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How to Organize Your Overseas Move

Moving homes is never an easy task but moving overseas is even tougher! In this article I will share some of my key learning from our preparations for our overseas move from California to Shanghai.

In June of 2014, our family was preparing for our move overseas when we encountered some challenges that required a modification to our plans.  My husband would have to go ahead while my son and I would continue to stay in California until the early months of 2015, effectively splitting up our move into two complicated parts. As a result of having to coordinate multiple moves, I feel like an expert on the subject now so I thought I’d share some of my tips to organizing your move and decreasing stress.

For the first part of our move, we had to sell our home and find a temporary living space for my son and me in California. My husband, on the other hand, went ahead to Shanghai and had to look for our new home there. At the same time, my mother-in-law who lived with us at the time decided that she did not wish to live in Shanghai and chose instead to move to St. Paul, Minnesota in order to be closer to her sister and family. We had to help her move as well. 

There were a lot of moving-related aspects to organize, such as the preparation of our interim living space in California, our new home in Shanghai and my mother-in-law’s new home in St. Paul.  Several movers had to be hired for a local move, a cross-country move and an international move. Additionally, half of our household items were to go into storage for our return to the US.  Yikes!  In addition to this, we have a 1 year-old Siamese cat who (like it or not) would join us in China but would first stay with my son and I at our temporary living space.

And that was just the first part of our move! The second and final part of our move will be coming up soon as my son and I prepare to pack up our little apartment in San Diego for good and join my husband in Shanghai.

 So here is what I learned:

Define your needs. 

First and foremost, it’s important to take a moment to define what you need to happen throughout your move before you dive right in the actual moving process, especially with a move as complex as ours. 

Knowing what your needs are, what your expectations will be, what your key milestones are and the timeframe in which you need everything to happen, will focus your efforts and ensure that you can let your movers know exactly what you need. You will also be able to answer their questions succinctly.

Find the right team.

It’s important to find people you can work with and whom you trust to get the job done right, on time and with the greatest care and quality. After all, these are your precious effects, and you don’t wish for them to arrive damaged or lost. It may be tempting to hire the cheapest company who promises you the moon, but if you do not feel they are going to provide you with the kind of service that you are going to need, be willing to make an upgrade to a higher quality company even if they cost a little more.

I asked for multiple bids from various moving companies and interviewed the lead mover who would be managing our move and with whom I would be interacting with the most.  As I spoke to them, I ensured they all understood my expectations in terms of cost and service before I selected the company that I felt most comfortable with.

Understand the requirements.

Moving domestically is a simpler matter than moving overseas, which has some complex requirements. Some countries, such as China, do not allow for the import of certain items and laws change very quickly, and sometimes overnight.

As an example, when the movers did their first walk through, there wasn’t an issue with bringing candles. But later when the move was actually taking place, I was advised that the regulations had changed. Candles were now prohibited – I never got the answer as to why.

As such, it is important that your moving company is familiar with handling international moves, and specializes in the country that you are moving to in particular. This will prevent headaches at the arrival destination and a delay of the release of your shipment.

Have checklists and be prepared to color code.

Since multiple locations were involved, I spent some upfront time ensuring our moving day went as smoothly as possible, and everything went to the right location. I attached color coded stickers onto all my items – pink for China, green for temporary living space, yellow for storage and so on. The extra effort paid off because we had multiple teams of movers over several days.  Because of the checklists and colored stickers, they were all clear on what needed to go where and I didn’t have to run around barking instructions.

Be prepared to purge.

As I started to sort through items in my home, I realized that we had accumulated a LOT of ‘junk’ over the years. It was an emotionally challenging process to determine what should be kept and what should be discarded, but the rule of thumb I used was that, unless it was memorabilia, if we haven’t used or thought about the item in two years, it had to go. We had a lovely moving sale as a result, and netted some pocket money!

Ensure pets are well taken care of.

If your pets will be relocating with you, ensure your pet relocation company is very knowledgeable about the regulations in the arrival country. Rules are different for cats versus dogs, and quarantine regulations must be carefully considered. I was most worried about the move of our 1-year old cat. She loves human contact and enjoys being with our family, but she had to make the journey to China separately due to strict quarantine regulations.

I interviewed several pet relocation companies and found one that was particularly sensitive to my feelings and needs. They assured me that I would receive regular updates throughout our pet’s journey, and while they were a bit more expensive, it was an area I was not willing to take a risk on. She is my second ‘baby’ after all!

Talk to your young ones.

Our 4-year old son has become a seasoned traveler already. However, moving from your home and losing established friendships can be hard at any age. And it can be especially challenging during the formative years of a toddler when a sense of stability is most important. My husband and I spent time with our son to fully explain our move and what it would entail. We shared with him that while it would mean leaving friends and teachers he cared about in California, he would be making new, wonderful friends in China and will be meeting new teachers at his school.

We were fortunate that we had the chance to visit my husband over the holidays before we turned to the second phase of our move this year. Our son was able to spend time in Shanghai as a visitor, seeing the city and becoming familiar with the surroundings, the food and the people first. We were also able to visit his new school – and even though it was closed for the holidays, we were able to peek through the windows and explain to him that this is where he would meet new friends and teachers. He was excited!

Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

As your moving date arrives, things can become increasingly stressful. There is a lot to think about and prepare for. However, nothing is more important than your sense of balance and your family’s well-being. Be sure to continue with your established routines. Have proper meals, ensure you get plenty of rest, and seek balance whenever possible. It is natural to be stressed, but recognize that it’s about progress not perfection, and above all, be sure to enjoy the process. The adventure is just about to begin and a new chapter in your lives is being written!