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.