Ship, Store, or Eliminate? (moving II)

elusive swiss visa- just a page in a passport

I want to start this post by saying that we have moved to Switzerland and back twice before. Each time under different circumstances, different periods of time, and with different amounts of “company support”. The first time we had a furnished flat in Basel and we knew we would not be staying there for more than about a year, plus the timing happened very fast (less than 2 weeks from the moment we heard about the possibility of the job) so we stored everything we owned and shipped just about 10 boxes. Everything was paid for by the company. We did not have time to consider other options, we just wanted to capture the opportunity, and I am glad we did because that job led to all the other jobs that have taken us there and back again since.

The second time around we had a little more notice. We decided to make arrangements to ship 1/2 container full of belongings, in part because we knew how expensive things were in Switzerland. We did not know how long we would be there but figured a few years would make storing a shipping a more affordable option than starting from scratch. We did not consider selling everything we owned, so we stored up most of our belongings and moved over seas. Some of the furniture arrived slightly damaged, there was a long wait time for the shipment. It turned out to be expensive anyway and a hassle we had not anticipated. This negative experience might have been avoided with a better shipping company, but I find determining that is difficult. It has been 11 years of consumer review evolution and probably getting recommendations and “buyer beware information” online is easier than it used to be.

This time we are planning to be there for possibly 4 years. Prices for everything have increased in the last 8 years since we left! Storage is more expensive and shipping is more expensive. However with the Swiss inflation rate always remains low, and the price of goods and housing has not dramatically increased. Since we knew a little better what we were doing, where we were headed and for how long, we chose to sell everything we could and just buy used “stuff” when we get there. We priced out lots of options and felt like it would be such a waist of resources to ship things back and forth, or store them, we decided our belongings were not so valuable as the cost to keep them. We also had a hard time justifying the idea that some families in the world live all year on less than it would cost us to keep our stuff stored up for only one month. It just seemed selfish and wasteful to us. So here we are eliminating everything and keeping only the few boxes of mementos and few items of furniture that have sentimental weight, things that belonged to our grandparents, things we built ourselves or worked hard for and saved for. Everyone is different and since I am no expert on this process I won’t tell you what is the BEST WAY, only that this is the best way for us.

So if you are contemplating a move over seas, I think this is a good place to start:

  1. Get passports (if you haven’t already got them) and apply for visas (this can take a really long time [months] and has too many variables to list them all, but if you have a Swiss employer supporting the process it should be MUCH easier).
  2. Deciding what you really want to keep, and what it will cost you to store it or ship it.*
  3. Set up fare watcher alerts for airfare and start planning for tickets.
  4. Immediately begin selling everything else. We started listing and pricing and taking photos of our sale items with in weeks of getting my husbands job offer. We have been with out a dining table for 3 months (it was first to go) but ya know what? I learned that you can live with out a lot! And that’s a really good feeling, especially because it’s temporary.
  5. Sell, Sell, and keep Selling, right until the bitter end. You will need all the cash you can get for apartment deposits, hotels, airfare, new electronics, mobile phones, etc. etc. Switzerland is EXPENSIVE (can I just say moving is expensive).
  6. Start reading everything you can on “what to expect culturally” so that you can begin to prepare for the changes you will have to make.
  7. Begin researching housing (I will be devoting a whole post to this soon).

I had a reader ask how I decided *what to sell, what to store and what to ship. This is such a great question and one that I touched on already, but I started with the common question: “what would I grab if there was a fire/ hurricane, etc.?”. I knew that sentimental belongings that I can’t replace, must be (mostly) stored in climate control. I immediately collected all the boxes of loose photos and sent them off to be scanned as part of a new years resolution to deal with this kind of clutter. This on going project deserves a post of its own. But I will say that it has consolidated a lot of space and given me some peace of mind regarding photos. Then as we went through every closet, tool box, toy box, craft box and bathroom cabinets I tried to ask if I could replace it in Switzerland, and is the cost to replace it there significantly more than shipping it? Now the tricky part of the equation has been determining the “COST”, I am still working on it, but there seems to be a lot of mystery shrouded in this equation. Every time I inquire about adding another box or two (Hefty 66 quart clear storage container) at an estimated weight of 50 lbs. the shipping company acts like its really difficult to find out the answer and they usually take a few days to get back to me… I am still trying to figure this out. I just keep asking if its something I really want to take or not. Here are some examples:
~ I want to mention that things like “elf on the shelf”, monogram Christmas stockings are coming with us, (I won’t be finding the elf in Switzerland) but I love the Swiss and German Christmas markets so I can collect some beautiful handmade nativity scenes ( expensive but special) while I am there.
~At least 6 totes are kids books and toys I should probably leave behind. I hope these items will make them feel familiarity in a new in different world. I know, from living there before, that English books- children’s books are hard to find (not impossible), and expensive. So I am shipping two totes with just kids books- expensive yes, but priceless if it provides familiarity, comfort, or even an escape from some tough days in the beginning.
~ I am also shipping quite a bit of clothing. I have already at least a tote for each child that is full of larger sized cloths; some I have purchased as I saw sales over the years, but much of them are really nice hand-me- downs that we inherited from older cousins- thanks! Since clothes and shoes (children and adult sizes) are more expensive in Switzerland, I am taking the gamble that I can ship these over and still come out saving $ in the long run. All my American friends living in Europe keep telling me to stock up on shoes, snow gear, and clothing before we come.
~ I am shipping some hobby related supplies, I know there weren’t a lot of craft supply stores in Switzerland when I lived there before (unless you are a knitter) so I’m bringing a few things: (I don’t want to live with out my jars of superfine glitter in every color) my paint brushes, paints, portfolio – it’s all going with.
~I am shipping a FEW kitchen utensils: mandolins slicer, pampered chef garlic press, etc. But as a rule of thumb, the Swiss versions are always superior quality and usually reasonably priced.
~I am packing all the toiletries I need, I am so picky about my hair products and a few cosmetics that are hard to get (Mary Kay), but again, the Europeans have every imaginable replacement, I will just have to slowly make adjustments.

We have been really lucky to have a few months to work out the details this time around. If you are contemplating a move overseas, I hope you will be able to have time to prepare or have a employer who can assist you in the details and cost to move. In Switzerland it is totally common to give 2-3 months notice before leaving a job, and in our case before starting one too.

Have you ever moved to Switzerland or somewhere in Europe? Do you have any last minute suggestions for things I ought to squeeze into my boxes or suitcases? Has anyone out there used a great international shipping company and want to throw us some recommendations?