What Do You Do With Your Gadgets When You Move Overseas?

What Do You Do With Your Gadgets When You Move Overseas?

So you’re heading overseas to work. How do you decide which gadgets are worth taking and which ones to leave behind? Adaptor plugs are pretty cheap and easy to find, but at some point it makes more sense to just replace an item when you arrive at your destination. And what about large items like a desktop computer? Where do you draw the line?

Photo by jeroen020 (Flickr).

My mid-2007 iMac is starting to show its age, but I depend on it heavily for work and my whole life essentially revolves around it. As I got ready to move to Canada, I looked into my options. I didn’t want to sell it — I had to put a new hard drive in it recently, but otherwise it worked just fine. Couriers and shipping companies quoted me around $400 to ship it from Sydney to Vancouver. There was no way I was paying that — my five-year-old iMac wasn’t even worth that much.

In the end, I decided to bubblewrap it and shove it inside one of my suitcases. Everyone told me not to do it. People showed me amateur YouTube videos of suitcases being abused by baggage handlers and shared horror stories of smashed screens and exploding components. Lifehacker editor Angus was convinced it would be a disaster. And it was only a couple of weeks ago that the US Postal Service banned international shipments of gadgets with lithium batteries. The evidence was intimidating, but I wanted to try it anyway. If it did break inside the suitcase, I would just buy a new computer.

My dad used industrial quantities of bubble wrap and some cardboard to buffer the screen. On some iMacs you can remove the stand, but it wasn’t doable on mine without pulling the whole thing apart. My plan was to stick it into one of my two suitcases and pad it with lots of clothes to minimise movement, but since the iMac weighed about 9kg on its own, the suitcase reached Air Canada’s 23kg weight limit before I could fully pack it in. The iMac was going to move inside the suitcase whether I liked it or not. At the airport, I explained to the lady at the check-in desk that I had a computer inside one of the suitcases and she obliged by putting ‘FRAGILE’ stickers all over it.

Apple iMac

When I arrived in Canada and picked up my suitcase from the baggage carousel, my heart sank a little bit. The ‘FRAGILE’ stickers had been completely ripped off, as if they were never there at all. I opened the suitcase and anxiously attacked the bubblewrap with a pair of scissors. As you can see in the above photo, the iMac survived. Was it dumb luck? Maybe. Would I do it again? Probably.

I had to let go of other gadgets in order to fit the iMac into my suitcase. I left behind my hairdryer, hair straightener, curling tongs, laser printer, mobile phones, cameras and chargers. I’m happy to replace those items, especially since they can be erratic when used with adaptors. For example, my 240V hairdryer would only blow at half its capacity on the 120V outlets in the US, and the portable neck massager I brought with me to Canada refuses to work on Canada’s 60 cycles-per-second electric power frequency. I currently have my iMac and mobile phone charger plugged into an Australian power board, which in turn is plugged into the wall via an earthed US/Canada adaptor.

So what do you do with your gadgets when you go overseas? What would you take and what would you leave behind? Let us know in the comments.

More: Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know How To Prepare For A Move Overseas Prioritise These Tasks For The Best Start In A New Country 8 Things About Australia I Took For Granted


  • I’ve never travelled oversea’s and only flown domestic a handful of times – so I have to honest questions: Is carry on luggage space available on international flights, and would the iMac not have fit into a carry on sized suitcase? (Albeit without much left over space for other items in the bag…)

    Given a choice, I’d always be more inclined to want something like that looked after myself than to be handled in unknown conidition by baggage handlers.

    • You can get special cases specifically for the iMac so you can carry it on board the plane with you. I didn’t have the time to get one though, and my carry-on suitcase was a bit too small to squeeze the iMac in.

    • @Sam: Yes, carry on luggage is usually available, but if you’re travelling economy class, you’d want to make sure you’re on the plane reasonably early so you can find space near your seat, otherwise it tends to fill up pretty quickly.
      And no, the iMac would probably be too big for a carry on, because that’d be one big carry on!

  • The fragile sticker disappearing amuses me to no end.

    One tip I’ve heard, not sure if it was on here was that the best cases for travelling are the hard shell cases with the office chair styled wheels. The reason being is once the bag is being shifted around, they are moved the easiest way. This is usually done by throwing it, but with these since they roll so well they’re usually just stood up and rolled down the ramp.

      • Well, expensive is relative… How much do you value your gear ? Is it worth investing in a pelican case Or two ?
        How replaceable are your gadgets ? Maybe replacing an imac with a mac mini and buying a “semi disposeable” ( … I mean, you can leave it behind you when you leave …) display might be also an option…

  • When I relocated overseas, I entrusted my aging laptop to checked baggage on the same assumption as Elly: if it didn’t survive, I’d just replace it. However… I removed the hard drive and took that with me in my carry-on luggage. Because really what was important was my work, not the machine. (The machine survived, hardy beast that it was, although the box it travelled in was pretty bashed about at the end of the journey.)

    Why didn’t I take my laptop on board? I had four flutes (including two wooden ones) that I wasn’t willing to put in the way of possible rough handling or theft, or (for sure) drastic temperature changes. So these occupied one bag and personal necessities – plus that hard drive – took up another.

    I wouldn’t bother taking printers overseas, and certainly not small domestic appliances like hair-dryers or electric toothbrushes. I would take my camera, mobile phone and current laptop. These things are small enough. Unless I decided to sell or give it away before moving, “spare” computer gear would probably be shipped by sea with my furniture and other belongings. Ditto anything bulky and fragile like an external monitor, audio equipment, loudspeakers and so on.

  • In my case I’d probably just rip out the hard drives from my desktop and rebuild it in cheap second-hand machine wherever I end up.

    A much harder choice would be the wardrobe full of old computers and parts. I’m not sure I can give up my mac classic that easily.

  • A friend of mine once took an old style Mac (with a CRT monitor) to NZ as check-in luggage, to give to his mother. There was a group of us checking in together, so managed to not pay excess baggage. And the box was completely fine at the other end!

  • I’m planning on selling my older electronics, and re-purchasing upon arrival. Obviously for computers it mean’s I have a couple backup harddrives. It’s a bit more costly, but it giving me a chance to “upgrade” to newer models.

  • Elly did you look at taking the hard drive as a carry-on? See to me if the suitcase could have been beaten about it would have been a good idea to protect the actual data.

  • I’ve moved overseas several times. When I went to the US I took everything that was voltage adaptable, and when I moved to Europe I took *everything* except my TV as it was a HD CRT. I had a few nights rewiring plugs, but for a lot of items which are grouped together (bedside, stereo, desktop) it was easier just to rewire a single power-strip.

  • I travel overseas for work, quite often commuting through places like singapore and dubai… and I always put my laptop in my suitcase, in its own laptop bag, no bubble wrap… never had an issue

  • when i moved back to australia after living in China for a decade. I kept most of my gadgets, with one exception, my PlayStation (the original) was from Hong Kong and it obviously didn’t like the australian 240v power. But all my other gadgets are fine.

  • For my international move:

    Computers, both desktop and laptop: packed separately in boxes with my clothing, coats, etc. all around them. Each computer was in a sealed plastic Glad bag, as were all the bundles of clothing that served as packing materials, to protect against moisture since I was using simple cardboard boxes. Like another poster, the cardboard boxes did not look so well by end of trip, but the contents were fine.

    Hard drives: every single one, no matter how much of a bear it was to remove from wherever it was, in an anti-static bag, wrapped in a bubble wrap, in my laptop bag, which I kept on me at all times. It only takes one domestic move during which you lose a drive’s contents due to rough handling by a third party, to convince you that only YOU will handle your data as carefully as you would like it handled. I felt rather strange carting my entire digital life around airports in a single bag (yes, I had backups in Canada, should it be necessary), kind of like an international courier for my life, but I figured this was better than the alternative of letting someone else do what they wilt with it.

    Other things: TV’s left in Canada. Anything that would require a step-down/up transformer to go from 120v to 240v, typically things with motors like a like hair dryer, KitchenAid mixer, Espresso machine, left in Canada. Anything requiring only a physical plug converter or a change in power cord to play nicely with Australian power points (most electronics), brought with me to Australia.

  • For my move, I did the following:
    Packed my personal iMac into the box Apple shipped it to me in. But, with glad wrap around it to stop moisture ingress. I filled it out with a mixture of packing bubbles and every power lead, power supply and small device ( USB Hubs, Hard Drive Docks ) I could fit in without risking damage to the iMac. I shipped it via DHL (company was paying) and it actually beat me to my destination.

    My Raid Array I removed the drives and placed them into antistatic bags and into a small square camera bag which I carried on board. The chassis was given the same glad wrap treatment as the iMac, then bubble wrapped and placed in the middle of my check luggage. My standard work backpack contained my work laptop and stuff plus one set of cold storage backups of my Raid Array.

    I did think that airline might say something given I also had a small backpack with my camera equipment as carry on but everything got there fine.

    Every trip home, I swapped the cold storage backups over so for at least a while I had some serious offsite backups in place.

    Coming home was the same but Australian Customs refused to accept my Apple Invoice and Receipt and I had to pay import duties for an iMac I bought in Australia, shipped overseas then brought back.

  • This is ridiculous, was there ever a question whether you haphazardly throw out boxes of electronics just because you are moving overseas? Simple solution – get a converter for the plugs!

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