New Life

Moving Abroad: How to prepare your air shipment

Your moving date has been confirmed, your visa is being processed, time has come for you to prepare your air shipment. It is time for you and your family to pack boxes, prepare the air shipment that will be flown to your country of destination. If you have ever moved before, you know a company will come and pack the things you are planning to take with you. But is it JUST that simple?

Most expatriation contracts will include a plane ticket, and a shipment. Depending on your contract, expected length of the stay, and wether you are moving alone or accompanied by your family, you will be allowed sea freight or air freight. The air shipment is the most commonly used option, as many expats find themselves living in foreign countries in furnished housing or serviced residences.

A shipment cannot be sent abroad without an address of destination, not just for delivery, mostly for customs reasons. Therefore, most relocating families or employees have already decided on a new home before they start packing their boxes.

Fully furnished apartment, when you are lucky

Unless you move to an other part of the country (which then does not apply to this article) or to a border country within the Schengen area, your shipment will have to follow certain criteria of security, and be within the import regulations of your country of destination. This explains why a moving company will pack for you, not simply to make the workload lighter. Besides moving boxes, their job is to know the rules listed by the customs service and prepare the import declaration.

Here are a few simple things you may want to do in order to:

  • maximise your space allowance,
  • pick the best and most useful items
  • not find your items rejected last minute by the movers who have to apply a set of rules.

Ready, go!

The Shipping Company

The shipping company will provide you with a list of forbidden or limited items. Your country of destination regulates what they allow for import. Not following those rules can result in inspection of the freight, delays, and sometimes items that break the rules will be seized. If some items are prohibited for freight import, but legal to transport, then place them in your suitcase. One easy example is cosmetics. Rules also usually apply to medicine, alcohol, food. Beyond that, some countries have restriction that can appear unusual, or difficult to understand. If you move to China for example, you cannot take more than 10 books with you. If you relocate to Mexico, you cannot import new (less than 6 months) objects.

List your needs

A little research goes a long way in helping you decide what you should be taking with you. If you cannot take certain useful or practical objects with you, how easily can you replace them in your country of destination? Is there an Ikea there? How about DIY shops and home stores? Try to get an inventory, photos or details of the place you are moving to: beddings, cutlery, cooking appliances. If you pack electrical or electronically items, better get adaptor plugs in your home country before leaving. Do not wait to be on the other side of the world, in a country you do not speak the language of.

Research your destination

Research your destination for its general environment, to help you assess your daily needs. Is it hot, cold, dry, humid. Will you have air conditioning? Heating? A garden? Make sure you check the electric current in case you are moving from 220V to 110V, or vice versa. Taking your hairdryer will then be pointless and you will have to replace it once you get there.

Your clothes matter more than you may think

Pack most of your clothes and shoes. It is surprising how sizes vary from one country to another. If you have lived all your life in the same place, you may not realise that your shoe size or your bra size do not exist in the country you are moving to. This also applies to seasonal items. Will a winter coat bought in Greece or Spain keep you warm in Sweden? Stay on the safer side and have enough for all seasons.

Make space, gain space

Maximise the space in your container by putting all clothes and linens in zipped vacuum-sealed bags. For not only you will gain a lot of space, but you will also keep them clean and fresh, as your shipment can remain stored for days or weeks in a warehouse. Last but not least, the condensed bags work as shock absorbers in your boxes, helping you secure many more fragile items.

Those things that matter

Do not forget the little things that matter. Starting a new life very far from your home country can be very unsettling, especially in the first few weeks. A few familiar objects will help you settle and feel at home more rapidly. Take your favourite throw for the sofa, your biscuit box, a photo album, a couple cushions, your kids favourite toys, a calendar of your hometown to keep track of the local holidays and remember the birthdays.

Fully furnished does not always mean ready to move in

Last but not least, your shipment is a lot smaller than you imagine. No matter the cubic meter you are given, it is often hard to leave familiar objects behind. Between necessity and apprehension, we tend to want to take it all. One small piece of advice: categorise. Prepare the things you think you want or need, and prioritise, the absolutely necessary, the essentials, the “useful if we can take them”, and finally the wish list of non-essentials that will go in the shipment IF there is still some space.

Expatriation: 5 Steps to Help your Integration

Starting an expat assignment implies a new job and a new home. Those are key components of this change of life: culture differences at work and often a new work rhythm, a brand new work/life balance, a new home often chosen on line or hastily with a relocation agency (sure you have a great city view, but the water doesn’t always make it to the 53rd floor…. Don’t you wish someone had brought this to your attention before?). But change does not stop at this. The social aspect of a life in a country, different than the one you come from, is undoubtedly the most challenging part.

In general, a change of life and country can be much harder for the “trailing spouse” than it is for the working partner. Whereas the working partner will naturally get opportunities to socialise in the new office or work place, be introduced, be asked to join dinners, the partner that follows with the luggage and with or without the furniture, can quickly suffer from isolation and rapidly feel de-socialised. Along with the difficulty to recreate a life and routine, to meet new faces and recreate a social life, the trailing spouse often also experiences the negative perception of those that see him/her like the “lucky” one that enjoys a fancy sabbatical abroad, free of obligations. But when asked, the following spouses mainly perceive this situation as a downgrade, for the first few weeks at least.

That was my case, 5 years ago, sat on my sofa, wondering where to start. Three countries and a bunch of boxes later, here is what I learnt, or what others kindly taught me.

An expatriation to Turkey is nothing like a new life in Poland, or in Brazil. Each country has its own sets of challenges.

Explore your neighbourhood.

Walk the streets around your new home, whether it is an apartment, a house or even if you stay long term in a hotel. Look for all the sort of place you feel you may need, cafes and restaurants, good shops, cinema, bakery, your closest supermarket or deli. Yes you are abroad and expected to embrace a new culture and new experience, but the museums can wait. First you need to build your nest. Create a routine and as soon as possible greet and smile to the people in your selected new favourite shops. For you will find it very comforting that soon enough, they recognise you and greet you first. This is a sign you have created your first new habits. Lots of good things will come from that. The principle is to make the unfamiliar become familiar as rapidly as possible

Look for blogs and websites.

Your newly found restaurant or café has a Facebook page? Why don’t you follow it and see who are regulars? Some may happen to come from the same country as you. Local websites and blogs are also a great way to start networking and following who does what. I have two charming neighbours who became friends thanks to one writing a blog about her new life as an expat and the other following that blog while preparing for her move. The latter eventually contacted the former, and as they got to live in the same city on the other side of the world, they eventually started meeting for coffee and becoming expat friends.

Start to network via Facebook, What’sApp, Instagram

Facebook is usually a very useful networking tool for expats (and yes, some will recommend LinkedIn, but unless you are looking to network professionally…) thanks to its very long list of groups, per city, per language, and mainly a LOT of groups for expatriates, students abroad and any and every person looking to meet people of other cultures. It is almost certain a group of expats already exists for your city/country of destination. Join one, or two, introduce yourself, and a few happy souls will jump in to tell you they have come in the same circumstances as you and will happily meet you round a cup of coffee.

Besides groups, Facebook also has an event near you option, promoting markets, festivals, open door days, and all sorts of other theatrical/musical events. Spend a few minutes going through them, and by the time you finish, you will realise your event calendar is already starting to fill up.

What’sApp is more used as a proximity tool. When you move to a new place, and you start meeting a few people, do not hesitate to ask if they know of local groups, often used by parents of a school, employees of a company etc. Colleagues at work, or colleagues of your spouse, are likely to be added. If you have children, the international school parents probably have a What’sApp group to share information quickly and ask questions, share tips. Those may not be direct meet and greet groups, but they help your integration, you have access to information, and have reliable answers shared by people who, more often than not, share your experience and your apprehensions of moving to a new place.

Instagram is a more generational App, you are on it, or you are not. If you have an Instagram account, make sure to tag your photos with the city you have moved to, and search similar tags. This is more of a slow process. Realising you are regularly sharing posts from the same iconic café as a couple people that describe themselves as expats, or relocated in the area, is an opportunity to seize. Meanwhile, following photo galleries of people in your new hometown will rapidly highlight nice places to see, nice food to try, events happening.

As picturesque as France can be, finding explanations, signs, menus in other languages can be a challenge.

The Language is half of the solution

Join language classes. First of all because the language barrier is a real barrier. Not an absolute one, as some major cities around the world are so cosmopolitan that people seem to get by in all sorts of languages. However, people who join language classes are more likely to be in the same situation as you, foreigners in a new land. The classes usually bring you more than just grammar or vocabulary, they help you figure out some basics about your new host country, its customs and its codes. And they give you a first surrounding of people who will share with you the frustration and the excitement of learning to communicate in a new country.

Meet your spouse’s colleagues.

Your working spouse is going to be integrated in a new company or work environment that is rich with potential encounters. From local employees who may have wife or girl friend who would be delighted to show you around, to other fellow expats who will have experienced your first difficult steps too. And because work is such a stepping stone to integration in a new environment, why not look for an activity yourself if your status or visa allows it. If in your case work is not possible, volunteering can offer a nice alternative to some.