How to Make a Seamless Cross-Country Move

Ensure your belongings arrive at your new home hundreds (or thousands) of miles away.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Make a Perfect Cross-Country Move

Family Unpacking Moving In Boxes From Removal Truck

Whether you’re loading up a moving container, U-Haul or semitruck, proper packing of the space is important to avoid damaging your belongings.(Getty Images)

Of the 11 percent of the U.S. population that moved between 2016 and 2017, about 15 percent relocated to a new state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Deciding to move to a different part of the country isn’t a step many people take lightly. Whether it’s to be closer to family, to start a new job or simply to seek better weather, a cross-country move changes your daily life.

A long-distance move also requires a lot more planning than relocating to a house a mile away – you can’t transfer a couple carloads of clothes to and from homes 2,000 miles apart. To help you navigate your long-distance move, we’ve compiled a list of the best practices for a successful relocation. Here are 10 things you can do to make your cross-country move seamless.

Start planning eight weeks ahead. You’ll need to figure out your best option for moving out of one place, transporting everything you own and moving in at your new home. To do so, you’ll want to start looking at moving options at least eight weeks in advance.

“To find out the date to schedule your move, work backwards from when you want your belongings to arrive at your new home,” says Melissa Pollock, lifestyle and organization expert for PODS, a moving and self-storage company.

The two-month head start allows you to decide if you’ll hire a full-service moving company or a self-pack company that moves your belongings, like PODS, or if you plan to drive a rental truck cross-country. Different options offer a variety of price points, from the most expensive, a full-service moving company from start to finish, to the most economical, doing it all yourself.

Vet companies. Research any company you're considering working with by reading reviews from previous customers, verifying the company has done a move like yours and ensuring it's properly licensed, says Scott Michael, president and CEO of the American Moving and Storage Association.

Any company that’s going to move your belongings between states is required to have an interstate license from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which you can confirm on the FMCSA website, along with other details about the company's history.

Start packing at the six-week mark. Settling on your method for moving shouldn’t slow you down. Pollock also recommends starting to pack your stuff well in advance: “Six weeks from your moving date is when you want to start preparing to pack by organizing your belongings.”

Getting started early with boxing and decluttering especially helps if you’re moving an entire house’s worth of things. Begin with decorative items and things you can live without for a few weeks – your prized book collection may be a must-keep, but it can stand being boxed up for a while. Same goes for lawn games and seasonal decor.

Use the right box for each item. Fragile items ship better when they’re properly packed, and in many cases that proper packing involves a special box. You may not still have the original box and padding for your TV, but home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot sell TV boxes for moving, along with foam corners to pad the device and better protect it in transit.

Electronics aren’t the only items you can buy special boxes for – you can get cardboard separators for glasses and padding for artwork as well. “There are boxes for dishes and even wardrobe boxes with built-in hangers,” Pollock says. Get Bubble Wrap and stretch wrap for furniture and anything else that doesn’t go in a box to protect surfaces from nicks and scratches.

Insure what you can. If you are hiring movers, ask about liability with anything you pack yourself. Michael says that in many cases, “the mover would not be responsible if anything gets damaged,” because he or she can’t guarantee it was packed properly. To ensure you’re covered if something valuable breaks, allow the movers to pack it and opt for full insurance coverage.

Basic insurance coverage is typically around $0.60 per pound, but you can pay more for full coverage of the value of your belongings. Occasionally there are third-party insurance options available as well, Michael says.

Be ready ahead of time. The best trick to avoid leaving anything behind by accident, damaging fragile items or running out of room is to be ready to go before you have to hand the keys over to your landlord or the new homeowner.

If you’re loading a PODS container or something similar, Pollock recommends having it dropped off a week prior to your moving day to give you time to load it up, or a full day in advance if professionals are helping load it.

If a moving company is placing your items on a truck, it’s possible excess space will be packed with other customers’ goods as well, which means the truck has other stops before reaching your house. Your truck “could be bouncing around the country in a way that isn’t as direct as you would think,” Michael says. He notes a truck could start in Florida, go up to North Carolina and stop in Ohio before heading to Texas or California.

Distribute the weight. Whether you’re loading up a moving container, U-Haul or semitruck, proper packing of the space is important to avoid damaging your belongings.

“Be sure to avoid loading all heavy items at once, and simply distribute those items as you load the container,” Pollock says. “In addition, packing tightly is important – use all available space inside containers, including wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, with heavier items on the bottom and lighter items on top.”

Mark the first box you’ll open. When you finally arrive, you’ll be eager to access the clothes, entertainment and utensils you’ve gone without since you started packing. Pack those items – which may also include a second set of shoes, speakers to listen to music while you unpack or your hair dryer – in one box, and be sure to label it to find it easily.

Pollock advises packing the truck, trailer or container with the same need-first mentality: “When packing a container, pack in reverse order – the items that you will need first should be loaded into the container last to allow for easy access to the essentials when you reach your new home.”

Change your address information. As with any move, you’ll need to update your mailing address with the U.S. Postal Service, which you can do online, by phone or in person at your local post office. Be sure to make your change of address effective on the last day you’ll be in your old home, since you won’t be able to pick up the mail after moving out.

If you’re driving cross-country or are staying in a hotel for a few days or weeks before moving to your next home, consider having the post office hold your mail until you arrive.

Arrive at the same time as your stuff. Whether your household goods are part of a larger moving truck or in their own container, plan to be at your new address the day your shipment arrives. Michael says you’re typically required to be present at both ends of the move to sign off on the work.

If you’re unable to physically be there for either situation, a spouse, family member or trusted friend can take your place, but they’ll likely need power of attorney. It has to be “somebody that’s authorized to sign for you on either end of the shipment,” Michael says.

Wealth of Knowledge Podcast

Wealth of Knowledge is a weekly podcast featuring tips and expert insight on all things money: personal finance, careers, investing, real estate and more.

Wealth of Knowledge logo