Lessons in Shipping Overseas

So, now that I’ve sold most of my belongings, I have been focusing my attention on packing. I’ve reduced a lifetime’s worth of accumulations to my one allowed check-in bag, 2 carry-ons, and Fed Ex shipment of 2 large suitcases, one smaller suitcase and a box. That’s it. That’s all I will own in this world…less than I’ve ever owned, and I used to brag about fitting my life into my car all but 11 years ago!

To say that I have been prone to freaking out this past week is a bit of an understatement. But I have my Bach’s Rescue Remedy at the ready along with a recording of the Moola Mantra which I’ve been listening to once or twice a day. I haven’t been eating much, but I think that’s probably good. My system has enough to process without a full belly. I have nightmares on a regular basis, too. Never experienced that before. It’s been an onslaught. One would think I’m making a huge, irreversible life transition. Oh…I am!

Which brings me to the topic of this post: shipping overseas. Forget the fact that I’ve had a recurring dream about a challenging flight overseas for the last 20 years of my life with the very suitcase I won’t be taking on the plane, thank you very much! That thing is going Fed Ex! I knew my options were:

  • luggage forwarding
  • freight
  • USPS
  • another shipping carrier such as UPS

I’m not even going to get into the whole translated inventory in triplicate piece of this. Needless to say, I’ve used a few trees to prove that I am who I say I am and that I have the right to move to France. My documents have documents. And I also won’t mention how the French Consulate failed to respond to my request last month for a document that would have made this all so much easier. So, back to shipping…

The first thing I had looked into early on was freight. I had this silly idea that I’d be taking more with me. I’m sure that would have been the way to go had I had at least 30 cubic feet of stuff. It would have run me about $850 to ship that amount. Alas, I only have maybe 20 cubic feet…maybe. So, it would have been a waste of space and money for me to go that route. Besides, I would have had to drive my stuff to a service center, the closet being an hour away. They would have picked it up, but that, of course, would have been extra.

So, I also looked at luggage forwarding. They do pick up. Some places price by weight and other places price per bag. Either way, it came out to be more expensive than I’d hoped. One carrier quoted me for $1200 and another for $672. That last number was looking pretty good in comparison to every other option so far. I especially liked that I could just send my suitcases without boxing anything, and that they would represent me in customs. It would be more affordable than checking bags on the plane as well what with the airlines charging what they do for extra baggage. Besides, I hated the thought of arriving in Bordeaux, exhausted, and likely terrified, and having to steer one of those luggage carts piled high with bags. I could just see myself breaking down at the carousel, a weeping heap of nerves.

Something prodded me to keep searching. So, I loaded the car and took a trip to the post office today. I wasn’t relishing lugging heavy bags back and forth just to get prices, but one must do what one must do. The post office offered me a great price. I would have been able to ship everything for around $350. However, once it landed in France, it would be a bit of a mystery as to what happened next. I’m sure it would have been fine, but…

My next stop was a store that represents several shippers. The guy at the counter was very knowledgable and helpful. He checked Fed Ex pricing for me, which was unfortunately even more expensive than the luggage forwarders and airlines combined! I was pretty sure at that point that I’d just go with a luggage forwarder. But as I mentioned, this guy was super helpful. He told me that we could ship everything as a “multi-shipment” and save. He called Fed Ex on my behalf and got a quote of $400! That even includes insurance!! So, that’s what I’m going to do. At that price, I may even add another bag. The great thing is that Fed Ex controls it in the US, and they also have some control in France. They’ll also work with customs and my triplicate documents.

So, if I may say, “Hurray & Amen!”

UPDATE 4/19/14

I brought everything in to the shipping place. They boxed all my suitcases (safer that way). I also did add one other bag. So for all my bags, four of them, which came to about 150lbs., it cost me $550. Everything will arrive in just one week…a week before I do! That works for me, since I have an address to send it to and someone who knows it is coming.

 

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Getting Rid of “Stuff” – The Process of Letting Go

With a month to go before my big overseas move, I am finally able to focus my attention on deciding what to bring with me and what to leave behind. It is a gift of an opportunity to lighten myself (I’ve been channeling St. Francis all week), but it does bring up a lot of emotions and attachments I’m having to work through. It’s a fascinating process.

I realize this process would be different for everyone. Someone who lives out of a backpack would laugh at the absurdity of my attachments. Someone with a household of big furniture and several children in tow would probably envy me. And the person who has never known want might pity me. That in itself is fascinating…the fact that we all have such different points of view. But this is my process…

It is amazing how identified I have become with certain objects…they mean so much more than what they are, if you know what I mean. Everything I own was hard-earned. And now, I’m selling it for a fraction of cost or in many cases, giving it away. It sometimes hits me as a terrifying process. It sometimes hits me that I have totally lost my mind. And then I remember how nice it is to be mobile and free. I haven’t quite made up my mind about it all yet, though.

I’ve discovered that it is extraordinarily costly to ship things overseas. If I owned anything of high value, it might be worth it, but in most cases, most of what I would take would cost more to ship than its worth. Ironically, though, it will still cost more to replace, so every decision is a weighed one.

As it is, most of what I want to take has now been reduced to the highly practical or highly sentimental (and even this I debate on a regular basis). I was shocked to realize that an 11 lb. box shipped USPS would cost me $82 smackers (and about half the value of what was inside), shocked again to learn that airlines charge anywhere from $96 to $285 per extra bag. Baggage forwarders can offer the median $154 per bag. But you can see, it quickly adds up. I could use a shipping company, which makes it more affordable to ship greater quantities, but my problem is, I don’t really have enough to make that worth it. Besides, there are tax and duty considerations. So…minimalism is key. Right now, I’m still not entirely clear on how many bags I will have. I’m estimating no more than ten. It comes down to this: the less I take with me, the easier it is and the less it costs to get it there.

Some of my pricier (but heavy) electronics will be hard to let go of, not just because of my identification with them as an artist, but because I know I won’t be able to sell them for what they are worth nor replace them inexpensively. The thought crosses my mind that if I don’t own a digital recorder, mic, and vocal amp, am I really still a professional singer? Will I hear myself crying, “Why oh why didn’t I ship that?” down the road? My mic is light, but whether or not I take it will depend on whether or not there is room for it. Will I find a way to replace it all when I get there? Or will everything else take priority?

 

If I let go of the flatware I’ve been using since I was a child (and they just don’t make it like that anymore), will I later long for the weight of it in my hands and resent the cheap stuff that has taken its place. Yes, I realize I’m assuming the worst here. That is one of the things coming to light as I go through this. I have to keep reminding myself that it is possible something better will take its place!

Some things are just too big – my bed, for instance. Every night, I slip into that bed and thank God. I will miss it dearly. It took me 9 years to finally buy it for myself after years of sleeping on air mattresses, rock-hard foam, and even my massage table. But I simply can’t take it with me, as comfortable as it is with its yummy cream flannel sheets and super-thick cotton blanket. A comfy bed to two will be one of our first priorities now that I fully understand the value of such a treat.

I just went through my clothes yesterday. What a project! I kept having to take breaks every 10 minutes because it was so overwhelming. I’ve been reading about minimalists who own 1oo things, and I can’t even get my clothes down to 100 things. I will say, I did manage to discard about two suitcases worth. It felt really, really good. I consigned some of it, put aside some pieces for a friend, and gave the rest away.

As for the kitchen, I won’t need most of that. The only things I’m finding an attachment to here are my spices. I know I can get spices anywhere, right, but for some reason, it just seems like such a waste. I also have some really nice health supplements I hate not to take because I have no idea if I’d be able to find them in France.

Selling my car will be hard. My car is a symbol of my freedom, my ability to care for myself, and my security. Still, I’m enjoying the process of cleaning it up and preparing it. I have to remind myself it will go to someone who really needs it. It will improve his or her life and really, it’s the only thing I have that will actually give me a nice chunk of dough for the trip over because I actually own it. I wish I could say the same about my house, but as I bought it right before the market crash, I’ll be lucky to break even. That wasn’t how that was supposed to go! Regardless, I’ll be relieved to be out from under it.

That pretty much sums up this experience so far…a heady mixture of relief and grasping, opening and clenching, releasing and accepting. It’s intense.

I can’t take any furniture really – not even the Colonial Hunt chair and small table that I grew up with. The rest I don’t really care about anyway. It served a purpose, but I’m not attached.

I spent a month or more converting what I could of important papers into digital form. But I still have a filebox full of papers and notebooks I will absolutely have to take with me. I also spent a week or so transferring my entire desktop computer to my laptop. The desktop, which I had made locally and has served me flawlessy, will remain behind. (Anybody want to buy a desktop?)

I’m also taking my newly sorted clothes, shoes, some personal items, 2 stuffies to keep me company, a few kitchen items I know I’ll miss in France like my American unit measuring stuff, I’ve reduced my books to two (so sad), my Qwerty keyboard (so I can use Stuart’s computer without wanting to pull my hair out), some small electronics and software, and essential sound healing tools and power objects. That’s about it. And if I wind up with a little extra space, hmm…maybe I’ll rescue my books.

I’m curious. St. Francis, how did you do it? How did you just up and walk out naked one day and not miss that cozy sweater and warm, fuzzy socks? You were lucky not to have an American washer and dryer to mourn. I’m no St. Francis, but I’ve always wanted to know what letting it all go feels like. Bit of a mixed bag.

It’s funny, really. Compared to so many, I have had so much. I have lived so comfortably. Have I been blind? Yes. In many ways, I have because I have fallen prey to an ingrained materialistic mentality. And I’m grateful that this process has revealed just how much I have already been given to enjoy in this life. What boggles the mind is how little it has been compared to so many others who think they will never have enough. The truth of it is, I’ve always had what I needed…not much more, but never much less. Letting it go is easy when I remember that.

The Pendulum Doth Swing – Revisiting Our Relocation Decision

Today, Stuart popped the question.

Since we’re already married, you might be wondering “what question?”

“Might it be better, less stressful, if I were to come to America?”

Stuart and I are now both wondering if we aren’t totally nuts planning on living in France. Life has become so complicated! France may be beautiful. It may be cultural heaven. It may be close to everything we want to see and do. It may even hold untold gifts for us. But even running a business, let alone two, over there is getting a bit daunting. I won’t go into French business structures and taxes lest the eyes with which you are reading this roll back into your head and never return; suffice it to say, “Merde!” Stuart also brought up the unthinkable,”What if something were to happen to me? You’d be stuck in France alone with no income and no home to return to.” Apparently it has been weighing on his mind, and I can’t say it hasn’t crossed mine.

Ironically, for several months, we’ve tossed this decision of where to live around and around until we finally began making moves towards the realization of living in France just a few weeks ago. It felt good. It felt right. It felt “verified” by Spirit. It was a relief! And now? Now neither of us are so sure. France once again presents the extraordinary challenge of daily and business life in a nation that speaks…well, French!

Our choice to live in France all made perfect intellectual and heart-felt sense. Stuart was settled there making it easy for me to go as his spouse. It was a gateway to the UK if necessary. It was something I’ve always wanted to do. But what if it isn’t for us…not yet…and maybe never? I’m having to really look at my attachments to living there: “Oh, Europe! Far from Fukushima, nonlabeled GMO’s, and American stupidity”…and the assumptions I’ve made about it: “My true destiny awaits!” What if all moving there served to do was complicate our lives in irreversible ways?

What are the consequences of altering our decision? I’ve quit my day job and put my house on the market. I’ve organized all the forms I need to close my business in December, turning away opportunities and not bothering to cultivate new ones, started changing my domicile to Florida (opened a new bank account there, got forms I needed from the post office certified, purchased a mail forwarding service), gave away a bunch of my belongings, and have been doing research about France to the point of turning purple. So, if we brake and reverse course, what happens next?

  • I’ll have to undo everything I can undo including taking my house of the market and buying things…like a hammer…that I really don’t want to have to purchase again.
  • We’ll have to now initiate the CR1 Visa process with a 6-month-average wait time and burden family with sponsorship.
  • While we wait, we have two households to pay but I’ve quit my day job and Stuart’s income remains capped due to all that stuff I didn’t get into that would have made you blind a couple of paragraphs ago.

It isn’t too late to change direction. It isn’t like I’ve had offers on the house. I haven’t sold my furniture. But it is so disorienting…like some kind of creepy fun house that  isn’t really all that fun. Every corner provides some new “pop up” obstacle or consideration making me drool and make musical noises with my lips. Can the straight-jacket be far behind?

I’ll have to deal with the, “I thought you were moving to France,” comments and explain to people…wait…forget that part. Romantic notions about living in France are all well and good, but this is a decision with just about the biggest ramifications imaginable. Do I really need to explain anything? What’s really important here? We want to be together.  We want to be happy. We want to create and prosper. Where’s the best place for us to do that???

I feel utterly, completely, entirely torn apart because I want it all and want it NOW! (A Veruka Salt moment brought to you by Youtube.)

It has made me call into question this so-called gift of free will. For one thing, it’s an illusion. For another, I don’t want it anymore! Would someone up there please just tell me what precisely it is we’re supposed to do in a clear, irrefutable language that even a very stubborn human can understand?

My head hurts.

Moving Stuff Overseas: More Than I Ever Wanted to Know

So, today, I have begun my research into moving all of my crap overseas. You may be able to tell by my use of the word “crap” that I am less than enthused by the impending process.

It’s a good thing I starting looking into this now, because like every international process, it is incredibly complicated, costly, and full of bureaucratic delights. Today, I discovered, for example, that I need what’s called a “Certifcat de Changement de Residence” from the French Consulate. (What would have happened, I wonder, if I had failed to realize this? A 21.2% TVA on my items?) This gets sent to me, I fill it in, it goes back to them for a stamp, and then gets sent back to me…or something like that. And rats, I think I also need a Certificat de Non-cessation to prove all items are for my personal use which I failed to request when I called the consulate not 20 minutes ago. Doh! Maybe, just maybe, they’ll include it?

There are other things it says I need but I don’t think they apply to my situation as a spouse of an EU citizen. I’m not relocating for work, for example, so I can’t provide documents to that effect.

I am not bringing a lot with me, and the more I learn, the less I feel attached to things. Nothing I own is really worth anything…’cept to me, of course. I have very little furniture anyway, and only three small pieces that I want to have in my new home. I do have several electronics items and my sound healing tools, and hopefully, I can locate some proof that I own all this…ahem…crap because supposedly, I may encounter difficulties without recus or receipts.

I’m also bringing some clothes, shoes, jewelry, suitcases, books, much-loved kitchen items like the colonial flatware I grew up with and ye olde US measuring utensils, and papers. Really, I can’t imagine it taking up more than 25 sq ft. of space. Though I would like to bring my unused cosmetics, supplements, and food items, it sounds like that will be more trouble that it’s worth. Best to start using it up (and yes, I will grieve the loss of my irreplaceable, beloved Neem toothpaste).

I apparently will need a detailed inventory of all items, one inventory per box, electronics separate, in duplicate, signed and dated…and of course, translated into French. Wee. And I’m not talking French! (Please pardon my oui joke.)

Now, as for getting it there, I seem to have several options starting with air or sea. They say sea tends to be more economical, so that’s most likely the way I’ll go. Now within that category, I can pack and transit myself to the carrier, pack myself and have it picked up, or have it packed, transported, and shipped for me. I can also have a private or shared container, in which my belongings would be created with the belongings of others. It can arrive at a terminal in France where I can pick it up or it can be brought to my French residence. So many options!

I don’t know anything else yet…and frankly, even this was more than I ever wanted to know. I’ll post more as I learn more. Wish me bon courage!

Where to Land Continued: UK

Last post, I talked about some of the variables associated with living in France. This time, I will be ruminating on the pros and cons of relocation in the UK.

If, as an American, I applied for a spousal visa in the UK, it would cost upwards of $850. There would be postage fees and costs associated with obtaining my biometrics in Charlotte, a city two hours away and the closest immigration service center to me.

One of the good things here is that having applied for a Visitor to Marry visa not that long ago, I am quite familiar now with the UK visa process. The applications aren’t that different…just much longer in the case of a spousal visa. Since the visitor visa, once spread all over my floor, when compiled was about two inches thick, I’m thinking the spousal visa will end up being even thicker.

Do you have any idea what goes into these applications? I certainly didn’t. In some ways, it feels like everything under the sun…bank records, tax documents, birth certificates, divorce decrees, proof of marriage, what I’ve eaten for the last 3 years, and oh, something really fun called a financial requirement form. It looks like a real nightmare to fill in, but I won’t go there right now. (I’m just kidding about the what I’ve eaten part).

Now, one would think that since I had to have my biometrics taken for the visitor visa a few months ago that I would have already met that requirement. Not so! Apparently, I would have the joy of doing that all over again. No biggie; just a pain.

Stuart is currently in France. We are lucky though because he is contracted by a UK company and is paid in the UK, so establishing proof of income won’t be an issue. The challenge is that Stuart will have to find a place for us to live. While finding something is not an issue, timing certainly is. This application process can, according to a friend who went through it several years ago, take as little as three weeks. It can also, according to a recent article, take up to 12 months. Why should Stuart uproot his life in France now when it could take a year before we got visa approval?

Enter the cousins. We are blessed that Stuart has generous cousins, a married couple, who have offered to open their home to us so that we can take the time to find a place of our own. This makes everything so much easier. With an address, we can now apply for our visa without Stuart having to rush to relocate in the UK.

Apparently though, getting a UK driver’s license…I mean licence (that’s another thing…all those misspelled words over there!) is no less joyful an affair than trying to get one in France. The success rates are about even…44% passing. However, the fact that the test would be in English and not a language I barely understand is a definite plus. In fact, being in a country where I understood the road signs, the mail, the food labels and everything else would certainly make life easier. Documents wouldn’t need to be translated either.

The other benefit of living in the UK is that it would be so much easier for me to re-establish my client base, and I could be teaching workshops in no time. Plus, I could schedule book signings and increase my book sales there.

Sounding pretty good, ain’t it?

The main drawback of life in the UK is…well…life in the UK. It’s cold, it’s depressing, and it’s expensive. We’d relocate to the sunniest coast, but even in the height of summer, temps don’t generally break 70F. That’s practically still winter!

AVL
Asheville, NC

During my visit for marriage, one of the first things that struck me was how miserable everyone seemed in the cities. Living in Asheville for 10 years, one of the happiest cities in the US, has spoiled me so!

The area of Devon was nicer than the central areas, and I could see myself living in certain parts there even despite those narrow little roadways.

In fact, my whole life, I have wanted to live by the sea. So maybe, just maybe, the UK would be OK if we lived by the shore. And the grocery stores there, after having been in France, Eee!!! Delight!

But I also recall how upon disembarking from the ferry once back in France, the whole sky opened up and the sun shone down gloriously! I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing as I removed my “tea cozy” hat, scarf, and sweater (which I had to wear in September no less!). The whole world was smiling again.

But it would also be much simpler for us to eliminate the third country from a complex-enough two-country life. And it certainly would be nice to ultimately share a country with my Honey and not just be a permanently floating expat. Who knows? Maybe establishing residency and then citizenship in the UK is the best way to do that.

That’s all for now. Next time, considerations for the US…

Where to Land Continued: France

Since my husband lives in France and is self-employed there, it would seem entirely logical for me to relocate there. There are many reasons to go this route and just as many not to, so in order to sort it out, I commence…

First of all, France has a relatively easy process for the non-EU spouse of an EU citizen. I just show up and then apply for my Cart de Sejour, or residency card, within 3 months. No long, complicated forms to fill out beforehand. No 6 – 12 months waiting to reunite. Obviously, this is a HUGE plus.

On the more intuitive side of things, several months before meeting my husband, I was telling people how much I wanted to visit France. You see, a couple of years ago, I had a dream I was riding in a cab in Paris, my face pressed against the glass as I looked up at the buildings in awe exclaiming, “I’m home!”

Then, one day in my kitchen a few months before meeting Stuart, I was chopping carrots and thought, “Wow, I’m moving to France. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But it is going to happen.” And now, here’s this opportunity to realize all of that.

“So, get thee to France!” you may be saying.

There are some negatives to consider. First of all, I don’t speak the language. While I have a good ear for French pronunciation, I remember very little from my two years in high school many years ago. “So what?” you may think. “Learn it.”

I could and am (Memrise), but it will take me several years to become really fluent. Oh, and I’ve forgotten to mention, though my husband has lived there several years, he doesn’t really speak it either! I’ve already come to learn he would be little help in that department (sorry, Honey).

Now, every document, every food label, every piece of mail we receive, every road sign will be in French. And if important papers are not in French, they will need to be translated…such as my birth certificate and marriage license. That is a daunting challenge, though one that excites me all the same. Living in a country where I just don’t understand anything is a spiritual-growth playground for undoing my mind! I guess that makes it a plus and a minus and therefore, the issue of language is cancelled out.

Another negative is obtaining my French driver’s license. Apparently, this is no easy task for an American. The test is in French, requires lots of class time, costs a small fortune, and has an absurdly low passing rate. This is definitely a negative. I’ll write more about this another time, as there is more to this issue.

Positives:

  • I’ll be with my Honey!!!
  • It’s sunny and beautiful.
  • The pace of life is poifect!
  • The most beautiful beaches anywhere are close by.
  • It’s easy to travel to wonderful places such as Italy, Switzerland, Spain…and even the UK (though I would need either a visitor visa or EU Family Permit to go there).
  • Rents…and eventually houses…are more affordable there than, say, the UK (but I have a house in the US with a very affordable mortgage that can’t be beat).

Negatives:

  • While I can work online from anywhere doing what I do, I will undoubtably lose some clients who prefer in-person work, and I won’t be able to get new clients there or teach workshops unless I find English-speaking participants.
  • Working with my current musical and vocal toning collaborators will be greatly impacted.
  • Stuart’s current living arrangement is a rather rustic space in the middle of nowhere (though he is very willing to move closer to a bigger city such as Cognac).
  • The bio shops are teeny and carry very little selection at a hefty price; in fact, the grocery stores we went to were rather sad. Here I am in Asheville, NC, a mecca of whole foods including two EarthFares, a co-op, Greenlife, and most recently, Trader Joe’s. That won’t be an easy adjustment.

I know there’s more, but my head is already turning to cotton, so I’ll continue another day…