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Huge Disparity Between Quotation and Final Charge for Overseas Moving Services Clarify Shipping Schedule and Compensation Clauses to Avoid Unexpected Charges

  • 2021.08.16

Many people find moving house hectic, and even more so when it comes to relocating the whole family overseas. Despite there being many matters to attend to, consumers should not gloss over the quotation details and delivery time of moving services. The Consumer Council conducted a survey on overseas moving services, focusing on the costs and relevant arrangements for moving a houseful of belongings from Hong Kong to London, UK or Toronto, Canada as examples. The survey found that the quotations amongst different movers showed huge disparities of as much as over 1.5 times (London) and 1.6 times (Toronto), while the final costs could also differ from the initial quotations due to extra charges incurred for various reasons. The survey also revealed that the estimated delivery time under regular shipping schedules could vary from a few weeks to several months. However, most of the movers stated that the current shipping schedule is tight, with only a small portion of shipment dates running as usual and open to reservations. The Council reminds consumers that, owing to the hefty costs and personal valuables involved in overseas relocation, they must scrutinise the terms and conditions before confirming an overseas moving service contract and not easily take the verbal promise of the movers. Consumers should also pay heed to the insurance arrangements to avoid risks of discrepancy.

The costs of overseas movers generally covered door-to-door shipping services, the provision of cardboard boxes and packaging materials, packing and pick-up services, handling charges, and necessary miscellaneous expenses. The Council surveyed a total of 15 moving companies which claimed to provide overseas moving services. The detailed costs for shipping from Hong Kong to London, UK and Toronto, Canada were quoted, including the shipping schedule, moving process, details of prohibited items, taxes and customs clearance procedures, liability for damaged goods, as well as the arrangement in the event of delayed shipment. However, 1 mover did not respond to any enquiries related to relocation to London. The moving service contracts of 12 of the surveyed companies were also inspected.

14 movers provided quotations for home moving services from Hong Kong to London, UK. Amongst these, 10 movers provided the quotation for shipping 200cuft (cubic feet, approximately 40 to 50 boxes) to London per request, and the charge ranged from HK$20,000 to HK$50,000, reflecting a difference of 1.5 times. As for shipping 500cuft of goods (including personal belongings, wooden furniture, a piano and large items) from Hong Kong to Toronto, Canada, 10 movers provided quotations, amongst which 6 provided shipping quotations for 500cuft, which ranged from HK$50,950 to HK$134,350, a difference of 1.6 times.

Consumers should also be mindful that, despite quotations being provided by most of the surveyed movers, additional expenses for moving services could be incurred due to various reasons, affecting the final costs. For example, if the shipment date is delayed, not only would the goods fail to be delivered to the destination on time, but some of the movers would charge a storage fee due to port congestion, until the goods could be loaded onto the cargo vessel. The survey revealed that 5 movers would offload the relevant storage fee to the consumer, amongst which 3 could partially waive the fee from the first 2 weeks to 30 days starting from the receipt date. However, the shipment could potentially be delayed for several months, incurring astronomical costs; 6 movers declined to comment on whether they would charge a storage fee, reflecting poor information transparency.

Aside from the shipping costs, consumers should also pay heed to the considerable variance in the estimated delivery time for shipping goods from Hong Kong to the destination amongst different movers, especially for those considering delivery time as a key decision factor for selecting the services. Under normal shipping schedules, 10 movers required an estimated 6 weeks to 5 months to deliver the goods to London; the fastest one stated that it would take 25 days from the cargo vessel’s departure from Hong Kong. As for shipping to Toronto, 8 movers replied that normally it requires an estimated 5 weeks to 3 months for delivery. However, almost all of the movers pointed out that the current shipping schedule was tight, and it was hard to confirm the shipment date. For shipment to London and Toronto, 1 mover and 2 movers respectively claimed that the current shipping schedule to the destination was running as usual and shipment could be arranged for.

The survey also found that, owing to the different living environments between overseas countries and Hong Kong, once the goods arrived at the destination, the local movers may charge an elevator charge depending on the floor of the apartment. Taking the elevator charge in London for example, 7 movers expressed that their moving partners at the destination would charge relevant fees, amongst which 2 charged a flat rate of HK$1,600, and GBP50 (around HK$537) respectively; 2 movers would calculate the extra charges based on the volume of the goods and the floor of the apartment; 1 mover even stated that the goods would only be delivered to a location near the moving truck’s parking space, and consumers would need to move the goods to the apartment themselves, a very inconvenient arrangement. In terms of the elevator charge in Toronto, 4 movers expressed that relevant fees would be charged; the remaining 6 movers either declined to respond to this enquiry or were unsure whether extra charges would be incurred.

If packing and pick-up services were arranged during weekends or public holidays, it may incur extra costs. 3 movers clearly stated that there would be an extra charge of HK$5,000 and HK$3,000 respectively while 1 did not specify the amount. With regards to the extra charges incurred during overseas relocation, 5 movers did specifically mention when providing moving service quotations (to London and Toronto) that the final cost might differ from the quotation due to various circumstances, so as to manage consumers’ expectations. This handling was deemed recommendable.

Most of the movers would request a deposit from the customer after issuing the quotation, in order to confirm the service contract. Taking for example the movers which provided moving services to London, 4 had a fixed deposit ranging from HK$2,000 to HK$18,000; 6 calculated their deposit by percentage, ranging from 25% to 60% of the quotation; 2 required full payment at the time of confirming the quotation and would only provide services thereafter.

Upon examining the terms and conditions of the 12 movers’ service contracts, the vast majority laid out terms that were more advantageous for the service provider; on the contrary, the terms had limited safeguard for the consumer, who may have to bear costs incurred from various situations. 11 of the movers stated that “the quotation may be subject to revision without prior notice” and/or “the final charge is dependent on the actual total cargo amount and the actual delivery charge of the shipping company at the time of shipment”; amongst these, 4 stated in their terms and conditions that “the customer undertakes to pay the moving company for all extra charges incurred due to unforeseen circumstances”, which meant that not only did the mover have the right to increase the charge at any time, but the consumer also had to agree to bear the extra charges and all outstanding costs; 3 stipulated that “the mover has absolute discretion over the time of shipment”, meaning that the mover could change the shipment date and postpone delivery without forewarning the customer. Furthermore, 1 mover set forth in the contract that “except for negligence on the moving company’s part, the moving company will not bear liability for any delays and reserves the right to charge the customer for the storage fee during the delay”, but during the survey, this mover verbally promised that the customer would not be charged for the storage fee incurred from shipment delays, which contradicted their contract terms.

Owing to the space and weight limit for cargo, consumers often choose to prioritise shipment of more important goods or those with sentimental value to their new home abroad. However, consumers should be aware that 5 of the surveyed movers included a lien in their contracts, which entitled the mover to keep possession and handle the customer’s property until all debts have been paid, amongst which 4 granted the mover “the right to remove and dispose of goods in the mover’s possession”, while the lien for 4 movers stated that they had the “right to sell goods in mover’s possession to pay such outstanding charges and expenses”. As the above service contracts were confirmed at the time of engaging an overseas moving service, the consumer may not have much bargaining power should the mover decide to change the shipment date, make cost adjustments and even the whole moving arrangement unilaterally, resulting in both financial and possessional loss.

Besides, should the goods be damaged during shipment, only one-third (5) out of the 15 movers were willing to bear liability, but they all had a compensation cap, amongst which 1 had an upper limit of $500, which was clearly insufficient to cover the value of the goods; 5 movers stated that they would not bear liability, including 1 which requested customers to buy insurance for their shipped goods.

Insurance could undoubtedly provide safeguard for any damage to goods during shipment, but if the damage occurred during the storage period as a result of delayed shipment, out of the 11 movers which provide insurance terms, 7 limited the coverage during storage, ranging from a total of 60 days in storage, 60 days before and after the shipment date, to 90 days before and after the shipment date, etc. As most insurances limit their coverage while goods are in storage, if the goods are congested in Hong Kong for a long period due to delayed shipping schedules, consumers should pay heed to the effective period of the purchased insurance in case it expired before the goods departed from Hong Kong.

When selecting overseas moving services, consumers should pay heed to the following:

  • Besides comparing the service charge, also consider the shipping schedule, estimated delivery time and the reputation of traders;
  • If the trader claims that the shipping schedule is tight, carefully enquire about the arrangements for shipment delays, such as whether it would incur storage fees, whether the purchased insurance would be affected, whether the pick-up could be arranged after the shipping schedule has been confirmed, etc;
  • Take note of whether the moving vehicles can directly access the entrance of the shipping destination, whether the apartment needs to be accessed by stairs or by elevator, find out whether movers at the destination would charge extra in different scenarios;
  • Carefully read the contract terms before making a final decision. If any exploitative terms are spotted, the customer could request for an amendment or deletion, or select a more reliable moving company.

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