There’s a lot to organise when you decide to move to another continent. It’s a test of your logistical skills that you have one chance to get right, not to mention an emotional roller-coaster. And it doesn’t happen overnight. You live under this weight of responsibility for months until the day your feet leave familiar soil. It’s a bit like training for a marathon, but instead of having a training schedule to stick to, you’re winging it, with a stack of lists and that horrible ever-present feeling that you must have forgotten something.
When K & I initially discussed his transfer offer from Canada, the first thing I did was find out a bit about the place. Six months before we had considered a permanent posting in Libya so a bit of cultural adjustment was required. Canada is rarely in the news and I didn’t really have any preconceptions. Research turned up the Quality of Life rankings and Canada came high up the list – a good indicator. Further reading confirmed it scored high on Education and Healthcare, there was no new language to learn (or so we thought!), a stable economy and minimal culture shock. It seemed a good place to raise a family. So, while K negotiated the relocation package with his future employers I began the monumental task of making the rest happen…
- Minimising possessions – This is the time to go through all your stuff and sell, give away or dispose of what’s no longer needed. If you ship it over it’s even harder to part with in an unfamiliar place. When you are feeling rootless and isolated you will hang on to ridiculous things from your home country out of sentimental love of the familiar. I kept packaging (jars, a baby formula box) for months before I could bring myself to abandon them. I remember when J lost her water-bottle on a school trip, she was devastated because it said “London” on it. It’s like losing a little piece of home.
- Preparing the kids – Make sure they can share their feelings about the move, help them understand what is happening, listen to their concerns and help them to find solutions. Be prepared for tears – moving is stressful. Luckily mine are all young (J, the eldest, was 5), which made it easier for them to adapt. We talked a lot about what Canada was like and what we might see, and, once we arrived, we regularly discussed what we liked about Canada and how it compared to the UK. It’s important to display positivity even if you don’t always feel it, but not to the extent that your child would feel uncomfortable talking about negative feelings. Kids are skilled at telling parents what they think they want to hear. You want them to be able to talk to you about everything, not just the good stuff.
- Shipping – We had previously used a good international removal company so I approached them for a quote. The difficult part was deciding what to take and what to leave. I hated the idea of leaving everything and buying all new furniture in Canada. If we decided not to stay we would have to sell it or ship it back to Britain and have two of everything! So we chose to ship the majority. Not knowing where we would be living, we had to run the risk that we would be able to fit it all in our new address.
I also had to separate what we required for our immediate needs from what we could ship, as our stuff was packed 8 weeks before we flew out and didn’t arrive until two weeks after us. We still needed bedding, clothes, toiletries etc. in the interim, but it had to fit in a suitcase and accompany us on the flight. Air freight is expensive and relocation funds are not limitless!
- To sell or not to sell – Although our home was in a very saleable condition, having just been completely renovated, its good position made it a sound investment so we decided to keep it – always good to have something to come back to, or a nest-egg for the future. We did, however, sell the car.
- Redirection – Quick and easy with Royal Mail. Sorted out a year’s post redirection (the maximum offered) online in minutes. Have since renewed it the same way.
- Closing accounts – I contacted utility companies and service providers and informed them of the cut-off date. The day before we flew I read meters and gave a last call to Sky TV to confirm closure of the account.
- Health Checks – I told doctors and dentists of our departure and got advice about immunisation etc. required once in Canada – crucial with a three-month-old baby. I also stockpiled prescription drugs and all the kids had checkups just before we left to give us time to get things established in Canada.
- School – Written confirmation to back up a verbal conversation with the headmistress. This was particularly hard as we had fought hard to get J into a great school and she only spent six months there.
- Tax – Contacted the tax office to inform them and fill out relevant paperwork.
- Bank accounts – We looked into setting up an account in Canada through HSBC’s international banking service, but a number of factors (one being no HSBC branches where we were moving to) made opening an account with a Canadian bank a more suitable option for us.
- Passports – Applications completed, photos taken (including one of a month old baby!
- Visa – Taken care of by my husbands’ employer. As it was an inter-office transfer it was all sorted by the company lawyers. Generally, Canadian Immigration operates on a points system and the requirement of certain skill-sets. You have to meet the requirements of their current skilled labour programme.
- Paperwork – I sifted out a years worth of statements from banks, mortgages, and car insurance companies and archived the rest. To get a mortgage/car insurance in Canada we would have to show this kind of documentation. I also set aside all birth certificates and educational qualifications and checked that policies regarding Life Assurance, Income Protection etc would still be applicable while living abroad.
- Flights – Although these were organised by my husbands employer, I still needed to confirm that the seats were all together and at the bulkhead so that I had a bassinet for 3 month-old S to travel in. I checked that the pushchair (the size of a small SUV) did not count towards our luggage limit and could be handed in just before boarding, and confirmed the weight and number of suitcases in the checked-in luggage allowance, plus the cost of an extra suitcase. This is often cheaper than the fee required if you exceed the allowed weight on any of your suitcases.
- Porter Service – Because I was traveling alone with two small children, one baby, 9 suitcases, 8 items of hand luggage and a pushchair and carseat, I needed assistance getting from the airport forecourt to the check-in desks. And again on the other side to get from baggage collection to the taxi rank. Don’t leave it to chance, ALWAYS pre-arrange where possible.
- Loyalty Card points – There are no branches of Boots in Canada so I made sure to use these up before we left British soil – we spent the last couple of quid at the airport branch on bottled water and snacks. Also, if you want to use your Nectar Card points as Air Miles on a return ticket you have to do this flying OUT of Britain.
- Electrical adapter – Even if you’re not shipping any electrical items over, you’ll still need it for things like your phone/camera battery chargers. Available at the airport if you forget, but you’ll need to get it on the British side.
- Currency – Shop around for the best exchange rate, and don’t forget to use up all your British money before you board the plane. You can’t change shrapnel on the other side…and finally…
- Stocking up – Have supplies of anything you can’t live without; favourite make-up, tea, chocolate, etc. When I landed in Canada I found my steam steriliser (for S’s bottles) wouldn’t work with the adapter, and I couldn’t find old-fashioned sterilising tablets anywhere. Also, pharmaceuticals are very expensive here compared to back home. A handful of boxes of paracetamol and Calpol weigh next to nothing and barely take up any room in your luggage. If you do your research, plan ahead, confirm EVERYTHING and assume NOTHING, you will be fine. Just don’t leave it all to the last minute. Organisation is the key here.