Moving House Abroad: 20 Packing and Moving Tips From An Expert

So we’re moving countries again next week. New tax system. New car registration system. New everything.

At least we’re not moving far geographically, this time. So while we’re in the middle of all this packing mayhem, I thought I’d share my packing and moving tips for moving house abroad, since this is the third time I’ve moved countries between two different continents, and about the zillionth time I’ve moved house in total.

  1. Have the biggest clear-out. Some people say to do it before you start to pack but I find it’s better to do it as I’m packing because that way I know what space I have and what I need to take.
  2. Make the most of your luggage allowance or the space in your car. We like to do as few trips as possible. When we moved from England to China and from China to Northern Ireland, we just took what we were allowed to have with our plane tickets.
  3. Don’t waste money, time, space or the environment on bubble wrap (or even newspaper). Wrap your delicates in your clothes. Seriously, you have these squishy things and these delicate things, put the two together!
  4. Pack out any space inside mugs, pans etc with clothes or other fabrics.
  5. Try to keep books to a minimum. Those are heavy and they take up a LOT of space. Anything that’s not a profound, life-changing, awe-inspiring tome of knowledge with a cover that belongs at the Tate should be switched for a Kindle version (get the Kindle app for your phone or consider a Kindle tablet), and take the hardcopy to a charity shop.
  6. Weigh your suitcases! Use your bathroom scales or get a hand luggage scale. If they’re over 35kg (about 70lb) most airlines won’t take them, so at that point, your best plan is to split your luggage and pay for an extra bag.
  7. In your carry-on, have a few things in case your checked bag gets lost. You’ll want at least a change of clothes and a toothbrush.
  8. Take a handbag/purse. This one’s mostly aimed at guys. You are leaving valuable luggage space on the table if you don’t get a man bag or laptop bag and pack it to the max with bits and bobs. You are allowed to take a carry on case and a handbag/laptop bag in the cabin of every airline.
  9. If you have medications to take with you, be sure to get a doctor’s note (in America) or print out a photo of your prescription (in the UK) so you can prove you were prescribed them properly. Look up what you can’t take into the country, because some places (like UAE) have very, very strict rules. Never, ever take prescription meds into a country with the sole intent to give them to someone else.
  10. Pack your cosmetics according to the temperature of the airports you’ll be passing through. Any cosmetic that’s super-unstable in heat or coldness should go in your carry-on, if possible. Check out my complete guide to traveling with cosmetics.
  11. If you’re moving with a hire vehicle such as a self-drive van, be sure you’re legally allowed to cross country borders with it. Some vehicles won’t let you, or charge you extra for “insurance”.
  12. If you’re taking a fridge, there are special rules for moving a fridge. Don’t ever lay it flat on its back. Empty it and defrost it before traveling. Tape the doors so they don’t fall open and get damaged. Either move it upright or, if your van can’t do that (as many can’t), prop it at an angle using a sturdy box. If that’s not possible either, lay it on the side opposite the door hinges. Let it stand 8-24 hours before turning on, depending how long it was in transit.
  13. Shipping companies will move your stuff around the world if you need them, but they are very expensive, so be sure you really want to take everything you’re moving.
  14. Label your boxes. Even small boxes packed in a suitcase. It’s too easy to forget what’s in them when you arrive, and that means you have to open them all before figuring out which room they go in.
  15. Take boxes directly to the room they’re for. That keeps your thoroughfare clutter-free while you’re emptying things.
  16. Protect your new carpets by putting down cardboard or linoleum in the main walkways e.g. around your front door. Otherwise, everything will get grubby, fast.
  17. Get your electricity, heating, water and broadband services connected up before you arrive. Some countries can take over a month between you signing up and them actually connecting you!
  18. Take a flashlight or torch, a blanket and a solar battery charger (if you’re moving locally, get a solar generator and some charging panels) as backup in case your electricity isn’t on when you arrive. I have moved house dozens of times and I have almost never arrived to find the electricity is working immediately.
  19. Check the car licensing restrictions before moving your car. You may have to swap your licence for a local one, and you will almost certainly need to re-register your car, and you may have to do this within a fixed time. In China, if you want to drive, you’ll need to apply for a driving test and pass it.
  20. If you don’t have curtains, yet, you can get some privacy by draping towels or sheets over the curtain rails, or if you have the right kind of windows, you can jam the top of a bedsheet in there and cover the windowpane with it. If none of these apply, get some liquid Windolene (not the spray stuff) and put a thick layer over your windows with a cloth. People used to do this all the time back in the 80s and 90s.

Moving abroad is pretty stressful, but try to focus on the end point – living in your exciting new country! And share your best tips in the comments!

Teaching in China: My experience at an international school

Guest post by Dr. Jason Szulc from Scientificanow.com

Jason worked in China as a physics teacher at an international school in Jiangsu Province for two years. Here, he gives his experiences on what it’s like as an expat living and working in China.

The recruitment process

I didn’t really apply for a job in China, I got headhunted by a recruitment agency, so I don’t know about application forms or the best place to find a job if you’re looking to work in China.

The recruitment agency provided an introduction and got my CV in front of the headteacher of an international school with a good reputation. I did my research on the school (as much as was possible; I found their website and read about their curriculum, the structure of the school week etc). The school organized a Skype interview with the headteacher who told me everything I needed to know about the school then asked if I was still interested. We negotiated salary via email and I accepted the job.

At this point, an administrator at the school became my point of contact and walked me through the process of sending my certificates in for my degrees and PGCE, applying for a visa etc.

Getting there

Once I had my visa, which involved a visit to a visa office in England, actually going to China was fairly straightforward. I booked flights, packed two suitcases and they checked my China visa at check-in.

When I arrived, immigration took a long time because I came in on a very big flight and flew into Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), one of the busiest airports in China. Once I was through immigration, a representative from my school met me in the arrivals foyer, we met up with some other people who had flown in, and went to get some food before driving an hour and a half to the school in a minibus.

Starting work

There were induction days and a safeguarding workshop, and a barbecue to welcome new staff members. Everyone was really friendly and there was a sense from day 1 that we were all working on the same team.

What were the living facilities like?

We had a 1-bedroom apartment but it was enormous! I live in a 2-bedroomed house now in the UK that’s smaller than the apartment in China. There was a kitchenette with a microwave, kettle, hotplate, sink and fridge-freezer; I bought an oven while I was there. The bathroom had a sink, toilet, shower and bath. The bedroom had a lot of storage, a huge window, an air conditioner and a bed. There was one set of bedding with it so I bought some more at a supermarket. The living room had a sofa, desk, dining table and chairs, TV on a TV table, and a coffee table, as well as a second air conditioner and an air purifier. 

I had an I.E. (cleaner) who came to the apartment daily to empty bins, clean the bathroom, hoover and wash the dishes. Mine was provided free by the school but people who lived independently of the school found it easy to hire their own I.E.s.

What was the food like?

It was school food, because I lived at the school and ate at the school canteen. We sat with the pupils to eat and we weren’t allowed to use our phones in the dining room, to encourage conversation between staff and pupils. Generally the food wasn’t bad; there were some days better than others.

It was a fairly good school canteen, with the occasional really odd thing like the prawn pizza. It was split into three main areas, the “western” bit, the “Chinese” bit and the “Asian fusion” area, along with a salad bar and a hatch that just served noodles and dumplings, all of which served different types of cuisine. One good thing about the school I worked at was the food was plentiful. On the western side, it was a little bit weird, like someone had told them about western food and they’d made something approximating it.

The vegetarian option left a lot to be desired and usually had a lot of butter on it and no protein. People with dietary considerations did struggle at times, particularly vegans or those who couldn’t eat pork. They tended to buy their own food and cook in their apartments instead of eating at the canteen. There was meat in things that you wouldn’t expect, such as the buns in the dessert area which had sausages inside them, which we dubbed the “secret sausages”. There were very few times when I got to the canteen and went “there’s nothing I want to eat here”, although it did get repetitive sometimes; there was a lot of Katsu curry!

What were the pupils like?

They were happy to sit down and get on with work. Very little in the way of bad behaviour, although sometimes they would sit there not doing anything, occasionally falling asleep in the class. They almost always did their homework, and they expected it to be marked the day it was handed in.

The pupils were expecting a teacher-led experience rather than student-led, and I had to put in a lot of effort to teach them to try answering something they hadn’t already memorized the answer to. If you didn’t turn up to a class in the UK, the kids would be running riot everywhere. When another teacher did that once in my school in China, the pupils just stood and waited quietly outside the classroom. They waited to be told what to do. I never had any incidents of pupils acting out they were always very respectful towards the teachers.

SEN isn’t recognized in China so as a teacher you have to find ways to make learning accessible without any real support or even acceptance that any given pupil might have SEN. Even then, you don’t get the same behavioural challenges as in western schools.

What was the working week like?

The working week was heavy. I was teaching thirty 40-minute lessons a week on my basic timetable and sometimes more from covering other staff absences or timetable. That was on top of boarding duties, planning lessons and marking work, and leading extracurricular activities at the weekend such as golf, horse riding, rugby, science-related activities such as robot wars club and STEM club, where we did things like designing paper airplanes and seeing how far they could fly. There was a science fair, exam support, ECA, form tutoring… 

I was working about 16 hours a day plus at least half of a Saturday and sometimes all of Sunday, too. It was basically work continuously with little in the way of sleep for about 4 weeks then a week or more of school holidays, but there was basically no work to do during those holidays, which is completely different to teaching in England, where you spend a lot of the holidays working.

The working environment

Classroom: Class sizes were fairly small. The classroom was the size of a UK one and had lots of new tech in it, such as digital projector, electrical workstations that came down from the ceiling, a chemical shower for health and safety, mobile fume cupboards, as well as all the usual stuff you’d find in a UK science lab. My classroom had plenty of light. It was all very modern; the school had been built very recently.

Office: I had a desk in an open-plan office, which was very spacious. We had a coffee machine and a mini-kitchen as well as our own printers so we could work more efficiently. My office chair was very comfy! Wi-fi connectivity was sometimes poor, which made it difficult to access resources to teach the English curriculum, particularly because the access to some websites was limited. 

What were the best things about moving to China?

The money was good. The kids’ behaviour and attitude were fantastic. Online shopping and delivery was amazing. Anything you wanted was a few clicks and two days away, and usually very well-priced. It was very easy to visit the rest of China and all the surrounding countries, and we had a lot of great holidays. The expat community and the people I worked with were all great and very easygoing. The working environment was nicer than in England so people didn’t have the same stresses, and the people you meet out there are people who are willing to try new things or they wouldn’t have moved to China! I also made some fantastic friends and contacts, from whom other opportunities have come up since I left China.

What I wish I’d known before I moved there

I knew about shoes beforehand, that shoes in my size would be difficult to get. I wish I’d known how dependent everything is on mobile phone technology. You need WeChat for absolutely everything. I hadn’t properly understood how absolutely huge everything is.

I was in a city that was the equivalent of Leamington Spa in terms of importance to the overall country, but it was a city of over eight million, which is about the same population as London. It took well over an hour (in no traffic) to get across the city to the second train station (and yet there were only two train stations) due to the sheer distances involved.

All the shops etc were in the very centre of the city and you couldn’t walk anywhere because of the distances involved, so I got a lot of taxis. Taxis were incredibly cheap. 45 minutes in a taxi into the city centre was about 80RMB (about £10).

Would you go again if you knew everything you now know about China?

Oh, absolutely.

Jason now works as a freelance science education consultant. He runs a science education website and a physics revision app which he designed. You can find him at www.scientificanow.com

You might like these other articles about China:

How to get a China visa if you’ve changed your name

10 things to do in Xi’an, China (and 7 more I wish I’d done)

Infographic about expats in China: Where they’re from will surprise you

In pictures: Shanghai, China

20 best things to do in Beijing

How to get a China visa if you’ve changed your name

China is famous for its bureaucracy. And when we were looking to move, this highlighted a huge feminist issue with western society. I found that most countries were happy to accept the name on my passport, but China was different. If you’re a woman having issues getting a China visa, maybe my story will help you.

Flash back to 2017. Rainy northeastern England. No skilled job opportunities for people with Polish last names (I had a lot of phone conversations with agencies that went like this: Thanks, but my husband with a PhD actually doesn’t want to work in a warehouse, he’d like to work in his in-demand field, also stop being so surprised I speak English, I was born in South London).

My husband had been offered a job in China, and I’d decided to go along with him. This wasn’t an easy decision because I was finishing my master’s degree and my own career as a writer was taking off exponentially at the time. This was something I didn’t know if I could do in China, because I wouldn’t have a tax identifier (required to earn money from any US company), which was a whole separate saga and which took me to San Francisco the following year to sort it all out.

We went across to the other side of the country to the Chinese Embassy’s visa office in Manchester, which was a day’s expensive travel from where we lived. We had taken all the documents we had been told we would need. Passports, our marriage certificates, and my husband’s qualifications. I was travelling on a spouse visa so wouldn’t need proof of qualification, but I know many women who had the same problem I did with their degree certificates rather than marriage certificate.

We went to the office and took a ticket to wait in the queue. We first were denied our visas because we hadn’t photocopied our visa application forms and they wanted two copies. Then we were sent away. We photocopied our application forms. We took a ticket and queued again.

I was denied my visa this time because our marriage certificate had my maiden name on it and my passport had my married name on it. My husband, because this was a joint application, either had to apply again separately and leave me behind, or we had to find some way of proving I had legally changed my name.

I tried to explain that the marriage certificate should be enough and I pointed to where my old name was and where my new name had come from but they weren’t having any of it.

I actually had done a deed poll when I changed to my married name, because I had double barrelled (put my name then my husband’s name, which is common in Spain and other Latin countries, but not in the UK, so I’d been prepared for all sorts of nonsense), but I didn’t have a copy of the deed poll because no one had ever asked for it before; all the banks, even the passport office, had always accepted my marriage certificate because double-barrelling is actually an acceptable (if unusual) thing to do in the UK after you get married. As long as you take your husband’s name somehow, they don’t care. If you want to really confuse people in the UK, phone the bank and tell them you’ve changed to “Mrs” or “Ms” but that your name is the same as before. Heaven forbid you get used to your identity as a woman.

We didn’t have the time or money to go back across the country to try and dig out this deed poll then return before the office closed, our home was too far away, so we thought we would have to abandon this attempt to get the Chinese visas. We talked about how bad would it be if we separated for the two years and I stayed behind, because I didn’t want to stop him going.

Then, inspiration hit. I found a local newsagent down the road which, despite this being 2017, still had internet access and printing/photocopying for customers to use, and I went online, found an online deed poll, filled in my name and the date we got married, and printed it.

We hurried back to the visa office while the ink was drying. We took a ticket. Waited another 45 minutes to speak to someone. Got to the front of the queue. FINALLY handed over the last document and waited to find out what they would deny the visa for this time.

They approved it.

Relieved, we stepped out into the sun with our Chinese entry visas now glued into our passports. And in that moment, we both looked at each other and with dead certainty said the same thing: This was only the beginning.

As it happened, this was the only time we had a problem like this and this was the hardest piece of bureaucracy the whole time we lived in China. Once we were actually in the country, the visa process worked efficiently.

I did hear of other women having problems where their degree certificates were in their maiden names and their passports were in their married names. Again, I would encourage deed polls to show what went before and what your name is now.

It’s completely rubbish that the situation is like this because only women get stripped of our names, and identities, in western society, for the sake of having a permanent relationship with someone, and we are paying the price here for the patriarchy.

China doesn’t understand this as well as other countries because in China, you don’t change your name when you marry. Your family name as a woman stays the same. You have permanence. You exist as an entity separate from your husband. Whereas in the UK people wonder what’s wrong with you if you don’t take your husband’s name at all. I didn’t especially want to because his name isn’t good and mine was amazing but I felt I had to.

So if you need a visa for China and have changed your name, or if you’re looking to move to China and you’ve changed your name due to marriage, especially if you’ve then divorced and have some documents in both names, I’d suggest making a paper trail to prove it. Get deed polls if you need to, like I did. They are accepted.

Infographic about expats in China: Where they’re from will surprise you.

This infographic shows the number of expats in China, where they are from, what job they do and where they live in China.

This infographic shows the number of expats in China. Even after living in China for two years, I was amazed to find out the majority of expats in China are from South Korea (closely followed by the USA; less surprising).

Why did that surprise me? The two cultures of Chinese and Korean are kept very separate. Almost no Chinese people speak South Korean, and if you mention K-pop, K-beauty or Korean TV shows to young people in China, they scoff and tell you that China is better at all those things (and maybe there’s some chicken-and-egg going on here because the two styles are very, very similar). By contrast, if you don’t look Chinese, most people in China assume you speak English, even if you don’t. I was also surprised about the low percentage of South Americans and South Africans, since I know quite a few of both who live in China.

I was also surprised to find out that most expats in China live along the coastal region (loosely coastal, you still have to travel a couple of hundred miles from the main cities in most of these provinces, but the provinces themselves are the coastal ones). I was surprised that Shaanxi (where Xi’an is) and Sichuan (Chengdu) provinces were not teeming with expats, because these are great places to live and work, and I do know quite a few people who work in these areas.

While I made this infographic, it was less surprising to discover a third of expats living in China work in education, research and translation. China needs highly skilled, degree-educated workers to keep their economy forever growing and moving forward.

Click the infographic to enlarge. Keep scrolling for the graph of countries of origin for expatriates in China.

If you’re thinking of a move to China, follow my blog (right hand menu) to stay updated as I tell you everything I’ve learned about this mysterious and fascinating country in my two years of living there.

And here’s the graph with more of a breakdown of where those expats are all from although this one uses the 2010 data from the Chinese census so new data should be available for 2020 very soon:

pie chart showing country of origin for Chinese expats number of South Koreans in China number of Americans in China number of Indians in China Mama Adventure guide to China infographic

In China for the foreseeable

It’s been quiet on this blog for a few weeks because I’ve been hurriedly packing a 3-bedroom house into 2 suitcases, then renovating parts of it so my friends could move in (they’ve taken the rabbits with the house, so don’t worry, the bunnies are safe and happy), getting all the official nonsenses sorted out and generally moving from Britain to Asia.

We arrived into Shanghai the day before yesterday.

The furthest I’d been before now was Rome, Italy. I’ve been as far as Italy three times, but I was starting to wonder if the world ended at the stiletto heel tip of Otranto.

I have also done some significant renovating to this blog. A few categories are gone, now, because those are things I can’t talk about while I’m here. I can’t take comments on them while I’m here either, sorry. It was delete some posts or delete the entire blog. At the same time, I took the opportunity to remove some of the 1-2 sentence posts that were life updates for regular readers. You guys have all read them, and they’re cluttering up my page organization, so they’re gone too. There’s probably more of those that have gone than anything serious. Overall, about 100 posts have disappeared from the site. I’m a little reluctant to do that from an accurate-record-keeping point of view, but it’s for the best from a clearer-blog-layout perspective (and let’s not get my website blocked in the country I’m living in because then I wouldn’t be able to update any more, and so many sites are blocked here).

So far, all I’ve seen of China has been Shanghai airport, which is the biggest airport I’ve ever seen (admittedly I’ve only seen 3 other airports, including the one I left Britain from), and my apartment. There’s been a couple of brief trips to fulfil official requirements but that’s all. I’m hoping there’s a chance to see and do things but my husband’s work started pretty much straight away, and I don’t have any Chinese money (or any way of getting any) or much independence due to our living situation, so the seeing/doing will have to wait a little while.

Also, it is HOT. Like, it’s been 35 degrees (95 Farenheit) this whole time. We have air con in our apartment. On the stairwells, in the bathroom and outdoors, however, it is seriously hot. The heat is so… liquid, like it clings to me and gets inside my body, then I’m exhausted all the time. The day starts and ends around 30 degrees and it just gets hotter. And it’s always sunny. It’s incredible. I’m interested to see what winter is going to be like.

More pertinent to this blog, of course, I am SO GODDAMN EXCITED to be able to buy and try out more Korean, Japanese, and other Asian beauty brands and techniques while I’m here!