We’ve moved from London to New York and back again, with young kids in tow. The second time was a lot smoother. It does get easier.
Let’s face it. Moving house is a total pain, even if it’s just three streets away. All the logistics of dealing with utility companies, scheduling in the wifi, the tv, the landline, the gas, the electrics… it’s exhausting. But when you move countries, it is a whole other level of stress.
I’m planning a series of posts on how to nail it. This first post concentrates on what to take with you, and what to buy locally.
What to ship out with you from the UK
First time round I was seriously overwhelmed trying to figure out what to put in storage, and what to send in sea freight (you’re told to allow 6-8 weeks). We actually decided to air freight out the kids’ high chairs rather than try to buy temporary ones on arrival. Second time around we just bought basic toddler booster seats.
If you have a very young child drinking formula milk, consider bringing out some British formula with you such as Aptamil or SMA. I was so surprised when our lactation consultant (yes, that was her actual job title), told us to try to get British brands if we could as apparently American brands aren’t as nutritious. You can buy these on Amazon but they cost a fortune. However, don’t get carried away and buy too much – they expire, and are very hard to sell on in New York, but there are shelters such as the Family Justice Center that will accept them as donations.
Also bring out all your young kids’ clobber like kitchenware, bottles, bedding etc, as although you can absolutely buy those in New York, it’s too stressful to hunt them down when you have jetlag and aren’t settled.
Take your favourite pictures and artwork with you as once these go up on the walls, it helps the family feel more settled in.
If you can, try to fix your accommodation before you move out, and have a view of the layout. It really helps when deciding whether to ship or store your furniture. New York kitchens are astoundingly small, in general. Ones you can actually cook in are called Chefs Kitchens. I had to leave almost all my saucepans and china behind as I knew I wouldn’t have anywhere to keep them.
What to leave behind in the UK
American voltage is much lower than Britain’s, so your electrics will not work properly, even with an adaptor. Oh how I dithered about electrics first time round. I found it strangely hard to imagine moving anywhere without our kettle, toaster or TV! Finally C and I agreed to either store or lend out all our British electricals and buy new in America (Best Buy, Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond all very good for this, though it can be difficult to order online if you don’t have an American credit card registered to a US address yet. This drove me crackers in the early weeks when trying to do an online food shop). If you have time and patience, you can pick up all this stuff second hand on Craigslist).
In retrospect, now that we’ve unearthed our electrics from storage after three+ years, we should have just sold our old electricals. They don’t age well, and you’re better off replacing them when you’re back.
What to ship back home from New York
We brought back a lot of children’s clothes and outerwear, as these are generally cheaper (keep an eye on the FX rate, though) and great quality. I stocked up on a lot of shoes from Century 21 for me, and bought the next few sizes up in the fantastic unisex Jefferson Native shoes for the kids (although it is possible to buy these on Amazon.co.uk, it’s not so easy if they can’t try them on for size first).
Our removal company boxed everything up and loaded it into a shipping container which literally then came to our street in London.
What to leave behind in New York
Second time around, we were far more organised about understanding what was worth taking back home. It obviously helped knowing exactly where we would be living. There were a few items of furniture we’d bought out in the States knowing they’d fit in our old London house, so those came with us. C is the master of measuring up and visualising whether something will fit or not (personally I’m rubbish at this. I need to physically try to shove the sofa in the corner in order to see if it will fit or not. This is not efficient when planning international moves.)
Sell as much as you can before you go
Try to sell anything you’re unsure of. It is so much effort to ship it, get it delivered to your home, and then find out it won’t fit, then you need to arrange for it to go somewhere.
So the second time round, we sold or donated an enormous amount of our stuff. All the electricals, furniture we wouldn’t have room for back home like the king size bed, the rocking chair, the American car seats, the girls’ bikes, the gigantic double stroller, pot plants… I initially tried eBay but as most items were too large to post, I switched to Craigslist. Living in an apartment block was a big help as you could arrange to meet buyers in the lobby under the eye of your doorman, so no worries about giving out your address to total strangers. If you don’t have a doorman, the general wisdom is to arrange to meet somewhere mutual or if that’s not practical (heavy furniture, for example), try to have someone at home with you so you’re not alone.
In summary – what’s not worth shipping between US and UK
Almost everything can be bought new in each country, but that’s a hassle and expensive. Here’s the topline on what’s not worth shipping between the two countries:
- Electricals – different voltages mean they don’t work well, even with adaptors. These are fine to order online (once you have sorted out an American credit card and address). In New York, try Best Buy, Amazon.com, Bed Bath & Beyond or Ikea. American stores always seem to have some kind of sale on – if you’re moving this time of year, there’s Black Friday and Thanksgiving sales coming up. There’s an Ikea store in Brooklyn with its own ferry boat from Wall Street which is fairly fun for the kids (read my description here). To buy electricals In Britain, try John Lewis, Amazon.co.uk or Ikea
- Food & booze – your removals company will have lots of guidance about this, but the general rule of thumb is not to take anything as these will just get jammed up at Customs. A good excuse to have a ‘drink the bar dry’ with friends before you go
- Cleaning products – not allowed to ship anything potentially corrosive or flammable. Find a friendly member of staff at your local shop to help you figure out which brands to buy (I found this really overwhelming when trailing jetlagged, hot children)
- Car seats – different legal requirements. To try out car seats in New York, go straight to Buy Buy Baby (click here for my review). In the UK, go to Mamas & Papas, John Lewis or Mothercare
You can read my early posts about the original Big Move here.
This isn’t exhaustive. If you’re thinking of moving between London and New York and have any questions, get in touch with me here or leave a comment.
This week’s Highs & Lows:
- Meeting my new nephew! One of the hardest things about expat life is missing the massive family milestones like new babies. On my side of the family there are now five first cousins ranging from six down to newborn, and it’s brilliant seeing them getting to know each other
- Long Sunday lunches with family and friends. It’s fab fab fab to be able to have them over after three years with just our nuclear family at weekends
- Having my own washing machine is still pleasing. For my excruciating battles with potty training and communal washing machines, click here…
- The British autumn. I’d forgotten that our foliage is just as good as America’s. There’ve been some lovely walk through Greenwich Park with hundreds of conkers just waiting to be gathered
- The tooth fairy managed to track six year old T down in her new home. We had a near miss when she woke to an un-collected tooth under her pillow (we fell asleep and forgot all about it, oops), but then C quickly had a word with the tooth fairy and she popped round straight away when the girls promised not to peek… it’s all about the different time zones, you see…
- Baby J’s vocab is showing us up as third-time round parents. He can say, “magnum”, “Nutella”, “ice cream” and “cake”
- I no longer pine for concierge! The first month, oh, how I missed them. It was a massive shock to the system to be suddenly responsible for maintaining our home again. No more quick phone call to the building manager about the blocked kitchen sink. But I’ve got over that now. Just.