weight of items over the same distance.

Container ships: how the process works

Once you know how much you need to ship, you will need to decide which type of container to use. Sea freight charges by volume, rather than weight, and you have three main options:

  • Full container load (FCL), 20-foot – this has enough room for the contents of a two- to three-bedroom house.
  • FCL, 40 foot – for larger homes with four or five bedrooms.
  • Less than a container load (LCL) – for smaller houses or if you decide not to ship your entire household.

Shipping LCL is slightly cheaper than FCL but can make your move take longer. This is because you need to wait for other shipments to fill the container.

Freight shipping transit times

But how long does shipping take? Depending on your distance to the UK, the time to receive your belongings can vary greatly. Here are some estimates of shipping times to the UK from different countries:

  • Australia: 36–59 days
  • India: 20–35 days
  • Poland: 3–7 days
  • South Africa: 15–24 days
  • United States: 17–62 days

Remember that these shipping times only account for the time spent traveling port to port. Once your items arrive on land, you will need to arrange transport to your new home. However, as the UK is surrounded by coastline, it shouldn’t take you too long to receive your belongings once they have left the port – usually no more than a day.

Maritime freight costs

You can save a lot of money by shipping by sea rather than air. It also often works out cheaper for heavy furniture, as the price is worked out according to volume or container size.

View of Felixstowe Marina

The cost of transporting your goods by sea depends on the route they take and levels of demand. As a result, the price might vary month to month, so stay in touch with your shipping company and be aware of any changes. As an example, costs for ocean freight can range from $25–$140 per cubic meter. Added to this, you’ll need to account for any transport on either side of the port.

Packing options

When shipping by sea to the UK, you must pack your items securely. This is because ocean freight can undergo bad weather and damp conditions. In addition, if your move involves a lot of transfers, your belongings will need to be safely packed to deal with a lot of handling.

When shipping LCL, your goods travel on pallets. There are some options for making your relocation to the UK eco-friendly, but you should check with your removals or delivery company to find what is sustainable and suitable for the journey. In addition, international removals companies often only insure items they’ve packed themselves.

Finding a freight company

Once you know how much stuff you have to ship, you can begin sourcing quotes from delivery companies. You can get a rough quote on most shipping companies’ websites, or you can explore comparison platforms such as:

Options for relocation to the UK with train and road freight

Despite being surrounded by sea, the UK has road and rail connections with the rest of Europe. As well as the Channel Tunnel, several ferry routes operate between mainland Europe and the UK and between the islands that make up the country.

You have several options if you decide to carry out your relocation to the UK by road:

  • Drive your own belongings to the UK, crossing the sea by ferry or the Channel Tunnel
  • Hire a road or rail freight service
  • Hire an international shipping company – this is usually the easiest option, as they will handle transfers and customs for you, but it comes at an extra cost.
Road freight truck driving through lush scenery in Scotland

You could also transport your goods by rail, as most ports have rail links with the rest of the country. If you’re moving from Western Europe and don’t have much to transport, you could also bring your items on the Eurostar. A standard ticket typically allows you to bring a generous amount of luggage, so it’s convenient if you’re only carrying a few personal items.

Hiring an international moving company

Hiring an international relocation company is probably the most convenient option if you have a large amount to move. These companies usually handle all of the packing and shipping. This means that the logistics should be in safe hands and that you should receive sound advice on customs forms and inventory lists.

If you choose to work with an international relocation service, get in touch with them to learn about their specific service. Speaking to them directly can give you a clearer idea of timing and costs. Some relocation companies working in the UK include:

If you’re not sure which removals company is right for you, there are plenty of comparison platforms where you can assess your options:

Our directory has plenty of options for relocation companies in the UK, so don’t forget to check our listings.

How to choose an international relocation company

There are plenty of relocation services to choose from, but this can make your decision a little more complicated. First, you should ensure that your company is a member of industry organizations such as the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association or the International Air Transport Association.

Street in Sheffield

When choosing a shipping company, it’s worth making sure they’re experienced, knowledgeable, and transparent. If you know someone who’s already moved to the UK, find out if they have any relocation company recommendations. Otherwise, read online reviews. Finally, make sure you communicate clearly with your relocation company to know what your options are, what paperwork you’ll need, and what will happen if something goes wrong.

DIY relocation versus using a relocation company

You might be able to save some money by organizing the move yourself, without hiring help. You could also hire more flexible help through services such as TaskRabbit. This option makes most sense if your relocation to the UK only involves a few items and a short distance.

However, if you organize your own move to the UK, you will have to handle all transport and transfers, administration, packing, and unpacking. In addition, since Brexit, there are more customs issues to consider. So make sure you have done your research before jumping into the removal.

Relocating pets and vehicles

When relocating with animals and cars, the move becomes more complicated. Read on to find out what to consider when bringing pets and vehicles into the UK.

Moving to the UK with pets

If you bring a cat, dog, or ferret into Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland), it must be microchipped, have a pet passport (or health certificate), and be vaccinated against rabies. In some cases, dogs might need tapeworm treatment. Lengthy quarantines can apply if you don’t follow these rules. In addition, when flying to Great Britain, your pet must travel by one of the approved routes.

Woman walking a dog

Northern Ireland, on the other hand, follows the European Union Pet Travel Regulation. So if you move from an EU country to Northern Ireland, your pet needs a microchip, a rabies vaccination, an EU pet passport, and tapeworm treatment (for dogs). From elsewhere, you might need a health certificate from your vet, proof of other vaccinations, and blood tests.

Bringing a vehicle into the UK

If you want to drive in the UK, you can buy a new car or import your own. The process for importing a vehicle varies slightly depending on whether you are moving to Great Britain or Northern Ireland and whether you are moving from the EU or another non-EU country.

  • Non-EU country to Great Britain or Northern Ireland: you must send a C384 form to UK Customs (HM Revenue and Customs, HMRC) within 14 days of your car’s arrival.
  • EU country to Northern Ireland: you must alert HMRC with the Notification of Vehicle Arrivals (NOVA) service.

HMRC will then inform you whether or not you need to pay VAT. If you move permanently to the UK with your vehicle, you will likely be exempt from VAT and duties.

Once you have confirmation from HMRC, you must register your car with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). You can read the full conditions for importing a vehicle to the UK on the British Government website. Remember that you require car insurance to drive in the UK.

Customs and importing goods into the UK

If you are transferring your residence to the UK, you can apply for relief from customs charges on your personal belongings. This is called Transfer of Residence (ToR) relief. EU residents moving to Northern Ireland do not need to apply for ToR relief, as their goods are exempt from customs charges thanks to freedom of movement.

To be eligible for ToR relief, you must have been resident outside the UK for at least a year and import your items within a year of arriving. In addition, you must have owned these goods for six months or longer, and you may not sell them for at least a year after moving to the UK. You can apply for ToR relief on the UK Government website. Bear in mind that you will require several documents such as an inventory, ID, and proof of your non-UK address.

There are several things that you must declare to customs when you arrive in the UK. This includes amounts of cash over €10,000, goods that you plan to sell, and restricted items. Helpfully, you can declare these online before entering the country.

Useful resources

  • UK customs (HMRC) – information about all tax concerns including importing your goods to the UK
  • DVLA – details on everything to do with vehicles and driving in the UK