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Deciding what to bring on our international move

In case you missed it I broke the news recently that I’m moving back home to Ireland later this year. I’m smack bang in the middle of deciding what to bring and what to sell/dump/or donate. This has been challenging!

Ideally, I could dump all the junk I’ve accumulated over the years, pack up everything else I own, put it on a ship, and send it all on it’s merry way to Ireland. However, as I have found out, there are some issues with that approach to international moving.

Bring or leave behind?
Firstly, cost is a factor (at least for me anyway). Moving internationally is not cheap, especially if you’re moving half way around the world. Before I tried to figure out what we could afford to bring with us when we move, I sent out some emails for quotes from some shipping companies. Initially I was looking for a very rough idea of how much it would cost to pack up the bulk of our possessions (furniture, kitchen stuff, toys etc). I figured a few quotes for a large container (those ones they put on the massive container ships) would do. It didn’t take long for the quotes to start rolling in, and unfortunately those containers aren’t cheap! I was quoted in the multiple of thousands of dollars to send goods from Southern California to Cork in Ireland. Considering the value of our things (the kids have thrashed a lot of them 🙂 ) it didn’t make economic sense to send everything. It seemed more feasible to sell/donate much of our larger items (at least the non-personal things), and re-buy what we need on the other side.

For me…pallets not containers
After coming to the realization that we’d be bringing pallets of goods rather than containers, the next challenge was figuring out exactly what would fit on a pallet, and how many of them we would need. From what I gather (correct me if I’m wrong), when you ship goods internationally, there seems to be a standard pallet size – in inches it’s 40 X 48 X 90 high. When you look around your house, you could imagine fitting quite a lot of items on one of those pallets. For us, one is definitely not enough (remember I have a few kids too). My guess is I’ll need 2 – 4 or these pallets.

The weeding out process
Knowing that it’d be most cost effective for us to ship pallets full of goods, I went around every room in the house, and wrote down on a piece of paper, everything that we owned. Not down to the exact items, but a general idea of everything e.g. silverware, plates, bowls, clothes, picture frames, electronics etc. With multiple sheets of paper in hand, I sat down with my wife, and put a ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ next to each item. It was a good way to decide what we would bring, and also a very good way to make sure we were both on the same page about what we would get rid of before we go.

A rough breakdown by category
When we finally decided on making this move, we quickly started dumping and off-loading as much junk as we could. It’s amazing the amount of stuff you’d have lying around your house that you NEVER use! Add in a few kids, and that amount of stuff is exponentially multiplied. We were able to dump a lot of older things we really just didn’t need or use. Multiple attempts at sifting through the clothes in the closets yielded quite a lot of stuff we didn’t need/want anymore. Most of what we flushed out went to Goodwill and some of it went to friends with younger kids.
I’m not sure how my wife whittled hers down, but I was pretty ruthless with my own clothing – if I hadn’t worn it in the last few months, or if it wasn’t warm/wet weather gear, I bagged it up, and off it went to the donation center. Every inch of space on those pallets is going to cost money! Remember, unlike standard mail, when you put something on a ship, they typically charge by volume, not weight.

As mentioned above, we figured out pretty early on in the process that we wouldn’t be bringing any furniture, with the exception of a few pieces. Our 3 kids have all used the same baby crib, so we weren’t willing to part ways with that, so it’s coming with us. The kids bed frames are also most likely going to make the cut. Everything else – Craigslist/donate! For you though, if your furniture is valuable, or you just can’t part with it, figure out exactly what a large container might cost you. PLEASE get plenty of shipping quotes. You’ll be AMAZED at the difference between some of them!

Kids stuff
The kids will be going through quite a bit of an upheaval, so we’ve agreed to spend a bit of money in Ireland and on shipping costs to minimize the emotional effect on them. We’re going to bring most of their toys, especially things they use a lot, or would miss dearly. We have gone through the toys a few times, and we have dumped broken/cheap things. There are a few big things that simply can’t come with us e.g. outdoor toys – slides, basketball hoops etc, but we will replace those over time. Remember the shipping costs are calculated by volume, so a big light toy, that might have cost $50, might cost $200 to send. It’s better to try to sell the one you have for whatever you can get for it, and re-buy something similar on arrival.

Kitchen items
We’re going to bring a lot of our kitchen items – pots/pans, plates, glasses, silverware etc. That stuff is expensive to buy, and should (hopefully!) make it over safely. We will be sending our things a few weeks before we travel, so we’ll make do with paper plates, plastic utensils etc for a bit. It’ll be like camping 🙂
As regards kitchen appliances, we won’t be bringing any of those. As you may know the electric system is different in Ireland (and may be too where you’re moving to), so we’re going to have to bite the bullet on those. The same goes for other appliances throughout the house (washer/dryer, fridge, heaters, fans etc). A lot of them would have been left behind due to size anyway, but even for the smaller ones, unless a simple plug converter will keep them running in Ireland, then they won’t be on the ship.

Personal items
With kids you tend to accumulate many keepsakes over the years. There were no questions here – all the precious mementos are coming. Also, pictures in their frames will make it with us to Ireland, as will many other small items of sentimental importance. We’re making a huge move, but we want to bring with us all the things that will remind us of our many happy memories in America. Make sure you don’t ditch things in haste just to minimize your moving costs. If you throw away personal items now, you’ll most likely NEVER get them back.

If I had a few classic cars in the garage I’d probably be figuring out what I can do to keep them. But, I don’t! We have a standard sedan, and a minivan, both of which are just your regular run-of-the-mill American car, so we’re going to sell them before we leave. We want to keep them until as close to last minute as possible, so car buying services such as CarMax might come in handy. Failing that, there are always people crying out for car donations, so we might yet go that route.
If you need to get rid of your car fast, CarMax will take it off you hands the day you come in to have it valued. A handy service to have, but I’m sure they benefit enormously from the likes of us.

What’s best for you?
Every international move is unique, and every situation is unique also. Many people moving internationally do so for jobs or for military reasons. If that’s your case, chances are that most of your moving costs will be paid for, and you’ll be lucky enough to bring almost everything with you. If you’re paying your own way, be sure to take the time to figure out what’s best for you and your family. You don’t want to make any quick or rash decisions and regret it later. And very importantly – make sure that those you love are aware of what you can’t bring. You don’t want any surprises on arrival in your new country.

Have you got something to add?
I’d love to hear from you if you have some tips about moving for me. It doesn’t have to be from an international move. Leave a comment below with your own experiences.
Thanks, Liam


  1. Well how exciting to go home to the Motherland! I just received a post card from the Arans this morning and it brought back many happy memories. I wish you all the best especially in your move and trying to decide what’s and what nots to bring and to leave behind. It must be hard to decipher a life! Look forward to hearing all about it…Bon Voyage!

    • Thanks, Kerry. It’s been quite the adventure already, and we’re still many weeks away from the big day. Plenty to do between now and then…

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