I don’t know why it has taken me over a year to document the details of how we actually moved our family and our belongings to the UK. Maybe I needed that much time just to recover from the stress of it! Anyone who has moved from one place to another knows that the actual process of moving is no fun. And the complications of making that move an international one is not for the faint of heart. Note: this article is not about getting a visa – just the actual moving process. See details about how we got UK visas here.
First, I’ll explain how my family got here.
My husband came over to England for a few days about three weeks before our family was due to move here. He spent the bulk of that visit looking at rental properties. He selected his favorite, and my husband’s company then worked on finalizing the lease. A week later, we sold our house in Indiana and moved into a hotel for a little over a week, and then lived with family for our last few days in the U.S.
On Tuesday, May 31, the day we were due to fly out, we got a phone call saying that the lease wasn’t finished and that our house might not be available. We boarded our flight that afternoon anyway, without any idea as to where we would go once we landed. That’s a frightening situation, especially when you have two young children. (I will say, however, that my husband’s company has been amazingly supportive to us throughout the process. I knew they wouldn’t leave us stranded at Heathrow. But the unknown was still scary.)
When we landed, we were told to go to a temporary apartment in a nearby city and plan to be there for a few days. The lease still wasn’t sorted out. Fortunately, a few days later, it was, and we eventually moved into the house we had originally planned to be in. It was such a relief, and 4 weeks after leaving our Indiana home, very nice to finally feel settled again. Compared to other expats I talk to, we actually had a pretty simple transition in terms of housing. Many expats live in temporary housing for much longer, or make several moves until they’re settled in a permanent place.
So what about our belongings?
This was even more complicated, quite frankly. Basically, over a several week period, my husband and I slowly divided up our belongings into 5 different categories. They were: throw away/giveaway, storage, sea shipment, air shipment, or suitcases. The first is obvious. Since we were moving into a smaller house, we got rid of anything we felt we wouldn’t need or didn’t want to keep any longer.
My husband’s company allowed us to store anything we didn’t want to take to England. For us, this included a small piano and several pieces of furniture we knew we wouldn’t have space for. Things we hope to use again when we move back.
The sea shipment category is the main category that the bulk of our belongings went into. On the day the movers came to our Indiana home, they boxed up anything labeled “sea” and put it on a large semi-truck. That container was later transferred to a boat, which was then transported to England via cargo ship. Once it cleared customs, it was brought to our house here. In all, it took about six weeks to get most of our stuff. I’m told this is a really fast timeline.
The air shipment arrived much sooner. We had a weight limit on this, naturally, as its incredibly expensive to ship via air. We used our allotted weight on some basic kitchen supplies so that I could cook, toys for our kids, and some additional clothes and shoes. It took about three weeks to get our air shipment (although because we had that shipped two weeks before we actually moved, we only had to wait about a week in England for it).
Otherwise, for that transition period, we lived out of five suitcases. Each family member had a small suitcase full of clothes and toiletries, and we had an extra suitcase full of toys and activities for our kids. Thankfully, my husband’s company rented two small loveseats and three beds so that we at least had a place to sit down and to sleep at night for the month-long wait for the rest of our furniture. If I learned nothing else from that time period, I learned how much you really don’t need most of the things you own. But I’ll never forget the way the walls of our new house echoed for those first few weeks because it was primarily empty.
So that’s how our move to England transpired. It was a complicated, stressful time, but so worth it in the end. The lasting image I have in my head is everything in our Indiana home, down to the books on our bookshelves and clothes in our closets, with a yellow post-it note that read “air” “sea” or “storage.” I still laugh about that. Now I dread doing it all over again, in reverse!