Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Moving Overseas, Part 9

This week has not gone very well, probably because I’ve been ill since Sunday with some sort of illness that makes me vomit a lot. Last week, I thought I had everything figured out, but this week, I’ve been confronted by an increasingly complex tangle of paperwork and problems and with having to make decisions about how to spend huge sums of money (well, huge sums in the view of this unemployed scientist). All the while, I am reminded how intelligent I was to resist the pressure put on me to relocate anywhere unless I knew I had a job first.

Here’s a list of everything that has gone wrong so far.

First, I learned that my VISA card is being targeted to be removed from my possession (by forcing me to re-apply for my own credit card) or charged a monthly or annual fee by my credit card issuer, Bank of America. This is because I am one of those people who pays off my entire balance every month — and I have done this my entire life. (Despite this, my credit rating is absolutely abysmal due to two medical bills that had been unpaid (until this last Monday), so my ability to qualify for another credit card is somewhere between zero and none). If I have to reapply for my credit card or pay an annual fee within the next few months, I will have to give up my credit card altogether. This will have strong impacts upon my ability to purchase airplane tickets online and to pay the movers after my things have arrived in Germany. I finally called my Seattle credit union today to talk to them about this, and they said they issue their own secured credit cards and can get one to me within a few business days, so this problem — when it arises — has been averted.

The second issue is my mail. The post office gave me conflicting information about international mail forwarding, so yesterday, I asked one employee to look at the postal regulations. I learned that the post office will not forward mail anywhere outside of the country, regardless of what it is (letters, packages, books, etc). I have several thousand dollars in checks (for my apartment security deposit and a few paychecks for my writing) that potentially will not be delivered to me, in addition to the books that are sent to me by publishing houses. I asked the postal worker what other people do about their mail when they move overseas, and she said she had no idea. I was really worried about this, and mentioned it to Ken, one of the movers I was talking with today. He suggested that there are professional international mail forwarding services that I can use, so I started to investigate those tonight, starting here.

Another problem has been the shipping crate for my birds. I thought I could get the plans for this crate finalized last week, but was alerted to the possibility that I cannot ship birds of different species in the same crate. Since I was planning to have an individual compartment built for each bird within the crate itself, I was surprised that this was a potential problem, especially since no one I checked with had ever heard of this requirement before. Finally, as of today, I received enough IATA information about shipping crates for live animals to be able to proceed with my original plan; to have one crate built with separate compartments for each bird. I will be on the phone to Tom tomorrow morning, hoping that I still have enough time to get this crate built and shipped to me before we all have to be on the plane.

I am also worried about my veterinarian who will issue the birds’ health certificates. Despite promises that I would get an estimate in email, I still haven’t heard from my veterinarian about the cost for a housecall to write the birds’ health certificates and to draw blood to test for the H5 antigen, so I have to contact him again to arrange this. I am just really surprised I have to ask three times for this when I’ve got so many other things to worry about right now.

I also made contact with a veterinarian in Germany, who it turns out, was on vacation. He did email me to let me know that I won’t hear from him until next week — at the earliest. I was temporarily calmed by this, but now, I am really anxious about this time delay — probably because the movers are really anxious about my move; they want a one-month notice before scheduling a move — and that is something I cannot give them.

Last but not least, I have been trying to deal with movers, their estimators and the thousands of dollars that moving all my damned books will cost me. Apparently, the mysterious Wayne was really giving me an excessively low estimate to move everything — an estimate that he couldn’t guarantee, even if he wanted to, which would lead to tremendous stress after everything had been moved and I was hit with the final bill in Germany. When I expressed concerns to Wayne about the weight for 10,000 books, he repeatedly told me that his company only charges by volume, not weight. After speaking to two other movers this week, I found that this is not the truth: all international moves charge by both weight and volume. Books, because they are “high density items” are expensive to move, while furniture is bulky but relatively light when compared to books. So the two movers I dealt with today have given me more believable estimates for packing, loading and moving my personal things door-to-door. It looks like the calm and communicative Ken of Sterling International will be winning this job.

Ron, who is a freelance estimator hired by Sterling International, told me that I have a tremendous amount of work ahead of me. He says I need to write a detailed inventory of every item I am moving and its value. This list will be used to pass customs and this list will also be used for insurance purposes. Customs will compare this list to my list of items that I export if I ever leave Germany — bringing 10,000 books into the country is viewed with great suspicion because it looks as though I might be a book seller instead of a person who reads lots of books and has an extensive working library. If the customs officials at the port decide I am a sneaky sort of bookseller, this means I have to pay import taxes and fill out a different set of paperwork.

Ron also suggested that I go to a stationary store and purchase packages of colored stickers so I can stick different colors on each box as a color-code for where these boxes are supposed to be placed in the flat where I will be living in in Germany. Since I only know naughty words in German and the German movers likely know little to no English, the colored dot system is the easiest way to spare me from months of digging through hundreds of boxes in search of the dinnerware. Ron also suggested I give the movers a floor plan of the flat I will be living in with the appropriate colored sticker in each room where the color-coded boxes should be placed. After Ron left, I was really depressed because of the amount of additional work that I am suddenly confronted with.

Comments

  1. #1 Kim
    October 22, 2009

    I moved the other way, and sea freight, which is what you will be using, goes by volume only. If they charge you for the weight, it is because of the added land transport.

  2. #2 chall
    October 23, 2009

    My friends moved from canada to sweden and did all their shipping by sea and then the crates weren’t weighed but only looked at “cubic meters”. It took them 3 months give or take but I am sure this was due to them saying “we want the cheapest option” and the company no putting any stress on their crate.

    In regards to the checks. I would ask a co-worker/friend who still lives in the US to be an address since this is much less hassle for you. Either this friend can be allowed to cash your checks or you will probably ask for a “money order” since american checks can be difficult to cash in other countries. i guess a German bank might be different but it is very hard to cash an American check in Sweden in my experience….

    Good luck with moving and all! I’m sorry you didn’t win the Antartica blogging. I voted for you and hoped! It would have been so fun to read.

  3. #3 Jeff Knapp
    October 23, 2009

    Yup. Moving is a lot of work. I personally hate it. But, based on what you wrote here, it is not that bad. You are not having to pack it all for example. That is the bulk of the work and time in moving. As for inventorying everything – just hunker down and do it. Take it one shelf, one row, one section at a time and don’t look at the whole thing and just plug away at it. Believe it or not, it will get done.

    Basically, for the next month, this is your job – preparing for the move. You can do this. Really.

  4. #4 Eva
    October 23, 2009

    Do what chall says with the checks: arrange for someone in the US to cash them and wire the money. (You can probably ask your apartment deposit check to be written out in another person’s name). You really don’t want to have to go through the hassle of cashing American checks anywhere in Europe. They don’t understand checks, and they charge ridiculous fees. You’ll lose WAY more money that way than if you convert it to electrons on the US side first.

    Any other banking task, you’ll find that European banks charge far less, but checks are alien to them and therefore expensive.

    Paychecks for writing: if you think you don’t get them in time before you leave, ask for them to NOT be sent, and WAIT until you’re all set in Germany with a bank account. Then ask the German bank for all the information someone would need to send money from the US (BIC/SWIFT codes, etc.), give that info to whoever owes you money, and tell them to charge you for all the transaction costs. It will be cheaper for you, and it will save the client a cheque at no extra cost to them.

  5. #5 Sharon
    October 24, 2009

    Hi

    Moving overseas is indeed a lot of work.

    I read what you said about having to write an inventory list. This is a huge work (have done it myself several times)

    You can simplify it by using an home inventory templete.
    Microsoft has a templete that you can download free at the following link http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/TC102068811033.aspx?CategoryID=CT100649391033

    Best of Luck
    Sharon

  6. #6 skrpune
    October 25, 2009

    The inventory was a cause of great consternation for me when I did a move from the US to Canada & back. Check with your movers AND customs officials regarding details as to how they want you to do the inventory of your belongings.

    For customs, there are specific rules regarding categories and how much detail is needed…I doubt the rules will be the same for Germany as they were for Canada, but I had to do separate subtotals for personal belongings vs household goods. After I had already done an incredibly detailed listing of everything I owned, it was only then I found out that I only had to put general values/amounts. Save yourself some work and headaches and ask for examples and the documented regulations so you know what you’re in for with the inventory.

    One other thing to look at is the details on how to clear your belongings through customs once they reach the other side. Is the moving company going to do this for you, or do you have to do it? Check the paperwork you need either way. I had to do it myself at the customs office in Canada (and I needed a separate inventory copy of my own and our border docs/work permits and ID’s/passports), but the moving company was allowed to do it for me on the return to the US.

    Good luck, and just try not to stress out too bad.

  7. #7 n
    October 27, 2009

    i am a post doc in ny. read your blog off and on.
    I’d be willing to hold your cheques for you if you like- u can redirect them to my address- you can leave your atm card with me before you take off and i’ll deposit them for you. email me if u need any other kind of help also, locally.

  8. #8 Gunnar Engblom
    October 29, 2009

    Rather than receiving checks, tell your payers make a wire transfer to your US account, that you should hold on to – and to which you attach a debit card. The wire transfer cost you as little as 12-18 dollars, and the debit card can be used to withdraw cash or purchase things when abroad.

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