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26 Jan 2021

A Perfect Storm

We in the international moving and relocation business are in the midst of a perfect storm of unprecedented size and scope.

The causes are what you might expect: COVID, economic uncertainty, and Brexit are largely at fault.  But other factors too have come together to create the most unstable environment that the shipping industry has ever experienced.

Container shipping

Why does this matter to an individual relocating from Shanghai to London, or Singapore to Los Angeles?  The easy answer to that question is – $$$.  In November of 2020, a mere two months ago, at the time of this writing, a 40’ container from Hong Kong to the UK cost about $2,500.  Today that same 40’ container would cost $12,000+.

Global container indexFBX: Global container index

China/East Asia to North EuropeFBX: China/East Asia to North Europe

That’s if you can get a 40’ and, if you get the container, you’ll be lucky to get space on a ship.  And then, if against all odds, you’ve managed to get this far, your container will likely sit moored outside the harbour in the UK or USA for weeks, waiting for a slot to open up so the ship can be unloaded.

Individuals and their families, relocation internationally, are not accustomed to hearing answers like “I don’t know when your shipment will arrive” or “I don’t know how much it will cost because shipping costs are gyrating like never before.”

family moving

Several things need to happen before this situation, and international relocations, can return to normal:

  1.  COVID vaccines and vaccinations must have broad take up so that shipping crews and ground transportation works can return to work. That is happening, yes, but very slowly.
  2.  Brexit fallout has to be assimilated. It won’t be easy, but the new rules of the road have to become widely understood and adapted to.
  3.  A massive repositioning of empty containers in the USA and Europe have to make their way back to China and the rest of Asia.

It would help if a gradual and orderly economic recovery were to come to pass.  That’s asking a lot, I realize, but this has been very difficult to give bad news to individuals and their families who are in the process of relocating internationally.

What can you do?  First, be informed and knowledgeable.  You’ve taken a good first step if you arrive at this point.  Second, manage your expectations.  You’ll likely have to deal with a high degree of uncertainty regarding the timing and price of your international relocation.  Third, be proactive by asking your moving company or relocation consultant about the latest status and developments.  Communication is vital to avoid disappointment.

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