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International Relocation During a Pandemic

April 6, 2020 ∙ 5 min read #life

Dear International Relocation, please meet Worst Time Ever. Worst Time Ever, please meet International Relocation. Let’s get to work.

In late January 2020, we decided that the best move for us was to relocate from London to Berlin. The reasons are many and won’t be the focus of this article. Instead, I’d like to give you a bit of insight into how we pulled off an international relocation in a time when just leaving your home is non-trivial.

Timing

My family moved to Germany in early March. According to “the plan” I was to stay in London, keep working, go on a few business trips and pack up our flat at a reasonable pace. I could officially stay in the flat until mid-May.

Things changed. My business trips quickly became impossible. That resulted in two things:

  1. I could accelerate my packing and moving schedule because I would no longer be traveling
  2. My anxiety grew about not being able to travel myself when the time came

So I sped up and started to order boxes, pack and organize logistics. Then, in mid/late-March, things started really getting crazy. You could feel the anxiety in the air in the supermarkets. The UK government took increasing lockdown measures and my anxiety about being stranded in London for a non-trivial amount of time grew.

Empty Supermarket

I was reminded of a great course I took in business school: Project Management. And specifically the concept of crashing.

Crash duration is a term referring to the shortest possible time for which an activity can be scheduled. It can be achieved by shifting more resources towards the completion of that activity, resulting in decreased time spent and often a reduced quality of work, as the premium is set on speed.

Wikipedia

I had to get out as soon as possible. Who knew when the borders would be sealed? Germany (like many countries) already started refusing inbound passengers except German citizens and foreigners already living there.

In the end, although I was originally planning on moving sometime in late April, I crashed my timeline by a month and ended up leaving on 28 March 2020.

Suppliers

  • Supplies: I ordered everything (boxes, tape, bubble wrap) online from Amazon. It was great to have it delivered once the shops closed due to government orders.
  • Flight: I booked two flights in parallel. I originally booked a flight with EasyJet from Gatwick Airport, but day after day the flight was getting cancelled and pushed out at least a day. I then booked a parallel flight with British Airways, which was less reasonably priced.
  • Shipping: This is the third time I’ve used Shiply.com and I can only recommend it for shipping around Europe. It’s an aggregator of shipping capacity and it’s a great way to get lots of offers for what you need to move.

Support at Work

Crashing a schedule comes with costs. Aside the obvious costs of rushing deliveries and last-minute flight bookings (and my sub-standard packing methods), it took a toll on my ability to run things in RWS Moravia’s Marketing team. Here’s where an amazing team you can trust pays dividends. Everyone in my team was aware of my situation and made it possible for me to just get on with the task at hand. We are inherently a remote team, so there was minimal disruption during the shift to Work-at-Home. Also, we’re a team of people who trust each other and each other’s abilities.

Pro tip: Build a team of great people. Learn how to delegate work and trust them. It pays off when you need to lean on them for support - and you will need that one day, even if you haven’t yet.

The Trip

On 28 March, I made my way to the airport armed with a pile of documents proving why I “need to fly”. If I’m completely honest, my case wasn’t air-tight, but I’d try anyway. There were two hurdles I needed to overcome: the airline has to agree and the border guard in Germany has to admit me into the country.

Airline

British Airways staff asked me why I was traveling because they get fined if the destination country’s border guards turn me away. It’s the first time I had to say out loud that I was moving that day. It sounded absurd, even to me. But I made the case that I need to join my family and they accepted that after a few internal calls, without any need for additional documents. If I were not a European citizen, I wouldn’t have standed a chance. The good news had arrived: I could fly! Just look at my excitement at Heathrow Airport.

Me wearing a mask at the airport

German Border

Once I arrived at the German border for passport checks, the questions started. The guard asked where I lived (checking for my residence requirement to enter the country). I repeated that I was moving to Germany today. She raised an eyebrow and dug deeper. I explained the situation that I was living in London until today and that my family had already moved. I was to join them today.

In the end, she only wanted to see a rental contract to prove my residency, or even my impending residency. I couldn’t produce that as we had other living arrangements organized without a rental contract. Luckily I was able to show an alternative document best translated to “Confirmation from the landlord”. This was my ticket and I was ready. The border guard accepted it and I was in!

Wohnungsgeberbestätigung

Aftermath

In order to shield my family and anyone else from any possible infection I picked up during the move, we decided that a two-week self-imposed isolation made sense. It’s a small price to pay and I’m lucky enough to be able to stay in an empty house belonging to a family friend.

Reflecting on what I accomplished in a rapidly contracting timeframe, it’s a bit shocking and surreal. But everything right now is surreal. The move was stressful and exhausting and not how I’d planned but lots of planning, people and luck made it possible.

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