What’s it like to pack up your home in London, say goodbye to your friends of thirteen years, and ship your family off to the other side of the world? What’s it like to do this with a toddler and when you’re comprehensively up the duff? What’s it like to stop over in Vietnam for three weeks en route to Australia? What about playgroups, childcare, finding work, establishing new friendships, getting set up? How do you explain all of this change to a two year old? Here’s my take on it. But I’ll just deal with the basics of relocating first.
The relocation logistics
I’m Australian but have lived in London for well over thirteen years. About six months after our daughter’s birth in August 2010, my partner and I (Oz…he’s actually a Londoner) decided to try it out in Melbourne where I’m from, to be near my family and to see what such a change might be like. We knew at the time that this decision was momentous, but nothing can quite prepare you for how massively the world shifts beneath you when you make such a move. We were definitely after a change anyway and knew that living smack-bang in the middle of Dalston, Hackney, was not forever, though we loved it. We wanted space, beach, gardens, family, the outdoors and a challenge.
What shipping company to use and how to go about it?
I don’t have in my hot little hand a list of all the shipping companies who tendered for the job (lost in the flurry of paperwork and boxes I imagine). But I contacted ten different international shipping companies and gave them two possible dates and times to visit my home together, to survey the contents I would want to ship and to provide me with quotes. Some companies were recommended by friends and others I just found on the internet. Some companies were less than happy with having to attend my home at the same time as their competitors, but I was going to be damned if I was going to waste my time showing ten different surveyors around on ten separate occasions so they had to like or lump it. I really suggest going this way. These companies want the work and they’ll attend.
I instantly got a sense for who knew their business well and who was blagging it. Australian quarantine laws are super strict (check out the AQIS site for information about specific items…) but there is “strict”, and then there is ludicrous. Some surveyors were adamant that I wouldn’t be able to take my cow hide rug, my beautiful Mothercare wicker moses basket, my two much-loved antique rush-seat chairs and various other items. One woman said she thought it would be fine to take the butterflies behind glass, which we had purchased in Borneo a few years before and that the other items would be fine but that I should just not declare them. Ahem…I knew instantly that this chick didn’t know her business. Looking at a few online forum discussions, I saw that many people had entered Australia with expensive wicker furniture which they had declared and which had been accepted without a problem, so I realised pretty quickly, that there was a way of getting around the stupidity. Just be sensible. Also, quite a lot of people bang on about not being able to take wooden products into Australia. This is also rubbish. The wood just has to be treated. You receive a customs declaration form where you are asked whether you are taking any products within certain categories. Under the wood section, I declared my dining table, chairs and so on, and a representative from Doree Bonner recommended I say that they were all shop-bought in London, UK. Very straightforward.
All of the companies bar one, estimated the cubic meterage (not a word but I’m having it) at much the same, requiring a sole 20 foot container. The woman who had suggested that I take the butterflies into Australia, estimated us needing a 40 foot container at twice the cost. Silly, silly lady. The other nine companies were also pretty competitive in price. So what was the deal breaker? The surveyor from a company called Doree Bonner (Paul Dodds) phoned me the day after he had attended. He clearly knew the score. He told me that I could absolutely take the cow hide, the wicker moses basket, the rush seat chairs and a few of my vintage suitcases containing some sort of manufactured plant material, provided that I declared them fully in the inventory and provided a good description of the items. He said that his company would ensure that all declared items were packed in the same accessible area of the container so that customs officers could easily inspect the items should they wish to. He said that in his experience, full and clear disclosure mitigated against unnecessary fines and penalties which can be extremely harsh if you intentionally seek to mislead quarantine officials. He made it clear that I would have to leave the butterflies, some percussion instruments bought in Cuba and Spain made from seed pods and the like, a few other unmanufactured wicker materials (keep wicker to a minimum if possible), and any food items he urged me not to bother with. He also said that Doree Bonner had an affiliate company in Melbourne (our destination) called Grace Shipping International who would receive our container, oversee its inspection from their custom-approved storage facility, and would then store it for eight weeks free of charge should we need it. That sealed the deal.
Shipping Winter woollies in advance
So I signed a contract with Doree Bonner back in February 2012. We also needed to send three boxes full of winter clothes to Melbourne in advance of our travels, to be there for our arrival. En route to Melbourne we were spending three weeks in stinking hot Vietnam, and couldn’t afford the space to take clothes for an Australian Winter as well. So in early March, Doree Bonner dropped off three tea cartons (largish boxes) for me to pack into. I chose to pack the clothes and sundry other bits and pieces myself, and the boxes were collected on 10th March. We decided to ship these items as the cost was nominal in comparison with flying them to Melbourne (a couple of hundred pounds). Because we were only sending three boxes, we had to wait until the container they were packed into was entirely full before the container could be shipped, so from memory, the ship did not sail until early April, which was a little alarming. I heard from Grace Shipping International while we were in Vietnam, notifying me that the boxes had arrived. I paid a small additional quarantine inspection fee, and the boxes were delivered to my brother shortly before our arrival on 1st July. A job well done.
They pack your house up for you
For the large shipment, we arranged for the packers to attend for two days on 7th and 8th June, two days before our departure on 10th June. We were told that we needn’t pack anything in advance, but to make sure that all shoes, bikes, prams, outdoor furniture and the like, were spotless before the packing day arrived. A pair of dirty boots can set you back some dosh. They also recommended we do a big cull of anything we thought could be given to charity shops, or friends or just thrown away. Oz and I had packed all the gear we needed for our three weeks in Vietnam and set it to one side. Three burly blokes arrived bang on 9am on 7th June and set to work in three different rooms, singing and chatting away. They were extremely pleasant and while I had thought the whole process would make me feel hugely emotional, it was actually a huge relief to see the job being done so expertly and that I didn’t have to do any of it! I bloody hate packing. I just had to provide teas and coffees and I went out and bought them some lovely BLT’s for lunch too, just to keep them sweet. Oz took Maple (our daughter) out for the day and the following day she was in nursery so that kept her from getting in the way. By the end of day one, and not very late I might add, they had effectively boxed up three quarters of our belongings. They transferred much of this into a van to drive to the depot to load into our container. The next day they carried on and had boxed everything expertly and created an inventory for the works, including vintage tea and dinner sets, guitars, keyboards, clothes, books, dining table, chairs, sofas, mattress, linen, bedframe, artwork…the works. They loaded the remaining boxes into the van by 3.30pm and their job with us was done. Because we had our own container, the wait time for shipping was much less and I think our ship sailed within the week and arrived in Melbourne around 26th July, just to give some sense of the timeframe.
Did customs have any problems with our stuff and did it all arrive in one piece?
Melbourne quarantine officials only had a problem with our tent which required steam cleaning for $88 or binning for $44. We forgot to clean it, so we happily opted for the steam clean. Everything else was fine. Phew!
Now we’re here in Melbourne I can report that we used all but a couple of days of our free eight weeks of storage. Finding a place to rent took far longer than expected. Grace International delivered all of our boxes and furniture and were out of there in a couple of hours and came to collect all the boxes the following day. My entire vintage dinner set, tea set, prints and paintings all made it in one piece. We had a couple of annoying breakages like two lampshades (which should have been packed more appropriately), our speakers were pushed in at the front (not good but they still work), our dining table had a big dent in the top (fortunately it is a lovely old banged up Victorian scrub table so we will live with it) and a brand new Le Creuset saucepan lid never showed up (but I think that was my fault…in my haste to unpack I must have peft it wrapped in paper in a box and chucked the box…damn it). We had taken out insurance for total loss if the ship went down or the container went missing, and had only insured a few individual items for all risks. None of these items were damaged so we’ll just live with it, and after my initial, hormone-propelled irritation had subsided, the overall job was a good one and I would recommend Doree Bonner.
What to do with jewellery?
I was advised that jewellery could not be insured in the shipping container. I think there have been incidents of people making claims for missing jewellery which had not existed in the first place, so shipping companies are just not prepared to take the risk. Paul Dodds, the surveyor, had told me that I was free to put all of my jewellery into a box and ask the packers to wrap it in somewhere, but that this would be at my own risk. Now it’s not as though I have a huge amount of valuable jewellery, but I do have a lot of sentimental bits and pieces and a few heirlooms I guess. So I came up with a cunning plan for the special pieces. My cousin has a place in France and was catching up with my parents there in July. She was visiting us in London before our departure, so I gave her a bag of the bits and pieces which I truly cared about and she passed them on to my parents when they met up who promptly handed it over when they returned from their holiday. The rest of the jewellery I left in the jewellery box, and the lovely old bloke packing up the bedroom, wrapped it all up carefully and added it to a box of bits and bobs. Job done. Otherwise, it’s tricky to know how to transport jewellery. Had we been flying directly to Melbourne I would simply have taken it in my carry-on luggage, but it wasn’t an option to trek around Vietnam for three weeks with that in tow.
More later about Vietnam, finding a home and so on…
Over n ooot x