Relocation is an Art: Lessons For an International Move


There’s a lot I wish I’d known before I embarked on my relocation from London to San Francisco. One thing I needed was a load of practical information on the logistics of packing up my life in the UK and transporting it half way around the world to the United States. For the expat who’s about to embark on their first big adventure, here’s what I learned:

Lessons for Relocation

Do a big clear out before you even think about packing

I’m not usually one for self-help books but a few months before our move The Magic Art of Tidying Up was recommended on my Kindle. It inspired me to go through all our stuff and do a big clear out before our relocation. We chucked or donated about 15 bags of clutter. Not only did it feel good to have paired back our belongings, it was really helpful to have a mental inventory of what we owned before we started sorting, separating and packing. If you’re going to be doing an international relocation it’s likely you’ll have a few months to plan. If you can, use them to get a handle on what you own and what you want to move.

Relocation: Car Boot Sale

David clearing out at a Car Boot sale weeks before the big move.


Know that the movers move fast!

For all my previous moves I’ve packed myself and then rented a van. In general it’s taken me at least a couple of days to wrap and pack all my stuff. When we moved to the United States we had professionals on board, which was an entirely different experience. They arrived and within a couple of hours they’d packed our entire one-bedroom flat! When we moved we were airfreighting essentials that would arrive in two weeks and shipping the rest of our furniture and belongings. We thought we’d have the whole day to sort out what would go in the air and what would go by sea, and instead it was a last minute scramble to get everything sorted before the packers locked up the container. Know that professionals are probably much more efficient at packing than you are so have everything separated into piles before they arrive!


Air freight as much kitchen equipment as you can

We packed the bare essentials of kitchen equipment in our airfreight. As a result we would plan a meal only to discover we’d forgotten the potato peeler or the measuring jug. We ended up eating out a lot and I know this sounds crazy, but I really craved a home-cooked meal. If you enjoy cooking it will be much easier to create the kind of food you’re used to if you take as much kitchen equipment as you possibly can.


Consider a hotel for your last night

Our movers came on a Monday and our flight was booked for a Thursday. We spent our last three nights in an empty flat, sleeping on deflated airbeds. It was miserable. Our options were limited because we had cats, but if you’re not traveling with pets, consider booking a hotel or staying with friends or family for your last few nights in your home country. Those last days before your move are an emotional, hectic time. Don’t make things harder for yourself by staying in an empty house.


Don’t take your bed

The bed finally arrived! After 3 months on an airbed…

When we arrived in San Francisco we had four weeks in corporate housing, before we moved into a rented flat. The problem? It was another two months before our belongings arrived. We purchased a sofa bed and for 8 long weeks we ate, slept and watched TV from it. It was comfortable (as sofa beds go), but I’ve never been more desperate for a proper mattress! I was complaining to a more experienced expat friend and she said: ‘Oh, don’t you know the number 1 rule of moving is not to take your bed?’ No! I did not know that was the number 1 rule of moving! If you love your bed and you don’t want to part with it, consider having it air freighted so that it arrives soon after you do.


Arrange a car from the airport

We landed at SFO with three suitcases, two bicycles and two cats. We didn’t have transport arranged to take us from the airport to our corporate housing and we didn’t have American SIM cards so Uber/Lyft weren’t an option. Eventually we found a taxi large enough to cart all our things into the city. But our taxi driver didn’t speak English, which was tricky because we had to go to several different parts of the airport to get all the right paperwork for our cats. Next time I do an international move I’ll make sure we book a van to get us from A to B. You want minimal stress if you’ve just stepped off a long flight and into a new life.


Don’t forget the parking permit

There’s nothing more exciting than getting the call to say that your container has arrived in port and is ready to be delivered. I was counting the days and following my container across the oceans using this tracker. But in some cities (including San Francisco), you’ll need to arrange a parking permit so that the truck can park in your street. This process can take a while and held us back from receiving our shipment by a week. There’s nothing you can do to expedite the process because you can’t apply for the permit until your container has arrived at the port. I was desperate to have my bed, more clothing and kitchen equipment, and every extra day I had to wait felt like an eternity. Next time I’ll be a bit more patient, knowing that there are logistical challenges at every stage of the move.


What tips do you have for a smooth relocation to the Bay Area?

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About Felicity H. Barber

I am a speechwriter, who coaches people to make awesome speeches, presentations and pitches. I moved to San Francisco from London with my software engineer husband and two cats in 2014. As if moving half way around the world wasn’t enough, I made the crazy decision to start my own business at the same time! Life has been a big adjustment to go from in-house to freelance, tea and scones to coffee and brownies, rainy days to constant sunshine, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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