Moving Abroad – Again – Part 4

Time flies! Almost a year has passed since my last post. I seem to have a tendency to forget the existence of this blog.

I have some news to tell: I moved abroad again. This time I packed my stuff in London and moved to Berlin. My employer is still the same so things haven’t really changed that much at work. Different office in a different country, but familiar workmates.

I have to say that I’m already missing London a lot, although Berlin is a big city and full of interesting adventures and experiences, especially in the local bureaucracy. I could write a hundred posts about struggling in a German speaking environment, but expat forums are already full of similar stories. I’ll save you from the pain!

The only advise I can give you: Learn the language! It will make your life much easier.

Google Translate is also your best friend. I’m still wondering how people managed to survive in a foreign country before the internet?

Moving Abroad – Part 3

How to find a place to live in a new city? Well, it’s simple: in the same way as in any city. First you decide the areas where you want to live. Then post a reply to an ad or post your own ad. You can also use an agency, which costs some money. When you find something interesting, just go to see the place and make an offer.

There is one important rule, which applies to every country and city in the world. Don’t sign or pay anything without seeing the place first.

It takes some time to get to know different areas in a new city. It’s useful to do some research and take a sightseeing tour in your desired area. All you need is to find out an answer to the question: would you want to live there?

Locals usually know the best flat hunting tips, so I recommend asking their advice.

Moving Abroad – Part 2

A new city. Full of possibilities. Lots of challenges ahead. Not a single day goes by without something new to learn. Sometimes everything goes as planned, sometimes nothing seems to work.

Packing stuff and organising a transport is just the beginning. When moving abroad, it is important to find out about the bureaucracy of the target country. Are there any mandatory steps to take? Do you need to tell the authorities? Do you need to apply for a work permit or a visa or can you just step out of the plane and start making money?

When you leave your home country as an expatriate working for the same employer, everything is easier. There’s always the HR department to answer your questions. Your new colleagues can also help. Internet is full of forums and expat groups with answers. There might even be a wiki in the company intranet containing all the important stuff.

In my case the new country is UK, which is an easy place for an EU or EEC citizen. There isn’t huge amount of forms to fill and permits to apply for. In theory, you can just step out of the plane and stay in the country.

In practice, you need to at least apply for a National Insurance Number. Which is one phone call to book a time slot for an interview and about half an hour spent at Job Centre Plus, answering the questions. Plus the unknown amount of time spent while queueing before the interview with other immigrants, of course, and waiting for several weeks to receive the actual NI number.

There is one catch, which is important to understand. In Finland, there is a register of residents that organisations and companies use to get your address details. In the UK there is not. In Finland you just give a notification of move and your details will get updated automatically after a short period of time. In the UK you will often have to prove your address if you want to register to services.

You need a proof of address to open a bank account. You will also need a proof of address to apply for the NI number.

Usually. Not always. It varies a lot.

What is a proof of address then? There is also some variation, but the most common proof is a utility bill sent to you, to your local address. Electricity, gas, water or landline phone bill will do fine. Sometimes a bank or credit card statement will also be fine. Sometimes a letter from an authority is fine. In theory, these documents act as a proof that you live in that particular address. In practice, this is of course not 100% reliable method, but there aren’t any better solutions.

I happen to live in a company accommodation (temporary solution), which means that I don’t get any utility bills. Banks are helpful to list on their websites the documents you need to show to prove your eligibility to open an account. What they might not mention is that in some branch your statement from a foreign bank is not a valid proof of address because that bank is not well known. In some other branch there might be a person who will accept it.

I visited three different banks until I managed to open a bank account without a proof of address, but I have heard stories that it’s not always that straightforward in my bank. It often depends on the position of stars and the Moon on the sky. If the bank you visit does not approve your documents, try the next one.

I also managed to pass the NI number interview without providing any proof of my address. Maybe I was just lucky?

In the next part I will tell my joyful story about finding a place to live.

Moving Abroad – Part 1

Most of us have experience in moving. We know what it takes to pack everything we have in boxes and transport them. The distance to the new home and the amount of stuff to transport there defines the difficulty level of the moving project.

The easiest level is moving to the next door with a minimal amount of stuff that you can carry by yourself without any help. The most difficult level would be moving a family of several people and everything they own to the other side of the globe.

Moving abroad is always trickier than moving inside the country and preparing for it requires more time.

I counted I have lived in 25 different addresses in Finland and that is a big number. Moving has become a routine to me. Just find a new flat, sign the tenancy agreement, give notice to the old landlord and start packing. Rent a van, move your stuff, unpack and you’re done. Everything usually happens in one month because the tenancy notice period in Finland is one month.

I didn’t have any experience in moving abroad, but I had heard lots of horror stories. Now I have relocated myself to London and I thought I could document my experiences and share my horror and success stories.

I began preparing for my move by deciding that I will not buy anything I can’t take with me. This was few months before signing the employment contract.

After visiting London and the office, and making decision that I want to move there, I created a list of stuff I have. I noticed that there was lots and lots of things that I hadn’t needed for years. I even found a trailer hook bike rack I had purchased for a move from Tampere to Vantaa and never needed it again.

Everybody has stuff they never need. I recommend getting rid of things you haven’t needed for two years. Don’t buy anything if you need it only once. When you move in the country, it’s easy to just transport the same garbage to the new home and forget it until you move again. When you move abroad, every piece of junk increases the moving costs that are already higher.

Decide what you want to keep in storage, what you want to take with you and what you want to get rid of. I had around 6 weeks time to sort out everything, which is not much. I barely made it and I was not working during the last 2 weeks.

I decided to leave my 500 CDs in storage and to get rid of all the furniture, books and DVDs and everything I didn’t want to keep. I started selling and giving stuff to friends and relatives. I posted ads on Tori.fi and Facebook recycling groups, and shared a table at a flea market with friends. The amount of money I got was not that big compared to the price I had paid. It’s not easy to get more than 10-20€ for an item that cost 100€ unless somebody really needs it now and is willing to pay more. Selling stuff for a decent price requires time.

After two weeks I had no furniture left, but my closets were not empty yet. I scanned all the important documents and threw away the ones that were not important. I even found exam papers from my college years that I had kept for 15 years. I strongly recommend doing a thorough spring cleaning every year. Throw away everything you don’t need. Create scanned backups of important documents when you receive them. It’s much easier than scanning hundred pages in a hurry. Keep your things neatly in order.

Somebody’s rubbish is often somebody’s treasure and other way around. It is surprising how wanted some items are, and how difficult it is to get rid of vases, candle holders and anything from IKEA.

Selling and giving stuff also requires lots of interaction with people. You should create lists what you are selling, to whom and who is coming to get something yesterday, today and tomorrow. Some people don’t introduce themselves when they call or email, which is rude. It is also difficult to keep track on agreed deals if you don’t know who you’re dealing with. I recommend not putting a phone number in your public ads.

Sometimes the easiest way to get rid of something is to post a message on your local Facebook recycling group and give it for free. You might even make somebody happy and receive some good karma.

There are things that nobody wants and you just have to dump them in the trash bin, but be responsible and recycle! Find out where to take old electronic devices, cables and special waste that shouldn’t end up on a landfill site.

It takes lots of time to empty the drawers and closets. I handed out the last item from my empty flat on the last evening before I was flying to London.

The amount of stuff you can transport to the new country is dependent on how much does it cost and how much you have space to store them. I’m mostly transporting stuff that I will need. The transporting costs are often also lower than the price tag on new corresponding items. There are several moving companies that you can use, but they might be expensive. Some small companies and private people are also doing transporting business. Their cost might be only a small part of the price of a professional moving company. Pick the one that best suits your needs. Use the services of Niemi, Victor Ek or some other big professional moving company if your employer pays the bill. Look up for experiences people have had if the company is not well-known. You don’t want to lose your boxes on their way to your new home and I bet you want them to arrive undamaged.

Pick a good and affordable storage for stuff you don’t want to throw away or sell, but cannot transport to the new country. They might be there for years, so choose wisely. I’m using relatives’ and friends’ storage spaces instead of an expensive storage room. I don’t have anything that would be worth the cost, although I don’t want anyone to steal my drum kit. If you are afraid of losing your stuff, get an insurance.

Then there’s everything you need to find out about the country and the city you’re moving to. There are still lots of things that are unknown to me, but I’ll write more about my experiences later.

Hello, world!

Long time no see! I actually forgot that I have a blog, so it’s about time to write a new post.

Yesterday we had an alumni meet-up with the great colleagues from Luxus, where I used to work in 2010-2012. Many of us have worked quite a long time on the web industry, in both digital agencies and IT companies. It was nice to discuss about things from the past and debate about content manage systems and if modern HTML5, CSS and JS are just a new incarnation of DHTML!

We also talked about blogging, as many of us were active in the first wave of Finnish blogging scene. That made me think it indeed was nice to write new posts regularly for the Blogosphere. For some reason, it has been difficult to create any meaningful content after the breakthrough of social media. I’ve deleted so many drafts I never managed to finish. It has been way too easy to just share an interesting link on Twitter or Facebook instead of writing a proper blog post about it.

So, from now on, it’s less social media (read: Facebook) for me and more posting interesting content.

Unhappy with Twenty Ten

I have myself been reading blogs and other interesting websites I follow with a feed reader application for many years. Currently I’m using Reeder on iPhone and Mac (beta version available). I rarely see the look and feel of websites, unless the RSS feed only has the excerpt of a post, or if I want to write a comment.

There are some blogs that always seem to have a new fresh layout when I visit them, but most people (including me) are too busy or lazy to create a new layout every month. When you find a layout that works for you, it’s easy to stick with it and never update.

I am a little bit unhappy with the looks of my blog. I’m currently using the default WordPress theme, called Twenty Ten, without any major customizations. I know most of my readers are using a feed reader application, e.g. Google Reader, so the looks really should not matter, because they never see what my blog looks like. They just see the content. But there is some traffic coming from search engines, Twitter and Facebook, and they will see the layout.

This layout is not personal. It’s not mine. I have to create a new one.

The pool of creativity and blogging

Today, I saw a presentation about blogging and gained some new insights about a blog as a tool in leveraging your business and delivering content to your readers and the online world. That presentation reminded me that I still have this blog and I really should write more actively.

When I first started blogging in 2003 (sorry, those posts are not available anymore), a little bit over eight years ago, only a few people new what a blog was and many were thinking why someone would like to present his or her own opinions publicly on the Internet. My first posts were mostly about trying to quit smoking, studying, and other stuff that belonged to the haircut category of non-interesting topics that happen in everyday life.

Since then, I’ve written about music, politics, computers, studying, latest news and many other topics, including the haircut, but my pen keyboard is really not so sharp anymore.

I’ve often wondered where does the energy go that earlier gave me the drive to write and present my thoughts. Sometimes I feel that a human being has a limited capacity of creativity. Consider it as a pool of wonderful thoughts and ideas. Every time we tweet, comment on a Facebook post, chat on IRC for hours, play online games, watch soap operas on TV, even listen to music or just hit continuously the refresh button on an imageboard or a kitten pic site like mindless zombies, this pool is being drained into the void.

When we stop and enjoy the silence, the pool starts to fill again. If you’ve ever tried to solve a complex problem in a noisy office environment, you know, that just going out for a moment, maybe to have a cigarette (I actually quit years ago) or to breath fresh air, or in any other way sealing the disturbing factors away from your mind will help you to fill the pool again and find a solution to your problem.

Blogging is creative work and your pool has to be filled with ideas that help to create the post for your readers. When your pool is drained, you cannot create anything. I’ve been draining my pool with all kinds of useless activities, but also exhausting myself with work, studies and all the hobbies I have. Sometimes you just need to rest and then light the spark again.

One of the insights of todays presentation was that you just cannot fake passion. Blogging is like sex. You have to do it for passion, otherwise it is fake and every reader will know it.

I believe I will find my passion for writing again, because I really like writing.

Salmiac? Yes, please

Salmiac is black, salty candy that Finns love and it’s the first thing besides rye bread, that they really miss, when living abroad.

Non-Finns usually hate it and can’t stand its taste. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of experience it is for non-Finn to taste salmiac, you should read the Salmiyuck blog.

Year plus plus

Today is the last working day in this year, so it’s time to say goodbye to year 2010. Ride has been bumpy and tough. Really tough. Year 2010 has been the most difficult in my life. It’s also been one of the best. Not the first half, but the second.

During the first six months I was constantly thinking what I want to do with my life. Family and work were both something I wasn’t happy with. This of course lead to crisis, where every wall was falling at the same time. Then the roof came and collapsed, leaving me to struggle my way through the rubble. Rise up. Breath again. Be free.

I quit my job. I started in new one. Divorced and moved on my own after almost ten years. Buried my dearest grandparents. All this happened too soon, too quick. But I survived and got stronger.

Life goes on and smiles again. Thanks to great friends, who have given me their strong support and hope. You know who you are. With your help it was a lot easier to travel through sorrow and pain. I’ve been happier and everything looks better now. I believe next year will be good. Really good.

What else happened?

I got my bachelor’s degree finished. There is still lots of work to do until my studies are complete. Maybe in 2012 I’ll have two master’s degrees. That’s insane.

I have seen numerous good gigs from great bands. Played couple of good ones myself and really started playing drums again regularly.

I have the best workmates ever. I feel we have a good spirit. Let’s keep it that way.

I started saving money. I want to travel. Next trip will be to Ireland and Northern Ireland in May. Renting a car. Driving around. Scary, if you know what Irish traffic is like. And they drive on the wrong side of the road! Some day I want to see New York. Not maybe next year, but it’ll be there waiting for me.

And sports? I have really enjoyed sports again. Yesterday I played some ice hockey. I haven’t been skating much in years, but it went pretty well. I’m considering buying a pair of skates and a hockey stick. Indoor cycling while watching TV series is a regular activity now. At least once a week. In January I will continue practicing my martial arts skills in wushu kung fu. I’ve lost about 13 kg of weight in 8 months, which is nice. I still have lots of extra to lose, but I try not to stress about it.

Let’s see what next year brings. I’m ready and happy with my life.

Farewell to Bristol

Bristol screen

Finnish movie theater company Finnkino is closing down the legendary Bristol in Aikatalo. To celebrate the long history, classic movies are played during the weekend. Yesterday evening I went to see The Good, The Bad & The Ugly with Niklas and Pekka. This again reminded me how I really should see classic movies more often.

The National Audiovisual Archive plays many classics in Cinema Orion, from Totoro to Stalker. Prices are affordable, so it’s not a big deal to see great movies on screen. I’ve only seen one movie there, Peeping Tom, but I certainly recommend going there. Big screen will always beat your laptop screen.