Trusting a moving company with your belongings can be a scary prospect. These are your treasured memories, your clothes, your furniture, and items you would be devastated if you lost. Trusting your movers with these items can feel like trusting them with your life.
It can be even scarier when you are moving long distance—rather than the same-day delivery you would expect with local movers, it will likely be a few weeks before you are reunited with your belongings. For this reason, properly vetting long distance movers is an important step in the moving process.
It can be hard to know what to ask if you haven’t moved long-distance before or aren’t familiar with the moving and shipping industry. To help you evaluate your options, here are some of the most important questions you should ask before selecting a long distance moving company:
1. Is your company properly licensed?
Any moving company you select should be a member of the American Mover and Storage Association (AMSA). Long distance movers (anyone who travels outside of a single state) should also have a US Department of Transportation (USDOT) number from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
If a potential moving company is not a member of the AMSA and does not have a USDOT or FMCSA number, move on to another option.
2. How long has your company been in business? Can you provide referrals and recommendations?
While new companies can be reliable and provide good service—they may even have many years of combined experience on the team they’ve brought together—a moving company that has been around for a while is guaranteed to have lots of experience handling moves, as well as a backlog of reviews that you can check.
Many companies will also provide referrals and recommendations from clients if you ask, but it is always a good idea to read their reviews to get a clear picture of their service and how they handle customer issues, such as damages or missing items.
If a company has no reviews and is unable to provide you with referrals, you should be wary. Some disreputable companies will change their name to start fresh and appear legitimate, but they are actually disguising their history of bad service and negative reviews.
3. What kind of liability coverage or insurance is available?
No matter how experienced and professional a company is, and no matter how stellar their track record, mistakes and accidents can happen. For this reason, it’s essential that you make sure the moving company you select is insured and that you sign up for the right level of protection.
The standard level of liability protection provided upon signing most moving contracts is 10 or 60 cents per lb per item, depending on service level. This will typically not cover the full cost of high-value items—a 500 lb. Economy shipment carried by TSI would have a maximum claim payout of $50.00, for example—so if you are shipping especially valuable or expensive items, you should sign up for a higher level of insurance through your mover or a third party provider to ensure that you can recoup the cost of those belongings.
Ask your potential moving company to go through the differences in the insurance plans they offer, or ask them to provide you with a detailed breakdown so you clearly understand the difference and know what you are purchasing. Don’t be afraid to ask them to explain anything you do not understand.
4. Do you have the right equipment to handle my move?
If you’re moving a large house packed to the brim with belongings or awkwardly sized or incredibly heavy items such as large sculptures or pianos, you will want to check that the moving provider is equipped or has access to the equipment necessary to take care of such moves. If they don’t or can’t arrange for it, you will need to continue your search.
5. What kind of packing or storage services are available?
Some long distance movers also offer packing and storage services. If you don’t want to or aren’t able to handle packing up your household or you may not be able to receive the delivery on the timeline outlined by the company transporting your belongings, make sure you ask about:
- The type of storage and packing services offered
- How much these services and their various tiers cost
- The type of storage facilities used, including their conditions and security
- How the items are labelled when they are placed in storage
6. Who will be unloading my belongings at the destination?
For long distance moves, your belongings may trade hands multiple times along their journey. Don’t be afraid to ask if the team handling your pick up will also be handling the delivery or if it will be subcontracted out. If the answer is that it will be different teams, you can ask for the names of the various companies handling your moves and research their respective track records.
7. Can you provide an on-site binding written estimate?
Any reputable long distance moving company should be able to provide an on-site or video call estimate. Quotes given over the phone or via email without seeing what you are moving are not as reliable and may end up being too low with additional charges added to your bill upon delivery. During their visit or video survey, make sure you point out any things that might make your move difficult, such as tight stairwells and awkward-to-carry belongings.
If you are doing a video estimate, be as exact as possible with your weight estimates and ask your movers what their estimate of the total weight of your shipment is based on so you don’t inadvertently go over. If you add items to your move, be sure to call your movers in advance for an updated quote
Your written estimate should include:
- Their company name, telephone number, and address
- The estimated charges
- Payment method
- Moving dates
- The date of signing
PRO TIP: Long-distance moving rates can be based on either weight or cubic feet. A company’s use of one or the other is not a clear indicator of whether or not they are scamming you. However, a company that visits your home and ensures they have seen what you are moving before providing you with a binding estimate is most likely a team you can trust.
8. Will you do an inventory of my belongings?
Find out how the company determines your estimate. Do they inventory your boxes and belongings? Does this inventory include the condition, size, value, and weight of your belongings?
PRO TIP: Regardless of whether or not the moving company does provide an inventory, you should always create an inventory list of your own, complete with photographs and details about your belongings. Don’t forget to include photographs of the boxes. This way, you have proof of the condition your belongings were in before the move in the event that something does get damaged.
9. What services are considered extra and how much do they cost?
Some movers will add charges for what they consider to be extra services. Before you sign a contract, find out if there are any additional fees or for what services these fees might apply so you aren’t surprised by unexpected charges later.
Some companies may charge extra for:
- Packing services
- Shuttle services - if either your departure or destination site aren’t accessible to their truck, they will have to arrange for a shuttle service
- Flight charges - for flights of stairs
- Long carry fees - if the load has to be hand-carried over a certain distance
- Parking issues
- Storage-in-transit fees - for items that can’t be unloaded upon arrival
- Warehouse handling
- Fuel charges - this will typically only come up if you are moving to a remote area
- Awkward items
- Difficult to access doorways
To avoid as many additional charges as possible:
- Reserve a parking spot or arrange for a space for the moving truck to park
- Book an elevator in advance
- Have your home move-in ready
10. What is your cancellation policy?
Before you book your movers, find out how much of your deposit is refundable, how soon in advance you would need to cancel or reschedule your move, and if you will be reimbursed if for any reason the company has to cancel or reschedule your move.
11. Are there any restrictions on packing or the types of boxes that can be used?
Some companies will not accept boxes that are not in good condition upon pickup or boxes that have been sealed prior to their arrival. This is because boxes lose integrity with repeated use, increasing the risk of damage to your belongings while they are in their care and because they may need to inspect and verify the contents of a box before they are taped shut to confirm the value or safety of the shipment.
Long-distance movers may provide packing supplies for a cost, or supplies may be included in the cost if you have selected a higher level of service, such as a White Glove shipping service that includes packing or a Flat Rate Box Shipping service. Ask about what items you should leave for them to pack, what items you should pack yourself, and what items or boxes they might want to verify.
12. What is the timeline for my move?
Pick-up and delivery dates are key knowledge when working with a moving team. Long-distance moves naturally have longer timelines than local moves because of the distance they have to travel, especially if your belongings will be sharing a truck and switching hands. Before you book a mover, you need to know what date you have to have your new home ready for delivery and so you can have a clear idea of what essential items you should keep with you in case delivery is delayed due to weather or other logistical issues.
Most long distance movers can’t guarantee delivery, but if your movers aren’t able to supply any idea of a timeline or are unable to provide updates along the way, it’s time to move on to the next prospect.
13. What forms of payment do you accept and what is due when?
Any moving company who only accepts cash payment is a red flag. Reputable businesses should take multiple forms of payment, including credit cards. Find out when you have to have your deposit paid, how much it is, and what is due on delivery before you book.
14. Do you use subcontractors and will there be transfers?
If the moving company you are speaking to uses subcontractors, they may be able to provide you with the names of the subcontractors that they are working with so you can check their reviews as well. They should also be able to tell you whether or not your items will be transferred onto a new truck at any point.
For less-than-truckload (LTL) long-distance moves, your belongings will likely change trucks and possibly subcontractors more than once as they move through the shipping network in order to save on costs. This way, multiple shipments from various shippers headed in the same direction can be transported together or split up as needed and moved onto different trucks at their respective transfer and delivery sites.
15. How do you handle damages and complaints?
When you enter into an agreement with a long-distance moving company, the hope and assumption is always that your items will arrive in the same condition they left in and that you will have no reason for complaint. However, it’s always a good idea to find out how complaints or issues will be handled in the event that things do go sideways. The company you select should have a clear policy in place and be able to explain the process to you. They may even be able to provide you with some examples of resolved claims.
If they are not able to provide you with at least an outline of how the damage or complaint process goes, you should start looking elsewhere.
Preparing for a long-distance move is a big deal. It can be overwhelming getting everything organized, packed, and arranged, and choosing the right mover to help with your relocation can feel especially daunting.
Make sure you find a reliable long-distance moving team that will help you coordinate your move and decrease some of your stress. Asking a moving company the right questions can help you suss out whether they are the right fit for you:
- Is your company properly licensed?
- How long has your company been in business? Do you have referrals and recommendations?
- What kind of liability coverage or insurance is available?
- Do you have the right equipment to handle my move?
- What kind of packing or storage services are available?
- Who will be unloading my belongings at the destination?
- Can you provide an on-site binding estimate?
- Do you inventory?
- What services are considered extra and how much do they cost?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- Are there any restrictions on packing or the types of boxes that can be used?
- What is the timeline for my move?
- What forms of payment do you accept and what is due when?
- Do you use subcontractors and will there be transfers?
- How do you handle damages and complaints?
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