We moved from the US to India recently and sent some of our stuff via ship. A lot of people asked us for more details and hence this post. I used some of the info I already had from an acquaintance.
How much to ship?
Most of the shipping companies have a "mandatory" minimum number of boxes or "volume level" that you have to ship. They charge a fixed amount for that. Anything above this is charged @ a per cu ft rate that varies from one carrier to the other. This minimum number is usually 15. We did not have so much stuff so we found out a company in which the minimum number was lower ~ 7. The size of the boxes was 18 x 18 x 24 inches ~ large. Check this link to see what does 100 cubic feet of boxes look like? - http://www.upakweship.com/100_cubic_feet_boxes.htm
Sea shippers mostly go by number of boxes/gross volume to determine charges (avoid the ones which try to bring in the weight into calculation). Some of them also do something called 'palletization' for your stuff, which is nothing but wrapping it all together and placing it on a wooden platform that can be easily lifted by machinery. This will increase your chargeable volume, but is not avoidable unless you book a full container.
Volume based shipping is also called LCL (less than container load). If you have bigger stuff like furniture, you can also opt for FCL (full container load) – 20’ or 40’ containers.
What to ship?
We shipped toys, books (mine and my son's), clothes - big bulky winter coats and jackets , kitchen utensils, bedding and other household stuff ~ cutlery, decoration items, photo frames. We did not ship any new electronics (TV, home theatre system etc). If you want to do that make sure that the items are in their original packing (the shipper will insist on this). You might have to pay some duty too on newly bought electronics.
Customs Duty - Avail the Transfer of Residence clause in Indian Customs, since otherwise the customs duty will apply on everything and the rates will also be higher. Customs duty will depend on the stuff you are carrying and how the customs folks evaluate it. At a high level, all ‘used’ household goods are allowed duty free (so make sure you take off the tags of all new stuff). Electronics like TV, Home Theater are charged @ a concessional rate of 15%. Refer: http://www.globemoving.net/customs_regulation.aspx
When to ship?
The average time it takes for the complete process from the time the shipment is dropped at the warehouse to the time it reaches the destination is 10 weeks give or take a week. It would be best to send your stuff a week or 2 before you leave from the US. You can either drop the boxes at the warehouse yourself or choose a pick up from home option. You could also choose to ship door-to-port, port-to-door or port-to-port to reduce shipping cost (though you’d obviously need to arrange your own transport for the portion not covered).
From the day the shippers pick up from your residence, they need at least 2-3 weeks to give you the invoice. The goods usually leave shore within 4 weeks of pick up. Please note that these shippers are mostly agents and the actual shipping company is different, with whom they have contracts. So they will find out the earliest available ship for your goods and send you the tracking information.
How much does it cost?
The total volume of our 7 individual boxes added up to around 32 cu ft. The cost was $515 for 32 cu ft. Then we had to pay an additional Rs 13000 ~ $300 for customs clearance, home delivery and the local agent's fee in Bangalore. So it cost us about $800 and it was worth it!
Make sure that you pack your stuff properly as it is moved about a lot and not exactly handled gently. Personally, I would have chosen stronger cardboard boxes. Mine arrived in good condition but a little more rough handling and they could have broken down. All the glassware was perfectly OK, but some of my non-stick kitchen utensils were slightly deformed.
http://www.uboxworldwide.com/ (we used this one)
There might be more; search on the Internet.