Negotiating Your Move

If you are being transferred by your company, they will likely cover your costs and help with all of the details by using a relocation company.

If, however, you are moving to take a job with a new company, you should work with them to determine what a fair relocation package would look like and what the company might be able to offer.

While you should keep in mind the size of your new company (and thus their likely available budget), there are a few things that should be included, and a few ‘nice to haves.’

If possible, during the time you’re given to consider an offer, do some research to determine the actual costs. We were shocked at how expensive it was to bring our cats with us, for example, and had we known that cost ahead of time, we would have brought that up with the new company.

Must Include:

  • Immigration Attorney
  • Visa Costs (for the employee, their partner, and any children)
  • Animal relocation costs
  • Flight
  • Shipping of a few boxes of personal items
  • Temporary housing (for at least three weeks, but preferably a month)

Nice to Have:

  • Relocation company to manage all of the details so you don’t have to
  • Shipping of more personal items / furniture (if you’re moving to a place where unfurnished housing is the norm, or if you’re planning on buying a house)

Obviously you’ll have to decide what are actual deal-breakers for you, but don’t assume that you’re asking for the moon here. As you’ll see as you make your way around the different parts of this site, there is a lot involved in managing an international move, and the more you can get assistance with, the better.

 

What Happens Next

Okay, so you’ve attended your biometrics appointment. You’re almost there!

Next you have to send all of the documentation in. Follow the directions of your immigration attorney exactly, and double check everything. If your application is rejected, you (or your new employer) doesn’t get that application fee back, so yeah, follow the rules. For example, you will need a passport photo, and the rules stipulate that you need to have your hair down, your glasses off, and not smile.

We decided that it was worth it to send all the documentation to the immigration attorney overnight. We shipped using UPS, and of course it didn’t actually get delivered the next day. And because it was near a holiday, it ended up arriving a full four days after we sent it. Considering it needs to be submitted within ten days of your biometric appointment, this could have been an issue. It wasn’t (it got there in plenty of time), but on the plus, side, UPS had to refund our money since they didn’t deliver as promised.

If all goes well, then within a week or so you should hear from your attorney that your visas have been approved! A couple of days later, you should receive a package with:

  • Your passport
  • Entry visas pasted into your passport
  • Letter to present at customs

Now you can book a flight!

Friends and Family

Moving across an ocean is a big deal, and many things can be managed with careful planning, lists, and timelines. It’s going to be a stressful time (do I sound like a broken record yet? Good!), and it’s easy to let the move become all-encompassing, but it’s important to take the time to see your friends and family before you go.

In our case, our move came just nine days into the new year, so we took a week-long road trip to visit our families around the winter holidays. It meant seeing five sets of family members and sleeping in four different homes, taking two flights and driving about 700 miles at a time when we had so much to do.

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But it was worth it. We got to see family members, have some down time when we weren’t focused on bank accounts and shipping options and runs to Goodwill. We relaxed, we ate, and we caught up. It was wonderful.

We also did a couple of good-bye events: one to drink our alcohol about a month before we left, and one the Sunday before our flight that was more of an open house at a brewery that allowed kids. We got to chat with folks and say goodbye.

Finally, we set up dinners or other events with some of our closest friends so that we could have some dedicated time with them. We wanted to see them and hang out without loads of other people around. One couple even offered to let us stay with them the last few days we were in town so our renter could move in, which ended up being a life saver!

We also did a tour of our favorite restaurants and shops that we knew we’d miss. That became especially necessary after we had packed or given away all of our kitchen items.

Like I said, it can seem like all that matters is figuring out the move, and there are definitely certain steps that you must take, and certain rules you need to follow, but remember that you’re a person with relationships that you’ll want to foster even when you’re 5,000 miles away. Don’t miss out on the time you still have with these friends and family members.

Leaving Your Home

If you rent your home, you’ll need to give notice to your landlord. Depending on what your lease says and what your financial situation is, I’d wait until you have your visa to give notice – that should be sufficient time in most cases. If your lease allows for subletting, you can get the jump on that. Some leases will allow you to buy yourself out with a month or two of rent and a forfeit security deposit. Just keep in mind that some of these things are expensive and some are time consuming.

If you own your home, you’ll have to decide if you want to sell or rent it out. We decided to rent ours and lucked out with finding someone without posting (they really wanted our place and were moving to our town for a new job – they even bought some of our furniture!). But if we hadn’t had someone interested, we would have engaged a property management company to handle things. It costs some money, but in our market, at least for now, our mortgage can be covered by a renter.

If you can’t get the mortgage covered, you might want to consider selling the house. I’ve never sold a home, but I know it can take a lot of time and energy. It might even be easier once you’ve moved out and can repaint / re-carpet and stage your home. If you can find some cheap flights, it might be reasonable to consider the whole family flying over together and then having the partner without a job fly back soon after to sort out the rest of things. Either way, speak to your real estate agent about options.

Packing and Shipping

It is SHOCKINGLY expensive to ship things to the UK. Originally we thought we’d ship a couple of things and then just bring a ton of suitcases, but someone I know who works at a major international airline warned me that it could be very expensive AND it’s possible we wouldn’t be allowed extra luggage.

Yikes. If you’re moving during vacation season, there could be some limits on luggage extras, so I cannot stress strongly enough to check with your airline. In the end, it’s likely a safe bet to just plan on bringing two checked bags and one carry-on per person traveling. We were lucky enough to use miles to travel business class, so we managed to book one extra bag (five checked bags total), and our weight limit was higher than if we’d been traveling coach. That basically accommodated all of our clothing and toiletries, along with some of the items needed for our cats.

So, what does that mean for your other things? Well, I love books. And I wanted our books to come with us. Books are heavy, so in each of the boxes we shipped, about half were books, and half were other items. In the end we shipped five medium-sized boxes (we purchased the heavy ones from Home Depot). We also used a lot of tape; the one lesson we learned from that is to tape up all the seams AND all of the edges. All of our boxes arrived, and the only damage was to glass items I didn’t cushion well enough, but half of the boxes were splitting at the seams.

We decided early on that we were not bringing any of our furniture with us. We had some lovely pieces that I was sad to part with – some we sold to random folks, some we sold or gave away to friends, and some our renter ended up purchasing. But so many flats in the UK come furnished or partly furnished – many, many more than in the US – so we decided we’d find a furnished flat and supplement with Ikea furniture (which we did, but more on that later).

There are options out there for shipping in pods, which are generally flat rates based on size. But those also mean the items might not arrive for three months, and that didn’t seem worth the cost. In the end we just barely ended up spending less on our shipping than any of the quotes we received, although we probably also shipped less than we could have.

Each of the five boxes we shipped cost about $350, and were shipped via USPS. We were able to track it all the way through, but local independent shop that handled the paperwork and such for us did warn that we might not be able to track our packages once they were turned over to the UK.

We also shipped some art. We have some we paid to be framed back in the US; the company that framed them essentially unframed them for us for free, and charged $20 to un-frame ones they didn’t originally frame. Two of our items were framed using acrylic, not glass, and so could be shipped as is. Those two shipments were in addition to the five boxes.

What made it easy for us was that my partner’s new company allowed us to ship to their office. Once we found a flat, we were able to just get a van taxi and move it all over to our new place.

We didn’t ship or give away everything, however. Our wedding china is stored in two boxes in the crawl space under a friend’s staircase. We also didn’t ship two boxes worth of photo albums, which now live at another friend’s place. We might ship those to us if we want them later, but for now they are safe and sound. And finally, we have a nice record player and collection of records that are living at a third friend’s place.

Downsizing can be fun; the key is to not immediately upsize once you get to the UK…

Animals

Do you have furry friends who will be making the trek across the world with you? Awesome! I have to say that having our buddies Jameson and Tigger with us has made the UK feel more like home very quickly. However, it was also one of the greatest stresses of our move. And that’s because we were doing it all ourselves, and the websites that ‘help’ are all government websites that can bury the most important information.

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Moving pets requires serious planning and attention to dates in a way that rivals the visa process. And the worst case scenario is you could show up to the airport on the day of your flight and not be allowed to drop of your pets. So you’ve got to plan ahead.

I’m going to share our experience with our cats; the shots needed likely differ with dogs, but the timing should be the same.

First things first: animals cannot enter the UK in the cabin of the plane. So you need to get okay with the fact that your buddies are going to be in cargo for a long time. Like, a very long time. And that’s okay – there are staff dedicated to making sure your furry friends are taken care of. But it’s going to be traumatic for them as well, and there isn’t any way around it (unless it’s a service animal, and even then there are very strict rules).

Your pet needs to be micro-chipped. If you adopted your pet, they are probably already micro-chipped, but unfortunately it’s possible the microchip your pet has isn’t the right one. We rescued our two cats, and they were fixed and chipped, but using a different technology than the UK uses. You need to check that your chip has 15 digits; if not, it’s not the right one. Set up a vet appointment and get a new chip inserted.

Your pet also needs to be vaccinated against rabies. Which I’m sure she is. BUT. The rabies vaccine only counts if it’s given after the UK-compatible microchip has been inserted (same day is fine). I did find a section of the USDA website that implied you could provide some other paperwork to show a previous rabies vaccine counted, but we didn’t want to risk it. So I suggest that at the same appointment you get them micro-chipped you also get them re-vaccinated for rabies.

If you’re us, the vet tech will not realize that’s why you’re doing the rabies vaccine earlier than necessary (even though it’s been explained multiple times), and simply not administer the vaccine. But it is critical that they do it (we fixed it later that day – poor cats, two vet trips in five hours!), AND it must be done MORE THAN 21 DAYS BEFORE YOU’LL ENTER THE UK. That is key. I recommend doing it well before then, but no matter what, it must be more than three weeks before you’ll arrive.

Because your animals will be traveling in the cargo hold, they need to be in a very secure kennel, and they can’t travel in the same one. I recommend following the instructions on the website of the airline you’ll be using. Our cats were in the 200 size, which seems huge until you realize they need space to move around and stretch.

I also recommend purchasing the pet travel kit (available on Amazon), which includes metal bolts, food and water trays, and a piddle pad. Even if you purchase the kennel that is recommended by the airline, it will still likely have plastic screws and bolts connecting both halves, and the airlines require metal ones. So get the kit. They’ll also require an absorbent lining, so stick the piddle pad underneath a towel.

And then just leave the kennels out, for at least a month before the trip. Put food and water in the dish. Let the animals get used to the kennels and, if possible, don’t use them for anything else. You don’t want them to associate it with a trip to the vet or anything else stressful.

We used United Airlines for our trip. A few things to keep in mind:

  • It’s fucking expensive. Each cat was about $700, plus the fee once we arrived in the UK (more on that)
  • There are very specific rules about the time the cats need to arrive before the flight and, if you have a connection, the time in between. Our flight left at 6:55 AM; we had to drop our cats off at cargo at 3:30 AM. That is not a typo. And we had a connecting flight, so there needed to be at least three hours between connections because of the international component.
  • You will need to work with a pet importer on the other end. I strongly recommend you go with whomever the airline uses, because that’s their partner and they do this on a daily basis. It might be a little more expensive, but these are your family members; do you really want to screw around with this?

One thing we learned that was pretty cool is that pets are the very last thing that gets loaded onto the plane and the very first thing that gets unloaded. When we landed in Houston, we had barely taken our seat belts off when we saw a van with “Pet care” on the side pulling away from our plane. They get the animals to a safe and comfortable place to reduce their stress. Awwwww.

Okay, back to the process of getting your animals approved and avoiding quarantine. No more than ten days (check your airline on the specifics, but they mean business – 11 days and you’ll be rejected if their rules say ten) before travel, your animals will need to be seen by a USDA approved vet, who will complete a pet health certificate. (You might see mention of a pet passport, but that only works within the EU.) They’ll do a quick check of your animal, and then fill out this really complicated form and emboss their seal in it. If you have fewer than five pets, they’ll all be listed on the same certificate. You can find the details here.

Now, here’s the part that almost totally fucked us over: you THEN need to send this certificate, along with proof of micro-chipping and proof of rabies shot (all signed in BLUE INK) to your regional USDA office, which needs to check it, emboss the certificate, and send it back to you.

Are you thinking what I am? That you can’t do the vet appointment until ten days before you arrive in the UK, but you also have to send it somewhere? Yeah. We didn’t realize it until the morning of the vet visit. Luckily the regional USDA office is only an hour from where we lived, so we got the money order (that’s what they need) for the certificates and paid for express overnight delivery, and pre-paid for express overnight return delivery. We sent it on Wednesday and got it back Friday morning, which was good, because our flight was Tuesday. SO MUCH STRESS.

If possible, and if your USDA office is nearby, make an in-person appointment. Then you can just drive over and get it done, instead of spending a couple of days hoping that Fed Ex doesn’t manage to mess it up. But make the in-person appointment well in advance – they book up quickly.

I mentioned above that you need to work with a pet importer to handle the animals when they arrive. They will have some paperwork that you need to complete, and they will be your contact when you arrive in the UK, delivering your pets to animal customs and letting you know when they are available for pick up. When you book your cats through the airline, get the information on who they recommend you use.

Leaving Your Job

If you’re like me (the one who didn’t have a UK job offer), you’ve got some soul searching to do about what this means for your career. Hopefully you and your partner have already agreed that moving overseas is a real option, and you’ve talked through what the expectations are around you finding a job once you arrive in the UK. But regardless, at some point you’ll need to tell your boss.

I have an excellent relationship with my former boss. She’s always been supportive, and I’ve always felt I could be open with her. Our journey to London can be traced back to my husband being laid off about seven months before we arrived, so she knew that he was looking for work. I told her when he flew to the UK for an interview in September, and when he received the job offer. We worked together on transition documents and planned for all eventualities.

But — and I think this is key — she didn’t consider my notice official until our visas arrived. So in the end, she had about three months’ notice that it was a possibility, two months that it was likely, and one month that it was definitely happening.

If you want to keep things positive between you and your company, I recommend you spend time putting together a comprehensive transition document. I also recommend you start saving files and contacts that you might need to either get a job when you move back, or to help show prospective employers in the UK what you can do (within the rules set forth by your employment contract, of course).

If you don’t have a good relationship with your boss, or you are worried that if you give them a heads up they’ll let you go just when you need to be building up a little reserve of funds, then just follow the regular process as if you’re leaving for another job. Usually even the more unreasonable bosses will understand that you’re leaving for your partner and an opportunity to live in another country, and that it isn’t personal (even if it totally also is).

Some rental agencies might want evidence that you used to work, so if possible, see if you can get a generic “to whom it may concern” letter of reference from your boss that says you can be trusted to rent a flat, and includes what your salary was when you left.