Friday 31 May 2013

The reality of an International move

I will name the company as the following is fact. I made complaints via email and telephone at the time and as with all things once our container arrived and all was intact, the process of settling into life in South Africa began and I sort of let the matter drop as no one was actually that interested.

There are many blogs, web pages, advise in different formats available when selecting a firm to assist with an International move. There are lots of stories of what went wrong, there is lots of of info about how to choose a firm, but there is little about 'what to do if something goes wrong' or 'the reality of what is offered and what actually happens'

So here is my tale of an International move in regards to shipping our lives abroad. With a list of 'what I wish I'd packed'

We did the 'get 3 quotes' thing and opted to use a local firm affiliated with Britannia Movers International. My contract was with the local firm and there were many issues.

When arranging a moving date, ensure you have your visas prior to packing your furniture and requesting a shipping date.

On December 23rd 2010 they moved the final box out of our property. We called in at the local office to find out what happens next and make the final payment. We were then informed that a shipping date hadn't been booked as we had failed to provide them with our visa numbers. First time they mentioned that little fact. Our visas weren't issued until January 11th 2011, so in hindsight we could've stayed in our house until that date rather than the costly process of hotels and bedding down on family and friends floors.

On arrival in South Africa we still didn't have a date that our furniture would be shipped and after several calls and emails we were informed it left the UK on February 1st 2011 and would arrive end of March. We notified the agents of our new address 2 weeks prior to moving in on March 1st and requested the sealed container number for our belongings. Please note this number finally arrived via email 2 weeks after our container was delivered to our house.

We recveived a frantic call from the local agents in Johannesburg to say that as we hadn't been in touch and our container was ready for collection at customs, they had no driver available and they would charge storage costs for the weekend and also informed us that we hadn't completed any custom or release forms this end. Frantic calls and emails were sent to the UK, there was no answer. So hubby was recalled from work, we collected the paperwork from the agents, drove to Pretoria to customs, paid more fees, drove to agents and submitted forms. At this stage we'd been in te country for 6 weeks, we were still apprehensive about travelling to unknown places and worried about our personal safety. Our container then 'got lost' for 3 days and we were unable to find where it was, again the Uk agents didn't respond. So we contacted Britannia Movers International who unhelpfully contacted the UK agents with my complaints against them and reported back to me that there were no issues and everything was going smoothly. I replied and said 'that still doesn't answer the question of where our container and was' I received an 'out of office reply for the next 2 weeks.

For 2 days we had a team of unpackers sat on the drive of our house, waiting for our lost container to arrive. I fed and watered them, offered them shelter from the heat and the storms and my son played football with them for 2 days and watched the cricket as he was visiting us on holiday.

Nothing was broken on arrival, boxes unpacked, furniture assembled. They never did return to collect all the cardboard boxes, but we were in and had our 'home' back.

Should I move again, things will be done differently. I assure you.


  1. What a miserable experience for you! At least all your stuff arrived safely in the end and wasn't pilfered in customs (as was ours when moving to Egypt). We have always tried to use companies that have offices in both the departure and arrival country. Dealing with 2 different companies is just setting yourself up for finger-pointing when things go wrong. Also if you're taking a full container, or half-container, it should be brought to your home, packed and sealed in front of you, and you should be given the number on the seal. You should be present to witness it being unsealed at the other end, even if that means a trip to the docks/customs. Well worth it when public officials are known to be a bit dodgy. The visa number requirement sounds like it may just be a requirement for SA as we've never been asked that.

    1. I thinks, as is typical of everything we've done with this move is to employ people who don't know what they're doing

  2. Wow- how awful. I thank my stars time and time again that our relo company here in the NL that worked with us from the US (and is the one of my husband's company) was fabulous. They were good sports from start to finish, made sure we even had our new Ikea stuff assembled and ready to be slept upon that night we arrived. They provided dishes and snacks in the cupboard and even TOYS for the boys. I was floored. I guess I never really thought about what a different experience there can be depending on the firm. :(

    -Farrah (Momofthreeunder) on twitter