Updated: Mar 1, 2019
Moving home is considered one of the most stressful events in life for anyone, and for expats who move on average every 3 years, the cycle of planning, packing and moving can at times feel never ending.
Even if you’re a seasoned pro at the whole picking up and moving your life thing, there are some things you can do to minimise the headaches and keep your cool through the seemingly inevitable dramas.
Here are my best tips to help make your move as smooth as possible.
You may know where you’re moving to, but there has been several occasions when we did not know where we were going or plans change at the last minute, and you might not even know when exactly either. This particular limbo-land is awful and creates an unnecessary stress of all the unknowns. You’ll just want to know where you’re going so you can get on with planning the big stuff like houses and schools.
But instead of feeling stuck, you can get more prepared and start planning more than you think, helping you feel a bit more in control.
Have a good clear out; get rid of the stuff that’s been in boxes for years, donate old clothes and toys the kids have grown out of.
Get recommendations for removals/shipping companies and start getting some quotes and ideas for their availability
Check your subscriptions and contracts for things like your, internet, phone, rent (which may be locked in 6 months or have long notice periods) Give notice as early as possible to reduce unnecessary charges.
Once you know where you are going then it’s all systems go. Instead of getting flustered with feeling there’s too much to do, follow these steps:
Search the internet for any expat blogs about living in the country you are moving to. You are almost certainly not the first person to relocate to your chosen country and there are thousands of expat bloggers around these days. You will get a true and unbiased insight into what expat life is like where you are going. Get in touch with them via email, or message them on Instagram or Facebook, you can’t have too many contacts when you move to a new country.
Go and visit. Before confirming your overseas move, it’s important to visit the country in advance if possible. Go and visit the local towns you’ll be living near, not the tourist areas. Learn about the culture, Any cultural quirks or unusual laws are definitely worth reading up on so you don’t get off to two wrong feet when it comes to adjusting to your new home. Also check up on the climate year round, so you know whether to pack, sell or buy those big coats and jumpers.
Be prepared and start early and be ready for mishaps. Paperwork often takes longer than expected (checklists are a great way to keep track of things here’s one I made for you) and house and job hunting may not run smoothly. Be aware that you are likely to be in temporary accommodation for a few weeks or even up to a few months while you wait for your shipment to arrive. Setting up bank accounts or credit cards aren’t always as straightforward as you may expect. Make sure you put together a budget before you go and have enough money to see you through at least the first few months. Consider getting a Starling or Monzo account so that you aren’t stuck without cash.
If you’re moving for business find out everything about your relocation package; what your shipping allowance is, if you are given accommodation (or a budget for accommodation), if you have medical insurance covered etc. Ask colleagues who have done a similar move for their tips and recommendations as each company or even divisions in the same company can have very different procedures.
Learn the lingo. Learning a few phrases in the local language can have an incredibly positive impact on your transition. Being able to speak a few words (and understand a little) of what is going on around you helps you connect with the locals and feel more at ease in your new homeland.
Job hunting. If you need to find a job in your new country, start looking online. This will help you understand the market, the requirements in your field and whether or not your existing qualifications will be recognised. Ask your contacts on LinkedIn to keep you in mind if they hear of any suitable roles in your new destination. Join expat groups on facebook or expat forums where you can tap in to a wider network who could help point you in the right direction. Be open to new possibilities that might take your career into an exciting new direction.
Get insured. Good insurance is a must for any move, but especially an overseas move. Talk to your relocation agent, shipping company or removals company to understand exactly what your contract covers and if you need to purchase additional transit insurance. Also make sure you have appropriate health and travel insurance for you and and your family.
Organise your important papers. Moving overseas comes with a lot of bureaucracy. Getting your important documents in order means you’ll have everything at hand when it’s needed, you may need to get them translated, Dialexy can help with this. There’s nothing more stressful than hunting down your original university certificate that you just know is tucked away safely in a drawer. The trouble is, which one?
Tie up loose ends. Make sure you let your bank know you are moving and find out if you need to close your existing accounts. You’ll also need to inform your mobile phone company and any utilities companies (gas, electric, cable etc.) of your impending move so that contracts can be terminated and final payments made.
Update your contact details. There’s a whole host of people that need to know where you are headed. Be sure to inform family and friends of your new contact details and set up a postal redirect so you don’t miss any important communications.
Whether you are packing yourself or you’re getting your removals/shipping company to help you, make sure to follow these tips:
Heavy items should go in book boxes or in rented plastic reusable boxes—both are made to withstand a lot of weight. Many standard boxes are not.
For any linens or soft goods like pillows, place in plastic bags to protect them from errant spills.
Do yourself a favor and buy wardrobe boxes (they come with a hanging bar) for any clothes that should be hung. It make it so much easier when unpacking as well .
For fragile stemware or dishes, buy boxes specifically made for those items and still be sure to pack them gently with tissue paper and Bubble Wrap.
Put heavier items on the bottom of each box and lighter ones on top.
Tape your boxes well—tape the center seam twice and add tape along the bottom edges where the flaps fold in. Be sure the tape extends 4 to 6 inches up the sides of the box.
If you are transporting valuable artwork, consider hiring a moving company that has a climate-controlled truck, or possibly having a crate custom made to fit the piece.
Check whether your TV, hairdryer, alarm clock and any other electrical appliances will work in your new country, and if so, are they covered by an international warranty?
Assuming you’ve followed the first step and already purged unnecessary items (to avoid paying to ship things you don’t need), as you’re packing, number each box and keep a list or spreadsheet documenting what the box contains. No need to list each pair of socks, but noting broad categories like “pajamas” as well as specific important items like “grandma’s vase” will save you from aimlessly rummaging through tons of boxes later. (I’ve got sheets already prepared for you to fill in your itinerary in the checklist, and your removals company may also provide you with one.)
Clearly mark the ultimate destination—living room, kitchen, garage—of each box on the outside. Bonus points if you colour-code, different coloured markers do the trick.
Particularly if you are handling all of the moving logistics yourself, keep a moving file. This document should have copies of any important information that you might need on moving day, like your moving contract, insurance information, and phone numbers you need to install or uninstall home services.
The one sure way to burn yourself out during a move is to go it alone. If you can, enlist your family and friends to help; just be realistic about what they can accomplish and play to their strengths. Your mUm might not be game for lugging boxes but might be great at keeping the movers in check. And be sure to reward any helpers with a meal—and maybe a drink or two. In the UK especially keep offering cups of tea to the removals men, they REALLY appreciate it. If you are moving to a country that doesn’t allow you to bring in alcohol, this is a good opportunity to reward your helpers with the contents of your drinks cabinet!
This is where all the research and planning pays off, as you have all your documents in place, you’ll know some key phases of the local language to help you get by or at least know where the nearest cafe is and be able to order a much needed cup of coffee!
Enjoy the limbo
You might be waiting some time for your shipment to arrive and living out of suitcases for awhile. So while you’re in this limbo mode, where you are likely to be getting kids ready to school in a small hotel room, treat this time as holiday and enjoy the experience as much as you can. So as much as you really want to get on with life and get some sense of normality, do the touristy things, let the kids order the breakfast items you’d never normally allow, go and treat yourself to a massage at the spa and walk around in a robe by the pool. The mental load of having to organise everything, the newness of your surroundings and figuring everything out can be a lot more exhausting than you anticipate. Having some down time from all that will really help.
Unpack the necessities first
Once you’re in your new place, start by unpacking the items you’ll need first, such as kitchen supplies, bedding, and key toiletries. Then move room by room. Enjoy rediscovering your favourite things, opening the boxes like it was Christmas! (ok maybe not the box of utensils or stuff for under the sink, but you get the idea)
Start exploring the local area, go for a wonder around the streets and find your new favourite coffee shop or places for lunch. Don’t be afraid of getting a little lost, think of it as an opportunity to test out your new language skills by asking a local for directions! Look up any expat meet ups or arrange to meet up for coffee with one of the mum’s from school. Join an exercise class or a hobby. Check out these ideas from April from remfreyeducationalconsulting.com, to start some social experiments to help you get settled sooner.