Let me tell you: I totally underestimated how much goes into packing up your entire lives/home and relocating halfway across the world. Of course, I knew it would be a lot to do and, at times, overwhelming, but nothing really prepares you (unless you’ve done it before). Man, I seriously have a newfound respect for my parents. We moved from South Africa to the United States when I was 10 years old, but I actually don’t remember having to pack/carry boxes/sell anything – my parents were superheroes and all I had to do was get on a plane. Thankfully, my mom was able to help me and answer several questions for me re: moving your entire life to another country (…and another continent and hemisphere!). I was so grateful for her help and tips, that I decided to make a condensed list here to help anyone in the future who may be thinking of or are in the process of moving abroad! It ain’t easy, but it’s totally and complete doable (seriously, if we could do it in five weeks, you can definitely do it!). These are not listed chronologically, so I wouldn’t recommend following them in the exact order, but rather, I just typed them as they came to mind :-)
- Get organized and make a list! First things first, before you overwhelm yourself with things to do, make. a. list. By nature, I’m an organized freak, so I found that creating a master ‘to do’ list was… well… at the absolute top of my list to do lol. I highly recommend signing up for Trello. It is an amazing tool that lets you create boards (typically, “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done”) and set deadlines for yourself, color-code it, and assign to other members invited to the board. In our case, Will and I were both admins on the board and could edit certain tasks, write notes to each other, etc. It was a great way for each of us to see what needed to be accomplished and keep track of what was completed. The night we found out, I laid in bed and created about 30-40 tasks that I could think of to do: put in notice to our leasing office, get boxes/moving supplies, cancel any doctor’s or dentists appts, etc. Also, if you/your partner’s company will be paying for moving expenses, get an accordion file and put all receipts, tickets, letters and print outs in there. Trust me, it’ll help you out so much and you’ll never have to scavenge through piles of boxes wondering where you put the rental car receipt.
- Storage or give away? One thing you’ll need to figure out (whether it’s with your spouse, partner or even if you’re moving alone) is what you’re going to do with all your belongings. If you know exactly how long you’ll be in the other country for, whether it’s a two-year visa or on a permanent basis, it’s much easier to make this decision. However, if your plans are up in the air and you’re uncertain, it becomes one of the most important decisions to make. The first item to figure out what to do with was our car, and whether to sell or give to my parents. My parents just recently moved into their new house which has a two car garage, so that automatically meant we should sell it, and being that it was less than three years old, we’d still get a pretty good deal (more about that below). Then came the rest of our stuff (since we were renting, we did not have to worry about having to sell a house), which included everything from our personal childhood items to appliances (crockpots, coffee machines, etc). We immediately decided against renting a storage unit, because when the length of your stay is uncertain, you don’t want to risk wasting money for what could very well be several years. Fortunately, my parents’ aforementioned house also came with a ton of storage, which they graciously offered for us to keep our belongings in (thanks, Mom!), so we started making ‘keep’ / ‘donate’ / ‘sell’ / ‘trash’ piles. I actually divided our dining room using painters tape into these four sections, and it really helped to see everything all at once (it’s also kind of scary to see how much stuff we had 0_0). In the end, we actually ended up stuffing an entire Ford Expedition full of things to store at my parents’ house and I can definitely say that was the most time-consuming difficult part of all. We both sighed a HUGE breath of relief once we got everything into the storage room and consequently napped for several hours lol.
- Quit your job. I understand this may not apply to everyone, but I wanted to put this tidbit in here particularly for those married/couples who are relocating for their partner’s job. The moment we found out we’d be going to Australia, I put in my notice to leave my job, as I knew I had a very, very busy five weeks ahead of us. This was one of the best decisions I could have made, because my job at the time was pretty demanding, and having to come home after 8 hours to pack up your life wasn’t the most ideal situation. I was able to focus full time on the 90-100+ tasks (not kidding) I had on my Trello list, and be not be too tired or overwhelmed to take care of it all. If your situation allows you to be able to leave your job even two weeks before leaving, it will make all the difference. Moving is never fun or easy, so giving yourself as much time as possible to compress, digest and effectively manage everything ahead of you will be so beneficial!
- Wrapping up accounts. When I say ‘accounts’, this actually includes quite a breadth of establishments. I mentioned above that we had to ensure all of our doctor’s appointments were taken care of before leaving, any prescriptions were discontinued, and that they were notified to take us off their patient list. Accounts also includes your health insurance, bank accounts, electric company, leasing agency, cable/internet company, etc. Depending on your situation (whether you’re moving permanently or temporarily), you’ll definitely want to research a bank right away in your new country. Also, if you keep your American accounts open, see if you’re able to find the same bank abroad for easy wiring back and forth. We were informed of Citibank by one of Will’s coworkers, and we immediately opened up a U.S. account (Wells Fargo does not have a branch here in Aus), as they allow free and immediate transfers between international accounts. Oh, and they also have a 24/7 customer service line, which helps when there’s a 15 hour time difference ;). As far as your electric & cable/internet companies, you’ll certainly want to coordinate that with your move out date, but calling in advance (at least 3 weeks) will really help! Your leasing agency (if renting) should also be given the substantial amount of notice of your move-out date; thankfully, we only had to give 30 days notice, which was plenty of time for us. Lastly, you’ll need to give your cellular company a call and figure out all the termination fees and contract issues you may encounter with them. Make sure that you request to have your phone unlocked, so that you are able to use it in another country. I was so happy that we had our iPhones unlocked before we left the U.S., because new iPhones here in Australia cost upwards of $800+ out of contract (uh, no thanks). I also found this step to be quite a pain, mainly because I hate calling companies and sitting on hold for 30 minutes or dealing with exasperated support reps (who were dealing with me, who was equally exasperated). And make sure that if you have any accounts that won’t work abroad (Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, etc), to cancel them before leaving, so you’re not hit with surprise monthly charges when you’ve already left! Lastly, make sure you set up travel notifications with your banks and credit card companies! This will be really, really important so your cards don’t get blocked on suspicion of fraud. You’ll probably want to call a week or two before you leave the country, let them know you’re moving and set up the travel notification for as long as you think you’ll be there. Again, if it is open-ended, pick however long you think works (keep in mind that if you make it for a year, and you’re there for a year and one day, you’ll need to call in again! — and same goes for if you come back earlier than expected). The sooner you can take care of all the accounts, the easier your last few days to a week before you leave will be :-)
- Selling your car. Again, this may or may not apply to everyone, as you may be giving your car to a family member, or donating it, etc. We knew we’d be selling it to our local Honda dealership, instead of privately, simply for the sake of time. We were very fortunate that Will’s uncle actually works in the financial department of a Honda dealership in Alabama, who was able to give us fantastic advice and give us an appraisal for what his Civics were selling for down south. We found this process to be so simple for us, where some people may find it quite daunting. Once we met with our local Honda dealership, they gave us an appraisal, and done! However, because this may not be as easy for everyone, I highly recommend that if you are able to sell your car, make sure you consult with local dealerships – it doesn’t have to match your car’s brand, but even if it’s CarMax, it will save you so much time – especially if you’re on a time crunch! Make sure you research, research, research! Before speaking to Will’s uncle, we did research of our own in the area (I did about a 50-100 mile radius) and checked what our particular car was going for and their mileage. His uncle was able to confirm what we had been thinking all along, and it made us feel much better about it all. If you go to one dealer and their appraisal is low, keep going to more around the area (even if that means going to the next town) and make sure you get the best deal! One piece of advice: make sure you also get your car detailed/cleaned thoroughly before you take it to be appraised/inspected – it makes all the difference! Lastly, this may seem like a ‘duh’ moment, but you can easily forget in the midst of a sea of other things to do: cancel your car insurance! Make sure you contact your agent right away after selling your car and ensure it’s terminated (unless you’ll be driving a rental).
- Forward your mail! This is another task that can easily be forgotten. Again, dependent on your move, you’ll need to contact your local post office regarding forwarding your mail. Nowadays, it’s so simple to complete and you can do it online, and is typically approved within 7 business days. I’d highly recommend completing it at least 10 business days (2 weeks) before your actual move date, just to be safe. We consulted with my parents about sending our mail to their place and they were totally fine with it (thanks again, you two! :-)) so make sure you can find a relative or friend that is okay with your mail being forwarded to them in the meantime. Obviously, this would be the temporary solution, but if you are planning on moving permanently, you may need to actually contact the post office directly about that and much further in advance (I’d say about a month). On this topic, no matter how long the duration of your move abroad, you’ll want to start taking measures to change your address on your accounts. We made sure all of our bank accounts had our forwarding address listed as the billing address (to avoid any issues later down the road – and while it’s fresh on your mind!), as well as informing accounts we were closing, our leasing agency (to send our security deposit), and any other billing companies. Make sure they have your new address, so as to avoid any lapse in their communication with you. Try and set up a system with the person you’re forwarding your mail to, and organize a way to either have them open your mail and scan/email to you, or have them mail it every two months or so. As small of a step as this may seem, it can cause a lot of headache down the road if it’s not taken care of in time!
Phew, I did not think that list would be that long, but you see now how easily you can underestimate how much work it actually is! Above all, I just recommend staying on top of everything and being organized. Once you have a moving/fly out date, it makes thing much easier to put into perspective and organize around.
Hopefully this helped any of my readers who may be moving! It can be a stressful, crazy time, but it’s also a really strengthening and fun (yes, I said it: fun!) experience. It doesn’t have to be a nightmare and it all depends on your attitude. Stay focused and positive and it won’t be as terrifying as you initially think :-)