Dispatches from England: Details about the Actual Moving Process From the USA to the UK


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!

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  1. avatar says

    I am going through this right now. Will be shipping my belongings via boat so I’m really nervous about that. I think I found a reliable shipper though.

  2. avatarSandra says

    I’m smiling to myself because although my situation was slightly different, I went through similar routines. I gave up my apartment in the UK to come to Canada for a 2 year job. My furniture, fish tank, plants, stereo etc., were all sold/given away. I remember for the last week before my departure I was living in a pared down house using things borrowed from friends! I packed 2 of the largest suitcases I could find and packed them solid with the best of my clothing (the rest went to Goodwill). Thankfully my employer who had paid for my flight expenses was understanding about my “overweight” cases. Things that had personal memories went to my mother’s attic, after all, this was just going to be for 2 years. Twenty two years later, I am still here in Canada.(legally!) After my 2 year contract expired, I was able to stay on and at one stage worked for a corporate pilot. He happened to be flying to the UK so he asked me if I had anything “back home” that I’d like to have brought back to Canada. His flight plans took him to within an hour of my mom’s house; her vehicle was loaded up and all my personal items were put on board the jet and brought here. Opening up those boxes after about 5 years was like Christmas! All this time later, now with hubby, 2 girls, and various pets!, I wouldn’t want to have to move house again!

  3. avatarLovBrighton says

    This is an interesting process, however one I am VERY accustom to I have moved with the military several times in the past 20 years, that of course includes deployments which are no fun at all. But ALL the moves have been adventures that I would not trade for anything.

    • avatarRoxanne Stickler says

      One of the best parts is that you don’t have to pack your own stuff! Just sort through it beforehand – an unenviable task at any time. =)

      When my husband accepted a civilian nursing position with the US Army in Germany, it was 4 mo before we actually arrived. Even though we had someone to help us get oriented to the post, it was a daunting task finding a residence, especially with the language difference, and many local landlords were not willing to rent to Americans. It took almost 4 months to find a place, which, ironically, ended up being across a common area from one of his co-workers & occupied by another who was transferring back to the US.

  4. avatarchris nicholls says

    I would love to experience the move to the UK as I am married to a Brit, but as an American RN, it’s nearly impossible to get the Nurse/Midwifery council to approve my education for a job in the NHS. With a nursing shortage of over 200k, I am astonished they chose to shun Americans over EU nurses. It’s very disappointing.

    • avatarRoxanne Stickler says

      Things must have changed a lot since my husband applied for a license in the UK ‘several’ years ago. We were quite surprised at how quickly he was approved; unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out & he was unable to accept a position at that time.

    • avatarchrissy says

      I have friends who are RNs who got through the process in the UK quite quickly. I found the process of getting qualifications accepted here in the US was a very expensive nightmare Then I was told that my experience of 40 years as an RN and 10 years as a team leader in the British Army counted for nothing and even after I had done it all I would be a basic Staff nurse . In the UK nurses are not “doctors handmaidens” but are considered professionals in their own right. Here when in hospital I was told I could not take a shower as the doctor had not written the orders to allow it!! I moved from Germany to here with my US born and bred Husband. The process you describe was similar except we sold or sent everything – storage was not an option . Went pretty smoothly though it took about 8 weeks for our stuff to arrive . Having experienced the very poor and expensive health care system here and laws on employment which are 200 years behind the time , I regret our decision somewhat at times , though I do love the US in general

    • avatarDennis Wesley says

      Chris, you might want to look at working as an RN with a U.S. contractor at one of our Air Force bases in the UK (Lakenheath etc…). When I was in Germany with the Air Force, most of the ICU nurses were contract positions, and…..they worked from their U.S. licenses.

    • avatarBarbara says

      As a British trained R.N. living in the U.S. I think you will find the quickest way for you is to seek a travel assignment. The Travel Company will deal with all that for you.

  5. avatarLeslie says

    I wonder how much it would cost to ship a 6 foot grand piano … would probably be the only thing I’d want with me 😉

    • avatar says

      Leslie, interestingly enough, the only two items my husband’s company refuses to get involved with as far as moving are pianos and pets. (Many people do move pets over, it’s just complicated and expensive).

    • avatarRoxanne Stickler says

      You might be surprised at the cost; we looked into shipping a medium-sized car a couple of years ago – not nearly as bad as I expected. I just did a Google-search & e-mailed several companies.

  6. avatarMelissa says

    Did you take any electronics (TVs, computers, etc) with you and use converters or did you sell/give it away? I lived in the UK for seven years, but I was a 21 year old with hardly any belongings so I only had clothes mostly. Moving back to the States following a divorce was hard; I had to leave behind many things (books!). Lately, I’ve been debating about moving back so I’ve been trying to talk my husband into moving abroad. It’s easier because I’ve acquired British Citizenship while there. But still difficult moving.

    • avatar says

      Great question! We brought our computer and iPad over, and just bought UK chargers for them. We left our tv behind and bought one here. We didn’t bother with any other electrical appliances and have just purchased new ones here. (Mostly the cheapest ones we can find, since they only have to last a few years.) We’ve learned that converters are pretty useless other than charging (and we blew a few fuses trying to use them for anything other than that purpose) and we didn’t want to bother with the cumbersome transformers. We keep a few converters on hand for when we have visitors from the U.S.

  7. avatarRoxanne Stickler says

    Quite a few electronics are either dual-voltage or their converters are. In fall, 2012, I was happy to find travel converters worked for my tablet, camera battery recharger and cell phone. I even found a couple that plugged into the car so I could charge things as we travelled.

  8. avatarmalaysianmeanders says

    I’m reading this just as the movers are packing up our belongings in Malaysia for our return to the USA. Our sea shipment over here took 10 weeks, so I am optimistically hoping for something faster for our return. I found that color-coding the post-it notes so that Sea, Air, and Storage all have a different color really helped reduce mix ups.

  9. avatar says

    Moving to the UK taught me not to be too attached to our stuff. We did bring the dog and cats with us, though–you can’t just walk away from them–and it turned out not to be as traumatic as I expected. The airlines demand that they be in large crates, they were let out for exercise during the transfer, and they arrived in great shape. The hardest parts were the paperwork and the drive from Heathrow to Cornwall, with two cats yowling in the back of the car. It was expensive, though.

  10. avatarJennifer says

    May I ask, you don’t have to give the exact amount, but how much did it cost to ship via air and sea? Thank you :)

  11. avatarCristina T. says

    Hi Nicole,
    I am about to move to the UK very soon. Would you mind giving me some company names that you used when you shipped your belongings by sea and air?
    Thanks! :)

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