Life Life Abroad

How to Pack for an International Move

So, you’ve decided to up sticks and move to a different country. Congratulations! You’re about to enter a period in your life that is both very exciting but also quite stressful, so to make things feel more manageable, I’ve put together this guide on packing for your move. From picking the right type of box, through to creating a spreadsheet that will keep track of them, these hints and tips will help you to master the moving process.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that many international removals companies will not insure items that you pack away yourself. If you haven’t already, you should do some investigating into the company you are going to use before you begin the packing process. Assuming you have already done this and decided to pack the majority of your items yourself, let’s get started.

You will need:

  • Strong, double wall cardboard boxes
  • Smaller boxes to help organise your belongings
  • Tape: strong, very sticky and in a mixture of normal and ‘fragile’ print
  • Tape dispenser/gun
  • Marker pens for labelling your boxes
  • Packing paper and bubble wrap for fragile items
  • Silica gel sachets
  • Patience

1. Choose the right boxes for your move


This is the most important factor to consider when purchasing the boxes for your move. The boxes you buy will have to withstand travelling across the globe, potentially via various modes of transport like lorries and ships or both and they may be moved multiple times during the journey. It is crucial, therefore, that you purchase only double wall boxes for your move, as they offer an extra layer of protection for your belongings and are also physically stronger than their single-walled counterparts. For extra durability, particularly at the bottom of the box, it is also possible to buy double-walled, full overlap cardboard boxes which offer a reinforced base; these are great for heavier items and do not rely on being held together by tape like most other boxes you can buy. This was my favourite type of box and we purchased ours in sets of 10 from Shurguard.


You should be buying ‘medium’ sized boxes for your move. There is a temptation to go as big as possible but you need to be able to move and stack the boxes safely. Medium boxes are sturdier and also make it more difficult to pack a box that is too heavy.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If you own a lot of cookbooks, for example, you should opt for smaller boxes with handles because they will quickly become very heavy. Conversely, when packing lighter items like cushions or stuffed toys, you can choose larger boxes to better accommodate them.

Save small boxes and containers

Small cardboard boxes and other containers are a great way of grouping smaller or more fiddly items together and utilising your packing space more effectively. For example, you can save shoe boxes in order to separate your footwear before putting them into a larger box– this means that they will not crush each other in transit. The same goes for any other miscellaneous items that may otherwise be unsuitable for being placed directly into a large box.

2. Number your moving boxes and keep track of what’s inside

This is going to be the most valuable piece of advice I can offer for your move: you should, without fail, number every single box that you pack and keep a running document that outlines the contents of each box. This may sound tedious but there is nothing more frustrating than moving house and then not knowing where to quickly find the items that you need once you are relocated. This is especially true if your belongings will initially be moved to storage in your new country, as opposed to a permanent new home. For example, you may be in temporary accommodation initially and therefore unable to unpack all of your belongings straight away.

I chose to use Sheets on Google Drive to create my tracking document, as it allowed me to create a new tab/page for each box and has a search tool so that you can easily find items across the whole document. I could also easily share it with my partner and access it whilst on the go. If you don’t want to use Drive or software like Excel, you could theoretically create your tracking document anywhere; it’s just easier, later on, if the software you use has a ‘Find’ function, so that you can quickly look up ‘pizza cutter’ and be taken straight to the box where it is hiding. Here is an example of what my tracking document contained:

Tab 1
Box 1

Shurguard Medium Cardboard Box with Handles
Kitchen items, including:
Tin opener
Chopping board
Bowls we use all the time

Tab 39
Box 39
SmallCardboard Box with No Handles

Office items, including:
2019 diary
Paper clips

As you can see, each one of my tabs includes a description of the physical appearance of the box itself. We used about 4 different box types, so it was useful to know which box type I should be looking for. Each tab also includes a general overview of the box contents and then a break down of the contents within.

Pro tip: When numbering your boxes, make sure that you write the number on every side of the box (in big, clear lettering) so that when they are stacked at your new location, you will not have to waste time and energy rotating boxes just to find out what number they are– you will be able identify each box at a glance.

3. Pack carefully and thoughtfully: make sure your belongings are protected in transit

Full boxes are happy boxes

Try to avoid large, empty spaces in your boxes. Whilst we should remain cautious that our boxes are not too heavy to lift, it’s important that your items aren’t able to roll around inside and that the boxes are able to withstand being stacked. Think of packing like a game of Tetris, where you aim to carefully organise your items so that they fit and fill the space perfectly. Using smaller boxes, as explained earlier, is a great way of achieving this. If all else fails, however, you can use soft items, scrunched up paper or bubble wrap to fill any gaps.

Bubble wrap and packing paper

You will notice that most bubble wrap comes with a flat side and a bubbly side. The side with the bubbles should be touching your item, whilst the flat side should be facing outwards. Use multiple layers of wrap to increase the amount of protection provided and make sure that you use tape to secure everything— you don’t want the wrap to unravel during transit. Bubble wrap is your best bet where heavy duty protection is required.

Like bubble wrap, packing paper is another useful way of protecting your items during the move. You can scrunch up pieces and use it as padding in your boxes, as well as a material for wrapping. Unlike bubble wrap, packing paper takes up less space and allows you to stack items, like plates, without them being scratched, which is why it tends to be a good option for the kitchen. You can also use it for wrapping valuable books or any other items that aren’t significantly fragile but would benefit from an extra protective layer during transit.

Silica gel sachets for protection

Silica gel packets are used for soaking up moisture from the surrounding air. I always have a pack of these on hand for rescuing items after accidental spillages in the home but they are equally useful for preventative care during your move. When packing electronics, throw a silica gel satchet or two into the container and make sure that it is as air tight as possible before packing it away. You can also place them in your shoe boxes or clothing containers to make sure that rogue moisture doesn’t have a chance to damage the items before you are ready to unpack.

Packing liquid items

It’s best to try and use, sell or donate liquid items before you move. If you do have some you would like to hang on to, however, the last thing you want is for those liquids to spill or break during transit and ruin the rest of your belongings. The first port of call, therefore, is to place each item in a plastic bag (that you can recycle or reuse later). Even better, is to then transport the items in tightly-sealed plastic containers, as opposed to your standard cardboard box. We have had a set of such containers for many years and when not being used for moving, they are excellent as general storage throughout the home.

4. Be ruthless: now is a good time to detox your belongings

Not only will it likely cost you more to move a larger amount of items, but it will weigh less heavily on your mind if you use this opportunity to donate or sell anything that you are not making use of. Points to consider include:

  • Will this electrical item work in my new country? Domestic voltages and frequencies vary across the world and accommodating these differences may be tedious or potentially expensive. Do your homework before moving with electrical items.
  • Would it be easier to sell these items now and buy them again in my destination country? Moving your belongings internationally is expensive and the more things you have, the more space you will need in a lorry or a ship. Weigh up the cost of selling and repurchasing large pieces of furniture, white goods or bulky items like bicycles and lawn mowers.
  • Have I used this item in the last 12 months? In the space of year, you’re likely to experience all four seasons and most other situations that may require context-specific items. If you haven’t used or thought about an item in a year, it’s probably time to consider selling or donating it.
  • Is this suitable for the weather and/or infrastructure in my new country? If you’re moving from somewhere very warm to a very cold place or vice versa, you may want to think carefully about the clothes you bring with you. Similarly, if you are moving from somewhere with endless bike lanes to a country where the roads are less safe for cyclists, is it a good idea to bring your bike?

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