Sea, Air, or Land?

Moving abroad and want to know more about the different modes of transport and how you can ship your household goods? Take a peek at some of the common practices in the world of international shipping you might not know about!

Different Modes of Transport

An international shipment of household goods is oftentimes different from shipping commercial or industrial cargo abroad. The reason for this is the discrepancy in price per volume, a different type of transport, as well as the packaging methods being various.

Typically when you want to move any large quantity of items from A to B, there are four major modes of transport to consider: air freight, sea freight, trucking and railway transport.

Some may be slower than others, but they do prevent you from breaking the bank. Most people have the tendency to go for the cheapest option, but what they do not consider is that there are underlying differences, such as speed, between the quotations they are considering.

Various load sizes


For starters, please note that there is a difference between FCL (full container load) shipments and LCL (less than container load) shipments – the advantage of a FCL is that you have your own private container and do not have to share with anyone, the disadvantage is that it is more expensive.


A third option is to go for groupage, which is for budget-concerned movers that do not really care when their goods arrive. Your belongings are consolidated with other people’s belongings, and shipped when the container is full enough. This last method may take anywhere between a few weeks and a few months, but is the cheapest sea shipping method available.

The price of your move depends on the volume or the weight. Volume is always selected, unless your items have a very high weight per m³. This discourages people from shipping a 40 foot container filled with ping pong balls with high volume and low weight, or 1 CBM of iron weights. Most moving companies have set up a rate to balance this, such as 1 CBM = 500 KG or 1 CBM = 1000 KG.

If you are shipping a whole household, in most cases you will be able to fit within a 20 foot container (33.6 CBM). The larger alternative is a 40 foot container (67 CBM).

Just as with commercial shipments, it is possible that you are partially responsible for logistics  and/or insurance. Be sure to negotiate which parts of the moving process are the responsibility of your mover and which are yours!


Let’s start with the fastest and most expensive of all modes of transport: aviation. Air freight is typically loaded in containers known as LD3s. Most moving companies that offer shipping by air have flights going out on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. At the airport your container is cleared through customs, sent to your home, and unpacked at your premises. Please note that inland processing and customs may also take a week in each country.

Aviation can be weeks faster than sea freight. It also costs 4 to 6 times more!

Shipping from Australia to the United Kingdom takes up to 7 weeks for sea freightThe shipping time from Australia to the United Kingdom can be up to 7 weeks for sea freight

Sea freight

With the average ship moving between 30 and 46 km/h, sea freight is the slowest shipping method. When you choose sea freight it means you use 20, 40 and 45 ft corrugated fiberboard boxes (containers) to ship from A to B across a body of water. For many intercontinental moves, sea freight is the way to go.

When you use a door-to-door service, your possessions are packed, sent off, cleared by customs in your own country, then loaded onto the boat, cleared through customs again, unloaded, sent to your house and then unpacked for you. The length of this process depends on the distance, but should take no longer than 10 weeks (very far distances). For shipments in the same continent this time is more than cut in half.

It is possible that your moving company works together with a third party starting from the other country’s port. They will take over at the port of arrival.

Land freight


Trucking refers to the hiring of trucks, but also Man with a Van services. When selecting trucking there is a distinguishment to be made between self-packing and professional packing services. You can do it yourself, or leave it to professionals, for a price.

Some companies specialize in packaging, while others are good at picking up packed goods and distributing them. You can read more about the costs of packaging materials here.

Railway freight

Railway freight is mostly popular when moving goods for long distances in the same country, such as the United States, China, Canada and Russia. In the United States, almost 40% of all commercial cargo is sent by train, followed by trucks (33%), pipelines (14%), barges (12%) and air (<1%).

Many people feel like railway freight is inflexible due to the unavailability of railway connections to every city. That is why most people moving on the same land mass prefer trucking.

When you know which of the modes of transport suits you best, you may want to take a look at things to look at when comparing different moving companies.

2 responses to “Sea, Air, or Land?”

  1. Julie Roos says:

    I am interested in shipping approx 25 large boxes , i tv, 10 large suitcases, I glass/ brass coffee table , from Aquitaine France, to Sousa Dominican Republic by sea, vs airfreight, how does the cost vary, and time?
    Pls advise.
    Than you.

  2. Marcela Mejia says:

    I am leaving in New Orleans and being transffered to lima, Peru this month. I need a qoute ASP. Being transfered by the last week of june 2019.
    Would appreciate an immediate reponse.

    Thank you very much.

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