How to Move to London

Okay, so… I’m starting a blog.

It’s for me. It’s for you.

Here we go….

Something extraordinary happened.

We moved our family of 6! from Chicago to London and that’s where this story starts. But I would like to first take a step back and catch everyone up, including myself. Since the beginning of the summer, my brain has sort-of disappeared and I can only remember emergency items and the last 20 minutes or so. My poor husband, bless him.

In June, it was brought to my attention that Rich might have an opportunity to work in London. I happened to be 32 weeks pregnant with our fourth child, we just built a house in a great neighborhood, our oldest was getting ready to start Kindergarten, and my sister had just gotten diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was not an ideal time to pick up and move across the ocean. I let the idea sit in my brain for a half day. I knew that if I told Rich I was up for it, we would move. I just knew… if I said the words out loud to him that he would start the ball rolling and there would be no stopping it. So I held the words for a little longer until I was sure. I said to Rich, “What was that thing you said about the position in London? I kinda think we should do it. Like, let’s not overthink it. Let’s just do it.” I think for the first time ever, or at least since the ice cream incident on our first date (which only a select few people know about), did I completely and totally shock him. He was anxious and jittery while texting his potential new boss. I think he knew, too, in that moment, that we were going to leave everything we know and make this happen.

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON

STEP ONE: Decide to do it.

Over the next couple weeks, we were in contract negotiations with his company and in conversations/pep talks with our close family. I needed Erika’s opinion first. With her being sick, I didn’t really want to pick up and leave unless she was on board. One really important benefit of Rich’s contract was our ‘home-leave’ budget, which we can use to fly all 14 members of our immediate family over to see us. This was the most important part of the contract to me. Deal-breaker type stuff. I couldn’t take the kids that far away from our family without making sure they would get to visit. Also, we couldn’t expect our family to pay for expensive international flights every year. So, I told Erika about the home-leave and we discussed other aspects of the move. By the end of the conversation, she was the one convincing ME to make the move.

When all was said and done, Rich’s company was more than generous with their offer and we could not refuse. Rich signed the papers and there was no going back.

take a deep breath. we. were. doing. this.

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STEP 2: Logistics.

Passports, Visas, bank accounts, taxes, flights, moving our STUFF, timing, mailing addresses, pediatrician records…. All of this is no fun. Like super no fun. And it’s only made worse by the addition of moving to another country. I don’t even want to go into it. It’s the most PAINFUL part of any move. But, if you’re reading this and considering a move to the UK, I might be able to answer specific practical questions.

Most importantly in this step, we decided it was easiest, safest and most cost-effective to sell or store our “things” instead of trying to move them. We didn’t have a house full of super valuable furniture, and we had no idea the type of housing we were going to be dealing with. Our American furniture may not fit in our London house. Then what? Leave it outside? An average cargo bin on an ocean liner costs $12,000 and takes 5 weeks to arrive.

No thanks. We’ll figure something else out.

I think Viv’s face in her Visa picture reflects how we all feel about STEP 2:

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STEP 3: Housing.

The second most painful part of any move. Trying to find a place that will suit a family of six, with good schools, in London, near the train, preferably furnished, preferably with flexible lease terms, that’s NOT a million dollars a day, maybe with a garden? and possibly a washing machine? Maybe a DRYER? or dishwasher? (pretty please)… is NO SMALL TASK. Not to mention – oh ya, we’re coming from America and you can’t really call us overseas or easily check our references. And we can’t come and see it or fill out any paperwork or give you any cash right away. Eventually with the aid of a wonderful HR employee named Kay – we found ourselves blindly signed up for what appeared to be a nice house.

STEP 4: SELL YOUR HOUSE.

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This one is scary. Really scary. And there is no explanation, besides that it came straight from Jesus himself, about how we sold our house. First day on the market, ONE showing. SOLD. I’m not even kidding. One showing, in which I cleaned like a mad woman then packed up the boys and camped out at the neighbors and watched the potential buyers go in. We sold the house the Thursday before Viv was born, and that’s all there is to it. Jesus, right?

STEP 5: (exclusive to me) Have a baby.

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Oh ya, just gotta squeeze that whole thing in. And if you’re me, when you go to the hospital to be induced it’s not a big deal if daddy is playing in the neighborhood softball playoffs. Fourth kid, old hat at this point. I got it. I went in at 5pm accompanied by my mother, and didn’t have Viv until the next day. Needless to say, he made it in time.

STEP 6: part with all of your THINGS.

This one’s a tough-y. “Things are just things” and you’d be amazed at how much you don’t need.

We sold everything. Our cars, our furniture, most of the kids toys, baby gear, most of my kitchen, electronics, everything. We sold online, we sold to our neighbors, we sold to our family. We had an epic garage sale where people came in search of exactly the things we were selling. We had a very nice little family come back three times, and then come back the weekend we were moving out and take more. We got to know them, of course. The mom was Taiwanese, and the dad was American and they were just moving back to America from Taiwan. The mom says to me “We came with almost nothing and we have four kids.” And I’m like, “Well we’re moving to London with four kids and we can’t take anything!”

See how things work?

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I’m a natural throw-awayer, so this process felt good to me, and oddly freeing too.

At first it was like “wait wait wait…. Uhhh… I don’t know about that. Uhh, hum… Should I sell that? I’m not sure…ahhhh hum.” and by the end it was like “a quarter? You take it for a quarter? Alright cool. Thanks!”

I only got sad two times. Once when I was pricing some of the boy’s favorite toys, and then again when we sold the van. The toys because they had natural sentimental value and I felt like the meanest mom ever. And the van, because it was my best friend. In general, it felt good. Really good. And we didn’t even have crap like some people HAVE CRAP.

But I can tell you this: from this time and forever onward I will live with less.

It’s just better.

* side note on the boys: I told them that we were going to have to sell most of their toys and only keep their ABSOLUTE favorites. I told them we would make money on the toys we sold and we could use the money to buy new toys in London. And then… they were the best sales-men ever. They were out at the garage sale, showing people how their toys worked and what went with what.

Then, as promised, our third day in London we went to the biggest toy store we could find. The biggest toy store in town also happens to be the biggest and oldest toy store on the planet – Hamley’s of London. There were like no kids there, and it was so quiet and calm. But here’s the kicker. We only bought a couple small things. We, IN NO WAY, replaced all that we sold. The boys are totally great ‘living with less.’ They haven’t noticed or complained ONCE that they have a tenth of what they used to have. Just saying…

STEP 13: Move into temporary housing.

Or, as I like to call it – mom and dad’s house. Am I losing track of the steps? Oh well. There’s a lot to do.

Because your house sold and your London house isn’t available yet, you do this step.

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STEP 19: Pack.

After selling all non-essentials, what you have left is either very sentimental, very valuable, very useful, very expensive to replace or didn’t sell at the garage sale. At this point you have to decide what is going to London, what is going into storage, and what is trash/donate. I was lucky. Because Rich’s company paid for our first class airline tickets, we were allowed extra luggage on the plane. We had seven ticketed passengers, because my father-in-law came with us. So that meant I had 18 checked bags and all of the carry on items we could handle. I made a priority list and started packing. I used 12 army style duffel bags because they could be rolled up or folded flat once we got to London, and 6 Rubbermaid tubs. That’s right! You can check tubs!

Oh – and by the way, when I say storage, I mean our parents’ houses.

We planned to CARRY four rolling bags, five pack packs, one duffel, the best portable crib ever: the Guava Lotus, a car seat, a double stroller, a boppy, and a diaper bag. WHEEEW!

If you are wondering how to pack a massive amount of luggage for air travel, this is what I did:

I numbered my tubs 1-6, then numbered my duffels 7 – 18. As I packed, I kept a list of what I put into each bin or duffel.

I did this for a couple reasons:

1. We weren’t sure if customs would ask us to put a monetary value on each bin.

2. If one got lost, I would know what was in it.

And most importantly 3. When you get to where you’re going, and you’re looking for a specific item that someone needs, and you’re exhausted, and you just want to sit down and be quiet – it helps to have an idea of where you put it. Because when you were packing in the middle of the night, you’re not going to remember where you put it!!

I then emailed myself the list so that I would have it with me. After the duffels were packed I tagged them with regular luggage tags. Then, I took the most obnoxious duct tape I could find, and taped a band around the center of each bag. Enter my mom, who happens to be a teacher and has lots of duct tape on hand! This made the bags easy to spot.

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Then I made label for the bins that looked like this:

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We were worried about how roughly the tubs would be handled and making sure the lids stayed on. But you can’t just tape the crap out of them because there’s a good chance (especially if you’re going international) that TSA is going to open them for inspection. You don’t know ahead of time if your items will be inspected and there’s nothing you can do – it is completely within their rights. And then, if TSA opens your bin, do they tape it back? No one could answer that question for us. We did a light taping around each bin.

And when we picked them up, they looked like this:

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They did in fact, get inspected. And they did get taped back. How nice! But one of the bins did get cracked and broken. It still made it somehow and protected the contents inside. If you pack a tub and check it on an airline, make sure its very strong and that you pack the contents smartly.

STEP 45: You rent a super-van, fill it up with your children and your allowed allotment of luggage and drive yourself to the airport to fly away. And then, in all seriousness, relax. There is nothing more that you can do and the day ahead is going to require every bit of energy that you can get.

And in 10 simple steps, that’s how you move to London.

 

 

 

 

 

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