How to Stage an International Move So You Don’t Pull Your Hair Out: a Ladyguide

In a disastrous week of calamity (I’m exaggerating because I’m exhausted), my husband and I have just moved from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to Toronto, Ontario. Really, we should have known when the 14-hour overnight drive with a U-Haul was extremely easy that the rest of the move was going to go painfully awry. Please, please learn from our mistakes (and the lucky things we managed to do right).

Have your paperwork together and in an easily accessible place for border crossing. If you’re bringing your belongings with you or having them shipped after you, make a list. Be as detailed as possible, especially with more expensive items like electronics. Some countries may require a form for this, but others just want a piece of paper with your stuff all written out.

Be sure you have any documentation of your plans, yourself, your kids, your pets, and your relationships that you can feasibly imagine needing, and then bring some more. If you have registration of ownership for things like electronics or vehicles, absolutely bring all of that. If you’ve done immigration paperwork in advance, obviously bring that as well. You’ll probably end up with things you didn’t need, but it’s better that way than the other way around. Our border crossing went fairly smoothly, but we still ended up digging in the back of the truck for a piece of paper we never expected to need.

Remember that immigration officials are supposed to be intimidating, but are probably not actually trying to eat you. Be honest, as clear as you can be about why you’re crossing, and you’ll probably be fine, at least in most of North America and Europe. Immigration itself, of course, is a topic for a completely different post, one you can fully expect from me in about six months.

Arrange housing in advance, and make sure you know how your deliveries will work. We managed half of this–our apartment was waiting for us. However, we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t be able to get deliveries without an active phone number, or that the system that works the buzzers in our building wouldn’t be set up until about two business days after we’d managed to wrangle up a phone that would work with said system. They wouldn’t take an international number, so our old cell phone wouldn’t work even if we’d wanted to risk the outrageous international roaming charges to get our deliveries. This meant that we had to run all over town–in a city we didn’t know, without Internet to help us map out routes, and no car–to track down the cell phones we’d ordered to be delivered the day after we arrived.

Get a phone–with a local number–ahead of time, and be sure it’s activated. See above for part of this, but also because it’s really, really difficult to troubleshoot anything or set up services when you don’t have a local phone. Nobody wants to call an international number (for understandable reasons) and even if you can call them on a phone you had before, they’ll want a way to contact you. Remember that some companies’ phone systems won’t even dial an international number, so it’s not always just a matter of their preferences. Even if it’s just a temporary pre-paid deal, it’s absolutely vital. We, unfortunately, learned this the hard way.

"Moving Truck" via netmonkey on flickr
"Moving Truck" via netmonkey on flickr.

Have both checks and cash in the currency of your destination, or access to the same. Because Mr. Carey is Canadian, we had a local bank account, but no checks. One of our first adventures was to try to find a bank so we could get our first rent check and transfer his accounts to a local branch from his old one in Halifax. This was another thing that was very difficult to do without a phone, but we managed it. We’re still working on parts of this, but we have access to the main chunk of our Canadian savings, so we’re managing cautiously.

Print out maps of the destinations you’ll need for the first two weeks, and their hours and/or phone numbers. Groceries, banks, stores with household items (if you’re in a city and, like us, don’t have a store handy that does both groceries and household supplies), wi-fi hot spots, Ikea (or wherever you’re hoping to get any new furniture you might need), and a couple of food-for-the-first-day restaurants. Consider cab companies, the DMV equivalent, workplaces, and anything else you hope to have figured out before the end of the first 14 days. If you don’t have a car, getting hold of transit system information is helpful.

Also keep notes with phone numbers, tracking numbers, and account information for anything you may have managed to set up in advance. Don’t count on being able to access your e-mail, no matter what contingency plan for doing so you might have in your head. Just write them down, and keep them somewhere handy, preferably with your border crossing documents (because you’re pretty sure not to misplace those).

Make sure your financial accounts–all of them–are informed of the relocation, whether you plan to use them or not. Just like if you were traveling, your credit cards and bank accounts need to be notified, as does PayPal and most other things that will note your location when you use–or log into–them. I’m currently locked out of both my debit account from home and the PayPal account linked to it, because I forgot to notify them and tried to access them on a Canadian IP. Which means half of our wedding money, that we’d planned to use to set up the apartment, is locked away until we manage to convince them I’m really me.

Have or get enough stuff to furnish at least one room to cozy standards. You will probably be more homesick than you expected. Being in a new country is hard (I should have remembered this from the last time I did it, but it didn’t click) and you’re already going to be running around like mad trying to get things figured out. Having a place to come home and hide at the end of the day will help. Don’t forget the little cluttery things that you don’t see in the show room but always see in your own room, and if at all possible arrange for things to put on the walls. There’s nothing worse than living in a fish bowl because you forgot to get curtains.

Be prepared for frustration. You can’t arrange for everything, no matter how hard you try. It’s going to be rough and messy–much, much messier than a local move–and things aren’t all going to work out smoothly, because there are just lots of things in the world you can’t anticipate. You’ll probably cry, and probably more than once. I’m not yet at the stage where things have started to work themselves out, but I’m trying to remind myself that it’s probably coming. Yours will too.

Post Images: “Retro Moving Announcement” via blush printables on flickr; “Moving Truck” via netmonkey on flickr.

Finally: A shout-out of thanks to my fellow Twitter Wenches of Awesome for keeping the Persephone Twitter account (@persephone_mag) afloat despite only having 2/3 of the wenches on board for two weeks!

14 replies on “How to Stage an International Move So You Don’t Pull Your Hair Out: a Ladyguide”

Welcome to Canada! I moved here from Denmark, and while I did have to wait a long time to get my permanent residency (about 12 months), the staff at Citizenship and Immigration Canada was always incredibly helpful and patient. In one or two instances, they really went over and beyond to make the process easier for me.

My advice:
– keep busy while you wait for your paperwork to come through. I did a lot of volunteering during the year I was not allowed to work, and all that networking paid off in the end. People I got to know at one volunteer gig helped me get a job after I received my residency.
– when it doubt about any of the rules/processes related to your immigration case, be sure to ask. You don’t want any surprises as they could set you back several weeks.
– ALWAYS be super nice to the CIC service staff who deals with your case (this pretty much goes without saying for dealings with any public servants; being snippy or impatient never works out in your favour).

Welcome to Toronto!

I made the move from the Boston area a little over 2 years ago. I sold my car and talked my dad into driving me and a van full of my crap across the border.

After we got all the papers in (didn’t bother filing until I was in the country – still haven’t decided if that was a good idea or not), it took a little over a year for me to get my residency. (Family class immigration, so YMMV.)

Protip: When they send you a letter about your final immigration interview (don’t worry, it’s really very casual and short), it’s written DAY/MONTH/YEAR, not MONTH/DAY/YEAR, so don’t be like me and accidentally miss your appointment. I’m still a little surprised they let me in after that. (Also this is the first time I’ve admitted out loud to having screwed that up.)

This is great, Anna. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had so many difficulties since you arrived, but also glad to know that you’ve made it to Toronto. You’re right, it’s hard to see it now, but the time when things are worked out and you’re living a normal life again is coming soon.

Can I add one more piece of advice about international moves? This applies more to moves across oceans, where things get even more complicated because of the need for shipping. The advice is this: sometimes it’s okay to admit you don’t know how to do something, and pay more for the professionals to do it. When my husband and I moved from London to Michigan, we could have saved a little bit of money by shipping our boxes ourselves by UPS. Instead, we paid a little more to have them picked up by a company that took care of the paperwork and all the heavy lifting. This was especially true with moving our cats. A lot of people told me not to pay the extra fees associated with using a pet shipping company. Well, the US government made some new rules the week before we flew, and had we not been working with a knowledgeable shipping company, our cats would not be here in the states with us. Sure, our situation was unusual, but I think it could apply to others, too.

Moving is hard. International moving is harder. It’s definitely not something anyone can do on their own. Cling to each other, rely on your friends, and, when necessary, don’t be afraid to throw your hands up and say “someone else needs to do this for me.”

Absolutely, yes. Before we were sure about whether we were going to U of T or Cambridge, we were looking into pet shipping companies for Hobbes, simply because it’s such a mess to import dogs into the UK and we didn’t want to mess it up. Likewise, the Canadian government makes immigration relatively accessible, but it’s still confusing, and we seriously considered having a consultation just to have someone else work out the first few steps for us. We didn’t end up needing it, and it’s expensive, but if you’re going somewhere that’s more hostile to immigration, it’s another thing to consider.

And yes, international moving is EXPENSIVE, because you either ship a lot of things in very costly ways or give up and just repurchase everything when you’ve arrived (for us, it was a detailed cost analysis that made us decide for mostly the latter option, though we also had a small u-haul for our more expensive items).

And suitcaseheart, your advice in the whole shenanigans has been utterly invaluable.

Well done on the move, despite the frustration. We’re about to move from Africa back to the U.S., and I completely sympathize. There is a list a mile long of things we need to get done, and we’re only a week and a half away…. we are also trying to move a cat, which has further complicated things. There are so many moving parts that need to work together… and I expect that it is unlikely all will fall into place exactly. We are bracing for… excitement.

I’ve moved across borders a good number of times and nothing gets you to throw away unnecessary stuff like horrendous international shipping rates or extra baggage charges on airlines.
You mentioned arranging housing in advance and I can only stress how important this is. Having some kind of home and privacy is absolutely worth it, even if means you’re spending more than you originally wanted.

YES. Having a real home to move into and make comfy at the end of the trip really kept us going, and while we had originally planned to stay with a relative while we did a more extensive apartment hunt, the one we found will suit us for the first year we’re here and if we want to move after that, we can. And the prospect of storing and then moving all of our stuff AGAIN, in retrospect, is just daunting. Instead we got to sleep in our own bed the first night we were here, and it was amazing.

Welcome to Canada! I’ve just moved to Australia from Toronto and can vouch for the difficulty in international travel. Luckily my parents have let me store a whole heap of stuff at their place for an undetermined amount of time. Hope you enjoy Toronto and maybe a bunch of us Torontonians (or ex-Torontonians) should make up a Toronto guide.

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