Moving to Germany from the U.S.
June 10, 2004 6:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Germany from the U.S. in six weeks, and I'm looking for advice from anyone who has done something similar. This thread has been somewhat helpful, but a little too focused on immigration issues (I don't expect a problem with this). [more inside]

I have a girlfriend who is a citizen, which will be a great help. But I'm wondering about things like:
  • What is the best method for shipping things overseas?
  • Would it be worth it to bring US-made electrical devices like computers and rely on power converters, or better to just sell my equipment and buy new stuff there?
  • Can I bring a road bike as carry-on luggage?
Any and all thoughts or comments would be helpful.
posted by moonbiter to Travel & Transportation around Germany (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure about no. 1. Probably expensive. Have you looked into renting a container on a container ship? Everyone I know who's immigrated overseas (my parents, and some of my friends) pretty-much got rid of everything that didn't have sentimental value and started over in the new country. I've heard that sometimes the charges for excess baggage on an airplane can be quite reasonable, if you don't want to move anything really big, just make sure you find out BEFORE buying the ticket or showing up at the check-in counter.

Bringing a computer would be OK, just get a 220 volt power supply if you don't want to use an adaptor. But unless it's a laptop, that's a pretty big/heavy item, if you include the monitor.

A road bike as carry-on would be a no-no (how the heck would you fit it under the seat or in the overhead storage compartments?), but most airlines are fine with taking it as checked baggage if it's boxed.
posted by Emanuel at 7:13 PM on June 10, 2004

Boxing a bike in its most compact arrangement will be like checking anything else. Make absolutely sure it fits within the airline's size requirements though - oversized luggage costs dearly! If it is an obvious bike, some airlines will try to charge (about $100-$150) to check it. Boxes, no problems.
posted by whatzit at 7:29 PM on June 10, 2004

for the record. i. am. jealous.

i'll second the second. bring them with you. there's all sorts of different keyboards over there and your efficiency at typing will be drastically reduced.
posted by grimley at 7:47 PM on June 10, 2004

Actually, I was thinking about the laptops... A lot of the international grad students I know, particularly the French, seem to have brought their own laptops with them from France. No one I know brought a desktop with them from overseas.

In Germany, at least, the keyboard differences are minimal - I remember the z/y being switched, and one other pair, plus some punctuation issues. The hardest part was finding the @ symbol. (You can always reset the OS to use American keyboard layout even using their keyboards, so this might not be an issue anyway.)
posted by whatzit at 7:52 PM on June 10, 2004

check your current power supplies to see if they operate at 220v. Most do. In that case, all you need is an adapter for the plug, and not a full power converter. Much cheaper.
posted by Hackworth at 8:02 PM on June 10, 2004

I lived in Germany years ago. Back in the day when it was West Germany. Wish I could offer constructive advice, but all my knowledge is really really outdated now. But visit Heidelberg. That's where I was and I loved it. So beautiful.
posted by herc at 8:08 PM on June 10, 2004

You probably know this already, but either:

(1) Don't bother bringing anything TV-related, since PAL and NTSC don't get along, or

(2) If you have a big collection of videotapes and dvd's that you know you'll want to watch, either bring your whole setup and run it on transformers or get multi-system players (and region-free for dvd) when you get there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:14 PM on June 10, 2004

I moved there for three months a few months ago. Don't bring any electronics except your computer. Leave all DVDs/Video Games for consoles/VHS stuff behind.

Shipping sucks and is expensive. Pare down.

I have no idea about bikes :)

Actually, I would be more than happy to share my experience via email if you like (jopreacher at gmail dot com) I can tell you tons of crazy german stories.

But my biggest, strongest, loudest piece of advice is:

Have an open ended plane ticket home. One that doesn't expire. I mean it. Really.

I raise a pint o hefewizen to you never having to use it.
posted by jopreacher at 8:37 PM on June 10, 2004

also, if you forsake oktoberfest while living in germany, i hear you get smited by god himself. go, just to be safe.
posted by Hackworth at 9:07 PM on June 10, 2004

Thanks all for the advice so far.

Have you looked into renting a container on a container ship?

Not yet. I didn't know if there are shipping companies that specialize in such stuff, or if I would just have to send it via mail, or whatever.

there's all sorts of different keyboards over there and your efficiency at typing will be drastically reduced.

Having used a German keyboard before, I can vouch for that. Also, I use an ergonomic keyboard, which makes it even worse. I'll almost definitely take my keyboard and wireless mouse, even if I take nothing else.

check your current power supplies to see if they operate at 220v. Most do. In that case, all you need is an adapter for the plug, and not a full power converter

Good point. The Mac and one of the PCs 220v switches. Hmm. I got a lot of powered peripherals (scanner, three external drives, a wireless hub, powered speakers) though, so maybe I'll need a converter anyway. I'm almost definitely going to sell the monitors (two 21" beasts at 70+ lbs. a each).

The computers are a major hassle, since I do development and desktop publishing with them. I just don't know if it makes more sense to try to ship them or sell them and buy something once I am there.

But visit Heidelberg.

Been there, and I agree that it is beautiful. I'll actually be living fairly near there, in Koblenz.

Don't bother bringing anything TV-related ...

My TV/DVD player is one of my computers (an ATI All-In-Wonder card and a DVD player/burner), so that's covered. I wondered about the regional DVDs though, so I'll have to look into that. Thanks.

Shipping sucks and is expensive. Pare down.

Wise advice. It's amazing how hard it is to give stuff up, though. Especially my library.

I have no idea about bikes :)

The bike is definitely going. It's my baby. :)

Have an open ended plane ticket home. One that doesn't expire. I mean it. Really.

I tried to get one of those and wasn't able to. I was under the impression that they were not available any more.

Another question: how does one deal with things like credit cards and the like? Will the U.S. companies want me to give them up once I move, or will they be fine with an overseas address.

Thanks all. Any and all advice is helpful to me, since I am certain I am overlooking things.
posted by moonbiter at 10:18 PM on June 10, 2004

I'm a US expat myself (in Australia) and as far as credit cards and such go, KEEP YOURS IF YOU POSSIBLY CAN. In fact, try to keep a bank account with online access too. One of my biggest hassles has been transferring money back to the States (to pay student loans, etc). I made the mistake of getting rid of my US accounts so now I'm stuck with doing expensive telegraphic transfers. I have similar problems receiving money from the US too. Don't go down this path!
posted by web-goddess at 11:10 PM on June 10, 2004

I sold my monitor--too big and heavy to bother with--I did bring the rest of my desktop setup, though. I transported it as checked baggage in an old 70's hard shell suitcase, and padded it with some clothes. When I got here I flipped the switch in the back onto 220v, stuck a plug adapter on the end and that was that.

In a grisly bit of good luck, I was able to take advantage of the immediate post-9/11 airfare environment. I flew round trip from Newark to Heathrow twice on $300 tickets, and my partner went over once on frequent-flyer miles, and brought a load of stuff back for me. It turned out to be much cheaper than renting container space.

Shipping books: I've been completely happy with M-Bag service. Although it can take up to 6 months for the bag to arrive at its destination, I've never waited more than 7 weeks. It ends up costing roughly $1 per pound and you can ship up to 66 lbs of books in each bag. Declare the contents as "used books" and mark it as a gift.
posted by Tholian at 11:20 PM on June 10, 2004

Oh, and on credit cards: web-goddess is right. Keep your US cards and US bank account and get online access for them. Otherwise the money transfer thing will become tedious and expensive.

Some US companies will not send mail to overseas addresses (or else they charge exorbitant rates for it), so it's important to be able to view and pay your bills online.
posted by Tholian at 11:26 PM on June 10, 2004

be sure to call your airline regarding bikes - some ship boxed bikes internationally for free (counted as one piece of your two piece luggage allowance). i've also heard that painting your bike box (which can be picked up from a local bike shop for free) and marking it 'trade show display' can result in a free shipment when the airline would otherwise charge.
posted by lumiere at 11:30 PM on June 10, 2004

moonbiter, I'm eagerly awaiting you to join the first mefi meetup in Germany! I live in Bielefeld, which is approximately 300km north of Koblenz. Since your girlfriend lives here I suppose I can hardly give you any advices you haven't heard before...
posted by tcp at 12:48 AM on June 11, 2004

I'm an American living in the UK. Your bike will be FAR more valuable to you in Germany than in the States. I moved from Germany to England a year ago, and hardly ride now.

Transformers for anything power-hungry are a serious expense ($hundreds) and weigh a ton. Low-power ones are easy. Brookstones sells some convenient ones but pay close attention to their purpose. Seek any adaptor plugs before you leave! At least German-style plugs work anywhere in western Europe except the UK.

Computers are very affordable. The keyboards are not that difficult to adjust to, or adjust back to the American. However, note that English software can cost extra, and English documentation non-existant.

Housing IS an adjustment. German customs about renting apartments are strange and costly, from an American view. We had to pay 3 months rent to an agent for finding the place, plus the deposit. Usually apartments are bare concrete and you buy your own kitchen, then have to leave it as bare concrete. Some places are in a finished state. (I was in Duesseldorf).
posted by Goofyy at 1:13 AM on June 11, 2004

I did the same thing, but flying in the opposite direction, with just my allotted 2 pieces of checked baggage (one was my Dad's old army footlocker) and a carry-on. Here I am almost 10 years later, still alive. My one piece of advice, then, is resist the urge to bring too much your current life with you. This is an adventure in letting go and getting away. I was a major bibliophile, but I left 'em at home, and after a couple years, when I knew I was staying, I allowed myself just one M-bag of books, and brought the rest down to the library's bookstore in my hometown. Bon Voyage.
posted by planetkyoto at 1:56 AM on June 11, 2004

That's a sweet looking ride Moonbiter.

When I moved to France in '98, we had a "cube" of space arranged through a mover (Gentle Giant) and worked to a selection that would fit within that cube. The advantage of that route was the shipper clears customs (when, years later, I shipped a large mirrored ball -- don't ask -- I not only paid dearly for the UPS service but also paid duty -- even though it was something I had owned for years).

In my cube, I included a bicycle and all kinds of other things which, in retrospect, I would have left behind. I did bring much computer equipment -- nearly everything was 220 ready -- and had replaced the monitor with an LCD before leaving to cut down on space (this had the added benefit of actually fitting in our small apartment).

If I had it all to do again, I would choose to bring nearly nothing, although this is a difficult step to take sometimes. As it was, I packed my favorite architecture books instead of building up a new library, clothes instead of building up a new wardrobe, etc. As it is, I have built up all of those things as a natural course of life. Now that I am spending more time in the US, I am missing some of the items I took over there.

I did learn one thing about buying Macs. The international English keyboard has one minor difference from the US English keyboard -- the tilde key is in a different location. It takes me about a fortnight to adjust to the new position when traveling from one continent to the other. I would probably benefit from bringing a new keyboard from the states. (When I have the rare occasion to encounter a French keyboard, it is a disaster.)
posted by Dick Paris at 6:40 AM on June 12, 2004

Just wanted to thank you all for the advice. I'm sure it will be helpful in the upcoming move. Cheers!
posted by moonbiter at 4:10 PM on June 15, 2004

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