The international move practical guide
There is so much to do when you have to move to another country, it can all feel a little overwhelming. Experience definitely helps here. Here is what I have learnt during my expats years that brought me from Europe to Africa and then to different European countries.
Phase one - House Hunt
Looking for a house abroad can be daunting, particularly if you are moving to a place you don’t know well. Here are a few tips on what to do and which order to follow to minimise the time spent researching and the costs involved in this operation.
1. Location – this is the most important thing to have clear in mind when moving. You might want to be near somewhere (office, family, friends, schools…) or you might want to be in a place you love. Write down what your priorities are and start your research narrowing down the location as much as you can. This can save a lot of time and you can always enlarge the area later on if you are not successful. What’s important is that you have your priorities clear in mind: I need to be near public transport, or schools or I want to walk to the office, or maybe I want to be in the middle of nowhere and have no neighbours… Whatever the priorities are keep them firm and communicate them clearly to any agencies or other parties that will assist you in your research.
2. The ideal home – the second most important thing is to have clear in mind what are the house characteristics that you are looking for. There are some that might be negotiable: that extra room, the rear garden or the parking space. Others won’t: the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the garden if you have small children and pets. Whatever they are, list them and make sure you don’t lose sight of them.
3. Now, identify a few properties, I recommend not more than ten but a maximum of 5 will be better. Make sure they all have the must-haves features you have written down and possibly also the bonus ones. If they don’t, don’t waste time on them even if you think some of those properties might be nice. Get in touch with the agencies or the owners and try to check out as much as you can even before you go and visit them. Skim, trim and do all you can to make sure you are going to see properties that have all you need. Be fearless in your selection.
4. Countercheck that the properties you have selected are near the amenities that you need. It’s important you do this against what you have listed in point 1.
5. Arrange appointments concentrated in a couple of days and based on the geolocation of the properties so you can visit as many as possible in a day without having to drive back and forward. Before you take the appointments, mark them on a Google map and decide what the best visiting order would be. Not always things will enfold as you would like and you have to stay flexible but try to be in charge of your appointments instead of simply let the agents tell you when to go. Sometimes is better to move everything of a few days so you can access a clean diary and get the spots you want instead of squeezing yourself into someone’s diary and end up summersaulting all day. Make sure you tell them you are coming from abroad with the purpose of viewing the properties and that you have serious time constraints.
Phase 1 - Schools, pets transport and all the other super important stuff
6. If you have children that have to go to school, research schools near the selected properties and see if they feel like a good match for your kids. Check their website, rankings and what is said about them on the internet. Get in touch with the school first to check availabilities and any other important information you might need, like if they have a school bus service, after school activities and anything else you might require. Remember, it’s pointless to view the house of your dreams if then the nearest suitable school is 50 km away. The dream house will soon turn into nightmare house and it’s better you don’t put yourself in the position to fall into temptation. Just don’t go and view it. It’s time wasted. Try to visit schools in person while you will be in the country visiting houses. It does make a difference particularly because often what you have read or heard doesn’t match your experience of the place once you get there.
7. Research the area you are going to live in, read reviews online, watch documentaries, movies and anything you can get your hands on; find out who lives there, what the area has to offer and get a general feel of it. The more you like it and are excited about your new home, the easier the transition will be. It’s a lot of researching and it might feel to some of you as time wasted but I promise you it will save time and lots of heartache too.
8. Discuss it with the family. Try to find a good compromise for all. It’s never easy but if the entire family feels part of the decision it might smooth some situations later on.
9. Now book your flight. If there is an option to have changes of dates and cancellations against a small extra fee, go for it. You never know what you will find there and to be able to delay your flight of a few days can be a real life saver.
10. In the meanwhile, prepare a form you can fill when you are visiting the property. I attach the one I use as an example but the most customised it is the better, so feel free to edit it to suit your needs. When you visit lots of properties in a short amount of time it’s easy to get confused so fill the form while you are at the property, jot down notes and take lots of photos and possibly even videos so you can look at them later.
11. Find out from the agency how you can make an offer for the property you like, what is the paper work required and the general procedure and find out if you can do it remotely without having to come back. With most agency is now possible. You can sign your contract on DocuSign or similar programs and transfer your money via bank transfer or using services like TransferWise. If not, set aside and extra one or two days to take your decision and fill in the paper work.
12. Before you leave, try to finalise also things like school enrolment, bank account opening, work related issues, utilities, doctors and so on. In most places you can probably do most of these remotely but it’s good to know upfront so you can decide how many days are required for your stay in order to complete all tasks that must be necessarily done in your new country of residence. Some countries will prove easier than others so it’s really impossible to give an estimate.
13. If you have pets, make sure you check in good time what vaccinations and paper work is required. This is so important I cannot stress it enough. Failing to do that, might delay the time your pet can join you with complications and costs attached.
14. If you cannot travel with your pet because of the airline regulations or other reasons, research in good time a professional and reliable company specialised in pet transport. Read and inform yourself as much as you can on procedures and regulations. You cannot be enough careful on this one. Ask the veterinary local authority for the correct information.
Phase two – Your to do list
1. As soon as you have a contract and therefore a proof of residency, go and open a bank account. You will need it for your standing orders to pay utilities, your phone lines and endless other things.
2. Register in your name the utilities
3. Check if there are taxes you have to pay to the council and register for them
4. Inform your embassy you are going to live abroad. This point is often overlooked but it’s really important.
5. Insure all your VISA or permits are in place
6. Find an internet broadband provider and organise for the installation of the equipment. You don’t want to enter a house without power or gas but even a house without WIFI isn’t the best.
7. Check if you require a TV licence and in case you do, pay for it
8. Check if you need to pay a tax for your pets
9. Check what are the rules for parking in your area and if you need a resident pass apply for one
10. If you haven’t already, complete all school application forms and make sure your children are registered and ready to join.
11. Check the school’s uniform policy and arrange to get the uniforms organised as soon as possible. Sometimes, it might take time because of items or sizes missing so the earlier the better. If you can order online, make sure you get them delivered when you are already in the property or instruct them to deliver somewhere else.
12. If your children will be using a school bus, make sure you have registered them for the service and you are well aware of pickup points and time
13. If your children will be having access to a canteen, make sure you have registered them and you have acquired any cards or other device they need to access the service.
14. Research a mobile provider that has a good reception in your area and compare offers. This will allow you to acquire a sim card as soon as you are in the country. Most providers can confirm their coverage of any given area. You can find this information on their website or calling them.
15. If you are moving with your car, make sure you check how long you can stay in the country without registering the number plate. Failing to do so can attracts fines or vehicle seizure.
16. Also check if there is any periodical mandatory test you have to do for your car in addition to the normal service and if there are taxes to be paid.
17. Some countries might require you to get a local ID. Check with the relevant authorities to make sure you are complying with local regulations.
18. In some countries you might need a local Driving Licence or at least an International Driving Licence to be able to drive. In others you might be allowed to drive with your own for a certain period. Check with the local authorities.
Phase three - Packing
When moving internationally, a packing list is a very important business so get organised even before you place the first item in a box.
First, check that where you are moving to, you can be packing your household items yourself. For example, if you are moving from an African country to a European one, you need to hire professional packers. You cannot pack yourself.
If you can, then get your laptop out or a good bunch of clean sheets and start noting down what you put in each box. Number the boxes and have a description for each one. You don’t need to write down item by item but things like “kitchen utensils”, “linens” and other generic descriptions will do. The less you mix items, the easier your packing list will be and the unpacking.
Research and buy good packing boxes. Don’t try to save on good packing materials, bubble wrap and boxes will protect your items and trust me there is nothing more upsetting that finding all your pieces of furniture scratched and your items broken when you will be unwrapping them. Make sure all your furniture is covered and protected by resistant plastic sheets and your fragile items are well packaged with plenty of amortising materials. Simply writing on the box “fragile” won’t help. Ti promise you.
The more time you spend on packing now, the faster you will be putting everything back in place. I hate packing and I feel you if you now would like to disappear from the face of the earth. Yet, there are some positive aspects to it. It’s a good time to clean up your wardrobe, get rid of objects and belongings that do not belong to you or to where you are going anymore. A Mary Kondo style clean up on the criteria: “does this sparkle joy or not?” would be a perfect activity for this time. It will distract you from the most trivial aspects of it and fill the activity with a new meaning..
Start looking for international movers. It’s not something you can find from one day to the other. Remember most of them will require a detailed packing list to give you an accurate quotation and this is the tricky part of this since normally you won’t be able to have everything packed before you ask for the quote and therefore a reasonable amount of estimation is needed. A piece of advice here. Estimate always well in excess. We are rarely aware of the amount of stuff we have before we actually pack it and it’s always a surprise. For some, even in the range of 50% more than what they expected. For most I would say a 20% more is a safe place to start.
This is very important because if you put your transporter in a difficult situation having more than you have declared you might start a series of unfortunate events I don’t even want to talk about. Remember this is a very stressful time for you and your family. Things will go wrong in one place or another even if you try your best in making everything perfect. Do not add unnecessary stress and troubles trying to save to the last penny. You might come to regret this big times.
Also be very specific about what you expect. Do you need people to load and offload? Is there furniture to be dismounted and mounted? Do you have stairs or other obstacles they should be taken into consideration? Is there parking space for the van/track at both locations? The more you tell them, the best would be the service you will receive. Don’t hold on in fear of extra charges. Charges will be there anyway. Only serious problems might not be there if you are clear and open.
Use reliable companies. There are several website that can help you find one. Make sure you read the reviews.
Evaluate carefully if sharing transport can be a viable option for you. The pros are a much lower bill. The cons though are mainly related to flexibility of dates for pickup and delivery. Be aware of this even if they promise you otherwise. Most of these companies aren’t able to pick on a specific day and deliver in another. They work mainly on brackets of 4/5 days for delivery and pickups. One of the best website for shared transport is Shiply.
Again be very clear if this is an aspect that can be negotiable or if it’s not. If it’s not, make sure you choose a company that guarantees pickup and delivery date.
It’s not a stroll in the park I know, but being organised and work your way through the final objective in a more structured way can really make a difference. If you have made it till here, don’t forget that before you leave, you need to turn the page on your previous life, close utilities and bank accounts. Having another check list to take care of this part of the moving process will be very useful as well.