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5 Tips to Organize for an International Move

There are few things in life more stressful than moving internationally.  In fact, right now I am chest deep in the process and I can’t think of anything that has been more stressful.  Just the logistics of this kind of move are enough to make even the most placid individual begin to shred their hair. I’ve done a lot of research to find out how others have done this, and I haven’t found anyone who is in a similar situation. So here are my 5 tips for moving overseas to help you organize for the big move.

Marrakech - Can you get by with French

My background is in Project Management, I even have an MBA in this exact subject area.  For me, tackling such a monstrous “project” as moving four people, 5000 miles requires management. When we first started, I thought we would sell everything, pack our suitcases, and go.  You see it’s just not that simple.  We had a decade of accumulated belongings, two children that have “must-have” items, and not to mention we’re moving to a climate that couldn’t be more polar opposite to the one we live in right now!

Here’s the five ways I’ve organized our move.

Create a Central Command Center (CCC)

Sounds so tactical doesn’t it? Every project manager has a project plan that is tailored to the specific project at hand.  There are task items, milestones, and contingencies (things that need to get done in a specific order; such as a has to be done before b can be started). What this means for you is that you need to have one place that you can keep track of everything related to your move.  

Make a List

Yea, this is pretty obvious you’re thinking.  It is obvious but it’s hard to do.  You really need to sit down and imagine every single thing that needs to get done.  This serves two purposes; first you have a record of what needs to happen but second, it gets all of those things out of your head. You will drive yourself crazy if you continually just think of all the things you have to do. Technology can be a huge help here.  Here’s a look at the list I’ve made;

 Make doctor’s appointments for everyone

  •  Obtain written prescriptions for medications
  •  Obtain copies of all medical records
  •  Schedule any needed immunizations

Make Dentist appointment for check-up

Get hard copies of kids school records

Get copies of all court documents

Make sure passports are up to date and valid through stay

Gather and organize all legal documents;

  •  Birth certificates
  •  Diplomas
  •  Naturalization certificate
  •  Marriage licenses
  •  All insurance polices
  •  Paperwork for electronics such as computers if still in possession.

Sort all clothing to sell, save, pack, donate

Sort all toys and books to sell, save, pack, and donate

Have a rummage sale to sell excess

Sell vehicles

Reserve and prepay storage shed (if needed)

Alert financial institutions to move

Secure new banking options if needed

Draft power of attorney document for friend or family member to handle any stateside affairs

Pay off any outstanding debt

Make sure to check and purchase any adaptors for electronics.

Complete itemized packing information for moving company

Pack and prepare boxes for moving company.

Pack and prepare boxes for storage.

Pack suitcases for moving.

Check and purchase health insurance for time abroad (if needed)

Cancel car, home, and health insurance.

Register a forwarding address with the post office (friend or family member)

Consider setting up a mail forwarding for expats service

Register with the American Embassy in the country moving to.

Make additional last minute purchases.

Print off all travel documents and shipping company information.

Pack carry-on bags.

OneNote lets me create a checklist template with one click, and I can then check off all of the items as they get done.  I can add to the list, add notes, or links and it all stays neat and organized.  Try doing that in a notebook!!  From this list, I would itemize even further.  What do I need to put in the carry-on bags.  Who holds all of the insurance policies (with contact info)? Which items are in each of the boxes? That takes me to point three.

Keep Track of What is Where

It’s hard to stay organized if you don’t know where your things are. As I pack each of the totes that are going on the container ship, I number them.  Then with each number I list exactly what I am adding. I am packing boxes now, they will be picked up at the end of July, and we won’t see them again until September.  If I wrote on my list “track pants” for my son do you think I would have any idea which track pants I put in the box? (Hint: I wouldn’t!)  So my list instead says “M: Sz Medium, Blue striped Nike track pants.”  So now when I’m packing the suitcases with any last minute items, I can look back and see everything that I have already sent ahead. This seems really tedious when you’re starting but especially if you are packing several months ahead of time this will be a life saver.  Besides my piece of mind, our shipper requires an itemized list (not this detailed) of what is in each box and I want to be able to double check the contents when we pick up our boxes in Morocco, to make sure that everything I put in the box is still there. I can guarantee that by September I will have had no clue what I put in the box mid-May. I put all the information into my OneNote notebook so I can pull it up anywhere through my phone.

Paperwork Organization

Besides the “stuff” that you’ll be taking, leaving, or getting rid of, perhaps the most important part of moving is making sure all of your paperwork is with you. It’s amazing how many papers you might need! I have a really simple system for organizing them.  Buy a 1″ binder and several clear binder sleeves (20+).  They look like thisInto each sleeve I slide our paperwork.  One sleeve is birth certificates, another is insurance papers, marriage license, kids school records, doctors records, etc.  Everything is then snapped together in the binder and I have it whenever I need it. No scrambling to find papers. This is also put into my carry-on bag so that I have it with me at all times.  This system has saved me multiple times when we have needed some document or another.  Even if you’re not moving this is a fabulous system!

A Time Out

This isn’t so much about organizing but I think it’s vitally important.  Did I mention this is stressful?  MarocBaba and I have had our share of spats and some days we both look at each other and wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into. That’s when we need a time out.  Don’t make this harder than it is.  Find the strengths that each partner has and let them do that.  Turn some music on while you’re packing, try to make it as light-hearted as possible. I’ve often heard traveling with someone is the best way to find out how your relationship will hold up.  I would argue moving across the world is a better test!


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Allyson S.

Sunday 24th of February 2019

Just to echo what everyone else has said, thank you so much! I was scouring the internet trying to find exactly this information. You don't know how much it helps.


Monday 5th of June 2017

So incredibly helpful, thank you!

Brandon Wyatt

Tuesday 18th of April 2017

Excellent and honest post. I found this much useful information, as to what I was exactly searching for moving. Thanks for such post and please keep it up.


Tuesday 17th of January 2017

This was a great list! I am in the process of moving and this was a great place to validate what i am currently doing.

Amanda Mouttaki

Wednesday 18th of January 2017


Jen Pack

Friday 9th of December 2016

My husband and I are moving overseas for my husband's job, so I appreciate this information on how to make it go smoothly. I especially like the idea you give of organizing all legal documents so that they don't get lost in the shuffle. I imagine that it would also be important to get them in protective cases too so that nothing happens to them. We'll have to look for international moving companies to help us get all the things organized.