In the autumn of 2007, we embarked on a very special chapter
of our adventure: a move from
On these pages below, we chronicle some elements of the transition in the hopes that they’ll be fun to read and perhaps even helpful if you are consider making a similar jump.
Working in another country is both easier and harder than
you might think. For citizens of
T got his work permit on one of his trips to
Once the immigration official determined that T’s job was highly specialized, she made a few calls, typed up a few things, and then printed out an official work permit. She also gave T an invoice that he had to pay at the cashier on the way out of the office ($150 Canadian). T’s work permit is a shiny piece of paper with a special seal embossed on it that is stapled into his passport. The one catch is that while T's offer of employment specifies a term of three years with an optional fourth year, the immigration office was unable to issue a three-year work permit. As a virgin employee in Canada, they can only trust T with a one-year trial period. In one year, T will be able to reapply and obtain a longer-term work permit.
We were told that NAFTA would really help E get her work permit. By virtue of being T’s marital partner, E is, we were told, entitled to a blanket work permit. When we arrived at the border late on a Friday afternoon, the customs & immigration officials at first doubted whether E could be awarded an "open work permit" based on T's. After we spoke with another official, they agreed to run it through the system. We encountered one setback: we didn't have our marriage license and with different last names, we had no way of substantiating our claim that we were legally married! Fortunately, the immigration official decided to give us each a quiz in private and when our answers matched, she concluded that we were as good as married. Thus, after less than 90 minutes, we walked out of the immigration office with a shiny new work permit for E! Her work permit read exactly like T's.
The final step was to apply for Social Insurance Numbers, the Canadian equivalent of U.S. Social Security Numbers. To do this, we went to the local office of "Service Canada," stood in line with our passports and work permits, and told the desk that we needed SINs. In a matter of minutes, once our number was called, we answered some questions about place of birth and what not and then we filled out a form that earned us a print-out with a temporary SIN card. Soon thereafter, about a week or so, we received plastic-coated SIN cards in the mail.
T’s offer of employment included some funds for the reimbursement of moving expenses. In part because of that clause and partly because we wanted to make the move less taking on ourselves personally, we explored ways to hire someone to help us move. We learned a variety of lessons in the process.
First off, moving internationally is different than moving
across town and even moving across country.
We quickly found ourselves working with the big van lines (Allied,
United, Bekins, Mayflower, and so on). There was an internet moving service that we
submitted a request to, and we got back numerous phone calls and e-mails from
companies based in
The big van lines share several features in common.
· Franchises. The big moving companies are really conglomerations of retail franchises that sell space on the big trucks. Each little franchise has a relationship with one of the big companies, but they will employ their own unique sales peoples, packers of boxes, and packers of the moving truck. Thus, when you are shopping around for the best moving company, your experiences will be heavily colored by the local people with whom you deal. BUT as soon as your good get on the truck, the “driver” becomes the key party and when they arrive at the final destination, it’s some other franchise that will unload your goods and distribute them into your house. This franchise-like business model means that the promises and expectations about how the move will take place are…compartmentalized. We learned the hard way that the sales person, the packing team, the moving team, the driving team, and the unloading team all have different experiences, different policies, and they don’t all talk to one another. We found it most successful to deal with the version of events presented by each person within their own expertise. Thus, although the sales person told that all of our stuff, including full boxes from the basement would be repacked by the packing team, when the packing team told us they don’t do that without an extra day’s work and a lot of special fees, we said, “Okay, you guys are the experts!” This local-version of reality can be trying, but its really how the business runs. You’ll never be able to convince the driver, for instance, to do things the way the sales person told you it would happen: because the driver knows a helluva lot more about her/his job than the sale person!
· Estimating. Every company worth its salt will talk to you over the phone, toss around some numbers, and then offer to make a personal visit to your home to develop a written estimate of the actual costs. This is ESSENTIAL. No one can tell you how much stuff you have, how much it weighs, and therefore how much it will cost UNLESS they actually see it in person. We had three different companies visit the house and develop written estimates. Since we weren’t taking every single thing with us, it was important to try and point to the same set of items with each estimator. United Van Lines never sent us a final written estimate; they claimed that they had to wait for some input from their Canadian-shipping office. Never happened, so we dropped them. We competed Bekins and Allied against one another by reviewing the weight and box-count from each and requesting a revised that used the same set of input parameters. Not surprisingly, the final price quotes came out quite similarly.
We chose to work with Allied Van Lines and their northern
Of course, after we had signed the initial contract, we got
a call from Gregg saying, “Geeze, although we are
going to take your money, we cannot make the delivery date that we proposed in
the written estimate without unloading the truck at our warehouse and holding
your stuff from a couple of days in
Virginia. In fact, we’re going to have to charge you $700 more for this.” We were pretty pissed but couldn’t find any
other options. In order for our stuff to
We were scheduled to be packed on Thursday and loaded onto
the truck on Friday. On the Monday
beforehand, we got busy, trying to separate out all the stuff which we wanted
to take with us to
We were told to ask for a seasoned team of international packers. We made the request to our sales dude and he responded by saying, “Yes, I’ve requested one of our best teams.” No idea how to verify or know if that worked! When the team of two packers arrived, they took one look around and said that Gregg’s estimate was already bogus. For instance, in a room full of bookcases and books, Gregg had suggested only two small cartons for books would be needed. After a phone call with Gregg, we were able to convince everyone that it didn’t matter: the “exact quote to the penny” meant that the packers would have to adjust their plans to our reality but it wouldn’t affect our price. The packers spent about 12 hours at our place. They filled more than 45 boxes, many with books, many with dishes and glassware from the kitchen.
As described above, the packers ended up NOT re-packing any boxes that we had filled earlier and wanted to take with us. This was a compromise on our part to allow the packing work to be completed in one day and because the packing skills of the team were not that superior to our own. We also decided to pack our own electronics because we had the original boxes, Styrofoam inserts, and plastic bags. This turned out to be helpful because it appeared that our experience with how to arrange each piece in its box was greater than theirs. We did have the packers pack our laptop computer, docking station, cables, keyboard, and so on.
During this ferocious Thursday, we spent most of our time trying to finalize the set of what goes and what stays. We then had to pack a number of unusual shaped items that the packers seemed to be avoiding. So although the packers were supposed to pack “everything,” we probably packed a good 15% on of the final shipment ourselves on Thursday. Including the set of things that we packed ourselves in advance, we probably packed closer to 30% of the final shipment. We again judged this to be a reasonable compromise; being anal with the packing team about packing every last item would’ve irritated them and we didn’t want that. As well, since we were flurrying about trying to decide what to bring and what not to bring, we were making their jobs difficult. So we tried to give them a bit of a break.
T had to work his last day in the office on Friday, the day the truck was loaded. E and brother T supervised the truck loading. It was smooth, immensely efficient, and very fast. A special feature was the loading of our heirloom piano.
The truck pulled away on Friday before lunch. The story of how our move was supposed to go then took more departures from the sales person’s promises. We again tried to grit our teeth and hang on because we needed the trust and respect from every other person down the line in the process.
First, the loading team told us the stuff would be stored
only one day in the local warehouse and then would board the truck to drive to
Second, when we were on our vacation between the day our stuff left and the day we arrived in
CLEARING CANADIAN CUSTOMS
After we ourselves arrived in
We showed up the following Tuesday with another appointment. We again brought all the relevant paperwork. This time it worked. The agent looked through the packing list, asked if we had any meats or fresh plants/fruits/vegetables or alcohol and tobacco, flipped through every page, and then stamped some forms. We got a copy of the stamped stuff and we were told that we had cleared. Excellent! No import duties applied.
We then called the local arm of the moving company and told them that we had just cleared customs. We scheduled a date for them to deliver the goods to our apartment. We had one complication that reminded them of: the rented apartment was small enough that some of the stuff we had trucked would have to go into a storage unite we had rented across town. They said that would be fine.
On the morning of the delivery day, we get a call from the
Finally, unloading can happen. A
team of three guys comes with the smaller moving truck and they efficiently
move everything upstairs. They have a
record of all the number-labels they put on in
We do a run-down of the packing list and conclude that we have EVERYTHING! The moving crew drives over to the storage unit with us in hot pursuit. They unload the remaining goodies into the storage locker and then shake our hands and vanish…WOW. The total unloading, in two places, took less than 6 hours.
It then took us about three more weeks and two more trips to the storage unit to really feel unpacked.
Moving our 2004 Toyota Prius
(nicknamed Penelope) to
Many people advised us to personally
transport the car across the border rather than entrusting an automobile
transportation service. In retrospect,
we think was SUPERB advice. Not only was it cheaper (the shipping service would
have charged a lot to do it), but it also allowed us to personally ensure that
everything went smoothly. We therefore
looked for an auto shipping company that would transport our little baby from
The process broke into several steps which—after the fact—made some modest sense.
Finding a company to transport the car to the
· Trying to understand the paperwork side of the process.
Registering to “export” the car from the
Meeting the car in
Exporting the car from the
Crossing the border and “importing” the car into
The first thing we learned was that our car needed to be
The next thing we learned is that the provinces of
SHIPPING YOUR CAR
We poked around the internet and spoke with a couple of our candidate moving companies. Some recommended the company A to Z Auto Shipping and after reading a number of reviews on the web (most notably at www.TransportReviews.com ) and entertaining a couple of estimates, we went with them.
There are a few things to realize about shipping your car. The auto shipping industry consists of hundreds of independent truck drivers with auto/car trailers and dozens of brokers. The brokers/distributors are the companies that you deal with at the “retail” level, but all they REALLY do is find a driver who is scheduling a trip that includes your route and has space. Then its really up to you and the driver to make sure it all works out!
There is a website that will give you online estimates, but
they’re a bit flimsy. We found that
shipping the car between
PREPARING AND THEN CROSSING THE BORDER
A couple of things to do in advance.
· Locate the title of your vehicle. We had lost ours, or rather, after we paid off the loan to buy the car, the bank had never sent us the title. A phone call to the bank fixed this and we even got a formal letter stating that car was paid off and the bank had no hold on it whatsoever.
Talk to your
· Read all the paperwork and war stories in advance!
We hadn’t realized this, but in order to import your car
T learned that the best way to “inform U.S. Customs at least 72 hours in advance of the export” was to fill out the Blaine/Customs forms and to scan them into a file along with the vehicle title. He then e-mailed them to the Blaine/Customs e-mail address on Tuesday morning with a planned “export” for Friday. The Blaine/Customs website also provides a form that you can use by e-mail to get an update on the status of your request. We received an e-mail confirmation about 24 hours after our e-mail submission; whew.
We hoped to meet Penelope in
It was great to be re-united with our car…
We drove north on Highway 1 and eventually reached signs for
a border crossing in
We got back in the car drove “into
The next step was getting the car “into”
E took the car to a shop recommended by BCAA, Axel Alley,
The next step was to get the provincial exemption from sales
tax. That involved a trip to some
obscure consumer-tax office in the back of the downtown library. E signed a hand-written letter that the
officer prepared that said we did not own any BC property, were not drawing any
medical benefits other than the ones that we were (?! We didn’t know what this
meant, but okay), and that we would leave
From there, E and Penelope picked up T and returned to
BCAA. In BC, the legally required liability
side of car insurance is run by the state, so that’s the same everywhere. Comprehensive
and collision insurance (so-called “private” insurance) is sold by the
individual lender. We chose to go with
BCAA because we had good experiences with AAA in the
The insurance was quite expensive; we pay about $850 in the
At long last, our car was legally registered and insured in
We decided as part of our commitment to a short-term (2-4
year) stay in
· MAKING THE HOUSE RENTABLE. Repairing and improving the house and property so that not only was it as attractive as possible, but also to ensure that it would serve our tenants faithfully and reliably. We ended up doing the following:
o Converting a first-floor half bathroom into a full bathroom with a full-size standup shower stall.
o Replacing the aging water heater.
o Replacing an aging kitchen gas range.
o Replacing the kitchen faucet.
o Touch-up painting on walls and baseboard and especially the risers of the stairs which had been marked up during refinishing work of the oak treads.
o Scraping and re-painting about half of the exterior of the house where the previous owner’s paint job was badly cracked and peeling.
o Replacing malfunctioning smoke detectors.
o Repairing water-damaged ceiling tiles and window-frame boards in a one-story addition that had a past roof leak.
o Carpeting a downstairs hallway and bedroom.
o Trimming all the trees and bushes on the property with the assistance of a professional crew.
o Replacing window screening on windows where the screen was either torn or old, fragile, and dirty.
· FINDING TENANTS. We chose to work with a professional real-estate agent to help rent out the house. We saw an advantage in having a professional involved because they would bring experience that we didn’t have, because they might be able to manage the property while we are away, and because we wanted access to the higher-paying crowd of tenants who would be working with agencies to find housing. We interviewed two agents, chatted with our neighbor who is also a real-estate agent but doesn’t do rentals, and made our selection.
· LEAVING. This was perhaps the hardest part!
“MOVING” OUR PLACE OF MAIL/FINANCIAL ACTIVITY TO
Anyway, in summary, the move required a lot of planning and coordination and elements were certainly stressful But we owe tremendous thanks to many people for making it such a success. THANK YOU!!