Personal and household effects – a shipper\’s guide

We have prepared these notes to assist you if you are shipping personal effects for the first time and are concerned about the processes and what happens after you have booked your shipment with us.

Packing your Effects

Many people think that because they are shipping their cargo in a metal container their cargo may be adequately protected. The fact is that whilst a shipping container does offer a lot of protection, the container is subject to a lot of movement from the moment it leaves the packing point until it is unpacked.

All road traffic is subject to vibration, acceleration and braking actions and during the sea voyage the container will be subject to ships roll, pitch, rise and fall which in stormy conditions  is considerable. For this reason we recommend that you have your cargo professionally packed. Unipac can arrange professional packing for you.


The movements of containers by sea is relatively safe, however accidents do happen. Containers may be damaged during handling and vessels do get caught in storms. Insurance will help protect you against these risks and we recommend that you take out insurance covering the through transport movement. We will be pleased to put you in touch with our trusted agents who will insure your cargo.

What can I load

You should check with us what restrictions the importing country has prior to making arrangements but there are rules governing what you can load into a container.


Motor vehicles or Motor Cycles


Inflammable goods such as paint



Anything fragile or valuable should be adequately packed and insured .

Booking a container

Unipac Shipping will make a booking with a shipping line on your behalf.

We will agree the day and time time when the container will be positioned.

Please remember the following important notes.

Book your container with plenty of notice to meet the vessel, but also with sufficient time to account for any delays in transport to and from the port. Most moves happen without incident but in times of bad weather, power failures, road congestion and particularly bank holidays collection and delivery delays can happen. These are at your risk and can be worked around in a commercial and industrial environment, but produce a lot of unnecessary stress when involving a house move. Do not leave packing your container until the day a new owner is moving into your house. There is nothing more stressful to the houseowner than trying to resolve a situation where the house contents are already outside awaiting the container. Allow a ‘window‘ of at least two working days to move your personal effects and remember to do the same at destination.

A container on a trailer takes up a surprising amount of space. In a narrow road or cul de sac this will cause a major obstruction. Check with your neighbours and local police or traffic wardens about what you are doing. Loading permits may be needed, this will be your responsibility to arrange, likewise any parking fines the vehicle incurs will be charged to you.

If you are loading in a confined space please remember that the driver has to negotiate the container into position which may be difficult if there are parked cars or other obstructions in the area, so if you can, talk to the neighbours and make arrangements to have the area clear. If the container arrives and you cannot load it you will be charged for the wasted journey.

It is also your responsibility to ensure that there is sufficient hard ground for the container and trailer, and that the approach roads are suitable for heavy goods vehicles. Load points down narrow lanes, single track roads and country lanes, especially those having tight bends or steep inclines should be checked with the haulier before the container is positioned, and declared when making the booking. If these are not checked and declared and the vehicle cannot make the delivery then the cost of the wasted journey will be for the shippers account.

You usually have 3 hours in which to load the container. If you take longer than this then you will be charged ‘detention‘ on a hourly rate. For example if the charge is £35.00 per hour or part thereof, so even a 5 minute delay will cost you £35.00.

When the container arrives

Check the container is ok. If the container has any holes in it or if it is wet or dirty refuse it and please let us know immediately. The container should be clean and dry and odour free. It would be ok to load into a container which has minor damage such as dents, but make a note of any such damage the container may have, and if possible take digital photos as they may help you later in case there is some difficulty.

Loading / Unloading the container

The driver will open the container for you and after you have inspected it you can start loading. Remember you have 3 hours to complete the operation, which may sound a lot but the time soon goes.

The container will be presented to you on the back of a trailer. It will be nearly 5 feet off the ground. The driver will not have any ramps or equipment, and he will not assist in the loading so it is therefore important that you have sufficient man power to load the container, and if you are loading heavy or large pieces you have the necessary equipment to do so.

You will be responsible for the packing and securing of the cargo in the container, so ensure that the cargo is loaded tightly together allowing little or no movement. Cargoes move during the sea voyage so items that are not secured and are loose may break free causing damage to itself, other packages and possibly the container.

Ensure that the weight of the cargo is evenly distributed across the floor of the container with heavy pieces on the floor and lighter pieces on top. If there is a little space on the floor after loading the unit then chock the cargo in using wood. If there are loose pieces on the top make sure the cargo is secured using ropes and straps secured using the lashing points supplied.

It is important the container is packed correctly for your cargo and container’s safety.

If the container arrives at destination and the contents are damaged because they have moved around the container, then the line will not only refuse to pay any claim for damage to your cargo but they will also claim against you if, as a result of cargo movement, their container has been damaged.

After loading ensure that the container doors are closed and that the driver seals the container with a bolt seal.  It is important that you make a note of the seal number.

Finally make a packing list of everything you have placed in the container.

Ensure that the packing list includes the container number and the seal number and that you sign it. The driver does not need this document but he may ask you to sign his paperwork to say that you have loaded the container and that the container was sealed with seal number.


Customs Formalities

After the container has been loaded the driver will take it to the port. Before it is shipped it will have to be declared to HM Customs and for this we will need your packing list, so fax or email this to us as soon as possible. Without this paperwork we cannot clear your cargo through customs and it will not be shipped. If it is not shipped on the planned vessel there will be extra costs such as quay rent , documentation change fees and container demurrage, so do not delay this document.


Bill of Lading

All shipments are covered by a bill of lading. This is a document that lists the cargo details as well as your details as shipper and consignee. The bill of lading is a legal document and is evidence of a contract between you and the shipping line carrying the cargo. The terms and conditions are detailed on one side of the page and the cargo details on the other.

You will receive a set of 3 original bills of lading and a number of copies. The original signed documents are important documents needed to take delivery of the cargo at destination. For some countries (usually English speaking) we can issue a sea waybill which does not have to be presented at destination and is therefore one less item to remember.

When you receive original bills of lading take care of them.

The information needed to produce the bill of lading include:

Shipper      –     Your name and address in the UK

Consignee  –    Your contact details at destination – we suggest including a phone number.

Container Number and Seal Number

Cargo details  – we can take this from your packing list

We will send these bills of lading to you after the vessel has sailed from the UK and after you have paid any outstanding charges.

At Destination

Unipac can arrange door to door service in some countries.

In those countries that we can’t we will advise you contact details of line’s agent at destination.  Check with the line’s agent at destination for up to the minute information on the vessels arrival. The agent will also give you details of any charges payable before they give release of the container, and also what to do with your original bills of lading.

Remember that your cargo will need customs clearance when it arrives. The lines agent should be able to advise you if you can perform this yourself however in some countries it may be a difficult process which will require a specialist clearing agency. Again the line agent will give you advice. Clearing agents will charge you for the service so remember to agree a price before they start.

After clearance has been granted the line agent will advise you on delivery and costs.

Agree a date and time with them and remember the same guidelines as mentioned in  ‘Booking a container ‘ also apply for the discharge.

In order to safeguard the contents of your container you will be required to identify yourself adequately, including by signature (a passport will suffice) to the line’s agent at destination. Delays (involving additional checks) will occur if the address on any identification you provide differs from that on the bill of lading.

When arranging all this remember that when the container arrives at the port you are allowed a certain amount of time to have the container collected and returned empty to the line. During this time you have to arrange for customs clearance and plan the delivery.  After this time has gone you are charged storage by the port on a daily basis and demurrage (rental of the container ) by the line again on a daily basis calculated on the return date to the line, not on the delivery date.

When the container arrives check that it is sealed and make a note of the seal number.

Unload your goods from the container and if there are any damages make a note and clause the drivers delivery note. Make sure the container is clean before it is returned.

If your cargo comes out wet make a note and if you can see damage to the container, ensure the driver is advised in writing and if possible take some digital photos of damage and/or holes in the container as this will help your case if you claim.

Any damage should be reported to your insurers immediately. You should also advise the line’s agent in writing immediately of what has happened and keep a copy for yourself.

If the container is damaged make a note and if possible take photos, under the terms and conditions of the bill of lading the line can hold you responsible for the repair costs of the container if they think the damage was caused by your cargo. If the outside of the container is damaged then the likelihood is that it was not your cargoes fault and photos will help show that.



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