Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Moving Overseas, Part 11

Things are moving really quickly now, and of course, I also had several emergencies I had to take care of, plus I have several other things I must do, such as must notify my DonorsChoose prize winners, and finish rewrites on a Nature piece that are overdue. (I’ve never missed a deadline before, so this alone is extremely stressful). So basically, my stress levels are still extremely high, but I’ve just traded one source of stressors for another.

All last week was a nightmare, since I had been calling all the East Coast offices of USFWS — as many as a dozen phone calls per day, trying to find someone who could help me find my missing CITES permit. Unfortunately, no one seemed to be home at any of the offices, so I left numerous voicemails and emails — none of which have been answered yet. On the one occasion when I actually did talk to a live person, I found the experience to be more upsetting than if I was merely shunted into voicemail.

I actually spoke with an agent at the JFK FWS office. After I explained the situation to her, she immediately blamed the US Postal Service for losing my permit — which I said was doubtful — and then she scolded me for not having a “contingency plan.” I was so offended and confused that I asked her what she meant by that comment. She informed me that I should have made two airline reservations two weeks apart, “just in case.” Wha?? Does she actually think I am so rich that I can afford to purchase two round-trip airline tickets? Is that what people normally do?

I found that suggestion to be asinine, especially because I made my flight reservations after my USFWS agent promised that I’d have my CITES permit by 31 October — and after I notified her about my travel plans, so it wasn’t as if this was a surprise.

After reading about my situation, a friend with contacts in the Washington DC USFWS office emailed and said I needed to get a duplicate permit immediately, so I spent Thursday morning at the library, printing the USFWS duplicate CITES permit application forms, filling them out and then running around on the subways, getting them to the nearest FedEx office so I could send them overnight to Washington DC (a cost of $21.25) for processing (which cost me yet another $50). My friend volunteered to pick up the duplicate permit at USFWS and FedEx it to me overnight. Fortunately, this worked like a charm, and I ended up with my duplicate CITES permit in my hands on Saturday at 1110am.

In the meantime, the movers arrived on Friday as they were supposed to, but they arrived three hours later than expected. There were four men, all hispanic, who packed my things while I helped, practiced my Spanish and generally tried to stay out of their way. It took these miraculous men six hours to pack, inventory, carry down four floors and load 100 boxes of items (mostly books) onto their truck. I was so daunted by the process that I don’t know what I would have done without them, although I did entertain fantasies of throwing everything out the window and running away. (Incidentally, it seems I might have overestimated the number of books in my collection: it’s possible that I only have 9,000 books.)

Amazingly, the birds were not intimidated by all the activity in the apartment. Instead, they seem genuinely interested. The movers had gone by 10pm, leaving me so utterly exhausted (even though i did almost nothing compared to what they did) that I barely had enough energy to clean up before I fell asleep on the floor next to my birds.

Now that my apartment has been emptied of everything (except the dirt), I realize why I have such a persistent mouse problem: there dozens of mouse holes chewed in the floorboards where they meet the walls. Despite the fact that I have been nailing metal can lids over the holes I found, there are many dozens more mouse holes that have been chewed literally everywhere — behind where my bookcases and file cabinet stood, behind the refrigerator, the stove and everywhere else you can imagine.

Despite the lack of food in the apartment, the mice are still here. A few moments ago, I stopped writing this so I could chase two mice through my apartment. It appears that they are living in the insulation of my refrigerator. It’s really disgusting and discouraging that I still have mice, despite the fact that I have no food in the apartment, and I routinely remove all food from the birds’ cages, clean every evening and take the garbage out before I go to sleep. It’s outrageous that the landlord is such a scum that he doesn’t care that his tenants are forced to live in such deplorable circumstances, but that’s what happens when an investment corporation controls the housing options for so many low-income and poor people.

Saturday was a big day: in addition to my CITES export permit, the shipping crate for the birds also arrived on Saturday. It was delivered by FedEx, but a different truck brought it out later in the day than the one that brought the CITES permit. This seems wasteful to make two separate visits to the same apartment on the same day, but I assume this is because FedEx handles overnight mail separately than all their other mail and parcels.

The crate is beautifully made (see below), so I am hopeful that USFWS will not find a problem with it when they inspect it on the day of my departure.

Here’s a close-up of an individual compartment (you can see the perch, and just barely see the edges of the food cups in the very front. There also is a handle on each side of the crate. I added the pine shavings to a depth of several inches);

Now, I wait for the German CITES authorities to issue an import permit. I will have a PDF of the permit, which should be good enough to get me onto the plane, while my spouse, who will meet me at customs in Frankfurt, will have the original document to show the officials.

The birds have an appointment on Wednesday morning with a local veterinarian (not my usual vet), who will issue a health certificate. This certificate is necessary for the birds to board the plane, and also is essential for the USDA to issue an EU health certificate. Fortunately, the birds are visiting the veterinarian on a day when no birds are present in the office, so their quarantine will not be broken.

As soon as I have this health certificate, the plan is to drop the birds off at the apartment, then set out for the USDA office at JFK, so the officials there can inspect it and endorse my EU (“bilingual”) health certificate — essential to boarding an international flight.

I find myself constantly worried that I’ve forgotten something crucial because the paperwork required for exporting and importing the birds is really very small considering the amount of anxiety it has generated.


  1. #1 John
    November 16, 2009

    Good luck with the remaining steps in your travel process. I hope the German paperwork can be finished in time.

    It really is a disgrace that the city allows your landlord to keep tenants in such shoddy conditions with no consequences. Having mice in your apartment is a serious health hazard.

  2. #2 Jeff Knapp
    November 16, 2009

    You are almost there! Just a few more days and you are outathere! That bird crate looks great btw. Nice design.

    I just got back from moving my stuff from Seattle down here to L.A. Rented a truck, packed and loaded the whole thing myself (with some help from my wonderful wife); we drove it all the way down I-5 The movers unloaded it today (did a fantastic job) and, now, I have finally completed my move back to L.A. Just a small taste of what you are dealing with. It is exhausting. I do not envy you (well, yes, I do envy the getting to move overseas part but, not the physical act of packing and moving).

    Very much looking forward to reading about how your move went very successfully and how you are now in the arms of your new spouse.

  3. #3 ER Doc
    November 16, 2009

    You’re almost there! Good luck!

  4. #4 Tabor
    November 16, 2009

    Strange duck that I am, I am kind of sad you are leaving the country. It is as if my next door neighbor is moving far away! Silly me. But you sound as though everything is finally getting done. Label and make copies of it all! I am so excited for you through my sadness.

  5. #5 csrster
    November 16, 2009

    Strange. Even though I live in Denmark I feel oddly happy that you are moving into my neighbourhood 🙂

    The thing about the removal men strikes a distinct chord. I’m always amazed at how a crew of reasonably experienced removal guys can strip a house to the bare bones in a few hours. It’s like being attacked by unusually beefy locusts.

  6. #6 "GrrlScientist"
    November 16, 2009

    i also have some surprisingly strong emotions about leaving the USA, although it will take a few weeks (months?) to sort through them, i think. but that’s part of the experience of becoming an expat; learning more about what i do and do not think is valuable about life in the USA. and i am very excited to be living in the EU, at long last. i feel almost as though i am coming home to a place i’ve never been before. which is exactly what i am doing, in fact!

    i am subscribed to an airfare price watch, so i am sent emails periodically when the airfare to certain cities drops. i expect i’ll be visiting a fair amount, especially since my spouse wishes to visit various places in the USA.

  7. #7 Mr. GrrlScientist
    November 16, 2009

    It seems I might have overestimated the number of books in my collection: it’s possible that I only have 9,000 books.

    Oh? You lied to me. Harrumph!

    I’ll have to buy some more coal, then.

  8. #8 Tsutsugamushi
    November 16, 2009

    Not yet emigrating but I am investigating the possibility. (Short description here:

  9. #10 Bob O'H
    November 16, 2009

    csrster – I experienced the same thing when I was leaving Denmark. I used a company in Rødovre in western Copenhagen (just up the road from where I was living).

    Incidentally, Rødovre is the perfect Danish name. Utterly impossible to pronounce clearly.

  10. #11 K
    November 16, 2009
    They may require outside accessible feeders, especially for the lories and possibly more air ventilation.

    Hearing your trials is definitely helping me be prepared if/when I decide to make a big move myself overseas with my birds.

  11. #12 Bob O'H
    November 16, 2009

    I’ve just had a chat to The Beast, and he asked if you could bring a couple of mice with you.

  12. #13 DeafScientist
    November 16, 2009


    Just trying to be helpful here—avoiding trouble later, etc.—but have you checked that the pine shavings aren’t going to be an issue? In New Zealand stuff like that needs to be fumigated or chucked. (Think insects, etc.) Mind you, we have an overly harsh regime for good reasons.

    Good luck with it all!

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a memory of suggesting to you ages ago writing for the likes of Nature (by private email). Either way, it’s nice to see you doing it. It’s something I still wouldn’t mind doing myself… Not getting as far as I’d like toward that sort of thing, but at least I finally have my own blog. Took a long time to get there! 🙂 I still haven’t really settled into a rhythm with that, but I’ll get there.

    I know what you mean about the house-movers, same experience recently myself. In my case I was moving from a place too small to unpack all my boxes of books, etc., so I was discovering what I owned two (+) years later. I have fewer books that you. Shame that, but I can’t afford to buy many these days.

    Anyway, wishing you all the best! 🙂

  13. #14 biosparite
    November 16, 2009

    NPR had a story a few days ago about the NYC landlords who overpaid for buildings with rent-controlled apartments on the expectations that (1) most of the controlled-rent tenants would move on within a few years and (2) the units could then be upgraded to more luxurious, high-rent apartments or condos. The turnover rate has been way below what was expected, debt is falling due, and the landlords are avoiding maintenance expenses to keep from going into default. Of course refinancing money is also very tight, especially for properties that are under water (worth less than the mortgage). I wonder if your apartment building fits this profile, or if the landlord is a typical Republican sleaze, or if both factors form a synergy.

  14. #15 JPS
    November 16, 2009

    Things are happening so quickly it seems. I was going to send you an email and offer to help you since I live in NYC and I have lots of free time, but I guess its too late by now.

    I hope you get all the loose ends tied up and have a smooth trip!

  15. #16 Eva
    November 17, 2009

    Even though I don’t yet have a job or destination to go to, I already got all the papers for my cat to travel to either the EU or UK. (EU she can go any time, and UK after February). Now I “only” need a job…

    But yes, in the end, the pet papers turned out to be quite simple compared to the stress I had about it. My vet spent some of his spare time reading up on immigration stuff for cats, and has been super-helpful. It’s kind of weird how with human travel you’re sent from one anonymous office to another anonymous office, and for pet travel you can get everything done in one place, at your vet, who actually knows you a bit. Animals are getting better treatment than people sometimes!

  16. #17 Firebyrd
    November 18, 2009

    I don’t know corporate law, so I might not be using correct terminology, but “FedEx” is actually an umbrella corporation with a bunch of different companies under them. The reason there were two different trucks is because your CITES permit, having been sent overnight, came from FedEx Express, which is an entirely different company (and truck) than the FedEx Ground or FedEx Home (also different companies and trucks-they even have different delivery days) that delivered the crate. The trucks very well didn’t even come from the same place. While our local Fedex Ground and Home offices are on the same plot of ground (though in different buildings), the FedEx Express terminal is 30 miles away.

    And now you know more about FedEx than you probably ever wanted to know. 😉

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