3 June 2014

Getting Ready to Relocate

Our moving date from Astana to Borneo is creeping ever closer.  Moving is one of those processes that should be simple, I have done it so many times (this is my 9th international move and 22 major out of over 30 different house moves).  It is anything but simple, however, particularly when unlike corporate or government expats we are organising everything ourselves.

When I was younger my father’s employers told us our moving date, arranged a packing date and sorted out our tickets.  Our accommodation at destination would be in place and arrangements made to hand back our current home to estate services.

Working in schools is slightly different – our flights out are paid but we have to organise them, we get a contribution to our shipping but again have to arrange it ourselves.  They will help us liaise with the landlady to hand back our apartment but we have to sort out the detail.  Neither Astana nor Miri are particularly easy or mainstream destinations – Sarawak has separate rules to peninsular Malaysia and most of the companies we have spoken to are used to dealing with KL.  Our dogs, for example, will have to undergo a minimum 1 month, maximum 6 month quarantine compared with 7 days in KL. 

It took me from February through to April to get a quote for transport of goods (all our stuff has to go airfreight due to the route).  Most companies failed to respond and of those who did most asked the question ‘where is Miri’.  One proposed sending our goods to KL for customs clearance then on to Jakarta (a different country and different island) before arrival in Miri where, no doubt, it would have had to clear customs again.  We have finally found a company who have come up with an eyewateringly expensive but just about acceptable quote for our tiny shipment, they were willing to work with us on the routing to keep the costs down as far as possible.  They even had someone who spoke English which made the whole process much easier.  I don’t know what the quality of the packing will be like or how efficient they are at clearing customs etc but I have my fingers crossed.  Rather than pack the day or two before we leave I have scheduled it for a week ahead so that I have time to sort out any unexpected difficulties.

Tickets are a separate problem all together.  It is easy enough to book the tickets but when I queried shipping the dogs I was told I had to fly them to Almaty ahead of time and clear them through customs there.  A friend based in Almaty has been told he needs to go to the vets in Astana.  The issue has become too complicated for my Russian so we are reliant on friends and colleagues to help us which, inevitably adds a layer of delay.  To complicate matters our Kazakh visas expire at the end of June so we have to be out of the country by then – no delays and the dogs have to be with us and as an expectant mother I am tied by airline fit to fly deadlines.  The process has to work and it has to work smoothly first time.  Luckily our visas for Malaysia etc are in hand and we do not need to worry in this regard.

As for the house – I have delegated much of the pre-departure prep to my housekeeper/nanny.  She is sourcing an industrial cleaner to deal with carpets and rugs (we promised a deep clean in return for being allowed to keep pets).  She has kept a list, over the years, of problems with the flat that the landlady has not addressed (collapsed skirting boards etc).  The standard of finish on the flat was not great and I will be very unhappy to be asked to pay for problems we have pre-notified and happened as a result of a poor installation as opposed to our use.  I have also found a few crayon marks on the walls.  The perpetrators have been suitably chastised and I have been searching for those wonder blocks of vanish foam that erase marks/matching paint samples.  At least we did not put up any pictures – I have not yet found polyfilla (spackle) here.  No doubt it exists but I am not sure where to get it or what even to ask for.  In extremis of course,  I could have fallen back on the old expat trick of filling the gaps with toothpaste!

Some parts of the move are going to be very easy – my Husband was out in Miri last week for some meetings and was able to set up a new bank account, arrange a mobile ‘phone and look at some potential houses.  He had a quick look around the town and the shops and said there seemed to be a good choice there and that everyone spoke English – I never mind learning a new language, indeed I enjoy the challenge and tend to pick up basics relatively quickly but it is much easier to settle in to a new posting if people speak one of the languages I already know. 
We are very much in the limbo stage now – life is normal but not normal and we are aware that it is coming to its end very soon.  In just a few weeks Astana will be nothing more than a dream, a memory and Malaysia will become our lives.  Hopefully everything will come together soon. 

So my top tips for organising your own international move:

  1. Make sure your documents and visas etc are in order.
  2. Start your preparation as early as possible – think about how much time you will need to sort out problems.  Double it if you know the bureaucracy will be difficult (ie the Netherlands) and double again if you are not familiar with the language or procedures of the country you are moving from or to.  This will probably get you a reasonable estimate of your minimum delay time. 
  3. Be prepared to question every quote and correspondence from your moving companies – we saved $4,000 on a quote by suggesting a different route for shipment.
  4. Begin preparing your packing as early as possible – identify things you want to give away to charity and advertise items for sale.  Try to separate out your air and sea (road) freight if applicable.
  5. Have someone available to supervise on packing day – packers pack everything (one time we unpacked a bin complete with contents at our end destination).  You don’t want to find your landlord’s goods in your new home or find that all your personal baggage and clothes for the interim period have disappeared into the bulk of your shipment.
  6. Work through the inventory you received when you moved into your property so you know what is missing and what you will need to replace.  Check that any repairs you need to make have been done. 
  7. Enlist professional help for difficult aspects of the move – we have an import agent for the pets in Miri but are dealing with the export ourselves.
  8. Book your tickets early – some destinations have popular exodus periods.  EG many expats leave their Astana posting in June so the flights tend to be very full.  KL is unlikely to be a common expat destination but this aspect of things is causing me the most stress at the moment.
 Click on the picture for more information on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat

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