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You're moving to Canada! You've received your immigration documents, you've decided on a city, and all that's left is to pack and go... gulp.

We know that packing your household items for a long-term move can be overwhelming. There are so many shipping providers, and they all offer a range of services — packing, insurance, customs assistance, and more — at a range of costs. We’ve created this guide to walk you through your options and to share our tips for finding the best services at the right price.

Key Takeaways

  • Getting multiple quotes is generally a good idea, since pricing and services offered can vary widely. You can get up to six free quotes from The Relocator
  • It’s important to check the reviews for the company you plan to hire for your move. Quality is variable and, given how important your belongings are, it’s best to be well informed.
  • Convenience tends to cost more, so you need to be prepared to either manage your packing, weighing, and measuring yourself or to pay for the convenience of those services.

Moving Your Belongings To Canada: The Process

Here is a short list of the steps that go into moving your belongings to Canada:

3 Months Before Your Move

  • Make a list of what you want to move with you.
  • Set a budget for your move.
  • Select services that make sense given your budget.
  • Start selling items that won’t come with you.
  • Research customs requirements and find the right forms.

The Month You Move

  • Pack and label your belongings you plan to ship.
  • Pack your bags that will travel with you.
  • Complete the customs forms in advance, once you know what is being shipped and what is coming with you.

Once You Arrive

  • Receive your shipped belongings and move in.

Let’s dig a little deeper into some elements of the process.

Choosing What To Bring With You

The more personal belongings you bring with you, the more your move will typically cost. So it’s helpful and cost-effective to carefully choose what to bring with you and what’s best to leave behind. We’ve created an essentials packing list that’s worth a read before you decide.

Ultimately, this will be a personal preference. But here are a few things to consider when deciding what to bring with you when you move to Canada:

  • How much will it cost to replace the item? If it’s more expensive to ship than it is to replace it, consider selling it and then buying another after you arrive.
  • How much life is left in the item? It’s likely not a good money move to bring items that are nearing the end of their usable life with you. Are your shoes nearly worn and you aren’t interested in repairing them? Consider donating them. Is your appliance almost a decade old?
  • Does the item have sentimental value? If so, how large is it? Could taking a photo of the item fill the same needs as keeping it?

Budgeting For Your Move

Setting your budget initially may be challenging. You might have a general idea of what you can afford, but no clue about how much the process typically costs or what a reasonable range of costs is.

It can be helpful to use a quote aggregator, like The Relocator, to get a range of initial quotes based on your best estimate of what you’d like to bring with you. You can then either add services if your budget allows or start to pare down what you plan to bring with you if the cost estimates are far beyond what you can afford.

Family relaxing on floor in new home with cardboard boxes

Select The Right Services For Your International Move

Shipping services range from DIY container shipping, where you pack your own boxes, prepare your customs documents, and drop off your belongings for shipping, through to full-service shipping, where professionals pack and unpack for you and handle everything in between.

The ‘value-add’ services listed below may be available, depending on which movers you choose:

  • Packing Services: Professional packers come to your home and pack your belongings securely, saving you time and ensuring your items are well-protected.
  • Insurance: Provides coverage for your belongings during transit, offering peace of mind in case of loss or damage.
  • Customs Assistance: Help with navigating customs regulations and paperwork.

Managing Customs For Canada

It’s important to carefully prepare for customs in Canada because the customs process isn’t intuitive. You need to have a list of all the goods you are bringing with you to Canada when you cross the border if you want to import them duty-free — even if you don’t have them with you (ie. even if they will arrive later via freight). If you don’t declare them when you land, you will not be eligible for the duty-free or tax-free import.

The documentation requirements are extensive, you’ll need to:

  1. Create a list of the goods you have with you.
  2. Create a list of the goods that will arrive later.

Your list of items should indicate the value, make, model and serial number (where applicable) of all the goods.

You can learn more about this in our dedicated post or from the Canada Border Services Agency.

Shipping Options

When moving your belongings to Canada, you have three main freight options: land, air, and sea.

Land freight is ideal for moves from the USA, offering cost-effective and flexible transport via trucks or trains. You could also DIY your move and rent a truck to bring everything with you across the land border.

Air freight is the fastest option, perfect for time-sensitive or high-value items, though it can be expensive. Typically the most cost-effective method of transporting items by air is to add checked bags to your ticket and bring the bags with you when you move. The drawback is that you will need to haul all your baggage through the airport with you.

Sea freight is usually the most affordable choice for large shipments from other continents, though it takes the longest. Often it can take more than 3 weeks for your items to arrive.

Packing Tips

We asked our team to share some packing tips they followed for their move to Canada, and here’s what they came up with:

  • Declutter first: Only bring the things you know you will use and still love.
  • Start early: It takes longer than you think.
  • Use quality packing materials: Did you know some bike brands print an image of a tv on the boxes their bikes are shipping in because the bikes are less likely to be damaged during the freight process? Use quality packing materials (sturdy boxes, secure lids (if any), and wrap your breakable items inside the boxes) to protect them during the shipping process.
  • Label everything: It makes unpacking so much easier!
  • Pack heavy items in small boxes: This keeps them at a manageable weight.

Young Asian woman packing her belongings in cardboard boxes while relocating in new apartment.


Factors That Impact Costs For Your International Move

The cost of moving your belongings internationally can vary widely based on several factors, including the volume of goods, distance, shipping method, and additional services.

  • Move size: Generally speaking, the more stuff you move, the higher the cost.
  • Number of quotes you receive: Aim for at least three quotes but ideally more.
  • Additional services: Do you want a house survey before your quote? What about movers to pack or unpack your belongings or to disassemble then reassemble your furniture?
  • Certified movers and/or insurance: Higher quality services offer higher protections, but tend to cost more.
  • Timeline: urgent services and priority shipping tends to cost more than moves that are scheduled long in advance.

Choosing The Right International Movers

Almost every person looking to ship their belongings (and valuables) abroad will want to balance cost with reliability, timeliness, and quality. To ensure you are working with a company that’s reliable and experienced, you should look online for customer reviews and/or ratings websites, like Google Business Profile, Trust Pilot, or the Better Business Bureau. You can also ask your network about their experience with certain companies.

Avoiding Moving Scams

As with almost any industry, there are some bad actors who scam people looking to move internationally. Two scams to be aware of when moving internationally are:

  • Scammers who send you a quote and request payment but then disappear after you’ve paid. A large upfront payment request could be a red flag for this scam.
  • Scammers who provide a low quote and then keep your belongings unless you pay large additional fees.

To avoid these scams, do your research into the company (especially if the quote provided is particularly low). 

Finding The Right Fit

Beyond finding a reliable and reputable mover, choosing the right shipping company for you depends on your individual needs. It’s worthwhile seeking quotes from several to find the best fit for you. Some factors that you might consider are:

Services Offered

  • Comprehensive Services: Look for companies that offer a range of services, including packing, storage, insurance, and customs assistance.
  • Value-Add Services: Consider additional services like unpacking, furniture assembly, and temporary housing solutions.

Cost and Transparency

  • Quotes: Obtain detailed quotes from multiple companies, ensuring they include all potential fees and charges.
  • Transparency: Ensure the company is clear about what is included in their services and any additional costs that may arise.

Licensing and Accreditation

  • Certifications: Verify that the company is licensed and accredited by relevant organizations, such as the International Association of Movers (IAM) or FIDI.
  • Insurance: Ensure they offer comprehensive insurance coverage for your belongings.

Customer Support

  • Communication: Choose a company with responsive and helpful customer service to assist you throughout the moving process.
  • Support: Ensure they provide support for any issues or questions that arise during your move.

Contract and Terms

  • Read Carefully: Thoroughly read and understand the contract, including terms and conditions, cancellation policies, and liability clauses.
  • Clarify: Ask for clarification on anything you are unclear about before signing.

Obtaining Insurance From International Removal Companies

Many reputable international removal companies offer an insurance policy for your move. Whether you choose to get insurance is a personal decision, but it is often a good idea if the replacement costs for your items is not something you could afford.

While most moves will go smoothly, there are unusual risks your belongings and valuables face during the move — including risk of loss, damage, and breakage.

If you opt for insurance, you should purchase enough to cover all your belongings at their current replacement cost. The inventory you created for your customs form could be helpful at this point.

It’s also important to make sure you read and understand the insurance policy documents. This will tell you when your coverage starts and ends, and how claims work with your insurer. 

Get A Quote For International Moving Services

We understand that moving your belongings overseas can be a daunting task. That’s why it’s important to start by getting a quote for international moving services.

Moving2Canada has partnered with The Relocator to help make this easier for you. The Relocator has built a network of more than 500 reputable shipping companies and, based on your needs, will give you up to six free quotes for your move.

Get your free quotes

About the author

Stephanie Ford profile picture

Stephanie Ford

Finance, Law and Immigration Writer
Stephanie is a content marketer who has written for law firms (with a focus on immigration and privacy), legal tech companies, and finance professionals for more than 9 years. She earned a Bachelor of Laws and a Graduate Diploma in Financial Planning in Australia. Stephanie is now a permanent resident of Canada and a full-time writer at Moving2Canada.
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Citation "Moving Your Belongings To Canada: A Guide To What To Bring & How To Bring It." Moving2Canada. . Copy for Citation