So you have decided or are considering Moving Abroad… super exciting right! But as the time approaches the anxiety can set in, especially if you’ve got family and kids in tow, as there is so much to do and once you’re on the plane there is no going back. Not to worry, follow the the steps below and you’ll be good to go wherever your adventure is headed!
First off, you need do some exhaustive research to figure out what your go-to sources of information are going to be so you have a solid set of references as you have questions or need info quickly. Look for expatriate oriented publications that you can bookmark and start to explore. There are usually a couple magazines that have websites or apps that you can download to have ready to access at a moments notice. These will be great sources of info for supermarkets, accommodation searches, restaurants/bars and local events that you’ll want to join so you can start to meet new people and establish your circle of friends in your new home.
One of the great things about moving is opportunity it affords you to clean out all the old things that you never use and really don’t need anymore. For us this meant countless trips to Goodwill and the challenge of saying goodbye to some items that had sentimental value. Go through all the things you own and ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you used the item in the past year?
- Will you be able to use the item in your new home?
- Does the item bring you joy?
- Can you take a picture to retain the memories?
- Will someone else find the item of use?
- Will you have space to take it with you and keep it with you?
For those of you that are as infatuated with infographics as I am, just follow along.
While Lauren just loves filing, printing labels and organizing our various documents, this is the last thing I want to do with my weekend but if you are moving halfway around the world, or anywhere for that matter, you simply can’t neglect to ensure you have all the critical personal documentation you might need. Here are a few of the types of documents you’ll want to take:
– Birth certificate
– Marriage certificate
– Divorce documentation
– Name change paperwork
– Professional certificates
– Educational degrees
Essentially you need to have anything potentially required for reference should you need to get a work visa, change your work visa, apply for visas for other countries or have the life changing experience of having a baby abroad as we did!
Store Your Stuff
While you may be tempted to just sell or donate everything that you can’t take with you, when you do the math it might actually be cheaper for you to rent an inexpensive storage unit to store your larger pieces of furniture or appliances that don’t need or can’t be used where you are headed. You can often find some quite reasonably priced options if you have a wide enough search area. What worked well for us was to find a storage unit near one of our parent’s homes that we knew that we would be back visiting for the holidays so that we could check in on the unit and get something easily if we subsequently realized we needed it. If you are getting relocation assistance from your company you may find that they are willing to split your shipments since it would cost a lot less to send a smaller shipment overseas. However, if you are anticipating moving abroad for a longer period of time, then you will probably find it is better to just sell or dispose of what’s not sentimental and get a furnished place in your new home or make one of the many inevitable trips to IKEA. Since Lauren was pregnant when we were moving, it was important to us that our new home in Shanghai really felt like home and that all the countless pictures we were going to take of Charlie would be set in what he would someday further recognize as our home wherever we are in the future. Another reason this is important to us is that we expect to move periodically as he grows up and we’d like to ensure that we provide a home environment that remains familiar wherever life takes us.
Separate the Rest
Once you’ve figured out what all you are definitely taking with you, it’s important to separate everything according to how it will be transported to your new home. If you are being relocated, you will likely have 3 separate sets of items, sea, air and checked luggage. While you will be tempted to start with the Sea shipment since this is what the movers will likely start packing first since it represents the bulk of what is being moved, don’t make this mistake as we did. Start packing early and first focus on what you will be taking with you on the plane.
- Checked/Carry-On Luggage: First make sure you have all your critical documentation in your laptop bag/backpack so you personally assure its safety. Then pack enough clothes to cover a couple weeks that you can cycle through until your air shipment arrives. Although you may be tempted to explore and eat out a lot upon your arrival in your new home, there will inevitably be times you want to fix something yourself at home so best to include a few key food prep items such as some good knives, a small cutting board, some glasses, dishware and utensils. We didn’t want to buy cookware so we brought our favorite All-Clad pan and William-Sonoma baking trays. Don’t forget your critical electronics as it can take a few weeks for an air shipment to arrive. We were in the middle of a season of The Americans and didn’t want to miss an episode so made sure that we packed our Roku to be sure streaming was an option. Other important items to include would be any medicine that you would want to have on hand until you figure out what is available locally. Lastly, obviously anything of significant value, financial or sentimental, that you can fit should be hand carried. Make sure you have a luggage scale so that you can avoid any super costly fees when you check in and leave a couple pounds and some space before you move on to the other shipments since you will probably come across some other items that you’ll want to take with you at the last minute.
- Air shipment: You’ve probably already started setting aside things for your air shipment that you considered hand carrying but didn’t have enough room. Beyond this it is good to consider more delicate or fragile items that can meet the space or weight limits since these goods are subject to less manhandling. Other things to consider would include kitchenware and appliances that may work if the electrical is compatible, paintings that aren’t too heavy but would immediately make your new home feel more like home, and other important documentation in travel convenient hard filing cases that can’t go on the plane but that you should keep with you. You may even consider including some linens in your air shipment since they can help protect your goods and can further make your new home feel less foreign.
- Sea shipment: This is obviously all the big items like furniture, appliances, any décor or things that are too heavy for air travel. However don’t forget to also include seasonal clothing that you won’t need until after the sea shipment arrives. You have limited space and weight for air shipments and travel so you need to be strategic with what goes via air. Once you get to this point, its probably best to ask yourself the question again whether you need everything in your new home. Now that you have literally gone through all of your worldly possessions, there is a good chance that there is more going with you than you have space for so see what else you can divest or put in storage for your return.
Pay Attention to the Packing when Moving Abroad!
Whether you are doing it yourself or having someone else pack for you, take care to really make sure everything is properly protected. It is easy to cut corners when you are doing it yourself as it can be exhausting to pack everything up and towards the end you just want to shove stuff in boxes. This is even more the case for any movers that are just being paid hourly and don’t have to stare at a cracked picture frame every day when it is on the wall of your new home. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome movers that really do a fantastic job and if you get them tip them appropriately, but others need constant oversight so have someone look after the kids and plan ahead to take the time off needed to make sure everything is properly wrapped, packed and loaded with care. There will be other handling you have no control so just make sure everything goes in the truck protected and in the condition you expect it to come out in. On top of this, take as many pictures as you can. Nowadays with automatic photo backups like google photos there is no reason not to take pictures of everything possible to fully document the condition of the goods upon dispatch because it is not a question of will something get broken when moving abroad but what all will be broken and how badly.
When moving abroad, it can be very tempting to swoop in and find a place as quickly as possible. That’s what we did. Our company allowed for a house hunting trip and we looked at 20+ places over the course of a week, eventually finding a pretty great place. However, now that we’ve been here a year and a half I’ve come to realize that there are better options if only we had the time to find them. Keep in mind it’s not just about cost, quality, and space but other factors such as street noise, proximity to work, parks, gyms, public transportation or restaurants. Many of these will be hard to assess in the course of a few days. In hindsight, I wish we had used the house hunting trip to just explore the city, do dry run commutes to the office, find the best gym or yoga studios and then substantially narrow the locations for the housing search. Then we would have gotten a Airbnb for a couple months and worked with an agent to only see options available in those specific areas. While you will still need to hurry before your air or sea shipment arrives, you’ll fell much more confident that your choice will have been the best possible given the inevitable tradeoffs.
Healthcare & Insurance
The last thing you want to happen is find yourself in a new place and sick from trying some delicious street food but without a clue where to go see the doctor or know what the payment protocol is, not to mention have a child get sick or deal with language barriers. Once you know where you will be, figure out where the international clinics are located and save their contact info in your phone under favorites. If you have international insurance provided, check to see which providers your insurance company has a direct billing relationship with as these are usually also the most professional and reputable options. While this will take care of most of your immediate needs, depending on the nature of the country you are in, it is often advisable to set aside some cash in case you need more serious emergency care. Here in China many hospitals will only take cash, or so we’ve been told, so to avoid needing to make a separate trip to an ATM, we make sure to have medical emergency fund just to be safe. It’s also good to do a bit of research into the different insurance options available if you have any say over what you are provided or are purchasing independently. This is especially true if you have kids and may want or need them to see a healthcare provider in your home country or other nearby country for things like vaccines that may not be offered where you live, as is the case for us in China.
Settle In, Explore and Have a Good Sense of Humor
Once you arrive and recover from the exhaustion and stress of travel, make sure to spend a fair amount of time just getting lost in your neighborhood and exploring all that it has to offer. There will be plenty of time to explore the broader city but you will feel more comfortable knowing where the closest place to get JIF peanut butter or Nutella is or where to go if you run out of diapers and need something local in a pinch. As long as you have a swapped your SIM card and gotten a local plan, you should make sure to wonder on foot or bike down the various streets that radiate from where you live and work to get a good sense of what critical services are immediately accessible or may require a drive, taxi or public transit excursion. This is good for sending one of the first letters back to family to let them know you are settled in the old fashioned way as well helping you mentally feel anchored in an otherwise foreign environment. As you get more comfortable and explore further, make sure not to judge too quickly and seek to understand why things are they weird way they are where you are since there probably is a reason that would be good to know even if only to laugh about, which you need to prepare to do plenty of… you’re going to think you are saying one thing when you are saying something entirely different or will enter a bathroom and eventually realize there isn’t toilet paper later than ideal or will order at a restaurant and get a chicken foot. When moving abroad there will be countless frustrations and unintended tangents but so long as you maintain a positive attitude and good sense of humor you’ll eventually get accustomed to and likely come to appreciate all the strange and unique aspects of your new home.
Make Friends and Establish a Routine
While you will feel an obligation to sightsee and explore your city, make sure to protect time to meet new friends, both local and foreign, to establish a support system and have a network to reach out to for advice and assistance where needed. One of the most amazing aspects of moving abroad is the phenomenal communities that welcome newcomers with open arms and a wealth of experience to help ensure you don’t repeat the same mistakes they or others made in the transition. Go join a Gym or a Yoga studio and don’t be afraid to approach the random stranger that has a shirt saying they ran a Rock n’ Roll half marathon in Texas. While it may turn out they are not a fellow Texan, they might just be good people with whom you can share some crazy stories and enjoy your intersecting adventures for the time they overlap.
Travel Near and Nearish
When you are moving abroad make sure not to limit yourself to exploring your new country but also all the amazing places in the new region. You have a wonderful opportunity to see and experience destinations that wouldn’t be accessible or as much of a priority on a separate vacation so take advantage of it. While it might be somewhat intimidating at first, especially if foreign languages are involved, once you hit a couple new places you will find it isn’t so hard to get around and most of the time you will find someone to help point you in the right direction.