June 12th, 2019

Moving to a new city? Here's how to handle your transition.

Moving can be exhilarating. Packing everything you own into boxes, finally leaving behind that $20 Ikea table that’s been falling apart for the last three years, taking a brave leap into a brand new life...

...Something about that step - about answering your inner need for novelty and adventure - can make you feel intensely alive. Intimately aware of all the possibilities ahead. 

But it’s also terrifying. That’s part of the appeal, I suppose. 

I’ve moved a fair amount of times - within the same country and across continents. I’ve moved cities with clear expectations of what’s coming next. I’ve also moved across continents without a job waiting on the other end. 

Moving cities - leaving the familiar behind in favor of the new - will challenge you, no matter how good you’re at traveling or how much you prepare. But there are things you can do to make the process smoother. To soften some of the bumps of the road so you can enjoy the journey. 

That’s what this article is all about. We’ll take a look at some of what lies ahead and talk about simple things you can do keep moving an adventure (not a chore). 

There’s power in preparation (even if you’re not a natural planner)

If you’re someone who relishes planning, I don’t need to convince you of its benefits. And - to be fair - you’re probably much better at it than I am. 

I am not a natural planner. 

Over the years, I've taught myself to be meticulous at planning out my work to the point where I (mostly) like it. But because of that, my natural seat-of-the-pants tendencies still have to come out somehow.

If you’re like me in this respect - if you’re someone who’d rather act first and see what happens - this section is for you. (And if you’re not, it may give you a glimpse into how those weird non-planners think.) 

Planning can soften your landing

During my research for this article, almost every piece of advice I came across echoed the same sentiment: prepare, prepare and then prepare some more because moving is a very big deal

But what if you just don’t feel that way?

By the time I was 13, I’d had to learn a brand new language and assimilate in a new school twice. On two (kinda) different continents. Both times with just a single suitcase. 

This experience shaped my attitude towards moving. Moving became something that you packed a bag for and then worked hard at once you got there. Not succeeding just wasn’t an option. 

And I’m far from the only immigrant - or kid of immigrants - out there who feels that packing a suitcase, booking a ticket and picking up a map of your new city or country is more than sufficient prep.

However, as you earn more responsibilities - like raising a family, looking after family, growing a career or shaping a future - this kind of move isn’t always the most efficient way to do things. Playing it by ear is fine when you’re just responsible for you. But if you don’t have to move that way - if you have the opportunity for a bit of planning - it can make life easier. 

Because planning doesn’t have to restrict your freedom - it can enhance it. It can give you access to options you wouldn’t have otherwise and it can make your transition faster and easier. And in the next few sections, I’ll show you how. 

1. Get to know your destination

When I first moved to Texas, I didn’t know you had to change the air filters in the AC. 

I’d spent the last 10 years in Scotland where the wind and rain gave us plenty of natural cooling. And even though I was born in a hot country, no one around us had ACs. So I just hadn’t encountered them before. 

This was the first of many small things I had to learn about my new home. I had to learn about storm seasons, hurricane evacuations and choosing an electricity provider. About finding a good dentist, barbequing and building friendships. About the language people used and the way things worked. 

Every country, city and neighborhood has its own peculiarities. Its own unique culture and ways of doing things. Things that you may have never thought about before because there was no need. 

The difficulty here is that it’s almost impossible to ask about things you don’t know. I’d never had to think about AC filters before. And because I was also thinking about a myriad of other things - like settling in, finding work, being awesome at said work, building a social circle and adjusting to a very different climate - the small things never occurred to me. 

But these small things can be pretty impactful - especially when things start going wrong. Figuring out what it is you don’t know about your new home early can save you a lot of stress down the line. 

Get first-hand stories

If you’re moving to a new city with your current company, connect with your future colleagues and ask them real questions about the place. This can feel pretty uncomfortable...especially if you’re an introvert or ridiculously self-sufficient. 

I don’t know about you, but there have been times I didn’t ask a lot of important questions because I was too embarrassed by my own ignorance. But I had to get over that. (Well...mostly, anyway.) 

If you didn’t grow up somewhere, it’s impossible for you to know the stuff the locals know. (Like what meadows to avoid in summer because scorpions hang out there. Or what bars to stay out of. Or which real estate agent to do business with.)

Locals know things that Google doesn’t. They know how walkable an area really is. How the weather affects the running trails the internet insists are good year round. What direction a neighborhood is headed in. 

If you’re moving without a job lined up, you can check forums like Quora and Reddit. Or ask people in your network to share their stories and connect you with people they know so you can get answers to your questions before you commit. 

What if you can’t visit beforehand?

Ideally, you’ll be able to visit your new city before moving. Spend some time getting to know it, exploring the neighborhoods, choosing a place to live. 

But visiting isn’t always possible. Maybe it’s too far away, too expensive or you just don’t have the time. Luckily, modern tech has made getting to know your new home easier. 

Here’s what you can do is you can’t go there in person:

  • Use Google Maps and Google Earth. These are great tools to research the place you’ll be going to and feel like you’re getting to know the streets, the coffee shops and the parks around. 
  • Ask friends, family and colleagues to connect you with someone who’s lived there. Then jump on for a virtual coffee on skype, Zoom or Whatsapp and ask them for their unfiltered opinion of the good, the bad and the weird. 
  • Recruit someone to virtually walk you around. Ask a friend - or hire someone - to jump on a video call and walk you around the city so you can see it for yourself. This is a good way to view an apartment or a house too. 
  • Go for a short term lease - maybe even an Airbnb. If you have a higher tolerance for uncertainty, this can give you a chance to explore once you’re there so you can find an area that suits you. 

2. Get your house in order

Moving to a new city comes with a lot of decisions. 

Decide what’s coming with you (and what isn’t)

Even if you’re moving within the same country, taking all your stuff - and furry household members - doesn’t always make sense. Here are some things to consider:

  • Can you take your pets? Is your new city pet-friendly? Will your new job give you enough time to look after them? Certain dog breeds - like pit bulls, German shepherds and huskies - aren’t allowed in some cities so make sure you check local legislation before moving. 
  • Are you taking your car? If you’re moving overseas, taking your car may not make sense. If you’re moving to a pedestrian-focused US city like New York or Boston, you may decide finding parking will take more money than it’s worth. 
  • What will happen to your furniture? Calculate the cost of your furniture as well as your attachment to it. (It can be hard to part with things that have been in your life for a while…) Now ask yourself: Does it make sense moving it or is it better to sell it/donate it and start again? If you’re moving overseas this is a particularly important question to ask. 

Do a budget calculation (and comparison) 

How do expenses in your new city compare to expenses in your current one? Compare utilities, rent/mortgage, food bills, entertainment, gas etc. If you’re moving from one of the southern states towards the north, the price of gas is definitely a worthwhile consideration - especially if you drive a fuel-hungry car. 

You can use an excel sheet to map out the prices you’re currently paying (and your current salary) against what you will be paying. If you’re in the US, don’t forget to account for health insurance - especially if you’re moving states and/or employers. Healthcare.gov is a decent place to start your research. 

Find out what you need to cancel

Moving can mean canceling your electricity subscription, changing internet providers, ending a lease, renting or selling a house…

Make a list of the subscriptions you need to pause or cancel. 

3. Settle in

The first few months after your move will be pretty busy as you wrap up errands and settle in. 

Get everything changed over to your new address

Your credit cards, bank statements, voters registration - and a heap of other documents - will all need to be changed over to your new address. 

If you move across states (or countries) with your car, you’ll also need to register and update your drivers’ license. And if you took your pets, you may need to register them with your city - check local ordinances. 

Start gathering recommendations

If you own your new home, at some point you’ll probably need the services of a good plumber and electrician. If you’ve got a car, you’ll need a solid mechanic. And if you’re moving within the US, you’ll need to figure out things like health insurance, vision and dental. Not to mention a good grocery store, takeout place and hair salon. 

A combination of local advice and research can make that easier- start gathering these recommendations as soon as you can. You never know when they’ll come in handy. 

4. Thrive

To really enjoy life in your new city you need more than a place to stay, a transport map and a good coffee shop. You need people. People that can help you not just enjoy your new life, but thrive in it. 

Grow your professional network

Re-building your personal and professional network in a new city is essential. There’s a link between your network and potential success. It’s one of the reasons most people remember Paul Revere but don’t remember William Dawes, the other guy who rode out of Boston at the exact same time.

In an article for HBR, Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap note: `

While expertise has become more specialized during the past 15 years, organizational, product, and marketing issues have become more interdisciplinary, which means that individual success is tied to the ability to transcend natural skill limitations through others. Highly diverse network ties, therefore, can help you develop more complete, creative, and unbiased views of issues.

Making friends in a new city can be daunting. In most cases, you’ll have to rebuild both your personal and professional network. Start with the low hanging fruit. 

1. Ask for introductions

Back in the olden days, when you went to a new city, there was no Google to find out what meet-up to go to. You couldn’t leverage your LinkedIn network. So people relied on letters of introduction- a letter written from one colleague or acquaintance to someone in their own social circle you should meet. 

Ask your personal and professional network. Does anyone know someone they can introduce you to at your new location? Ask them to connect you through an intro email or through LinkedIn and then invite them out for coffee or a virtual chat. 

2. Check in on old friends and people you know

Go through your network. Do you know someone who lives in your new city? Now is a great opportunity to reach out to them, let them know you’re moving and set up a meeting. 

When I moved to Aberdeen for college, I reached out to people I’d casually met before. This gave me access to a network outside of my college group and it was a great way to discover opportunities and break out of my bubble. 

3. Sign up for activities you enjoy

As cliche as it sounds, moving is a great opportunity to start new (or build on your existing) hobbies. Shared activities help you bond, build trust and share genuine interest and interactions in a way formal networking sit-downs can’t. 

While not exactly a hobby, when I first moved to the US I met most of my initial friends by taking my dog to the dog park. It’s a little cliche, sure, but when everything else feels strange and new, it can be nice to start a conversation with “Whoooooo’s a gooood dog.”

Give yourself time to settle in

Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, even if you planned the move and were beyond excited about it, adjusting takes time. Leaving the life you know behind is exciting and challenging. It’s also hard. 

You’ll have days when you question your decision. When you consider booking a ticket back. When you find yourself looking apartments for sale in your old neighborhood. This isn’t a sign you made the wrong decision - it’s a sign you’re a person and new things are hard. So be patient with yourself as you settle into your new life. And hey - you made it to a brand new place! That’s something, right?

Know someone who’ll find this article handy? Why not share it with them.