tips

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.

 

 

How to Make the Most of Shopping Abroad

Unless you are on a world tour with a backpack and no space to spare, shopping for souvenirs and buying gifts have become an essential part of traveling. But in many cases, those items end up catching dust on a shelf, unless they were broken during the journey back home. On your next trip, wouldn’t you like to know how to improve your shopping experience abroad?

Improving the quality or safety of the items you buy while on holiday starts with better understanding the options and the problems. So here are, before you fly out, a few simple reminders of how you can go shopping abroad and make the most of it.

Wine shop in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Food, drinks & culinary specialities

The first thing to remember is that a lot of countries have strict biosecurity requirements. If you planned on traveling back home with that delicious Italian cheese, depending on your destination, it may bring you way more inconvenience than just smelly luggage. The same goes with alcohol. There are strict limitations to how many bottles of wine or spirits you are allowed to take back. Buy one too many bottles and you have to officially declare them and pay cost of duty.

You can, however, maximise the amount you bring back. Start by checking the authorised amount for both checked luggage and hand luggage, as you can almost invariably buy liquors and wine in the duty free shops in airports. This said, being greedy and playing at the limit of the rules is seldom a good idea. Putting a nice local bottle of wine, safely wrapped, in your checked suitcase, and buying an other bottle or 2 at the airport Duty Free, should leave you within a comfortable margin of acceptability with most countries and airlines around the world. And if in doubt, check the airline website before traveling. In this regard you may also want to check the authorised items per country.

Another problem you are likely to encounter, is transporting the item(s) securely. Pots break, food leaks, bags pierce. Buying food or beverages abroad needs to be done wisely. If you decide to do so, ensure the items bought are not just wrapped, but sealed. The serious and reliable places that sell items such as spices or cakes to tourists (for example while you are visiting Istanbul or Marrakech) often have systems to seal efficiently the items bought. Stopping in supermarkets where the locals buy their weekly food is, also, a good way to get some local specialities, usually at a reasonable price, but mainly completely sealed for transport. And if you happen to be one of those people that buy with intent, a collector of nice bottles or pretty objects, you can anticipate on the wrapping problems by packing a small roll of bubble wrap in your suitcase before leaving home.

The dream of tailor made clothes, creative or chic fabric, cut to fit us perfectly.

Shoes, clothes, bags and other jewellery

Most of us have done it or have faced the temptation: a tartan kilt, a cowboy hat or a colourful djellaba, some of us cannot resist. You may be among those who invested some money into a traditional and often locally crafted piece of garment. But the end of the story is almost always the same: we never quite find circumstances befitting the piece of clothing. Eventually, it just ends up forgotten in a drawer (because who wears a cowboy hat to go to work in Helsinki?) .

Yet shopping for clothes or items we can wear is a good idea. A nice pair of Italian shoes or a Shetland pullover are easier to transport than a bottle of whiskey or a Montepulciano. This said, in a world of apparel essentially produced en masse in South East Asia, if you want to bring back a special item that will remind you of your trip and be wearable and affordable, you will soon realise that it isn’t such a simple or easy task.

If shopping is your thing, and you like that world vibe in your wardrobe, better start with a little internet research for local designers, styles, and local factory shops. Each country has its own speciality, from woollen items to quality leather, trendy urban styles or modern takes on traditional clothes, open a web browser, connect to Pinterest, open your Instagram, or check Etsy.

Many big cities around the world have a shopping area/centre dedicated to presenting or highlighting local designers, mixing regional influence with quality and wearability. An ethnical leather handbag or wallet, a scarf, a nice shirt with a discrete logo/pattern that makes it wearable anywhere around the world, a crossover design of modern mixed with traditional design, those types of garments exist in more and more countries. Moving the slider down from typical (or stereotypical) to discretely influenced will allow you to bring back really interesting and often unique clothes that you can wear proudly to remember your trip so far away from home.

If you are hesitant regarding clothes, jewellery is often, especially for women, the easiest go-to option. From a pair of earrings to a crafted bracelet, bought on a market or in a more upscale shop, it’s a no-brainer: light, easy to take back or gift, the world is a full of craft jewellery, belts and other small cotton or leather goods that will fill half your suitcase for a very moderate cost.

Last but not least, for the fashionistas… if your holiday destination is France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and you do not quite know how to approach the more high-end style, look up the shopping outlets. A place like Bicester, easily accessible from London and Oxford, will offer you a large selection of discounts on designer brands, including some very iconic British ones. The same applies to the various designer outlets in France and Italy, and this could be your chance to get back home with a real Italian pair of stiletto at a more affordable price.

South Africa offers a very colourful and very creative diversity of art and craft.

Objects and other decorations

Who hasn’t bought a little Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty during a school trip, or brought back a pottery from a holiday in Mexico or Greece? Objects have three big inconveniences: they break, they are heavy, and if they survive the journey, most of them end up first on a shelf, but eventually catching dust and relegated to a box or upstairs in the attic.

This is not to say it is a bad idea to bring back a decoration for your home, a calendar for your grandmother or a pretty candle holder for your living room. Buying a pretty and decorative item for your home is actually a great way to collect a long lasting memory, one you can enjoy daily, and share with friends visiting you. Three of my lamps were bought in foreign countries. Two were spontaneous decisions although I took my time to ponder on my options of transport. The third was actually a calculated one, bought in a souk in Morocco, with space and wrapping in my case, a budget for it, in order to bring back a very nicely crafted item.

Although the shopping experience is often a more feminine one, hunting for a home decor item can be a nicely shared experience for a couple. Choosing a print for the living room, a throw for the sofa, a representation of an Aztec calendar for the study, all those items can be chosen together during a nice holiday.

The ideal solution is to keep your home in mind, your style, the dominant colours, and pick an item that will nicely enhance the atmosphere and the style.

All in all, if you enjoy shopping and intend to do so while you are on holiday, or more generally while traveling, why not prepare for it in the same way you prepare your clothes in your suitcase? Besides a towel to wrap a fragile object or a bottle of local alcohol, you can look up your shopping options on line just like you look for sights to visit and their opening hours. For example, Istanbul has more than the Grand Bazaar, you may want to try the Egyptian Bazaar or the more tranquil Arasta bazaar for example… Many shopping tips videos exist also on youtube, guiding you through bustle of markets, guiding you on prices to expect.

Last but not least, treat shopping is part of a cultural experience. Haggling is the norm in many countries, on many markets. In other countries, sellers proudly explain to you the meaning or the making of the object you are looking at, teeshirt made of hemp, print made of dried elephant dung, raw silk made in Cambodia. Just enjoy!

5 Tech Tips for the Traveler and the Expat

The reality of a life in movement, a life on the road, in the air, or on a different continent, is that you have to rely on new ways to function. You may have to learn to drive on the other side of the road, navigate public transport in a metropolis or quickly adjust to new life patterns.

Technology often helps us find our way around a lot of complications. Our smartphones have become instrumental to finding solutions to almost anything, allowing us to find our way, store data, communicate, and even pay. But a smartphone is only as useful as the options it contains, the applications that you add to it. Here are a few tech tips you may want to look into if you do not already use them.

xe.com 

This App/website is a currency converter. It allows you to constantly be up to date with exchange rates. And should you be without a network or without data, you can still get a conversion based on the latest rate available during your last connection. Needless to say that unless you have been off the grid for a few months, your conversion will be as accurate as possible.

Google Translate

The Google translate app is a very versatile one, that allows you to work on line and off line with words, with voice, and with the camera option in real time. Try going to a supermarket in China or Japan, open the camera option in the app and focus on the text or words you want a translation for. I won’t pretend it is absolutely on point, but it helped us in various situations, from supermarkets to menus without photos or translation.

Foursquare

If you are new to a city or traveling, Foursquare helps you locate things next to where you are. I am “old enough” to remember walking in Paris looking for a post office because I had been told there was one “near by”. Before phones started giving you maps, you just had to walk and ask, hoping to be pointed in the right direction. With applications like Foursquare (and, of course, Google Maps), you can navigate the big city on your own: find the closest post office, a supermarket or a restaurant, a gas station.

Amazon

Yes, of course, but WHY? Because Amazon is not just that useful company you order part of your Christmas presents from. Move to a new country, and if you struggle to find your favourite spice, liquor or cosmetic product, wherever you are, Amazon will deliver it to you. Amazon is also a great solution to those business trips with long hotel stays. You packed but forgot to pack your PJs, lost your adaptor plug or need a mini/portable iron because the hotel refuses to lend you one. A few clicks later and your item is on the way. Talk to the front desk at your hotel and they will hold the parcel/sign up for you.

Photo geotagging

Now this is a tip, not simply an app. The photo App on your phone allows your photos to contain a certain number of information embedded in the photo itself. When you take a photo, you will notice it tells you where the photo was taken (Prague 01). Swipe the photo (the process depends on the type of phone you use of course) and you will see your photo is linked to maps and gives the exact location on a map. Perfect way to find the address and info a place you found by accident while taking a walk. Perfect way to retrace your path in a city, find the location of that office a taxi dropped you at last month, and from there, looking at the map, find the closest urban transport.

 

 

 

7 Ways to Survive a Long Haul Flight

Have you ever felt a little overwhelmed by the length of time you were going to spend on a seat, in a small confined environment, on a long haul flight? If you ever wondered how to survive such a lengthy journey without starting to bite your nail or taking a sleeping tablet, you may want to read this.

I flew on my first trans-atlantic flight in 1988. I was 17, and my seat allocation placed me next to a funny Australian car dealer. My school-english had not prepared me for his accent, and i spent most of the flight listening to him, and asking him to repeat words over and over again, until I started figuring out “Kaaaaaa” was car, etc. Back then, the flight entertainment was a single film on a big screen that was rolling down from the ceiling. The before and the after were left to you to organise.  In those days, passengers had to rely partially on one another to keep entertained and busy for part of the time spent in the air.

Long-haul flights can be all sorts of things: exciting to those flying to Thailand or South Africa on holiday, or a curse for those frequent travellers who do the classic intercontinental commute more often than they’d wish to.

Inflight entertainment is usually the only activity on board of a plane.

Inflight entertainment is usually the only activity on board of a plane.

A lot of websites and blogs have already addressed this topic, bringing up solutions such as the choice of the seat on the plane, wether or not to eat during the flight in order to impact the metabolism and trigger less jet lag. And yes, they all advise you to exercise, take a little walk and stretch your legs on the plane. The best post I read on the matter was probably the one published on Lifehacker and I much prefer to give them the credit than try and re-write what they have already done very well.

However, besides sleeping, or eating, what is there REALLY to do on a plane once the doors are shut? Here are a few ideas and thoughts, collected over the years, and “with the help of my friends”.

Bring your own entertainment

Why, I hear you ask. Nowadays most flight companies have in-flight entertainment. I would agree if I had not flown with Air Egypt or Air China and realised that not all planes have individual screens with a wide selection of films. And among those that do, some prefer to provide you with a broad selection of 40 year old films with little to no language options. This is precisely in those circumstances that a book, a couple of magazines, and some films on a tablet can allow to make it through the journey. Equally, if you fly more than once a month, come the second flight and you have already watched all the films that had your interest.

Last but not least, you could be allocated a seat with a broken TV… on a full flight.

Stretch your legs… with a purpose

You should not stay seated too long on a plane. On an average, getting up every 3 hours is a good balance. Ideally it should be more often, but this is a plane, not a train. Taking a walk is not easy, as there is literally nothing to do on a plane once you are stood up, even less so when everybody else is sleeping and the lights are off. You can however take a chance, and in the middle of the night, walk all the way to the back or the middle of the plane. There you will find the galleys,areas where the flight attendants prepare meals, drinks, and eventually sit down with a magazine. Follow the smell of coffee and ask for a cup, or a fresh glass of water.

Seize the opportunity of standing to stretch your muscles and drink a lot of fluid. Alternatively, and if you feel self conscious, lock yourself up in the toilet for a few minutes, crouch or do a series of tip toes.

If you are lucky, other passengers will also be in the galley, with the same purpose as you. This is your chance for a little interaction, a potential 10 minutes on a 15 hours flight….

Think and plan.

As many of us live a very fast paced life, planning, thinking, digesting thoughts, have almost become a luxury. Wether you are on your way back from a business trip, back from holidays abroad or heading back to your home country with a long list of relatives to catch up with, your schedule has probably not left you that much time to make proper plans.

Time to make lists. You are not sleeping and everyone around you is. Grab your smart phone or tablet, switch on your light,take a small notepad, and write. Put down those thoughts that start coming now that you FINALLY have time: things that need your attention in the office, birthday presents, updates that need sending. It can also be a good time to remember things you were meant to do, or analyse recent events. Check those traveling Apps you added to your phone. Start planning your holiday visits, museum opening times and restaurants to try out.

Tidy up

It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, we all tend to throw a lot of things very quickly in our bag, wallet, briefcase, while traveling: city maps, business cards, shop receipts, small objects. This is particularly the case on your flight back.

A friend who regularly flies to Mumbai was telling me she always tidies up her handbag and wallet on the plane: business cards, receipts, entry tickets, etc.

Personally I sort out my photos, both on my smart phone and on my camera. It doesn’t matter why or where I travel, I am one of those “trigger happy” people with a camera. Plane journeys are my favourite time to delete those totally unnecessary or failed photos. that down time allows to conclude your trip. The mind has time to reminisce recent events that are brought back by the various snapshots.

Read or Play

You don’t have to be a child to play, it is a great and relaxing form of entertainment. A friend of ours is terribly anxious every time she has to fly. The bruises on her husband’s wrist say it all, she doesn’t enjoy the experience at all, take off and landing particularly. When she has to fly on a distance or a type of plane that doesn’t include films on a screen, this otherwise very relaxed and sweet couple plays games on a tablet. Yahtzee, Mahjong, card games, all seem to help get her focus away from the fear of flying. Generally speaking, books, magazines, crosswords or sudoku games are among passengers favourites.

Nurture yourself

On board of a plane, the air is particularly dry. A whole night spent in a pressurised environment, with a moisture level usually between 10 and 20%, will let you feel dry, puffy, uncomfortable. Some of the most common resulting problems on a long haul flight include dry skin and dry eyes, dry nose with cases of nose bleeds.

Some women come equipped: face mask to apply discretely when the lights are off, moisturisers, body lotions. As the amount of “liquids” and other cosmetics is limited in the cabin (5x100ml), you may want to plan a detour via the duty free shop before heading to your gate.

Nurturing isn’t and shouldn’t be limited to female fliers. In a world where cosmetics for men are a growing market, nothing stops business travellers or long haul flight travellers from using a lip balm, hydrating their skin or using a sea water nasal spray to improve their comfort.

Not sure about the face mask on the plane? You may want to read this post 😉

Human Interactions

If you have tried all the above, and you are still left with a fair portion of time, you may want to consider the old and very classic option of socialising with the person next to you. There is no guarantee of success, but you can approach it like that box of chocolate quote…