Tip 1: Prioritize
Whereas one can organize a local move quickly (depending on how far you are moving), an international move requires advanced planning. It sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, you would be surprised by just how much time specific issues take – we sure were!
Visa application is the obvious one here, and indeed, the amount of paperwork we had to request, obtain, complete, submit and eventually wait for was immense! And this was regarding me! (Luckily, my husband and our children are US citizens). I had anticipated that the Green Card process would be intense, even as a Canadian, but frankly, I did not think that it would take the time and effort that is required: from filling out endless forms, obtaining proof of clean criminal records from every (!) country I have ever lived in, proof of immunizations, immigration medical check-ups (including a tuberculosis test) and a final interview at the US embassy in Frankfurt (Green Card style! And here I am referring to the movie!), it was a long and at times stressful process. In the end, I received my visa approval two weeks before our flight to the US. Overall, it had taken approximately six months for all the paperwork to go through!
Obtaining the visa approval was also important as we needed to provide our moving company/ US customs with proof of entry admittance to the US, including a copy of our passports, proof of relocation, and a very detailed list of inventory items to be shipped. Especially the latter involved an elaborate process of assessing every single thing in our home.
In addition to the visa, we needed to make sure that we had all medical papers required to enter the US, such as all the necessary vaccinations and immunizations. I also had all of the children's German vaccination booklets translated into English as most US schools require proof of immunization before attendance.
Another important issue we took on as soon as we found out that we were relocating was finding a suitable school for our three children for two reasons: knowing where our children would happily continue their education would provide us with much-needed, parental peace of mind - their wellbeing was our priority above all! Secondly, the school's location would determine our house's location, and consequently, our entire infrastructure (such as doctor offices, sports clubs, etc.) - with five people, there is quite a bit of a new foundation to set up! And so we immediately dove into doing intense research, setting up phone calls with potential schools, interviewing people for advice, and starting the application processes. In the end, we had found an excellent school and had more than enough time to find and move into a home close in the vicinity.
Tip 2: Do the research!
When you are not familiar with the country you are moving to, its language and culture, make sure you do your research to avoid problems, fines, or pitfalls. Although we lived in the US (New York State) in the past, we were surprised to find many rules and regulations (in general and specific to California) that we were previously unaware of. One example:
Cars and …
We contemplated bringing our cars to the US, but after doing our research, we quickly decided against doing so: the transportation costs, as well as the import costs into the US, are very high, and customs is rigorous (and there is a chance that if your car does not meet specific requirements, it can be altered, sent back to where it came from or even destroyed). We did not want to take that risk!
… driver's license!
After double-checking, we also realized that we would need to get a new car in the US and a new driver's license as California does not acknowledge a foreign or international license as valid once you become a permanent resident in the Golden State. This meant studying for the written test, followed by a 'behind – the wheel – test' with an instructor once you pass. Check out the DMV apps, and you will be good to... drive.
What happens when you don't do your research?
Topping our list as the strangest fun fact, we would have liked to know ahead of time was our neighbors' common knowledge that we were all sharing our living space with coyotes! To a European, that was frankly quite the shocker. Our area even distributes a little booklet, lovingly labeled "Coyotes Among Us', which includes tips and tricks on navigating living with safely...well, larger wildlife. As we have come to understand, the main rule is not to leave your small children (or small pets for that matter) outside unsupervised - especially at dusk and at dawn. This piece of information not only set back our plans to get a small dog indefinitely but boy, can you be sure we are watching our little Flori a little closer than usual - especially during the Tarantino hours.
Tip 3: Purge, purge, purge!
An international move naturally forces you to purge: to throw out, gift, recycle or sell anything that you no longer want or need - and we highly recommend it! Not only do you save a few bucks on shipping when you leave either large or unwanted items behind, but moreover, it is an incredibly freeing feeling. For many, many weeks before our move, we went through the entire house, consciously taking each item into our hands and deciding whether it brought us joy or not (full-on KonMari style!) and whether to keep it or purge. Once we arrived in Southern California, it was wonderful to unpack only our cherished items and give each their dedicated place in our new home. And with more than 500 boxes to unpack, that was helpful!
(Photo: Handiwork NYC/Unsplash)