An International Move - Part 1
Probably the one of the most stressful parts of physically moving to another country is knowing what to do with your all your belongings- do you take it all with you, or do you start completely afresh? The husband and I had several (heated) discussions on this, he was camp get rid, and I was firmly camp keep. He was absolutely of the mind that it would:
a) cost a LOT of dollar to get everything to Singapore, more than it would cost to just buy everything once we arrived
b) our UK home was a large Victorian town house with furniture in keeping with the building style (and therefore not apartment appropriate in style, size or function)
c) our UK home was home to rather a lot of stuff, much more than we could ever hope to fit in apartment
Whereas I wasn't budging on my points that:
a) All of our belongings were acquired over two lifetimes and a marriage, and no amount of money could replace anything like for like
Ok, actually that was my only point.
I may have only had one argument for keeping, and it may have been shamelessly reliant on sentimental value rather than practical thinking, but I can also be extremely stubborn when I need to be. Needless to say I won that particular discussion.
And so began the horrendously stressful experience of shipping our material lives 7000 miles from the UK to Singapore. Now at this point I think it would be fair to say we had a couple of rather unfortunate events which made the whole process of emigrating about a million times more stressful than it needed to be. At least one of these events I imagine to be a complete one off and sheer bad luck. However, in the spirit of this blog I will share everything and hope to save another family the upset we were put through.
Removals Company 1.
After a fair amount of research online etc we booked our move with a company called Movinga. Their quote was competitive but not suspiciously low, they had good reviews online, the customer service team were helpful and our allocated move coordinator was great. Everything was on track for an easy move and I was delighted. I really should have known that it was far too easy because 3 weeks before the big day I went on to receive an email stating that Movinga were no longer operating out of the UK (!!!!!) and our move had been cancelled. I kid you not. But apparently it was all going to be fine because they had sent all of our details to their trusted partners who were still operating in the UK and someone would be in contact with me soon. So that was it, I woke up on that Thursday morning thinking about a relaxed weekend of sorting and charity shop runs, and by 11am I was tearing my hair out knowing that we had to vacate our UK home for new tenants to move in, and not only did we have nowhere to go to (more on that later) but we had no one to take our stuff there. To describe the situation as stressful really doesn't do it justice. Yes, it was awfully bad luck to not only happen but happen to us. Yes, there were families in worse situations than us (as in supposed to be moving that day with no one turn up). And yes, they had forwarded our details on to their trusted partners. But when a reputable company do that to you, are you really going to trust their trusted partners? No, we didn't either, which brings us nicely to removals company number 2.
Removals Company 2.
Not long after I'd received that fateful email from Movinga, I had a phone call from a chap at a company called Pearson Removals. He was the voice of the trusted partner. He was going to help us he promised. He knew how stressful this must be for us. He promised to match Movinga's quote. He was the ultimate pushy sales person. What I hadn't realised was that pushy sales man would go on to cause us even more stress and upset than we were already going through. Pearson Removals didn't have great reviews online, they were known to under quote and then leave customers with unexpectedly large bills at the end, as the trusted partner of a firm that had effectively stood us up and with such poor reviews themselves we decided that they weren't the removals company for us. As far as we were concerned they had got lucky by getting our contact details and we owed them nothing. My husband made the call to deliver the news that we wouldn't be taking up their offer. And that was that.
Spoiler alert- that was not that.
Removals Company 3.
Whilst the husband was busy dumping removals company 2 I got in touch with a firm we had used for a previous move within the UK a few years back. At this point Pickfords came into their own in terms of customer care. Within half an hour of filling in an online enquiry I had spoken to their customer services and allocated an adviser who specialised in coordinating international moves. Should we decide to use Pickfords he would see our move through right until the end, I found something quite reassuring in that gesture. There is a lot to be said for feeling like you have someone to contact with any questions or queries, and someone who contacts you if he hasn't heard from you in a few days and just wants to check everything's ok. Alex (he deserves the recognition by being named) managed to get a surveyor to us in less than 24 hours and a quote within hours of that. With no other options, a good previous experience with Pickfords, amazing customer service and little time to find any other options we accepted Pickfords quote and arranged payment of the deposit. Quite why we didn't just go with Pickfords in the first place I don't know. Lessons learned and all that. As the big day loomed we had lots of paperwork to complete- insurance documents, customs forms etc. At this point in time we still didn't have a Singapore address, and in fact we wouldn't have a Singapore address up until the week before the container arrived, but nothing was too much trouble and forms were amended at the last minute to ensure our belongings actually arrived at our new home via their international partner.
The Return of Removals Company 2.
Believing the quote from Pearsons was politely declined a couple of weeks earlier, you can imagine our surprise when pushy sales man emailed us with a week to go confirming their teams times and dates for the move and asking for full payment. Just to throw another dose of wtf in there, my husband had already moved to Singapore and I was left in the UK to oversee the move and see the kids through to the end of term at nursery and pre-school. I had also had to endure a rather unpleasant medical procedure the week prior to moving day leaving me with strict instructions to rest and not lift anything. I'm a terrible patient, didn't listen and not only suffered some heavy bleeding but the wound also got infected. So a threatening email from pushy sales man was not particularly well received. If I'd had the energy by then to cry I would have done, but I didn't, and I most definitely didn't have the energy to report his behaviour to anyone but his senior manager. Thanks to a husband who keeps a record of important conversations and has the ability to write a stonker of an email right when it's required we managed to shake off pushy sales man and Pearsons. But it was the final straw and by the time it got to moving day I had completely lost interest and just wanted everything shoved in the container and out of my sight (this will come back to haunt me later).
Moving with Removals Company 3.
Pickfords were not perfect. I am not going to look back on it all and suggest that just because they weren't anywhere near as shit as the other two removals companies we had dealings with they were perfect, because they weren't. The packing guys in the UK were great however, and it was like having two dad's in the house with me cracking jokes, demanding tea, criticising the bad biscuits on offer and being able to sense when I needed someone to give me a knowing look and a "it will be ok". The kids also adored them, you could tell they both had grandchildren of similar ages and they took the time and attention to pack the children's belongings with them, talking the kids through the process, letting them write their own names on their boxes and showing them around the container when it arrived. I really do think it was this sense of duty and care to the family that meant the children really didn't get upset about saying goodbye to everything. For that I will be forever grateful to the lovely people who work for Pickfords and I would absolutely use them again. But that was only the packing. We did have a problem with the quote, and having read so much online about other removals companies doing this to customers we almost half expected it, but we did have to pay an additional £450 as the finished volume of packed items was greater than the estimated volume on the quote. Part of me wonders if this is a money making ploy by signing up new customers with a low estimate (as if I know what volume in cubic feet my home's contents will take up when packed) and then adding on charges once the packing and loading has been completed and is higher than the quote's estimate. This is particularly difficult to avoid when it is their employees completing your packing- they can pack as efficiently or as inefficiently as they want, and you just have to foot the bill. Was I not on top of them enough checking every box was truly full before sealing? Should I have had to? To make it worse, we were emailed the adjusted bill once the container had been taken away from our property so we could not request any repacking or remove any items. It felt like our belongings were being held to ransom and either we paid up immediately to ensure our container was put on the ship, or we argued the point with Pickfords but didn't get our belongings (and potentially were liable for additional costs for a different ship, container storage and handling etc). It was a catch 22 situation and we were left with no real option but to begrudgingly pay.
Our container left the UK right on time in the end, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology was entirely trackable 24 hours a day right up until it got about half way down Egypt's coastline. At that point the ships tracking system was turned off to deter pirates and we just had to pray that it would magically appear again somewhere near Singapore a week or so later. I became almost obsessed checking the ships status, and every time there was no update to it's journey I'd find myself on google searching for the names of recently hijacked container ships off the Horn of Africa. By the time the ship safely docked in Singapore I was so relieved our container had arrived I'd almost forgotten that we still had to get through the unpacking and moving in. Almost, not entirely though, because I did spend that 4 week period wondering how rough the journey was, would everything be broken, would the clothes and soft furnishings be ruined by damp, would everything fit in the apartment, or should we have just started again instead like my husband had initially suggested?
Check back for Part 2 for the great container unpack...