It is now about 4 weeks before I leave to move to Germany. It has been something that I’ve had a feeling would happen for about a year though. My boyfriend is originally from Germany but came here to the States in April 2012, on an international assignment. We ended up meeting for the first time, when I interviewed at Ford, for the same company that he worked for. We eventually ended up working for this company and got the chance to get to know each other through the company parties. I left the company back in September 2014 but he still works there. His original assignment was suppose to only be for a year, however, since meeting me, he has decided to extend his stay. This April will actually mark 3 years in the States for him and his company allows for a maximum of 3 years for an international assignment so he must return for at least a year. This means it’s now my chance to experience life in another country. In my situation, I’m very lucky that I have someone to help me make the transition but it doesn’t mean the transition will be easy.
So what goes into making the move to another country? Here I outline some of the things we have been working on to make this transition successful. As the weeks progress, I will provide more updates about the move.
- Start making to do lists! Making lists of everything you need to do is the start to this whole process. You must evaluate everything in your life, even the smallest of things. There are many things that you will think are not important that will turn out to be more important than you realize. We often take things for granted. I’m talking about the simple things like TV, cell phones, clothes, books, internet and any other items you need on a daily basis. When leaving for a new country, you may forget that there could be a different type of electrical outlet. This is the point where you need to consider which devices will make it on the different power supply. My boyfriend lost the charging ability of his electric toothbrush here. I’ve lost my hair dryer over there due to the extra power causing it to burn my hair and my boyfriend threw it away. Now, I have one that is from Germany but functions at 50% power in the States. Furthermore, besides the stuff you need to take with you that will require a plan for getting them from A to B, you also need to consider the stuff that you will need once you get there. This requires another list of things that you must do upon arrival, such as obtaining a driver’s license, visa, residence permit, bank accounts, doctor, vet, tax info, ect. Planning in advance is the best thing to do.
- Make a plan for the items you won’t take with you. There are going to be a lot of things that will not be able to come with you. Perhaps, you live in an apartment. Make sure they are aware of your departure well in advance. Many apartments will make you pay for the remaining months in your lease even though you won’t be there. Luckily, my boyfriend was able to go into a month-by-month contract with the leasing office otherwise this adventure of ours would be costing us a ton more than it has to. If you have a house this can further complicate the process, especially if you must sell it. Cars are another item that is often not taken with you. Prior to beginning this process, I had two cars and my boyfriend had one car. He will sell his and I’ve already sold one of mine. There will also be furniture and kitchen utensils that probably won’t be traveling. I suggest cleaning everything many weeks in advance and make a list or take pictures of the items you want to come with you. For the items that you can’t take with you, make a plan to sell or donate. You will also have to remember to cancel things such as electricity, water, gas, home phone, Internet, cable and cell phone contracts. To cancel your phone contract can often cause an early termination fee so be sure to contact them immediately to work out a solution for this. I got really lucky because my contract ends a week after I leave.
- One word…pets! Perhaps this doesn’t apply to everyone but this is a huge topic for someone who has a pet that they are not willing to leave behind. I have a cat that MUST come with me. This is one of the first real tasks I actually worked on, besides making lists. My original plan was to be on the same flight as Christian but when I went to make the flight to include Misha, my cat, Delta told me that the particular flight was a 767 and that they are currently working to revamp the 767 to allow for animals. This created my next problem of trying to find a flight for the same date that would allow my cat to travel with me. I ended up deciding with Lufthansa, however, my flight is now 4 hours earlier than Christian’s. I’m very hesitant about this but currently my cat is scheduled to be in the cargo area. I would rather take him on board with me so this creates another task. I want to make sure that I can get him on board before switching his status from cargo to on board because the last time I talked to them they said there was only one more cargo spot left and three on board spots. I don’t want to risk having an issue because there is nothing to fall back on. So my new task is to take him to the airport and get a go ahead from the airline. The downside to taking a pet, as a carry on, is just that…it’s your carry on bag. You now put yourself in a position where you can’t carry a bag of emergency stuff that you may need in the event that your luggage is lost. If this is the route I decide to go, it will put more pressure on Christian to handle carrying on some of my stuff as well as his. In addition to the flight, there are many other items to deal with an animal. You have to make sure you follow the countries policy for bringing in a pet (this is a whole other article). You need to get a health certificate, microchip that is compliant, vaccinations and all the cat’s items that must travel with him. We will have a food situation because my cat is on a prescription cat food that we will have to find there. We also need to get him to calm down on trips because so far he’s made a mess in his carrier 3 out of the 4 car trips. The animal must learn to adapt to their carrier prior to a long flight. We now make the cat travel in the car with us to go places so he can adjust to the motion of traveling and learn that he’s safe in his carrier.
- Taking a vehicle with you. We just bought a BMW X3 last May. I love the car and don’t want to get rid of it and my parents don’t need a $600/month lawn ornament so we are forced to take this with us. We have considered several options such as selling it or leaving it behind but the more we think about it, the more it seems better to just take it with us. This introduces us to another issue. So when we arrive, we will still have to get a rental car and at some point we will have to travel to the port to pick this car up, which will probably be in the Netherlands or Belgium. All we can do is hope our vehicle is there when we need it. To get a car across the ocean, it must go on a ship. There are two options, roll on or container. When the vehicle goes via roll on, aka the way most cars are imported, there must not be anything in the vehicle. You can’t even leave your license plate on because shipyard Steve may want a cool souvenir. For container, you can pack your car with personal belongings, which may get two processes taken care of at once, shipping your car and shipping your belongings. Right now, we are leaning towards the container so we can do both at once. We will both be able to check in two bags at the airport but that will come nowhere close to all the stuff we want to take with us. As easy as it sounds to just ship a vehicle, there are many factors to this process. There are a variety of different companies. From what my boyfriend tells me, there are companies that are not accredited. You must be very careful when choosing your shipping company. You should consider looking for an OTI (Ocean Transportation Intermediary) that is licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission. Another thing that factors in to this situation is, insuring the belongings that are also being shipped with the car. In addition, you need to think about insurance (for both marine/shipping and when it arrives), registering and getting a license plate put on. The only thing we can do is schedule the pick up and delivery then hope that our overpriced, ultimate driving machine arrives there without damage (and with all of our belongings in it), to prevent additional items to add to the things to do.
- Job and Visa. I can imagine that many people, who move to another country, are doing it for job purposes. Your company may even offer assistance to you with your move. For me, I’m preparing to go there without a job. I did have one interview last week, with Bosch, but until I get an offer, I won’t consider anything a sealed deal. My flight is actually scheduled to return within 90 days because without a visa, I’m not allowed to stay there longer. This was set up as a last resort. If I am unable to obtain a job from ESG, in Germany, then I will be looking at trying to find a job on my own and applying for a job search visa. These are things you may want to consider, depending on the country traveling to. Always be aware of their laws about how long you may stay. In Germany, if you have a good education and can be considered a beneficial working professional, then you can be granted a visa to allow 6 months to search for a job. Having a job is always easier than not having one. I actually started this process almost a year ago, when I was working for ESG USA. They have yet to secure anything so I’m now 4 weeks away from arriving there and I should probably consider my own search for work within Cologne. This leads me to the topic of money.
- Paying for stuff. If you’re like me, you’ve accumulated a good amount of things to pay like student loans, credit cards, auto loans, ect. These things will still need to be paid for even if you’re halfway across the world. Make a plan to either pay these off or have a plan to transfer money into accounts that are valid for paying these bills. Take into consideration international transactions fees and currency exchanges. I’m still trying to figure this out. I don’t have a job right now so before I leave I’ll probably just have to take some money out to have some cash with me on arrival, for exchanging into Euros, because I don’t think 10 Euros will get me too far. You will also be accumulating new bills at your new home so it will be important to set up a bank account in the country.
- Living arrangements. This is something you should consider well in advance. Lucky for us, Christian still has his apartment in Cologne so we already have a place to call home but if his job were to relocate to say Stuttgart then we would have to consider other options. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this but I know when Christian came here, he was living out of a hotel for a little bit. This can become expensive, if it’s on your own bill and not a company bill. It’s best to figure out where your job will be and see what is located near by, based on your budget. Living, in the city, near your job may be expensive but you will have to consider transportation and daily commute times as well.
- Cost of living. This is another very important thing to consider and relates closely to the previous topic. We don’t have to worry about trying to find a reasonably priced apartment, in a particular part of the city. In general, the cost to live in a major city is considerably higher than to live in the rural areas. From what I have read, it is also very common for people to rent rather than buy, in many of the large European cities. Most apartments are small but can still cost much more than a larger apartment in the States. It all depends on your location. Be sure to take note of the taxes. For us, Germans pays high taxes, which means a large chunk of our income will be consumed there. After taxes are taken there are still a large number of things to keep in mind. There will be utility costs, like gas, electricity, Internet, garbage, cell phones and water. If you decide to buy a vehicle and drive, estimate the amount of driving you will be doing because gas is much more expensive in some countries. If you are considering going the public transit route then look up the prices for that. You will need to eat and possibly buy clothes. There are several websites out there that can give you a good estimate of the differences in cost. Finally, understanding the currency exchange is extremely important. This has fooled us before, where the exchange rate isn’t a matter of 1 to 1.3 but something more like 1 to 83. We went out for dinner one night, in Tahiti, where we expected it to cost like $50-100 but it actually ended up to be a giant $300 bill because we didn’t pay attention to the conversion rate.
- Culture and language. Culture shock is a real phenomenon. Moving to another country, especially if there are substantial differences, can take a huge emotional toll on a person. I’ve been to Germany several times but even to just write this section gets me nervous thinking about the different situations that I will be face with. Nothing can really prepare you for what you are about to face. You will make mistakes and all you can really do is laugh about it. I’ve already had my first fun mistake the very first time I arrived there. I felt completely embarrassed and upset about the whole situation. You learn from your mistakes though. I learned to never take flights with connections and, if so, come prepared with emergency necessities. My flight was late so I missed my connection flight, which eventually left me in Frankfurt (not Cologne), 4 hours earlier than expected, and my baggage in Vienna. My German was weak and I tried to ask where the baggage claim was but I was actually asking where is the bag. I looked half crazy and managed to pick everyone who didn’t speak English to ask. If you are going to a country where you don’t speak the language, learn some key phrases prior to going. English is common in a lot of countries but don’t expect it all the time. We’ve experienced the fun of being in places where no one speaks your language. This can be very frustrating. In addition, many countries have their own customs. For example, all shops closed on Sunday’s, no loud noises at certain hours, recycling rules, religions, holidays, driving/public transportation, types of food, personal space, ect. Before going anywhere to live, look into these to prevent potential harassment. Even going to the grocery store, in Germany, is different than in the States. You need to insert a coin to get your shopping cart, however, you get it back when you return the cart. While in the store, people aren’t looking for small talk and don’t expect an excuse me when you’re in someone’s way. I’ve actually been pushed out of the way with a shopping cart. When checking out, either have your own bags or prepare to buy some. Also the cashier will be quick with ringing you up so be quick with having the money ready, as well as, be quick to get your stuff in your bag before you make the people behind you mad. No one will bag your stuff for you. Always make sure to say hello and bye, with no small talk in between (almost always). With everything that is going on in the first few weeks of moving, knowing these small things can help reduce the stress. There is a good chance that a mental breakdown might occur sometime after that initial excitement passes. It’s completely normal to miss home and some of the things that you really enjoyed but are now without.
- Keeping in touch. If you are leaving to country to get away from everyone you know, skip this section. Even though you are leaving the country, make sure that you set up a plan with your loved ones to keep in communication. Christian does this with his family all time. He takes an hour every Sunday to Skype with his family in Germany. We will most likely be continuing this habit by doing it with my family, while we are in Germany. Make sure to keep people updated on Facebook, Twitter or whatever it is that you use. Your friends and family will be excited to see what you’re up to in your new location. Lastly, consider visiting family members prior to leaving. We are currently in the process of trying to figure out if it’s feasible for us to make the trip down south to see my aunt. In addition, we still have to schedule a dinner with another aunt. Try to make sure to tell everyone you know that you are leaving so that there isn’t someone who’s freaking out because they never got to see you.