Moving back to Seattle and leaving Beijing has been a somewhat smoother experience than coming to Beijing. Mostly because we really haven’t left yet and all the hard stuff is on the other side.
Here are the logistics we went through in leaving :
- Deciding to Return : this might be obvious but for us we were going to be here either 18 months or 3 years; due to the impact of pollution on Stac’s health and opportunities at work in Seattle we ended up settling on returning. We made this decision around April of 2012.
- Offer from Work : this might seem strange but at Amazon due to corporate structure I had to get an official job offer letter to work back at Amazon in Seattle. This is true for many foreign companies operating in China. This seemed to take a long time waiting on the particulars to return. The offer includes the following standard repatriation benefits :
- Costs for travel from Beijing to Seattle. Given the mixup on my last trip I went ahead and purchased the tickets myself and got reimbursed.
- Rental Car for first 30 days in Seattle
- Temporary Housing in Seattle for 30 days while we find a more permanent home
- Local Destination Consultant : for this most we didn’t need (bank account, driver license) so we are only going to use her to help narrow down places to rent when we arrive.
- Moving – packing, transport and possible storage of our stuff from China to Seattle. How it gets there depends on how much stuff you have and the particulars of the offer. We had a container on a ship as well as one air container.
Once again we had an overall coordinator with Graebel. Once again he was based in a different timezone (US), so despite the fact he was very prompt and helpful, there was at least a 24 hour lag add to that at times coordinating with Amazon global benefits for clarification and things just seem slow, though we didn’t really require that much coordination.
We had a Physical Goods Coordinator who was located in Singapore and she gathered our customs documentation and worked with a local to China vendor to handle packing and transport. The documentation was a bunch of paper work for customs, its a bit confusing but Graebel had a good guide to help you know what to write in the forms. (Port of Call anyone?)
Between the offer letter and actual packing there wasn’t really a lot we could do but cull and purge what we wouldn’t be taking. We couldn’t pack as the movers legally required they pack everything. And mostly we just waited for the day to arrive.
Sante Fe the local moving company had to come and pack us on on a Monday, a full 10 days before our departure. Clearing customs in China requires your physical passport and so they had to take my passport for a few days and you have to get it back in order to leave the country yourself. They give themselves ample padding in case something goes wrong. Monday at 9 am a coordinator from Sante Fe arrived who spoke perfect English. His team was waiting in the wings. One guy was there to build special wooden crates for our photos and art work that we brought with us from the US. One guy was the furniture box builder, he could do amazing custom cardboard boxes to cover a few pieces of furniture we had purchased in China. The rest of them descended like mad bees on the rooms packing into boxes. Prior to them packing I had a walk through with the coordinator and we put stickers on furniture and piles labeled as “Doesn’t go”, “Air” and “Boat”. I had to stay ahead of the packers clarifying here and there what went where. By 2pm they were finished and were doing sweeps through the house for the last stuff we missed. Packers are fast because they have no question over whether to pack it or not, they pack everything! And they have no moments of nostalgia that grips you when you find that drawing Miles did from the 2nd Grade. In total we had 91 “boxes” on the boat, some of which were crates for art and covered furniture. In the air shipment we had 9 boxes and that left us with 6 suitcases or duffel bags to pack the remaining take on the plane with us.
Then we went to a residence hotel in Beijing (Ascott) to live for 10 days while we waited for our passports and our flights home.
A few days before we left I already got my notice that our air shipment would land in Seattle a day ahead of us where it would take from 5-10 days to clear customs. Our sea shipment would arrive on September 2nd and go through a similar customs clearing process.
So sit at the airport waiting to board. There is much to be done but we can’t really start until we get back to the States. The list not necessarily in order of importance is :
- Register the kids for school
- Buy car
- Get a sim card for our phones
- Find a permanent place to live
And I get one day, Friday, before I return to work to get that all done. :)