My friends keep telling me that I should blog about international relocation as they feel it is something that I now know a lot about, having moved internationally four times in 11 years: UK to Australia in 2004; Australia to US in 2009; US to Australia in 2011 and Australia to UK in 2015.
So having recently completed our fourth move and now the dust having settled, I thought I would share my views on the highs and lows of moving abroad and offer some (hard-earned) advice to anyone else planning to do the same.
1. Know what you are letting yourself in for
Our first move was relatively easy for us as I am English and my husband is Australian so by the time we moved to Australia, I had visited three or four times already. But moving to North Carolina in the US was different; for one thing I wasn’t sure where it was… I had to look on a map to see where it was when we found we were moving there! And although I had been to California before, living in the South was very different. And I arrived with the wrong attitude; I assumed because we had already moved from UK to Australia and we were ‘just’ moving to another large, English-speaking country that settling in would be easy. But the similarities made the differences even more obvious! Conversely, moving back somewhere doesn’t exactly get any easier either. When we moved back to Melbourne from the US, it wasn’t as easy as I thought as we had been away almost three years and people had moved away, changed jobs, etc. so we didn’t just slot back in as I expected to.
2. Know your locked-in dates and work within their limits
Our most recent relocation was completed in just under three months from wo to go, however I would not recommend this as it was one of the most stressful times in my life! I credit myself with being incredibly organised but it was still hard as certain dates are set in stone and you just have to make everything fit around them e.g. start date in new job/collection of your furniture for shipment/travel dates for pets (to fit in with quarantine regulations)/selling cars/etc. And anything can upset the apple cart (prospective tenants dropping out on day of signing contract, tree landing on car about to be sold – yes, that really happened to us)
There are usually four or more ‘elements’ that need tracking when you move internationally:
- your partner
- your kids and/or pets
- your furniture and belongings
- your current home
- your new home
Obviously there’s more than that if you have cars that you have to hand back if leased, sell (or ship) but these are the basics. And each of these elements have their own timings that need to ‘fit’ with each other. So every time we move I create a spreadsheet, listing an ‘element’ in each A, B, C column and date span down the rows e.g. Row 2: 1-Apr-15, Row 3: 2-Apr-15. Then I list the set in stone dates against each element e.g. as follows:
- ‘move out of house’ in column ‘current home’
- ‘vaccination for quarantine regs’ in column ‘cat’
- ‘start new job’ in column ‘yourself’ and/or ‘your partner’
- ‘collect keys’ in ‘your new home’
This helps me make sure that I am completing tasks in the right order and don’t forget to do something that then prevents me from hitting a deadline e.g. booking in vet visit for cat xx weeks before his flight to meet UK quarantine regulations.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks that need to happen. My husband and I try to split them and take ‘chunks’ each e.g. he will sort out our new accommodation, I will liaise with local rental agency to get ours leased out. Always, always take help if it is offered. And although usually I say don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today, that way madness lies when relocating. Make a list, be aware of deadlines and if something doesn’t need to be completed/thought about until next month, then don’t! You will have more than enough to do already.
3. Think about what you really NEED to take with you
I have learnt the hard way that what you think you need when you are packing is not necessarily what you use in your new home. Try to remind yourself that everything you ship has a double cost; the cost of shipping and the cost of insuring. Weigh this up against the cost of just purchasing the item again and selling/donating to charity the original. Some people choose to store their stuff when they move abroad, we’ve never done this as within two years, for us we calculated that the storage costs would start to outstrip the value of most of the items being stored! Oh and airfreight is EXPENSIVE so think really carefully before taking up that option.
To help me whittle down the list of ‘stuff’ that we needed to pack, I developed a spreadsheet (can you tell I like spreadsheets?!) that I use every time we relocate somewhere, set up as follows:
- Column A: Item
- Column B: Ship
- Column C: Sell
- Column D: Store*
- Column E: Donate
- Column F: Throw
Then in column A, row by row, I list the major items in our house (room by room) e.g. ‘sofa’, ‘TV’, ‘bed’, ‘crockery’. Once everything is listed I start allocating a status to each item e.g. ‘sofa’ might be ‘ship’, ‘tv’ would be ‘sell’ (if moving to a country with different TV set up/voltage).
However don’t go too minimalist or you might throw out the baby with the bathwater. Framed family pictures, favourite throws for the bed, ‘souvenirs’ from home (we always buy a nice print of our current home town to take with us); these will all help you settle in to feel at home quickly.
*if you have access to a storage area in your home, or want to pay self-storage costs
Top tips for shedding belongings
- Gumtree is great for selling stuff quickly. Also bric-a-brac (garage) sales can be great.
- Don’t bother shipping your everyday cutlery, crockery, glassware. You will need it right away when you move into a new place so you will have to buy some to tide you over anyway. It’s easier to donate/throw and start again. It sounds wasteful but if you donate to a local charity store then someone else gets to use it.
- Think hard about your electronics. Even if the voltage is the same, sometimes other practicalities stop you using them, especially televisions. And remember to pack lots of adapters if you do decide to take your small electronics.
4. You’ve only got what you take with you on the flight
If you are shipping stuff, it won’t arrive for approximately three months – so think about what you will need in the meantime. In other words, whatever you pack in your luggage, that’s all you will have access to for three months (unless you hit the shops of course!). Think about the climate you are moving to, pack all of your important documents (birth certificates, insurance/bank documents, anything you need to start new role); I always throw in a few small familiar things (see above) like a couple of framed photos, that I can put up in my new home straight away. If you have favourite toiletries, pack them (and buy lots more and ship them!).
5. Keep important documents safe
As well as carrying the originals in your hand luggage, make sure that you have everything you need scanned and stored somewhere (portable hard drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.). There is nothing more frustrating than needing a piece of paper that is currently on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic! Hard copies of insurance policies, rental agreements, employment agreements, birth certificates, etc.
6. Look after the furry members of your family
We took our cat, Tibbles, with us to the US from Australia and then took him back to Australia when we moved back. And we have now brought him with us to the UK. Yes, he is a loved member of the family. Yes, he is well travelled (although disappointingly, he does not have his own passport). And yes, it is expensive!! Each time we have relocated, we have employed JetPets who are based in Australia but have connections around the world. Obviously there are many other excellent pet relocation companies out there; do your research, ask for recommendations from existing customers, etc. These companies specialise in relocating pets around the world and offer invaluable help and advice regarding the paperwork required by each country, the regulations around quarantine, timings, etc. Australia has very strict quarantine laws and there is always a quarantine period; UK and US will let you collect your pet straight away if it is from an ‘approved’ country and paperwork has been completed correctly. Obviously, you could organise your pet’s travel yourself, but get one piece of paperwork wrong or a digit of your pet’s microchip number and it could get expensive and/or your pet could have to stay in quarantine for the full six months.
We have been very lucky that Tibbles is apparently a very pragmatic cat who, as long as he is comfy and has access to food, will pretty much settle down anywhere – including a freight crate on a 24 hour flight from Melbourne to London! A couple of things we do to help him with the relocation process:
- Get him used to the freight crate – Leave it lying around, take the liner out and put it in his bed so he gets his scent on it. Feed him in there sometimes.
- Feliway spray – This is a cat pheromone spray which reduces stress; vets recommend its use when a cat has been boarding, had an operation, moved house, etc. We just spray it around the new home (brief aroma then humans can’t smell it, just cats!).
- Restrict him to a couple of rooms in the new house while he settles in. Keep him shut in one room over night (this helps minimise stress from hearing other cats/animals roaming around outside)
- Stick to his routine – keep his food the same, same brand of litter, feed him at the same time, etc.
7. Relocation companies can be very useful!
We have been lucky in that two of our four moves have been through job offers that have included a relocation package. However, whereas some relocation firms can be very helpful, they can also be underwhelming in their services and/or very expensive. So unless you are moving somewhere where you don’t speak the language or there is a lot of red tape, then you probably won’t need that much help. However, here is where they can definitely be helpful:
- Finding you a new home – Give them a list of criteria, area preference, price range and they can come back with a vetted shortlist. This saves a huge amount of time and you know that every house you look at could be ‘the one’. The relocation agent can also very helpful regarding liaison with the rental company as you will have no credit rating or tenant references for that country; most relocation companies have good relationships with a couple of rental agencies who are happy for the relocation company to act as ‘referee’.
- Bank accounts/drivers licences/etc – Always a hassle. The US was particularly red-tape filled so we used our relocation agent extensively to book our appointments, guide us through the process, make sure we had all the correct paperwork, etc.
- Utilities/local services – A good relocation company can organise for the utilities to be turned on in your new home, make sure the accounts are in your name, provide details of local medical practices, shops, etc.
- Research on schools/educational establishments/childcare
8. Keep in touch with friends and family back home
I love the 21st century, makes keeping in touch SO easy! Make sure you are tech-savvy re Skype, Viber, FaceTime, Facebook Messaging … and that your parents/friends are too. I am lucky that my parents have always been very comfortable with new technologies so embraced Skype early on (probably best as I moved to Australia back in 2004 so apart from cheap international calling cards (remember them?!), Skype was the only cost-effective way to speak to my parents. See my previous post on different Internet calling options if you want to know the pros and cons of each.
Make sure you have all the phone numbers loaded as international numbers e.g. +44 (0)xxxx xxx xxxx, makes it easier when switching SIMs.
9. Use your hobbies to meet people (or dogs/children if you have those!)
I am always envious of parents and dog owners when I move to a new place as they have a major advantage in that they will meet people without trying. I sometimes end up working freelance when I move to a new place so I would never meet anyone unless I put myself out there. I am a big fan of meetup.com – this enables you to find groups in your local area that share your interests e.g. book clubs, walking clubs, social clubs, etc. There is no fee to join, just create a profile and start joining groups. Then go along and have fun!
10. Be realistic about your new home/area
Even if you were completely positive that the move is the right thing to do and you are looking forward to it, there will still be an adjustment period. Try not to compare your new experiences with ‘back home’ too often; embrace the differences, enjoy the new experiences, stay positive about your new environment – essentially live in the now! It’s easy to focus on what you are missing rather than what is new and excitingl. Oh, and your first supermarket shop will probably take two hours; it always seems to for me as all the brands are unfamiliar and I like to read labels to check for salt/sugar content (particularly important in the US). Plus I love being in supermarkets in foreign countries, so I will spend my first time in one going up and down every single aisle just to see what’s there!
And remember although not every day will be a good day in your new home and it will occasionally be stressful and lonely, moving to a new c0untry is lots of fun and a great adventure that will give you lots of wonderful memories. And you will be lucky enough to have an opportunity to learn about a new culture, and make new friends.