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How To Move Your Family Overseas

by Amelia on August 13, 2009
category: Practical Tips,Travel

We are moving to England in one month.  One month!  I am excited but our checklist seems to be growing instead of shrinking.  To move a family overseas there are a lot of details and things to take into consideration as you decide what to bring.  We are moving there for 4 years while my husband gets his PhD.  We’re moving into  furnished family housing through the university so some of the complication of buying furniture is lessened.

Here are some helpful tips we’ve either learned or done along the way:

  1. Start working on getting your Visa early.  And ask someone who has filled one out to help you if you need it.  Visas are complicated and take a lot of time to fill out. Depending on your reason for moving overseas the Visa application will vary.  We are going on a student Visa so we had to provide proof that we could pay for the first year of school in cash.  That may mean borrowing money from the bank, friends, or family so you can have cash in your bank account.  If you are planning on moving for work then I’m sure the process is a little different.  Jon had to make an appointment at a consulate to get his fingerprints taken for the Visa process.  After he did that he had exactly 2 weeks to get ALL the correct paperwork in.  Like I said, start working on the paperwork part early because you don’t want anything to go wrong when you are working on a timeline.  If things go wrong, and your Visa is not approved due to paperwork issues, you have to start all over (including paying for it).
  2. Work on getting your passports early.  Enough said about that.
  3. Don’t buy your plane tickets until your Visa is approved and you have a known date approved for your arrival.  It just makes moving abroad easier.
  4. Consider bringing a combination of duffle bags and crates instead of suitcases for your plane trip.  We bought 5 tickets so we have an allowance of 10 checked bags.  We opted for duffle bags because they hold a lot and are light, which means we can stuff more in without the weight limitations of a suitcase (ever noticed that they weigh a lot on their own without clothes in them?).  We purchased some crates that can be locked after going through customs.  We haven’t gone through a “dry packing run” yet (see next point) but we are planning on using the crates to pack some toys and other large items that may do better in a box rather than a duffle bag.  Keep a list of things other than clothing that you are bringing with you to go through customs in case you need it.
  5. As your move date gets closer, try a dry run pack to see what changes you need to make with whatever you are planning on bringing with you.  Stock up on space bags to have more room for your clothes.
  6. Learn about the weather in the country you are moving to.  England’s weather is much more mild than Texas–or Pittsburgh for that matter.  We acquired a lot of good winter/cool weather clothes while we were in Pittsburgh but I have recently learned that the summer weather in Durham (city we are moving to) is more like Fall weather.  Our friends who live there have posted pictures of themselves wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts or sometimes t-shirts.  There have been a few warmer days where they have worn shorts and short sleeves.  Knowing the weather helps you decide what clothes to pack.  It would be foolish to take up a lot of packing room with Texas summer clothes when we will need clothes for cooler weather while living in England.
  7. Go online and check prices for things like clothes and shoes for kids and adults.  At least in the UK, clothes and shoes are very expensive.  We will take advantage of using the charity shops for clothing, or waiting until we come back to visit to buy clothes for the kids.  We talked to a friend who lives in Whales as a missionary and she said to make sure that we get our shoes for the kids in the States before we move.  The quality of shoes and what you pay for them doesn’t compare to what you can get here in the States.
  8. Investigate weight limitations for luggage on the plane so you can decide if it is “cheaper” to pay for overweight bags or shipping them ahead of time.  Shipping things to the UK is not cheap so we are planning on going over the weight limit if we have to.
  9. Plan on taking advantage of the 2 carry on items per person.  Even though it will be difficult to get down the aisle carrying the 2 carry ons the kids are each allowed we will be taking advantage of that and carrying on valuables, important documents, and items necessary for traveling on a long plane flight with 3 kids.
  10. Having a friend who lives in the country you are moving to helps a LOT.  If it is also someone who moved to the country then that is even better.  We have friends who moved there the year before we did and they have been life savers!  They have connected us with other families who have finished their degrees and selling their stuff for cheap.  We have bought several kitchen items and a few pieces of extra furniture.
  11. Check online for the different stores and their prices so you can plan a budget for repurchasing the things you need once you are there.  We are planning on bringing a set of sheets and a towel for each person in our family but my friend who is there has also found a place that sells sheets for cheap.  We may decide to buy an extra set of sheets for the kids when we are there. Find out about the country’s version of “good will” so you can hit those when you arrive to purchase goods and save money.  In England they have many “charity shops” where you can buy appliances, furniture, clothing etc.
  12. We sold most of our furniture when we left Pittsburgh.  (For those of you who don’t know, we left Pittsburgh in June and came to Texas to spend the summer with friends and family before leaving for England.)  We decided that paying for storage while we were gone was too expensive.  We got rid of a LOT of stuff other than furniture and there was something quite freeing about getting rid of so much stuff (I digress).  I kept all of our kitchen stuff, dining room table and chairs, china cabinet, and beds.  When we come back we will have a lot of things to rebuy–but we are essentially trusting God to provide for us when we return.  We know a family who had a friend from church that owns a storage facility and gave them a super discount on storing their belongings while overseas.  We asked around our church hoping to get lucky in that regard so we wouldn’t have to sell so much stuff and rebuy it later but that didn’t work out.  Some people ship all their things overseas with them.  The Dean President of my husband’s seminary moved here several years ago only planning on staying for 4 years but now they are here indefinitely.  They brought everything with them even though they were only planning on being in the states for a few years.  It is an option if you want bring all your stuff with you.
  13. Before you leave the States, take everyone to get eye, dental, and well-visits at the doctor.  Depending on the country you plan on moving to, the health care system is probably very different and it is good to get in those visits before moving.  Get online and learn about the health care system in the country you are moving to.  You’ll need to find out if you will qualify for their national plan or if you will have to budget for health insurance costs.
  14. If you are planning on bringing electronics like computers or your Wii (haha!  We are totally bringing ours) then you’ll need to investigate getting the appropriate plugs for them.  In the UK the voltage is different not to mention the shape of the plugs so you need voltage converters and plug adapters.  Some electronics are set to work at a higher voltage and have the converters in them so you just need a plug adapter.  It’s confusing, I know.  That is why you need to investigate!
  15. Bring movies/music for your family in those cd storage books.  Saves on space!
  16. Buy a Rick Steves travel book about the country you are moving to if it is available.  It will help you discover all kinds of fun things to do in your new city and it often has some money saving tips on travel.

I may have to make this a two part series because there is so much to plan when you move overseas!

I know at least one of our readers has moved overseas a few times (Sharon!).  Have any other helpful tips to add to this list? Know anyone who has moved overseas?

9 Responses to How To Move Your Family Overseas

  • Comment by Sharon M
    August 14, 2009 @ 1:56 am

    All great advise, and very thorough! Going along with buying plane tickets, it’s important to research each company’s policy regarding baggage. Most international flights from the US will allow 2 checked bags per ticketed person, up to 50 lbs. each, and if you want to check a third bag, there is a fee (around $100). It’s worth taking advantage of that third bag fee if you’re moving! However, not everyone does this.

    Amelia, if you have a direct flight to your destination (or a long layover in between flights), taking advantage of the 2 carry-on policy is a great way to save some $$, but I would advise against doing that if you have a) a short layover, i.e. less than 3 hours going through Europe, less than 2 hours going through a US airport, or b)traveling with multiple young children. It can get really stressful organizing all your carry-ons while trying to make a connecting flight, and if the kids are tired, they WILL NOT HELP YOU CARRY STUFF. Our oldest (five y.o.) can usually take a carry-on and a light backpack, but our youngest (two y.o.) can’t do much more than ride in a stroller.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Debbie P.
    August 14, 2009 @ 2:11 am

    Durham must be a popular place! Just heard of it for the first time this week when we found out a friend was 2 years into a 4 year PhD program there. They are really enjoying themselves!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy K
    August 14, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

    We moved to England for a year when I was in junior high, and we found that the key to getting through the airport with the maximum number of carry-on bags was to rent those nice hand trollies the moment we got to the airport, and then again the moment we got off the airplane to get to our connecting flight.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Daniel
    August 16, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

    Great list Amelia! We’re planning some extended travel with our kids and this is a great list to keep in mind. Looking forward to part two, and reports from after the jump.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Wendy
    August 22, 2009 @ 9:08 am

    We’ve done the overseas move twice now (once from Australia to Libya, once from Libya to Malaysia) and the one thing was learned was to keep lots and lots of thorough lists. Timing is really important – yes, you want to get started on your visas early, but if you do them too early, they might expire before you’re ready to move. And moving our dog around with us has been a timing nightmare, trying to coordinate his shots and health checks with ours…

    And, yes, getting rid of stuff is wonderfully freeing. We moved into a furnished apartment in Malaysia, we could carry what we is actually ours home in two bags. Big bags, of course!

    Good luck with it all. Once you’ve moved, the stress of it all will just fade away (until you have to move home again).

    Wendy Palmer
    author of: Continental Shift: how to move yourself, your family, and your stuff overseas.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by amelia
    August 22, 2009 @ 10:03 am

    Thanks Wendy! I can’t tell you how many lists we’ve gone through. I’m starting to pack now (we are leaving in 3 weeks) and I am pulling out and sorting through all the clothes and putting aside other “things” we want to bring with us. I just might have to order your book :) .

  • Gravatar
    Comment by cj
    September 5, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

    Concidering looking into moving overseas w/ the family while our kids are young, for the experience. before researching jobs and company’s I told my husband I will not leave w/out our dog. She’s our first born and a major part of our family. Any suggestions on countries w/out strict quantines? She’s never even been kenneled so 6 months away from us is out of the question…would love some feed back.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by amelia
    September 5, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

    good question, cj.

    i don’t know any countries without strict quarantines for animals. developing countries may not have as strict standards, but you may be looking to live in an industrialized counrty. i think it will be hard to get around any kind of quarantine kennel stay–but i have not researched it since we don’t have any animals to move with us.

    you should check out Wendy Palmer’s Continental Shift book from above. She has moved overseas and I saw in her book she has a chapter in there about moving animals.

    if you make a list of countries you are interested in moving to you could probably email the consulates and ask them about it. the UK consulate uses a company called Worldbridge to answer questions about visas so i imagine the answers are possible but it will take some emailing or phone calling to the different consulates.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Holly
    September 14, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

    Great article! Very helpful!


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