Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tips for Moving and Living Abroad

As we come out of the newborn fog (if that's possible), I've got a few posts scheduled to post about random things.  Then, once we've found a routine, hopefully I'll be able to work in blogging as well. 

We got official orders to Groton, CT the other day for Mike's department head school, which means in between naps and feeding, there's been lots of logistical talk about moving back to the United States.  It made me think about our move(s) abroad and what I wish I would have known beforehand.  I've talked to a few people who are moving abroad about what to expect and how to prepare as they move abroad from the United States and figured it would make a good blog post. Moving abroad comes with a mix of emotions, both good and bad.  On top of that, trying to navigate the logistics of moving to a new country can be daunting.  It's well worth the emotional and logistic setbacks, though! We love it so much, though that we decided to have our first baby here!  Here are some things that have worked well for us. 

1. We still shop at the commissary and have our visitors bring us stuff from home.  Ha! Moving abroad is tough and it's worth having food that you know how to cook to help ease that transition.  I would imagine this to be especially true with kids. Some things we always buy at the commissary are shredded cheese (especially cheddar and mexican flavored cheese), Italian sausage, black beans, peanut butter and ethnic food (like soy sauce and taco seasoning). That being said, we do our weekly shopping at the grocery store and really enjoy shopping at the local markets here and in Turkey.  We've only done two commissary runs since being here and will probably only do one more before we leave. It's not essential, but like I said, food is such a comfort (especially when you're pregnant!) that it definitely helps ease the transition.

2. Germany is huge on paying in cash.  It's strange.  Lots of local places won't take cash for smaller bills, so make sure to always have cash on hand. Even if they do take credit cards, a lot of them will only take a German credit card. Turkey was the complete opposite! Every restaurant and cafe had a card reader.  Because almost all of their cards are chip and pin, they always bring the card reader to the table.  It's strange and unnerving for the wait staff to take your card away from the table. 

3. That being said, we got the Chase Sapphire Reward credit card when we moved abroad because it has no international fees and has 5x points on things like restaurants and hotels.  It's great for traveling abroad.  In fact, last spring, we had planned to book my entire flight home and back to Europe on points we'd accrued from this card.  Mike is definitely more into the points and rewards thing, but it's definitely benefited us to have it and use it abroad. They just released a new Chase card, the Sapphire Reserve, which has more perks, so I recommend getting that if you can. 

4. The stereotype of Germans always being so rude and mean isn't actually true.  It definitely took some getting used to their personality, which is definitely not as warm and welcoming as Americans, but they are actually really friendly, in their own German way.  I was really off-put by it at first, but now have realized they're just more blunt and "get to the point" than Americans who like small talk! 

5.There is German Amazon (amazon.de) and it is a lifesaver! We use it all the time because we are never sure where to get random things.  They don't have stores like Target, so all of the random things you would normally run to Target for (like pillows or a coat hanger), we end up ordering on Amazon.   Plus, a year of Amazon Prime is 49 euros, plus you can get a lot of American shows on their Prime that you can't get on regular Prime.  We pay for both American Prime and German Prime so that we get free shipping to our house, as well as our DPO box (a lifesaver!) and it's totally worth it.  Did that make sense? All you need to know is the there is Amazon here and it's a lifesaver.

6. This only applies to military, but I think it's maybe the most important thing when planning your move abroad.  When you move outside of the continental US, you get an "express shipment." I think they say it takes about 45 days to get to you, so it's not super fast, but we moved out of our DC apartment a month before we were set to move, so it got to us not that long after we moved overseas. For us (one active duty member + one dependent), we got 1000 lbs in our express shipment. We made the mistake of only packing the bare essentials! Pack 1000 lbs worth of stuff.  It's totally worth it. I would recommend basically sending all of your kitchen stuff first, plus a few extra things like an air mattress to sleep on and towels and sheets. I wish I had sent more of my kitchen because then I could have cooked when we moved in to our apartment instead of always having to eat out until the rest of our stuff came.  You also get to check four bags per ticket on the airline for free, so use that to your advantage. When we move back to the states, we're planning to use one of our checked bags for the pack n play so our little guy will have somewhere to sleep right when we get there. You can also gate check strollers, so don't use that as one of your checked bags. That's essentially free! I've never done it before, so all I know is what I've read online, but I've already started thinking about it because it's overwhelming. 

8. You can still communicate with friends/family back home. One thing that was really important to me when we moved abroad was that I would still be able to text and call home. At the time, I had an iPhone and so did she, which was great because we could still FaceTime and text via iMessage. I ended up losing my phone and the replacement was an Android, so that no longer worked.  I got Project Fi, which gave me a US number and allows me to call and text back to the United States without additional charges. I now also use an app called WhatsApp which allows us to video chat and text back and forth with anyone who has the app.  Both people have to have the app, so that's kind of a pain, but it's free.  It's so popular over here that most people use it to text their friends, even if they are in Germany.  It's been great for staying in touch with other Olmsted Scholars and Mike's sister who all live abroad.  Mike and I also have Skype Premium, which gives us an American phone number, which is nice for calling things like our bank or our health insurance back in the States.

Moving abroad is tough, both emotionally and logistically.  There is so much you don't think about before you move and then it's a million times more difficult to figure out in a new country.  The more prepared you are logistically, the easier emotionally it will be.  Every move and every country is different, but hopefully these tips and tricks will help anyone moving abroad get settled a little faster.