Julien 'Jubijub' Chappuis

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Expatriation 1 : leaving Switzerland

Expatriation : leaving Switzerland - how to move a family of 3 from Lausanne to London

Julien Chappuis

15 minutes read

unsplash-logoJulien Chappuis

Introduction

Accepting a new job meant leaving Switzerland for United Kingdom. In this series of post I will blog about this expatriation experience, on how to move a family of 3 from Lausanne to London. First entry : leaving Switzerland.

Leaving Switzerland administratively

Swiss law is nicely made as leaving the country is a valid reason to terminate contracts. All is required is to declare it to the Inhabitants control office to get a receipt proving the fact. Issue : the office refuses to register the departure until one month before the actual departure date. This means it was impossible to anticipate any termination until we had the precious receipt.

A few events occurred over the past years : we got married (and I subsequently changed name), we changed bank earlier this year. I failed to update everyone, and this showed at this moment : we had some admin debt.

As a result, many letters not only contained a letter and the departure receipt, but also proof of my wedding and new banking information. I sometimes forgot the banking information, and got a few letters saying I would get money back…on my previous bank account that is now closed 😔.

Overall the process was easy, as many companies accept emails in lieu of mails. Finding out what to cancel was what took the longest, but since we had changed bank earlier this year, I still had my list of all the things we pay and how, which was 90% up to date.

I found one point pretty annoying : the Swiss people 😁. It seems that to Swiss people, to maintain your Swissness, you have to keep all your Swiss accounts up and running : bank accounts, retirement accounts, health insurance, etc…

Let’s address them one by one :

  • Bank account : UBS charges you an extra 30.- per month if you live abroad (except on retirement accounts) on top of the regular fee (35.-, which I would have had to start paying as I left Nestlé and thus the Nestlé discount). All this for a bank account in CHF (while I would now earn money in £), that would trigger a lot of conversion fees. Not worth it.
  • Retirement accounts : we will indeed keep our retirement money earned in Switzerland in Switzerland (it makes things easier if we go back) but I will certainly not continue to pay for my 3rd pillar considering interest rate is 0, and I would not benefit from any tax advantage as I will not have Swiss revenues anymore. Google provides a much more interesting plan on this side of the Channel.
  • Health insurance : probably the most popular remark we received. Keeping Swiss health insurance for my family would cost 1150.- CHF per month. To put things in perspective, similar coverage in UK will cost me 1371.- CHF per year . The rationale behind this is that we may get a hard time getting back our supplementary insurance if we ever go back to Switzerland (in CH basic insurance is mandatory, supplementary insurance isn’t and is based on a medical questionnaire). I find this risk to be moderate (hell, people move to Switzerland at any age and manage to get covered, and medical questionnaire is time bound), and mitigating it is not worth the ludicrous cost. I am pretty convinced this is a legend purported by the Swiss insurance companies to deter people from trying to change provider. Moreover, that money would be spent in pure waste, as Swiss base insurance only apply to Switzerland based medical institutions obviously.

The apartment

Finding a new tenant

This is the part that proved to be the easiest overall. Finding a new tenant was dead easy : the Lausanne real estate market is crazy. Available apartments are so scarce that the apartment next to ours, while a bit smaller, managed to attract more than 50 candidates a few months ago. People were queuing outside the building, while the flat was on the 4th floor.

Our apartment never even made it that far. Just notifying all our relations who expressed interest in our apartment was sufficient to find candidates. The Property management agency, the infamous “gérance”, proved extremely cooperative. The whole sequence of giving the file of the new applicants, new tenants signing their lease, and the gérance to confirm our departure was done in 3 days. They even agreed to make a recommendation letter in English.

I’m impressed, Wincasa.

Preparing the move : I ❤️ recycling

Recycling

6 years ago we moved from a smaller (80m2) to a larger apartment (120m2), and we didn’t really sort out much. The new apartment had a lot of storage space, so the pressure to throw away never really materialized. This was wrong. We discovered that there is such thing as a recycling debt, and we had a bad case. My wife is a bit on the hoarding side, and she moved a lot less than I did, so there was a lot of ancient debt there. But after 6 years of cozying, I was just as guilty. I had lost my lean ways following my 6 moves in 5 years after which all I owned was the bare essentials. Having a kid also made us store a lot of things that completely overtake the apartment.

We also discovered a new unit of volume : the Renault Kangoo (RK). We’ve recycled 3.5 RK to the recycling facility. It took 2 days (including the time to sort out, which is the longer part) to get rid of all our useless stuff. We also recycled books by giving them to the Salvation army, as well as tons of clothes, for which the volume unit is black 50l plastic bags. I think my wife cleared around 50% of her wardrobe, and a similar amount for our son. Sorting out all the clothes and toys our son doesn’t use anymore cleared a huge amount of space as well, and was a very satisfying experience. We rediscovered our apartment, and the joy of empty spaces.

I am confident we will find a few other things to recycle once unboxing in UK, but we’ve reduced the debt to be manageable. This was a necessity as in all likelihood, we will have a smaller flat in UK.

Selling

We also sold a lot of stuff, which was quite fun. Some items proved extremely popular, with people contacting us mere minutes after the ad had been posted. We used Anibis, but mostly Facebook MarketPlace (more contacts, faster response rate, and completely free).

We sold our car through AutoScout24, in less than 3 weeks. The tricky part has been to coordinate the AMAG pre-check / cleaning of the car, the “Service des Automobiles et de la Navigation” (Vaud administration in charge of checking cars safety) check, and the sales date, all in 3 days time frame. Having chosen a car with good resell value (VW Golf VII) with good options paid off. We also got lucky to have a manual car in an ocean of automatics. Cars are never a sound investment, but getting 43% of the original car cost after 5 years is OK I guess.

Emptying the apartment

“Pack & load” was covered as part of our relocation agreement with Google. The fun part here is the subcontracting chain :

us
|
Google
|
Global relocation provider
|
Household moving provider |--> CH team (Polish movers, independant company)
                          |--> Furnitures storage (Moving provider themselves)
                          |--> UK team (yet to be met)

The Polish movers came at 8:00 sharp one Monday. They packed the whole apartment in 7 hours 😨. This was a thing of beauty to watch : 4 movers, each packing their own room. I am pretty certain most of the items were better packed by the movers than by their manufacturer! Next day was the “load” i.e. a gigantic Tetris game in the truck, followed by the departure to the German warehouse. This was uneventful, I think because of our good preparation, and the professionalism of the movers. This is for me one of the items that justify the most the idea of taking a relocation package : it saved a lot of RFPs to find all the providers, and the ones provided are of really good quality.

Packing our own stuff

All our stuff for the next 2 months

As our stuff would be in boxes up to 60 days away from us, we had to pack everything necessary for 60 days in cases. The obvious (clothes, toys, etc…) but also the less obvious (key papers, light suitcase for my business travels, etc…). As taught in my Economics courses back at uni, we tried to maximize our utility under the constraints of our luggage budget. Our luggage budget was : 6 cases (1 per person + 1 extra), with 23kg max weight for each. Soon the packing felt like trying to solve an NP-complete problem, as some cases went over 30kg while others were only 10kg. We got close, and were lucky once again to have a nice airport clerk that looked the other way at our 1kg extra on the 2 largest cases.

Cleaning and giving back the keys

We took professional cleaners out of sheer laziness. It’s a bit costly (800.- for a 4.5 rooms / 120m2) but the mere fact we saved 3 days x 2 people and the result made it totally worth it. We took a company recommended by the Property management agency, and during the final check, they didn’t even check the cleanliness at random places, as they trusted the company we used.

Giving back the keys and doing the final check proved super easy. We got lucky because our apartment was due for refurbishment, so they paid less attention to the state of the walls / floors, which was OK anyway.

Best B&B in the world : my in-laws

My in-laws leaving close to Lausanne, they offered us to host us for a week, to bridge the gap between the moment the apartment would be unusable (pack&load) and the final departure. Swimming pool, being in the country side during a heat wave, nice cooking, that’s what I call service.

The last journey

The journey is composed of 3 distinct steps : going to the airport, flying to destination, and going to the final apartment. The danger zone was obviously going in and out of airports, with 6 suitcases heavy as hell, and a 3.5yo kid in the middle.

Going to GVA airport proved eventless, thanks to my father-in-law once again, and the gigantic Seat Alambra contributed by my sister-in-law. Flying there was easy : it was only a 1h45 flight, and the kid saw fit to sleep the whole time. Going to the temp apartment proved trickier. First, it’s been hard to organize for two reasons :

  • we wanted a child seat. Nobody does that, but my crafty wife found a workaround : an inflatable child seat.
  • this was the week-end of the London Prudential Ride and most of London center was closed to cars. This led to 50% of the providers we contacted to say no straight away.

In the end, we used the service offered by the temp apartment provider, after verifying 3 times they would send the right car size due to our crazy amount of suitcases.

We checked in on a Sunday afternoon, in a nice temp apartment near Tower Bridge. There was a huge Tesco and a Marks & Spencer still open, and it felt good to be back to civilization a big city with services on Sunday.

It went well

I am typing this blog post from my temp apartment, ready to start my new job tomorrow. All in all everything went well, thanks to careful planing of the whole sequence. Tool wise I used a lot of excels shared with my wife over OneDrive, as well as a Trello. The planning had many dependencies (you cannot fly until you give the keys, you cannot give the keys until the apartment is clean, it cannot be cleaned until it’s empty, etc…) and Trello is not so good to materialize the critical path.

Lessons learned after going through the leave

Pay your administrative debt

  • make sure your civil status is up to date (marital status, address) with all your providers
  • make sure you notify everyone when you change bank account, even if you pay them in such a way they don’t need to know your account. The reason is that if they need to give you money back, they need accurate information.
  • for payments, build a list proceeding in order :
    • scan all your permanent payment orders
    • scan all your payments (ebankings allow to filter on such list), and scan monthly / quarterly / yearly payments
    • scan all your credit card statements for a year (many of my online accounts are paid yearly, via credit card)
    • use your password manager, and login on each of your accounts to see if they have credit card tokens
  • Watch out : many accounts cannot be transferred until you have a new credit card, so wait until you are in new new location, have a bank account opened and a card ready before changing anything. As a consequence, leave enough money on your bank account to afford 1-2 months of expense.

Pay your recycling debt

  • Throw-away things regularly
  • Don’t keep things “because they might be useful”. I clearly forgot to apply my 3 year rules here

If you haven’t used something on the last 3 years, you will most likely never need it anymore

  • Don’t select what to throw away, select what to keep (and discard the rest)
  • Consider the 4 dimensions : function, information, personal attachment, rarity
  • Only keep what brings you joy
  • If living in Lausanne, remember to order your Déchetterie access card (and don’t lose it just before 😇)
  • Don’t underestimate the time it takes : we found out during our inventory that we own more than 920 different types of items. Going through everything takes time.

Selling

  • Sell your old stuff : we made close to 1500.-CHF selling old items that were forgotten in our cupboards. We could have made more, but we optimized for speed. Everything was sold in 2 weeks.
  • Facebook MarketPlace works really well
  • For cars use specialized second hand car site, as they have features that help specify which options you car has in a more searchable way.

If using movers

  • Physically materialize zones where you don want them to pack anything. We made 2 zones : one for our luggages / things we would move ourselves to UK, and one for the things we had yet give to friends / family or sell. I simply used painter tape and marked a zone on the floor / walls.
Movers beware : don't touch anything in that zone
  • Beware of the box labelling : our movers tried to do well (all the boxes have the room name alright), but were limited by their level of English. As a consequence, all our 30+ kitchen boxes are labelled “Glass - fragile”…this will be fun :). If I were to do this again, I would ask the movers to label in their own language. With Google translate, I would get better result than generic info. In rooms done by a mover that spoke better English, we got a lot more details.
Kit glass fragile, whatever that means
  • If you have the original boxes for your items, bring them close to their respective items. This saved a lot of time for the movers as they didn’t have to manufacture casing made of cardboard, and for some items, the original packaging is million times better than cardboards boxes + bubble wrap (e.g: home cinema speakers, any flat screen (TV, computer), but also glasses sets, etc…).
  • Logically group items before (e.g : put all clothes together). As the packaging is done by rooms, boxes having logical content.
  • Movers don’t disassemble complex cabling like PC environment, hi-fi, etc… : anticipate and do that in advance, or like me you will end up running disassembling everything while the movers are waiting on you to pack things :).

Cleaning / giving back the keys

  • If using cleaners, use a company recommended by your landlord / property management agency, as this eases the final check a lot.

Packing your stuff

  • make lists of things you need to bring to your new place, considering you will be separated from your stuff for up to 60 days. Plan in advance, as doing this last minute will result in important things being in your boxes away from you, some of which impossible to replace.
  • anticipate the paperwork you will need to do in your new place, and make sure your bring the right documents to support it (contracts, proof of departure of country X, etc…). I advise scanning these documents as well as many administration now support electronic documents / printouts from electronic documents.
  • if possible, select an airline that uses a global weight limit and not a per-luggage weight limit. It is my understanding that Easyjet is one such airline. We took Swiss, which applies a per-luggage limit. The benefit is that as long as cumulated weight <= nb_luggage * 23kg you are good to go, even if some cases exceed the 23kg limit.
  • if not possible, it is possible to buy weight allowance, up to 32kg, at the rate of 10.- CHF per extra kg.

Last journey

  • watch for exceptional events that would cause traffic havoc the day of your arrival
  • Investigate inflatable car seats (only valid for kids heavier than 15kg / taller than 1m). It’s super convenient, and opens a lot of options transportation wise.

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I am Julien Chappuis, formerly known as Julien Bidault a.k.a. Jubijub, or Jubi for shorts. It's complicated.