Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Make an International Move (Not a Blueprint)

Morgan and I found out in late April that we would have the opportunity to move to Belgium for 6 months. By late May, we were moved out of our apartment in Denver, off to stay with his mother for a month. By late June we were on a series of planes to our new country.

That sounds pretty orderly, but the road here was certainly not straight.

Here's our how-to on moving:

Two months out:

Start working on the documents needed for your visa right away. Feel proud of yourself for having most of your original documents already at hand. Get fingerprinted ASAP for an FBI background check and send it in with no delay.

Downsize your belongings; make many trips to Goodwill. Sell some stuff on Craigslist.

Investigate the requirements to take your dog with you. Rejoice that there are no quarantine restrictions for Belgium.

Give notice on your apartment.

One month out:

Realize that even with putting some things in storage, you have far too much stuff to take overseas. Have the garage sale to end all garage sales.

Sell things you thought you might keep. Then sell things you were sure you would keep.

Pack everything that remains and put into either "storage" or "going" pile. Realize it's still a lot of stuff. Seriously, where did all of this come from?!

During this whole time, keep communicating with the folks in Belgium about the job, plane tickets and housing situation without really getting all the details needed due to timing, translation issues, or not knowing the right questions to ask.

Fill your storage unit, load up your trailer with everything else and head out to your temporary home for a month.

Work on Dutch lessons.

Two weeks out:

Realize that taking the dog doesn't work for a variety of reasons. Completely freak out about finding a 6-month home for her.

Finally get the plane tickets settled.

Learn that you have to have health insurance for a dependent (like your wife) to submit with your visa application.

Learn that you have to have a completed rental agreement signed to submit with your visa application.

Ten days out:

Celebrate the arrival of two envelopes from the FBI. Have the joy turn to horror when you realize that you're receiving one completed background check and one rejection letter because your fingerprints "are not of a sufficient quality."

Search the internet to find someone to fingerprint you again RIGHT. NOW.

Go to his office and find out he's thoroughly incompetent. Have a near-breakdown.

Go to the police station and have them fingerprint you. Twice. Overnight these to the FBI.

Call the FBI and see if there's anything they can do for you, since they don't expedite paperwork for private citizens; you have to go through an approved channeler for that.

The next day, get fingerprinted yet again. Twice. Send these through a channeler.

Try to maintain enough calm to get through more Dutch lessons.

One week out:

Finally find a home (a good home) for your dog. This would feel like the weight of the world lifted, but your fingerprints are still out there somewhere holding up your visa.

Call the Belgian consulate and ask if you can come in person to get the visas if there's not enough time for mailing. Yes, you can.

Read up on baggage allowances for your flights. Realize that yet again, you have way too much stuff. Make more cuts.

Research luggage. Find out how it's possible to work with a 13-lb carryon limit.

Start trying to fit your possessions into your allowed luggage, mindful both of weight and volume restrictions.

Redefine your definition of "necessary."

A little less than a week out, get your background check back via overnight mail. Celebrate that the last thing is finally here.

Four days out:

Sadly say goodbye to your dog.  Know that she's going to be just fine, though.

Keep repacking your suitcases and weighing them. Watch the "maybe" pile shrink and the "no" pile grow.

Three days out:

Get up in the middle of the night and drive from Northern California to the Belgian Consulate in LA.

Have a moment of panic when it turns out that the only remaining holdup isn't the FBI report you've brought with you, but the one you mailed in earlier in the week. They don't have it. Try not to faint.

Find out you can send a scan, so you just need to nail down some internet access and send that to them. Have drama finding internet access and parking in the same place, but get it sent.

Walk out with the visas in your hot little hands and a sense of triumph in your hearts. The euphoria sustains you through the long drive back home.

Two days and one day out:

Say your goodbyes to everyone.

Donate lots more to the Goodwill. Pack up the rest to be stored. Weigh your suitcases a final time.

Try to sleep. 

The day of travel:

Discover that 3 checked bags, 2 laptop bags, and 2 carryon bags are actually kind of a lot to wrangle.

Give a mental (and maybe physical) fist-pump when your checked bags all come in at least a couple of pounds below the limit.

Make all your flights, in spite of delays and a crazy woman in Frankfurt who had to be dragged off the shuttle by police.

Reclaim your bags (yay, they all made it!), drag them to the train station and onto your train.

Exit train station, find taxi driver. Try to resist the urge to explain that you're not just the world's worst vacation packers when his fellow driver laughs at the guy for drawing the fare with all the heavy bags.

Get to bed and breakfast (home for 3 days), find out your room is up 2 tiny, narrow flights of stairs. You'd re-examine yet again your definition of "necessary," but you really just want to go to sleep, so you lug them upstairs and fall into bed.


And that's it. I'll continue the story once we get into our apartment (tomorrow!) and check in with the city officials (required within 8 days of our arrival).