First of all, let me state the obvious: the physical act of moving is never easy. I have moved a lot during my adult life, and while moving has gotten slightly easier over time, it’s always an incredibly painful process. This is true for moves even within one city. I have moved from one apartment to another apartment that was just 1/2 mile away and it was terribly painful. Now take a normal move and multiply it by a very large number; that’s what moving abroad entails. And, if you’re doing it on your own (without a multinational corporation that’s paying for professional international movers), go ahead and exponentially increase the pain involved again.
Start making lists, and check them twice
Outside of just dealing with all of your things, when you’re moving to another country you have to think through questions like “where should all my bills be sent?” and “how do people get in touch with me?”. In future posts I can include some tips that have worked for me, but, since everyone’s situation is a bit different, the best advice I can offer is just to start making lists of everything you need to do. These lists will include simple things like calling your credit card companies to give them a new address before you leave (it’s much more painful to call once you have left, at least until you are settled-in), but will also include some closing items like paying those final gas and electricity bills before you leave the US. Most companies and government agencies in the US aren’t equipped to deal with people who are leaving the country, so you may have to call them and work something out so you don’t end up with a $30 electricity bill that goes to collections and makes a large dent in your credit score (not only have I seen this happen to others but it happened to me the first time I moved to China — although mine was a healthcare bill for around $100 dollars). Make those lists, check them twice, and get those calls made before you leave the US.
It’s time to talk about the moving process
If your company is sending you to China the move should be a lot easier. Generally, your company will provide you with moving expenses to pay for professional international movers so you won’t have to worry about actually transporting your things to China. However, if you are like me, you won’t be lucky enough to have a company “send” you to China so you’ll have to do some hauling on your own, and you’ll have to cover the all, or most, of the expenses yourself. If that is the case, then there are some things you can do without.
First of all, many of the apartments in the first and second-tier cities in China are furnished, so if you are paying for some or all of the move yourself, don’t bring your furniture with you. You can just plan to look for an apartment with all of the major furniture you need and can move on to other concerns. Unless you are a professional chef, leave your expensive pots and pans at home and buy them after you move unless you happen to have extra space in your luggage and don’t mind dealing with the extra weight.
What should you bring with you? Personally, I buy nearly all of my clothes and shoes in the US and bring them to China with me. You are likely thinking to yourself that this doesn’t make any sense since what I buy in the US is surely made in China, so why would I not just buy it in China for a fraction of the price I can get it for in the US? And you would theoretically be right, except that I rarely find the same clothes in China and, when I do, it’s more expensive than it is in the US. Even though much of what we can purchase in the US is made in China, those items aren’t destined for the Chinese market. There are not only quality differences, but differences of fit that will likely adversely affect your ability to buy clothes you like in China. You may be able to buy clothes you like after you get to China, but my recommendation is to always bring the clothes you need just in case.
In addition to just clothing, any time I return to the US I stock up on many different items that you probably don’t think you would need to buy in large quantities and bring to China with you. I nearly always stock up on toiletries, including deodorant and floss. When I first lived in China floss was extremely difficult to find, and even when you could find it the quality was terrible (imagine fishing-wire coated in glass). Now there is are a variety of flosses available, but floss is compact and one package can last for a while, so I think it’s worth stocking up so you have one less thing to worry about.
Deodorant is another interesting one. If you know where to look, you can find some deodorant in China, but it’s generally a gel. I’m not a gel deodorant type of guy, so I bring large quantities of deodorant with me anytime I come back from the US. And yes, I am in business, so yes, this seems like an obvious business opportunity. I’m still considering starting a deodorant importing business, but in the meanwhile if you start importing invisible solids into China let me know and I would be happy to buy some from you when I run out.
While you’re busy packing, don’t forget that moving is emotionally taxing as well
Finally, while dealing with the logistics of moving all of your stuff, don’t forget to give yourself enough time to manage the emotional strain that moving brings. Just moving a short distance can cause a lot of stress. Moving to a different country with a different language that you may not speak will cause your stress-level to go through the roof. And that’s before taking cultural and dietary differences into account. You may not realize it until you collapse a week before you need to leave, feeling that you can’t possibly finish it all and why are you moving to China, anyway! Try to leave enough time to see your friends and family before you move, and just spend time getting used to the fact that you’re leaving. The emotional adjustment will be hard, but you’re in for an exciting experience so try to keep that in mind.
Now get to packing!