Shipping household goods to France

When relocating from the United States to France, you have to decide between shipping household goods to France or starting anew. This article talks about what to bring, how to ship furniture to France and what to leave behind.

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Shipping household goods to France: is it worth the cost?

Anyone may be tempted to answer yes to the following question:

Should you bring all your belongings with you?

Sure, why not? You probably own things that you do not want to part with, right?

It may have taken you years to fill your home with pieces of furniture you really like. Most of us are pretty attached to our possessions even though we do not want to be overly materialistic. The emotional side of your decision is an important aspect that you should not sweep under the rug.

In a nutshell, your have 2 options when relocating to France:

There is no easy answer since everyone’s situation is unique. Let’s consider the pros and cons for each possibility.

Hiring international movers

An international moving company transports household goods to France via ocean freight. This is the only option if you want to ship furniture to France.

Benefits of using an international moving company

Moving to a country far away is like a tsunami in your life and at first, you may feel a little lost. When feeling disoriented, being surrounded with household goods from your past life can be comforting. For a smoother transition, consider bringing familiar belongings with you.

If your household goods are very valuable and hard to replace, shipping furniture to France can sometimes make more sense financially.

When relocating for work, if your company covers the costs of your international move, shipping your household goods seems like a no-brainer.

ACS provides affordable health insurance policies for everyone everywhere
Health insurance plans for French long-stay visas

Disadvantages of using an international moving company

The 2 main disadvantages of using an international moving company are:

  • price
  • delays

Shipping furniture to France via sea freight is expensive and slow. To give you a rough estimate, shipping a 20ft container costs around 10-12k. Some readers have reportedly waited longer than 6 months for their belongings to reach France from the West coast.

How does international shipping work?

Your belongings can either be transported in 20ft or 40ft shipping containers or in wooden shipping crates called lift vans. Lift vans are more budget friendly but they are smaller. Five lift vans will fit in a 20ft container. This means that some pieces of furniture cannot fit inside lift vans.

When using a shipping container, you have a choice of using a whole container or using some cubic footage inside a shared container.

Here are a few things to consider before picking your moving company:

  • Who is packing/unpacking?
  • Who is loading/unloading?
  • What is the cost of storage in France? (if storage is necessary)
  • Are your household goods insured in case something happens? Ask if the insurance policy covers loss only or damage as well.
  • Consider what type of service you want to use: port-to-port, port-to-door, door-to-port or door-to-door.

Get a few quotes from different international movers before making a decision. Plan ahead as the whole process can easily take several months.

Here are a few international moving companies that have been recommended by Americans moving to France.

An international moving company is the solution for shipping household goods to France
An international moving company is the solution for shipping household goods to France
An international moving company is the solution for shipping household goods to France
An international moving company is the solution for shipping household goods to France
An international moving company is the solution for shipping household goods to France
An international moving company is the solution for shipping household goods to France

Custom duties

When transferring primary residence to France, your personal belongings can be exempt from custom duties. You have to provide French customs with a detailed estimated inventory and fill out a declaration of duty-free entry into France form. Read more on custom duties in Transferring your primary residence to France from French customs.

If you move to a secondary residence in France, household goods are not VAT-exempt.

Sell everything and start fresh

The alternative to using an international moving company is to sell most of your household goods. The idea is to start your new life with a clean slate.

Fortunately, you can bring to France more than the luggage you can take with you on the plane. A good middle groung option is to send some of your personal items.

Benefits of not shipping household goods to France

The very first advantage of selling everything is that you do not have to pay high fees for shipping household goods. The second advantage is that you do not have to deal with your shipment being delayed or keep everything in storage until you find a permanent place in France.

Buying everything in France means a better integration into the French way of life. You can indeed decide to buy antiques you would have never considered in the United States. Or you can go the opposite way and acquire modern furniture.

One thing is for sure, leaving your stuff behind gives you an opportunity to make new choices and try new experiences. Get things that fit your new life!

Last but not least, do not underestimate the exciting feeling of starting new and somehow getting rid of the past.

Disadvantages of not shipping household goods to France

Selling everything before moving means that you have to buy everything back in France. This takes time and money.

If you get a furnished place for your first few months in France, you do not need to do it all at once. You get some extra time before you have to start furnishing your new place.

Send extra luggage

If you decide to bypass sea-shipping your belongings, you can still ship some of your personal items with Send my bag (get a 5% discount on your first order when you order from ma French Life).

Get 5% off your order at Send My Bag

Send my Bag is a very convenient and economic way to send up to 30kgs luggage to France. They collect your luggage from your home and they accept bulky items like skis, bikes or golf clubs for example. This is a door-to-door service that I highly recommend. Send my bag is reliable and affordable.

Send books to France

If you want to ship books to France, USPS has a service called M-bag Service that can be a good option. This service exclusively ships sacks of printed matter (books, magazines…).

What is worth bringing to France?

Everyone has their own opinion about what is worth bringing and what is not. Here is a list of items I believe are worth bringing:

  • kitchen utensils, pots and pans that you like, measuring cups, recipes (digitalized)
  • computer, laptop, camera, kindle. Ensure that your electronics are dual voltage.
  • kitchen linen, bath towels

And of course, you should bring items with high sentimental value.

What should you not bring to France?

Based on my experience, here is a list of items not worth bringing to France:

Do not ship an American Car

Bringing your car involves a lot of paperwork, shipping delays and very high costs. On top of that, most American cars require modifications to be in line with European standards.

Because fuel is a lot more expensive in France than in the United States, you need to consider a more fuel efficient car. Most streets and parking spots are narrower than in the United States and that is why a smaller car makes more sense.

Now, if leaving your car behind is out of the question, read Exporting United States Vehicles or Engines on the EPA website to get started. To be allowed to drive your car in France, you will need to get it registered. Check the official instructions (in French) to get your immatriculation (registration).

Don’t ship furniture

French living spaces are usually smaller and American furniture may not fit. Even if your place is big enough, it can still be challenging to get big pieces of furniture into your apartment because of narrow stairways. My advice is to use the money you saved on shipping to get pieces of furniture more in style with your new place.

If you own Ikea quality furniture, don’t think twice as it is not worth the price of shipping. You can shop at your local French Ikea and get a trip down memory lane at the same time (I personnally feel like I’m back in Burbank California when I go to Ikea in Grenoble).

If you still decide to bring your California king bed, bring extra sets of sheets, as beds have different dimensions in France.

If you are into used furniture, you can check out Le bon coin to furnish your place in France. Another great way to find used furniture is to go to vide-greniers or brocantes, which are a mix between garage sales and flea markets.

Don’t ship kitchen appliances

This is probably a tough one, however bringing your food processor is not worth the trouble.

If you still chose to bring your food processor, purchase a heavy duty transformer to be able to use it in France.

Should you bring bed linens to France?

There are at least 13 different mattress sizes in France. French use the width dimensions in centimeters as the size name. “Un lit en 140″ means a bed that is 140cm (55”) wide.

If you’re curious about converting French measurements into U.S. metrics, read French measurements.

An adult bed’s length can be either 190cm (75″) or 200cm (80″).
Even though mattress sizes are slightly different, some of your bed sheets should fit.

Here’s a list of corresponding sizes between American bed dimensions and French bed dimensions. Use this list to decide whether or not you should bring your American bed sheets to France.

Queen (60″x80″)160x200cm
King (76″x80″)200x200cm
Cal King (72″x84″)180x200cm (too long, not a snug fit)
Olympic queen (66″x80″)160x200cm
Full XL (54″x80″)140x200cm
Full (54″x75″)140x190cm
Twin XL (38″x80″)90x200cm
Twin (38″x75″)90x190cm
Small single (30″x75″)70x190cm or 80x190cm (snugger fit)
Mattress size equivalence between United States and France

If you need to buy mattresses in France, Emma is an on-line only mattress store which automatically gives you a 100-night trial. Emma mattresses are renown and prized all over Europe. I purchased an Emma mattress last Spring and I’m very happy with it. Give it a try!

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Don’t bring bring electric appliances that are not dual-voltage

Only bring dual-voltage electric appliances. The following electric appliances are usually not dual voltage: hair dryer, vacuum, electric tools, kitchen appliances. I explain how to check if an electric appliance is dual-voltage further down.

Electric devices in France

Americans use 110 voltage whereas French use 220 voltage. Dual-voltage devices are designed to accept both 110v and 220v. You can safely take dual voltage electric devices with you to France.

How do you know if a device is dual-voltage?

Most cell phone chargers, computers and cameras are dual voltage. Look for a sticker on or near the power cord that reads “110-240 VAC, 50-60 Hz”. If you cannot find a sticker, check out the manufacturer’s website.

Stay on the safe side
Trying to plug in a 110 volt device with a plug adapter in France can blow your device and eventually start a fire.

How to use dual-voltage devices in France?

This is what electric outlets and plugs look like in France.

Americans use 110 voltage whereas French use 220 voltage
Americans use 110 voltage whereas French use 220 voltage

Before leaving the United States, purchase a couple of round-prong plug adapters. Bring a U.S. power strip as well so you only need to buy one or two adapters. Plug your American devices into the power strip and use one single adapter for the power strip.

Voltage converter transformer

For non-dual voltage electric devices that you absolutely cannot part with, the solution is to purchase a voltage converter transformer.

Word of caution
Transformers address the problem of voltage differences (110v vs. 220v) but not frequency. The United States run on 60Hz frequency whereas Europe runs on 50Hz. Therefore, even if you use a transformer, anything with a motor will be running at the wrong speed, which may damage your appliance over time.

To determine what model of voltage converter transformer you need, check the wattage of your device. Look for a W on the power label and purchase a voltage converter that is at least 50% higher than the device’s wattage you want to operate. For instance, use a 1,000 Watt transformer for appliances that use up to 600 Watts.

I hope this article helped you make up your mind about shipping household goods to France. Get ready for your relocation and check out my Moving to France from the US checklist.

Nathalie Nahmani

About Nathalie Nahmani

Nathalie is the creator of ma French Life. She moved back to France after living in Los Angeles for 20 years. She writes practical articles to help expats in France. Nathalie lives with her family in the French Alps near Grenoble.

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13 thoughts on “Shipping household goods to France”

  1. Great post, however, we called Schumacher for a quote, which we still haven’t received. Looked them up on TrustPilot – . 1.6 overall rating / 85% 1-stars – we’ll look into others for quotes!

  2. FYI, I had a very bad experience with Send My Bag. I would not recommend them. We will be using professional movers when or if we return to the US.

  3. Another great and helpful article. Thank you Natalie! I am planning on using send my bags by the end of the month so your discount couldn’t be offered at a better time.

    We sold most of our furniture and will donate the rest. Regarding sheets I see that you said bed were not the same size but someone I know who just moved to France recommended I bring my queen size sheets which are hers fit a 160cm x 200cm bed. Would you said it’s accurate? Trying to decide if I should bring them or not as it’s really hard for me to find sheets I love and I love sleeping in mine….

    Thanks again for your blog I love it.

  4. Hi Nathalie,
    Thanks for another extremely helpful and well thought out article.
    I have been in France for one month and have not decided where I am buying a home. For me it was an easy decision. I sold a few pieces of furniture and donated everything else.
    I brought only one suitcase with winter clothes, my laptop and phone. That was it.
    I don’t regret leaving everything behind and look forward to building new memories.
    Ciao ciao,
    Sandie

    • Hi Nathalie,
      Having lived in France for 3 years in furnished flats it got old buying some items and using the furniture in a flat.
      After we returned to Southern California to sell our properties, we made a informed decision to ship our furniture to France this time.
      It was during Covid Nov 2020 and much of our furniture was compact, decorator quality, custom sofa, queen high end bed, chairs and tables. We knew we’re going to rent a unfurnished flat.
      I had no delays in delivery of our furniture from Schumacher. Luckily they ship to Rotterdam so we avoided high tariffs. For us it was an excellent decision.
      I am surrounded by new furniture, fitted sheets and we bought pillows, duvets, towels etc. on sale after our arrival and it was comfort and comforting during this Pandemic.
      I don’t think I could replace the quality in France.
      I agree with you not to ship electric appliances or electronic devices except our laptops.
      A different perspective for sure.
      Thanks for allowing me to share.

      • Thank you for sharing Teresa!
        I do love having different perspectives and I’m happing that shipping your furniture went well. It’s true that buying high quality new furniture in France would have been super expensive. Again, I believe it depends on what kind of furniture you own. I myself did not bring any furniture but I do still think of my couch in LA with nostalgia. Thank you again for sharing. I know your experience will help newcomers make a decision!

      • Hi Teresa, I am going through the process of deciding what to ship to France. I don’t know if there is a good way to get in touch with you but I like to hear the details of the different taxes you saved by going to Rotterdam instead of France. We are also debating shipping our car. Only if we can put our household stuff in the car and same crate, that would be amazing.

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