How to Move Across the Country: 5 Options, From Cheapest to Most Expensive

You’ve always wanted to move across the country, and now that you’ve finally got the opportunity, you’re taking it — good for you! However… do you really know how much it’s going to cost and how you’re going to do it, exactly?

Peter Chiarkas is an agent in Pennsylvania who’s spent 20 years helping professors relocate from around the country to Penn State. He recommends “only working with the best Realtors; they’re going to know the best people to use, so you’ll have a good experience getting across the country.” He points out that there are many more variables involved when moving 1,000 miles versus 10 miles across town.

The cost of a move depends upon several factors: The weight of all your belongings, the distance traveled, and how long the move takes. Here are five options for how to move across the country, with our best estimates at cost.

A mother and son packing to move across the country.
Source: (HiveBoxx / Unsplash)

Go as minimal as possible

Need to move as cheaply as possible? Go minimal. Basically, you sell everything you possibly can so you’re packing a suitcase or maybe just one car full of items.

Luckily, you’ve got several options for downsizing and getting rid of your things. The easiest is just to give everything away.

Ask friends if they need a new couch, or put your dining room table out by the curb. You can also cart stuff off to donation centers, and some charities will now come to your house to pick up larger objects.

If the thought of just giving away that thousand-dollar couch makes you cringe, you can always sell it. The internet has made it easier than ever to get rid of stuff, from Craigslist to Facebook Marketplace, with apps like Decluttr or Poshmark for smaller items and clothing. Furniture consignment stores take larger pieces, while pawn shops are great for electronics and jewelry.

Auction services and junk clearance companies will come to clear out the house for a fee, too, if even that seems like too much for you. (But then you’re paying someone to take, and likely resell, your stuff.) If you have a few weeks’ notice before you have to move, list everything you can for sale at bargain prices and dedicate time to getting rid of it.

What if you haven’t sold your house before you have to move? Chiarkas advises picking an agent who will maintain and check in on your property, probably the biggest asset you have.  If they don’t, “It’s almost like a financial advisor not looking after your portfolio.”

After you’ve gone minimal, you’ll need to get from point A to point B. You can pack up your remaining stuff in a car and drive cross-country, or take a flight for a few hundred dollars.

Drive it yourself

Hitch a trailer behind your car and road trip! Trailer rentals start at just $15 a day, but you’ll probably have to do some downsizing to make it happen. Need more room? Rent a truck.

If you’ve ever seen moving trucks driving around your city with out-of-state plates, they might have been part of someone’s cross-country move. Renting a truck to transport your stuff is a standard way to move. Rental companies charge daily rates by the truck size, plus mileage — which ranges from $0.59 to $1 a mile.

For a cross-country move, you’ll need to factor in gas and extra insurance, and possibly tolls. With so many variables, it’s hard to estimate the cost. But it could be anywhere from $300 up to almost $3,000. Whether you have a place where you can unpack once you arrive will impact this cost.

If you don’t have a home yet on the other end of your journey, don’t rush into buying. When newcomers to his town contact Chiarkas, he sets them up in a short-term rental so they can get familiar with the area. After about six months, they go out and start searching for a new home.

Three semi-trailers that you can use to ship your belongings across the country.
Source: (ELEVATE / Pexels)

Ship it

Renting a shipping container and filling it with your stuff has become a common way of moving. The company drops the shipping container off at your house, you have a few days or weeks to fill it, and then call them to come to pick it up when you’re ready. The average cost for a cross-country move ranges from $1,200 to $3,000.

One big plus to moving like this is that you can take your time. No more rushing to get boxes packed up and taped before a moving company shows up. You pay a monthly fee (based upon container size) as long as it sits at your house, then you pay for transport, then you’ll pay to keep it at your new place until it’s unloaded. Think of shipping pods like portable storage units.

If you’re a bibliophile, shipping your books through media mail can be the most cost-effective way to move them across the country. The post office charges cut rates to send books, which are heavy and can add to the cost of a move based upon weight.

Full-service relocation plan

If your new employer has given you a relocation bonus, money might be less of an issue. Larger corporations sometimes contract with moving companies and relocation services for relocations, and you might not have to do anything to move. Full-service companies pack up your house, arrange for transport, and unpack upon arrival.

To cut the cost of using a moving company, book them for a midday, midweek move. Weekend moves always cost more. Keep in mind, the total weight of your stuff impacts the move’s cost, so you still might want to downsize before calling the movers.

When these companies contract with a corporation, they offer discounted rates and other incentives. If you plan on hiring one directly, it will cost at least $12,000 to move coast-to-coast. If you can get work to reimburse you, this could be the best option.

A woman folding jeans to pack for a move across the country.
Source: (Sarah Brown / Unsplash)

Hybrid option

Just like there’s more than one answer to how to move across the country, you don’t have to choose only one of them. Sometimes, picking a mix of options works best.

Pack your larger furniture into a shipping container, have your car transported, mailboxes of essentials that you’ll need before the shipping container arrives, and pack a suitcase with clothes for a few weeks. Or, drive across the country with clothing and household items in the trunk.

The best way to plan your cross-country move could combine saving money with practical needs. Plan on doing some research, and getting multiple quotes, before making your final decision.

Cautions for moving across the country

Unfortunately, a lot of things can go wrong with a cross-country move.

Check contracts carefully

Let’s say you submit your information and get a quote online, then book the movers. They show up and ask you to sign an additional contract to acknowledge that they’ve loaded your stuff. Three weeks later, they still haven’t arrived at your destination. What gives?

When using subcontractors, many moving companies allow the subcontractors’ contract to supersede their contract. That contract you signed extended your moving time from the promised two weeks to… two months. And you’re now stuck waiting.

Ask if your moving company uses subcontractors, read the fine print, and specifically inquire about moving timeframes. While most companies build in a few extra days for unpredictable road conditions and traffic, it goes without saying that a delay of two months is unacceptable.

Be prepared for the cost to increase

Do you know how much your dining room table weighs? Probably not, and the bathroom scale won’t be any help. Most people underestimate the total weight of their belongings, which is why downsizing before a move is such a good idea. When you get an estimate, plan on paying at least $500 more.

A hand holding a credit card in shadows.
Source: (Ales Nesetril / Unsplash)

Watch for payment methods

If you charge your move, you can contest the charges with your credit card company. Movers know this, and they also know that many customers are upset when the move ends up costing much more than expected. While they’ll allow you to pay your deposit by credit card, they may demand cash, money orders, or a cashier’s check upon delivery.

Again, read your contract. If you haven’t opened a bank account in your new city, how are you going to get a cashier’s check? And do you really want to sit in an empty house with $3,000 in cash for your movers?

If the contract states you can pay by credit card, push back against their demand that you pay cash. Copy and paste sections of the contract into an email.

If you use a shipping service, this won’t be an issue.

Breathe deep and move

Moving is stressful — period. While our tips will help you alleviate some of the stress, be gentle on any partners or family during this time. Eventually, you’ll be moving into your brand new home and realizing exciting opportunities. No matter how you get there!

Header Image Source: (HiveBoxx / Unsplash)

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