Brexit

If you’re receiving this email it’s because you subscribed to How to Flee the Country, a very irregular newsletter about life in the United Kingdom as an American.


I’ve been putting off writing this entry for literally months: the document I drafted this in was created on January 2, 2019. And about once a week since, I’ve sat down to finish it and each time stopped short of sending it. After all, I thought, everything will be so much more certain in a few days. But certainty never seems to materialize.

In 2016, the United Kingdom held a referendum, which asked British citizens this question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” About 37% of eligible voters chose to leave, and the exit of Great Britain from the EU was given the cute name, “Brexit.” On 28 March, 2017, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, submitted a letter to the European Council President notifying the EU of the UK’s intention to leave.

Nothing of consequence has happened in the intervening two years.

The British government has, of course, held negotiations with the EU to plan the UK’s withdrawal, but these negotiations have been, to date, pointless. The Prime Minister has thus far only managed to negotiate a deal that is unacceptable to Parliament.

Until last week, the UK was scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29. But without a plan, the date has been moved. As of this writing, the UK will cease to be in the European Union on April 12. There is still no plan for what happens next.

Bargaining

In the absence of something practical to talk about, people still talk about why the vote went the way it did. It feels immaterial now. The referendum pit the infinite number of Leave dreams against the dull reality of Remain. Now it’s just the dull reality of Brexit. There are few British politicians that believe, much less act, as if anything other than Brexit is possible. So that’s that.

For all the supposed divisions between Leavers and Remainers, the last two years has made clear that they have one thing in common: a bottomless well of cynicism. Leavers and Remainers alike often regard the European Union as merely an economic “deal” that might be kept, renegotiated, or canceled. They are unable or unwilling to see their neighbors as neighbors. It’s a wholly transactional view of the world. With few exceptions, Brexit has become a vehicle for British politicians to preserve or gain power and little else.

Supposedly, Parliament will vote again on a negotiated agreement, which would establish procedures for a transition period while the UK and the EU negotiate actual, long-term agreements on issues such as trade, public safety, and travel and immigration. When the agreement was last voted on, it was rejected by a margin of 230 votes. There is little sign that opinion has changed.

What might happen after that? You’re going to need a flow chart to figure that one out. The uncertainty is frustrating, to say the least. There’s a chance of additional delay, there’s a chance of new negotiations, there’s a chance of a new referendum, but many of the branches of possibility terminate in an unpleasant-to-catastrophic “no deal” scenario.

No deal

Supposing the UK actually leaves, Audrey and I are not EU or UK nationals, so we’re not impacted by changes in immigration law. Unlike our neighbors who are EU nationals, we won’t suffer the indignity of applying for new residence documentation. We’ll continue under the terms of Audrey’s work sponsorship. Similarly, Audrey’s work is not directly impacted; she works for an international organization that is created and funded by treaties and agreements apart from the EU. Those are the few sources of relief.

Our greatest concerns right now are the pound, an actual crashing out of the EU, and our futures (or lack thereof) in this country.

Since the vote in 2016, the pound has fallen in value considerably with respect to the dollar. Immediately after the referendum, paying our student loans went up about 10% overnight. And with each new uncertainty, each failed vote or dispute between interested parties, the pound fluctuates wildly. A no-deal scenario might be devastating to our personal finances; a negotiated agreement might buoy us. There’s no way of knowing what will happen and we’re not fabulously wealthy—I can’t hedge a years’ income by trading foreign currency.

The transition from EU membership to a no-deal outcome is the most worrying. It’s increasingly clear that the government is not prepared for such an outcome, despite acting in ways which might precipitate it. The nuts and bolts of EU membership mean that border procedures would have to be invented overnight. It may be that the UK and EU would be initially permissive at border crossings to minimize shocks. An optimal crashing out might still involve long lines at ports of entries and higher prices on food and other imports. But the worst case might lead to literal food and medicine shortages, soldiers deployed to keep the peace, and evacuating the Queen. Knowing what I know about the recent competence of the British government, we should probably be stockpiling food.

In the longer term, whether the UK leaves disastrously or not, Brexit has made it clear that the UK is not a place I would want to call home for long. When Audrey and I chose to move here, we thought we were moving to a stable country, well-connected to the rest of Europe and the world. We did not think we were moving to an increasingly self-centered, inward-looking society.

Assuming the rules stay the same, we can apply for citizenship here next year. But with the current state of affairs, why bother? Who would choose to join a small island nation that has decided it has no further use for friendly neighbors, that demonstrates no plan for its own future, and little concern for the wellbeing of its citizens? Just thinking about citizenship in such terms feels small-minded and transactional. Brexit must be rubbing off on me.

Will it stick? I guess we’ll find out sometime between now and eventually.

The Right-Hand Drive Shuffle

Hi, if you’re receiving this email it’s because you subscribed to How to Flee the Country, a very irregular newsletter about life in the United Kingdom as an American. In this issue, you’re going to learn about what it’s like to drive in the UK.

If you’re no longer interested in this newsletter, there’s an unsubscribe link at the bottom. If you’re unsubscribing, I’m sorry for the annoyance. If you’re staying, thanks for reading!


Living in Cambridge, where bicycle and foot travel dominate, I don’t need a car. Sometimes I call for a taxi to take me to the train station during a downpour, or book a private hire service to shuttle me and some suitcases to the airport. But my day-to-day life is usually carless and has been for about three years. So I hadn’t ever driven in the UK until late this past summer.

I had long talked about renting a car, maybe to go sightseeing someplace inconvenient to train or bus travel, but I just never seemed to get around to it. Finally, in September, push came to shove. My friends (👋 hi Kelley!) planned a vacation to the Emerald Isle—the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland—and invited Audrey and me to join them for part of the journey. We accepted and planned to spend time with them during the Northern Ireland segment of their trip, in and around the city of Derry/Londonderry (a city near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland that, due to its troubled history, has two names).

A word on a word: Ireland

I couldn’t resist sharing a very tangentially related thing I’ve learned while living in the UK. The word Ireland is a little complicated.

Ireland without a qualifier may refer to the large island west of Great Britain (Great Britain being the large island where you would find most of England, Wales, and Scotland) or the country which covers most of that island. That country is sometimes referred to, on an unofficial basis, as the Republic of Ireland; officially it’s Ireland or, in the Irish language, Éire. Citizens of Ireland are Irish, in both the sense that their nationality is that of the country of Ireland and that they live on the island of Ireland.

The Northeast part of the island of Ireland is Northern Ireland (sometimes abbreviated NI), which is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It’s a completely different country from Ireland. Citizens of Northern Ireland are both Irish (in the sense that they live on the island of Ireland, whether they hold citizenship in the neighboring country or not) and British (in the sense that they hold citizenship in the United Kingdom).

The whys and hows of Northern Ireland being part of the UK while there’s a whole Irish nation adjacent to it are far out of the scope of this newsletter. There’s a lot of history there.

Muscle memory behind the wheel

Audrey and I flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland, from London. Upon arriving in Belfast, stopping by the rental car counter was just like anywhere else I’ve rented a car. I produced all the necessary documentation—passport, driver’s license, and credit card—and received a set of keys for what was described to me as the only available automatic car, which I was warned was “large”, a Volkswagen Touran, which turned out to be like a tiny minivan. Of course, upon actually finding the car is when things got a little weird.

Even before starting the engine, I was reminded of how much operating a car relies on muscle memory, rather than conscious action. For example, for the entirety of the trip, I’d do this awkward little dance when approaching the car. Here’s how you do the Right-Hand Drive Shuffle:

  1. Start walking towards the left (passenger’s) side door.

  2. Realize your error.

  3. Abruptly change direction.

  4. Act like you totally meant to do that.

  5. Get into the right (driver’s) side door.

There’s lots of these large and small movements that I’d start doing without even thinking, before encountering some unexpected resistance and correcting. Each time I reversed the car, I tried turning my body to the right, striking my elbow against the door, instead of reaching my hand out to the seat next to me. Most times I started to signal a turn, I’d accidentally start the windshield wipers instead.

After a few minutes familiarizing myself with the mostly mirrored controls, radio, and GPS (excuse me, satnav), I pulled out of the parking lot and navigated my first roundabout to exit the airport.

Unfortunately, the only flights available to us arrived after sunset, so I hard to start things out on hard mode, driving in darkness to the hotel. We had the good sense to book our first night’s stay at a hotel very close to the airport, but my first 15-minute drive was, subjectively, harrowing. I asked Audrey constantly to confirm my position in the lane. My instincts about how much car should be next to me (and on which side) were completely useless.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I parked car the car and resumed breathing.

Let’s try this again

My first attempt at driving made me a nervous about the next day’s effort. After a morning in Belfast, we decided to stop by Stormont, the (notional) seat of government of Northern Ireland, then drive a scenic route north along the coast, then west to Derry/Londonderry. In all, it was a few hours driving, broken up by sightseeing and food breaks.

Like the day before, the first hour or so of driving was a little scary and a bit mentally demanding. Apart from traffic moving on the left, the roads in the UK are just different. Lane markings, signage, on-ramps (locally, slip roads), and the dreaded roundabouts (traffic circles or rotaries, to Americans) work differently than in the United States.

A lot is said about the complexities of navigating roundabouts in the UK, but I found the most stressful difference to be something more routine: the speed limit. In the United States, we’re fond of putting up signs for practically everything. And though the law may in fact specify some default speed limit for the road that you’re on, for the most part, American roads are meticulously signed with a speed limit. In the UK, this is not so. The national speed limits apply, which set the maximum speed for roads based on their configuration, unless otherwise posted. For example, the speed limit on a “single carriageway” (what I would call a two-lane road) is 50 miles per hour. The speed limit on a “dual carriageway” (what I could call a divided highway) is 70 miles per hour. I had to review the national speed limits a few times to remember which applied when (until I discovered that the GPS provided an always-on speed limit indicator, too).

To my sense, the speed limits usually seemed excessively fast for the narrow, winding roads of Northern Ireland. The speed-up, slow-down, speed-up pattern of driving on a dual carriageway, through a roundabout, and continuing back onto the dual carriageway felt like I was practicing for the Grand Prix. Driving down a winding two-lane road, squeezed between hedges or a low stone wall separating the road from the sea or the sheep, I was routinely overtaken by far more confident—or one might say fearless—local drivers.

Despite all these startling differences, after only an hour or two driving, some invisible switch was flipped and I stopped driving on the “wrong” side of the road and instead started simply driving.

Well, almost.

It wasn’t completely an overnight success. Some muscle memory was extremely difficult to overcome. Particularly, turning from a stop onto a cross street, like leaving a parking lot or from a road that’s perpendicular to the (new) direction of travel was a site of confusion, especially when there wasn’t any other traffic around to clue me in.

At these turns, I had a tendency to turn such that I would end up on the right side or the middle of the road, rather than the left. Obviously this is unsafe, so we quickly developed a ritual for these turns: loudly announce which way I was to turn and then, as we proceeded through the turn, Audrey would chant, “Keep LEFT, LEFT, LEFT.”

It must’ve worked because I managed to return the rental car without any damage or injuries. The UK’s roads are safe once again.

Next time

It’s only a couple months until the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union. Nobody knows what that means yet, but I’m going write about what it means anyway.

Not Quite Right

How to Flee the Country #4 — A photo essay











😧

For full-size photos, see the Google Photos album.

The Expat Cat 🐱 ✈︎

How to Flee the Country #3

Our cat, Nietzsche

Our Cat, Nietzsche

"Can the cat go to England?"

I don't remember when exactly Audrey asked about the cat, but it was sufficiently early in the employment application process that had the answer been an unqualified "no", you would not be reading this newsletter now, because we wouldn't be moving to Cambridge. Luckily for you, the answer was a "yes". Or, more accurately, "yes, but," followed by a long list of caveats. While we quickly determined that it was both physically and legally possible for the cat to go to England, as the months passed between acceptance of the job offer and actually boarding a plane, it remained to be seen whether it was practically possible.

Rabies, Rules, and Regulations

To begin, I researched everything I could on getting a dog or cat into the UK. I started with the basic customs and health requirements. Almost all the rules concern keeping this ugly little thing out of Europe:

the rabies virus under magnification

The rabies virus

Historically, the way to prevent the spread of rabies was to put animals in quarantine and wait to see if they developed symptoms of rabies. While an effective measure against the spread of animal-borne diseases, quarantines are stressful for both pets and pet owners alike. To avoid quarantines, the European Union has established rules by which pets could be moved freely into and throughout the EU. Thus the approach in Europe is to uniquely identify a pet with a microchip, vaccinate the pet against rabies, and document the vaccination with respect to the identifying microchip.

Europeans can get their pets a "pet passport" after a single visit to their veterinarian. For the U.S., meaning for us, the process is more complex, and details must be monitored carefully or some minutia could derail the whole process. Microchipping, vaccination, and a full check-up must be completed, but because of incompatible standards when it comes to microchips, we had to ask our vet to special order a microchip compatible with microchip readers in Europe. All in all, our cat had to visit the vet three times to complete the requirements for moving to the UK, and it was not enough for our vet alone to complete the extremely confusing paperwork (PDF) attesting our cat's vaccination; we also had to submit the paperwork to the United States Department of Agriculture to be certified and stamped. And, of course, all this needed to be completed on an exacting schedule, as only a rabies vaccine given after implantation of the microchip counts, and the EU only considers the paperwork completed in the US to be valid for ten days after its endorsement by the USDA. It's the sort of bureaucratic challenge that, as Audrey put it, is practically designed for you to screw it up.

Transportation Options

Clearing the cat into the country as a legal matter was one thing, but physically getting her there was another. Our initial research revealed that, on top of the EU regulations, the United Kingdom added some of their own. Specifically, the UK decided that pets may enter the country only through certain approved channels. For air travel, pets are only approved to enter the UK as manifested cargo. Compared to the more common approaches of allowing animals to fly beneath the seat in front of you (for pets in small carriers) or as excess baggage (for pets in larger carriers), the manifested cargo approach is significantly more expensive (about as expensive as an extra plane ticket) and inconvenient (requiring drop off and pick up of the animal many hours before and after the flight). So we started looking for alternatives.

Dog aboard Queen Mary 2

Luxury pet travel

One option is to go by sea, aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2. Aboard the QM2, the cat would've been housed and cared for in the ship's top-of-the-line kennel, while Audrey and I enjoyed the luxury accommodations of a modern ocean liner. To our surprise, a basic stateroom and pet care wasn't more expensive than flying to the UK with manifested cargo. We seriously considered this option until we learned that the QM2's sailing dates weren't compatible with our schedule.

We soon focused on a much more convoluted approach: flying to, of all places, France. We found a blog post that described a novel approach to getting to the UK with a pet. Instead of flying to the UK directly, they suggested this itinerary:

  1. Fly to France (with a pet in-cabin for a mere $200)

  2. Drive to Calais, France.

  3. Drive onto a Eurotunnel Le Shuttle train, that moves cars between Calais and Folkestone, England.

  4. Drive to any destination in Great Britain.

You're probably wondering: why not take a passenger train instead? Because, unlike practically every other train service in both Great Britain and continental Europe, animals are not allowed aboard Eurostar trains. Pets are allowed to travel in cars aboard Eurotunnel Le Shuttle trains (as well as most ferries that cross the English channel) for a small fee. Given the relative flexibility and reduced expense of transporting cars, several "pet taxi" services offer pick-up in France (Calais or points beyond) and drop-off in the UK, particularly aimed at British vacationers taking their dogs to France or Spain. Alternatively, some car rental companies allow cars to be driven across the Channel, provided you handle the return trip (or pay a hugely expensive drop-off fee). Since you don't have to wait around for cargo at origin and destination, this option actually shaves about an hour's travel time from the entire trip. Overall, flying to France looked like our best option.

Change of Plans

At least, that was our best option right up until the point that we actually had to book airfare. Once we were ready to buy plane tickets, flights to France were sufficiently (think 2x) more expensive than flights to the UK (including cargo costs) that we couldn't really justify choosing the French connection. So we reevaluated, and picked a flight from Philadelphia to Heathrow that fit our schedule.

Before it wasn't so important, but I have to mention it now: there are many, many restrictions on shipping live animals as cargo or excess baggage that do not apply to pets in-cabin. In an effort to reduce the number of animal deaths and injuries in transit, airlines (in the US) and aviation authorities (in the EU) have imposed strict rules about how and under what conditions an animal may travel. Most of these apply to the animal's carrier and how it must be prepared to safely transport an animal. But a few are out of the hands of the animal's owner. Specifically, there are now restrictions on the maximum and minimum outside air temperatures as well as what aircraft may carry live animals as cargo. Since we'd planned to depart in the middle of August, we ran the risk of exceeding the maximum temperature, so we booked refundable plane tickets to give us the option of rescheduling if the cat wasn't permitted to go. Finally, we submitted an inquiry with the airline's cargo system, which confirmed that the flight we picked out would be aboard an aircraft permitted to carry live animal cargo and gave us an estimate of the cost, although live animal cargo could not actually be booked until 14 days before a given flight. Aside from the question of the weather, things seemed under control.

Several weeks went by, and then, two weeks before our scheduled flight, the airline's cargo system notified us that our selected flight would not be accepting live animals as cargo. While we had been waiting, the European Union issued new regulations barring live animal cargo aboard some variants of Boeing 757 aircraft. In response, our chosen airline decided to discontinue live animal cargo aboard all of their Boeing 757 flights, which happened to be the kind of aircraft we were scheduled to fly on!

Change of Plans (Full Circle)

Until this point, we'd been somewhat stressed about the move. This wrench in our plans induced a certain level of what I would characterize as panic.

Initially, we sought out alternative flights to the UK. We soon found that there seemed to be no flights that could meet our requirements. We wanted to avoid connections and layovers, as it would increase the risk of delays or mishandling of our feline cargo. We also wanted to avoid flying from distant or hard-to-get-to airports, like Boston Logan or JFK, because additional travel time would increase the overall time Nietzsche had to spend in a carrier. Moreover, we found that many additional flights were not open to us at all, as Boeing 767s were subject to the same live animal cargo restrictions as 757s!

On a whim, Audrey checked for flights to France again and due to an error filling out an online form, found that round-trip flights to France were about half as much as one-way tickets. In fact, Audrey found tickets which were cheap enough that our total travel cost, door-to-door, was about the same as flying to the UK with cargo. We returned to our original plan of flying to France.

Travel tip: Did you know that buying a one-way ticket is a huge waste of money? That's one of several things we learned during this whole saga. If you need to make a one-way trip somewhere, book a round-trip ticket and simply do not board the return flight. This is known as throw-away ticketing. Technically speaking, throw-away ticketing is against nearly every airline's terms and conditions but, as long as you don't make a habit of the practice, repercussions are unlikely. It's one of several exciting airline booking ploys.

The Expat Cat

We booked the tickets, and then booked what I hope will be the most expensive taxi ride of my entire life. We took the cat to her final vet visit, to complete the paperwork, and overnighted the paperwork to the USDA to be approved, stamped, and overnighted back in a pre-paid envelope. With all of our stuff in the care of the movers, or in our baggage, we turned the house over to the landlord and crashed at Audrey's aunt's house (thanks, Sue!) to pass the few days until our flight.

Off We Go

Given all the stress and complication prior to our departure, the actual trip was sort of… pleasant. We drove up to Newark Liberty International Airport with the cat noisily angry about being put in a carrier in the car, when she had previously been allowed to sit on a lap with a leash and harness. But once we left the car, and entered the unfamiliar realm of the airport, the cat went eerily quiet and did her best to imitate just another piece of luggage.

Luggage and cat carrier

The cat tries to blend in.

At check in, we had to talk to an actual agent to pay the pet fee and get the airline-approved tag for the cat's carrier. At security, there was some dexterity required, because the cat's carrier had to go through the X-ray machine. So the cat had to come out of the carrier, and Audrey went through the metal detector and had to hold out both her hands to be swabbed for explosives, while simultaneously holding the cat. But once we were past security, nobody seemed to notice or care that we had a cat with us, probably due to Nietzsche's incredible impersonation of an unremarkable carry-on.

Soon after, we boarded our flight, at which point there wasn't any turning back.

airplane parked at EWR

Delta Airlines Flight 270 from EWR to CDG

We were worried that the cat would meow and make a fuss during the flight. Instead, the cat, in her terror and subsequent resignation, was mostly silent while stowed safely beneath the seat in front of us. She meowed just a little, when she wanted to be pet for reassurance, and Audrey took her to the bathroom a couple of times to offer her some water and replace the absorbent material in her carrier.

stowed cat

The high that day was 97F (36C), so we were glad to have her in the cabin.

in-flight map

A long flight: 3,600 nautical miles

drinking time

We made it aboard! Time for a drink.

I managed to sleep a little, but eventually breakfast was served and we began the approach to Charles de Gaulle. During the approach, we just managed to spot the Eiffel Tower in the distance. After almost 7 hours in the plane, we had arrived in France.

Getting out of the airport was a challenge, as we had to wait for nearly an hour in line at passport control. I had been preparing myself to speak a tiny bit of French to the passport control officer, but he didn't say a word to us, so all I had to say was bonjour and merci. We collected our bags and headed to the exit doors.

On our way to the doors, we passed by French customs. Though there were no signs asking for declarations, we stopped and told the nearest customs inspector that we had a cat. He looked a bit bewildered, as though he was wondering why anyone would care about that, and told us to continue on. However, to enter the UK, we needed the cat's form stamped at our port of entry in the EU. We showed him where on the form we needed a stamp, and he took it away and reappeared a few minutes later. After months of preparation, we had finally completed the form required to enter the UK!

After some effort to first find the taxi driver and then to find his car, we piled into a Peugeot station wagon. And headed North through the French countryside:

The biggest wind turbines I've ever seen

The drive from Roissy to Calais was pretty boring and it was rather warm, so I managed to nap a little bit before arriving at Calais—as did the cat.

Awww look at that cat

In the car, after an exhausting 7 hour flight, Nietzsche enjoyed being out of her carrier.

The Calais terminal

In contrast, Calais was exciting. First, we had to stop at a small building separate from the main entry booths to have the cat's microchip scanned and her paperwork reviewed. After the cat was approved to enter the UK, the taxi driver told us that the last THREE TIMES he had brought travelers with pets through, something was wrong with their paperwork and they had to stay in France for another 24 hours. I was glad that he waited until after the cat's paperwork was approved to tell us that!

We had to wait through a long line of cars to go through UK passport control. Much like France, our passports were collected, stamped, and returned to us without comment. Legally, we had entered the UK!

We drove over to a staging area, where additional train staff directed us onto the next available roll-on, roll-off train:

A Le Shuttle locomotive

Roll on

The train ride was sort of quiet and uneventful. It takes about a half hour. It's a little bit dark and the car sort of sways back and forth as it goes through the tunnel. I fell asleep until the announcements began for arrival in the UK. The gist of those announcements, by the way, is this: turn your clock back one hour and please remember to drive on the left side of the road.

Driving through the UK was a lot like driving through France, although the taxi driver seemed more confident driving on the left side of the road, and drove much faster, and the roads themselves were a bit curvier, so the cat, of her own volition, went back into her carrier, where she now felt safe:

Sleepy cat

It's amazing how quickly she forgot she hated this thing!

Finally, we arrived at the B&B where would be staying, jet-lagged and exhausted, but with one uninjured, adorable cat:

The cat on the bed at the B&B

The furriest foreigner

Whew! Sorry, that was really, really long. Next time: A shorter issue about how some things in the UK are just… not quite right.

Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit

How to Flee the Country #2 (previously published on TinyLetter)

Sorry it's been a while since the first issue of How to Flee the Country, but things got away from me, because moving across an ocean is a huge project. Luckily, the size of one part of the project is standardized: 19 feet 10 inches long, 8 feet 6 inches tall, and 8 feet wide.

a twenty foot shipping container

This is an intermodal shipping container. They come in standard sizes, so that no matter what you're sending or how lumpy or misshapen it is, it can be quickly and tightly packed aboard a ship with a bunch of other containers. Though containers vary in size (mostly in length and height), they're all measured in terms of the (approximately) twenty-foot long container. Thus, the Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit or TEU. Nearly all of our stuff—books, dishes, furniture, knick-knacks, etc.—has been packed into a 1 TEU container, so that it can be transported (relatively) cheaply and (relatively) safely to the United Kingdom.

FUN FACT for STONERSa refrigerated container is called a reefer.

Compared to a local move, moving internationally adds several layers of complexity, despite the standardized container. A local move typically involves two parties: the people moving, and a moving company. A long-distance domestic move might involve four parties: the people moving, a local moving company at either end, and a trucking company in between. Our international move involves no less than six parties:

  1. The consignor/consignee, the people moving. In other words, Audrey and me.

  2. An origin agent—a local moving company—that is packing and loading our stuff into a container at the point of origin.

  3. A freight forwarder—a company that doesn't own any ships—who hires:

  4. carrier—a company that does own a ship—to carry our container full of stuff to:

  5. A destination agent who, in turn, hires:

  6. A moving company in England (or, as they'd call it, a "removal" company) to deliver our stuff to our eventual new home.

If we had less stuff, we would've added a seventh party between the freight forwarder and carrier, a consolidator, who would've found some shipment to combine with ours into a full container's worth of stuff to pass on to a carrier.

All this complexity, plus the physical demands of moving everything around, plus the fact that we're cheap and didn't pay for fast shipping, means that the whole process, from packing and collection of our stuff in Newark to final delivery in Cambridge, is estimated to take 40 to 70 days. But to paraphrase an ancient Chinese text, a journey of 3,500 nautical miles begins with two days of packing and loading. So this is what our Monday and Tuesday looked like:

Our  stuff wrapped upour stuff on a truckthe truck drives away

After the movers left, they took our stuff to the local mover's facility where they packed our stuff into the container, leaving us with dust bunnies and a box full of hazardous materials they refused to ship internationally for us for some reason.

an empty house

The cat found this whole process confusing and upsetting.

the cat is annoyed

Now, we're staying with Audrey's aunt in Philadelphia while we tie up some loose ends: selling our car, finalizing documents for the cat, and preparing to head off to the airport. On Sunday, we fly across an ocean and begin our lives as expats.

In the next issue of How to Flee the Countryhow to move an animal to the UK. Spoilers: it's not cheap, easy, or simple!

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