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Achievement Unlocked Level Up

July 4, 2016

It has been a busy past few weeks. Here’s what happened.

Moving Company Assessment

unlocked_level_upThe moving company sends an assessor to your home to estimate the amount of HG&E. This information allows the company to send the right number of boxes and packing material. Because this is an overseas move and all of our HG&E must pass through U.S. Customs, the moving company needed to know on what date and at which airport we would arrive in order to link the HG&E with us.

We could not provide that information because we couldn’t book our flights until we were in possession of our U.S. visas

U.S. Visas

We applied for our U.S. Visas. The application process starts online. There are many questions to answer such as U.S. address and employer information. We also had to list all of our trips to the U.S. over the past 5 years as well as any other countries we’ve visited over the past 5 years. Once the online process was completed, we sent our passports via a secure shipping company from home to the U.S. Embassy in London so the visas could be issued.

Once we were in possession of our U.S. visas, we could proceed with other aspects of the move.

Booking Flights

We are not permitted to book our own flights. Our Relocation Advisor provides that service but we are allowed to state our preferences for flights. When we were on our HHT, we flew from London, Heathrow directly to Dallas/Fort Worth (9 hours) and only had a 90-minute wait before our flight to San Antonio. This time, we’ve opted for a shorter flight, from London, Heathrow to Newark, New Jersey (5 hours). We will have a 2.5-hour stopover in Newark before boarding our flight to San Antonio. This will allow us plenty time to clear customs and security with our 6 suitcases.

Uncluttering and Home Inventory

We sold our U.K. car. We’ve sold or donated almost everything that we are not taking with us. We still need to get rid of food, some cosmetics and other household supplies (e.g. soaps, shampoos) but we can’t do that until the last minute.

The inventory of our household goods will be completed today (yay!)

We have our HG&E ready. We have visas. We have plane tickets.

Achievement unlocked. Level Up.

The Patron’s Lunch

June 19, 2016

patrons_lunch_logoThere are very few perks to being a military spouse but on 12 June we got to enjoy one of them – The Patron’s Lunch!

My husband belongs to the Royal 22me Régiment and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is the Colonel-in-Chief. The regiment was permitted to send a few of its members to attend The Patron’s Lunch in London, England. The regiment chose members who already live in England, my husband and two other members. Spouses were also invited. Because one of the members is single, he gave his extra ticket to us so that our daughter could attend as well. We were very grateful for that!

The Patron’s Lunch was held on The Mall, a road in London that goes from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. There were 10,000 people invited and security was tight.

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Members of R22eR attending The Patron’s Lunch

When we arrived at our designated entrance, we passed through airport type security (metal detectors) and had our purses/bags inspected. We then proceeded to our designated table. We received lovely gift bags with goodies (including a rain poncho) from Boots and some of the other sponsors and a picnic basket full of typical British food from Marks and Spencer.

My husband did interviews with CBC radio and television and we waited for the parade to start – in the rain! It’s England after all!

At the end of the parade, we saw members of the Royal Family and my husband had a chat with Prince Edward!

It was a great day and many thanks to the Royal 22me Régiment for allowing us to represent the regiment at such a spectacular occasion!

 

 

HMQueenElizabeth_patrons_lunch

HM Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

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Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry

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HRH Prince Edward (just before speaking to my husband)

On return from the HHT

June 15, 2016
relocation-flowchart_02

Relocation Flowchart

Since we returned from our house-hunting trip (HHT) the workload has increased.

We had a telephone meeting (using Skype) with our relocation advisor to obtain information on how to claim expenses from our house-hunting trip (i.e. reimbursement for hotel, rental car, meals, etc.) We need to mail all of our original receipts to Canada. However, first I scanned all of the receipts so I have a copy in case they go missing.

After the meeting with the relocation advisor we made a formal request to move our household goods and effects (HG&E). There was also additional paperwork to be filled out so that our HG&E can pass through US Customs. Fortunately, we are not transporting a vehicle, food, alcohol (wine/spirits), tobacco, endangered flora or fauna so that makes the process a little easier.

Our move cannot progress any further until we obtain our U.S. visas. We should have the visas within the week or so. Take a look at the flow chart to see where we are in the process (green = completed, yellow = pending).

Here are some of the things we have managed to do in the meantime.

  • While we were on our HHT, we booked our hotel for when we arrive.
  • We have booked our hotel here for the few days after our HG&E has been shipped but before we are able to leave.
  • We have arranged for all of our household appliances and a number of other items to be handed over to the new Canadian family moving in. This is a win-win situation, as they don’t have to worry about buying appliances when they arrive.
  • The uncluttering, organizing and household inventory continues.
  • we are listing things for sale that we are unable to take with us.

Things are slowly coming together!

House Hunting Trip – San Antonio

May 31, 2016
San Antonio Riverwalk

San Antonio Riverwalk

The purpose of a house hunting trip is to secure a home in which the family will be content for the duration of the posting. Because this posting is outside of Canada (OUTCAN) the house we chose had to meet certain criteria. It could not be more than 2200 square feet of living space* and the monthly rent had to be less than $3200 per month. Swimming pools are only permitted if there are no other suitable choices.

Day 1

We got a taxi from home to Heathrow airport at 8:00. We endured a very long flight (more than 9 hours) from London to Dallas. Once arriving in the U.S. we had to stand in line at border control, then collect our baggage and pass through Customs and Immigration. We had to re-check our baggage and then pass through security AGAIN to get to the domestic flight from Dallas to San Antonio. We missed the flight because there were only 2 security attendants and about 500 people waiting in line.

We managed to get the next flight to San Antonio and pick up our rental car at the airport and then drive to the hotel. Thank goodness the rental car had a GPS system built in.

When we arrived at the hotel our credit cards did not work. I had not phoned our bank to let them know we were travelling so they assumed our credit cards were stolen and locked them down. We managed to use another credit card from a different bank to check in to the hotel. Once we arrived in our room, I phoned the credit card company (via Skype) and had them release our credit cards.

It was 3 am UK time by the time we crawled into bed – almost 19 hours of travelling!

Day 2

We met with the realtor (rental search agent) right after breakfast. We found out that we would have to start paying rent for any home by 1 June because houses rent very quickly and no owners would hold a house without rent for 1 July. Houses for rent for 1 July or 1 August were not yet on the market.

We viewed 5 houses.

Home #1 – This house was within size and price range, had a 2-car garage (storage) but had a swimming pool.

Home #2 – This condo with a nice floor plan but only had a carport with no outdoor storage for securing bicycles or tools.

Home #3 – The house was within price range, had a 2-car garage but well over size limitation (5 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms)

Home #4 – We didn’t even bother to go inside this house because when realtor was unlocking the door, a large jet airplane flew very low overhead. The house was inline with landing strip to San Antonio airport.

Home #5 – This was an apartment within a secure complex. It was clean. Maintenance was available on site. There was a pool but it was for the whole complex and maintained by the property manager. It was within the size limitation and secure storage for bicycles was available in multi-level parking garage.

After viewing these five options, our realtor gave us a quick (driving) tour of the military base where my husband will be working. We also visited the military shops (also knows as the PX).

Day 3

First thing in the morning we toured the high school that our daughter will be attending. We then meet with realtor to discuss our housing preferences. We returned to Home #5 and submitted an application. The application fee (credit history verification) cost $350USD.

We visited Home #6. It was an executive condo with a 2-car garage. It was clean with a good design. It was within the size limitations and price range. However, it was a higher monthly rent than Home #5 but didn’t have any of the amenities.

We returned to Home #5 and found out that our application had been accepted so we began the process of leasing the unit.

Day 4

Finally it was Sunday and we got to rest! We viewed some of sights around town, visited shopping malls and other services in area around new home.

Day 5

When on an OUTCAN posting, the military support unit must review the unsigned lease prior to the military member signing the lease. We waited around most of the morning and finally heard back from the support unit that the lease was acceptable.

We returned to Home #5 to sign the lease. We discovered we received a signing bonus of 4 weeks of rent-free living! We don’t have to pay June’s rent after all!

My husband stopped at the shopping centre to get SIM card so he could have a U.S. cell phone number.

Day 6

We returned to the Home #5 and measured rooms and windows. We got a copy of the floor plan and that will be very helpful during the move-in process. We will be able to tell the moving crew exactly where to put our furniture.

We got a copy of the signed lease and visited the Public Utilities Commission to set up utilities for our new home starting 1 June.

Day 7 and Day 8

My husband had to work both of these days. He had an orientation and got to meet the people he will be working with for the next three years.

While he was working, I set up house (tenant) insurance and provided a “proof of insurance” document to the manager at our new apartment complex. I also started organizing and scanning all of the paperwork to claim expenses for the house-hunting trip.

Day 9

This was another long day. We dropped of the rental car and went to the airport early in hopes of catching an earlier flight from San Antonio to Dallas. This would give us a little more time to make our connection in Dallas easier. We DID get booked on an earlier flight but then the flight kept getting delayed. We finally boarded the flight but when we landed in Dallas we literally had to RUN from one terminal to the other in order to catch the flight to Heathrow.

Day 10

We arrived home after an all night flight.

The Next Six Weeks

MOVE PLANNING!

The Work During the Wait

May 15, 2016
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Photo Credit: Kathleen Zarubin

Here’s what we’ve been up to over the last few weeks while waiting to go on our house-hunting trip (HHT).

Opening U.S. Bank Accounts

We must open a bank account in the U.S. bank account while on our HHT so that we can pay any security deposits or other charges involved in renting a home. We deal with HSBC for our personal banking needs. This bank is excellent because they have an International Banking Centre so we can open a bank account in the United States before we leave the U.K. Three years ago we opened our U.K. bank accounts before we left Canada. There is a lot of paperwork involved. The account opening form was 30 pages long. We also had to provide copies of government issued ID and proof of address in the U.K. (e.g. utility bill or bank statement with full name and address).

Hiring a Realtor

We are entitled to hire a realtor to assist us in finding a rental home. This is great because local realtors are familiar with neighbourhoods and schools. So far the realtor has found us a few nice properties to look at. We’ve even used FaceTime to have a virtual tour of two houses!

Appointments

We’ve also had a few appointments here at home. We booked a “pre-march out” meeting with the housing manager. He visited our SFA and took a look around to see if there was any work that needed to be completed before we moved out. We were also informed that the house has to be cleaned before we leave.

Our next step was to book cleaners to come after our furniture has been packed, loaded and taken away. For many moves within Canada, we’ve been able to clean our own house after leaving because we were able to pack our cleaning supplies in the vehicle. We can’t do that this time.

Cancellations

Another important item on the “to-do list” is cancelling services in the U.K. Some utility companies and memberships require at least two months notice prior to moving. We expect to be leaving around 15 July so we’ve been cancelled our gym memberships for 30 June. We’ve also returned all of our library books, library cards and asked to be removed from the library user database.

Once we’ve completed our HHT and secured a new house, our actual move will be booked and we will know which day will be our official “last day” in our current house. Only then can we arrange to cancel our utilities.

We’ve also been paying close attention to the mail we receive. We record the people and businesses to whom we have to send address changes.

Uncluttering

We’re spending a lot of time uncluttering – removing items we have decided we are not taking with us. Right now, most of those items are clothes. Any clothes that are in good condition but do not fit or will not be appropriate for the climate in Texas, are going to charity. Once we find a new home, we’ll have a better idea of what larger items (furniture, etc.) we should and should not take.

Regular Life

During this busy time of preparing to move, regular everyday life continues. My husband had to travel on two separate occasions for a period of three weeks. I’m continuing to work and our daughter is in school studying for her GCSE exams. Also, we hosted two exchange students from France through the school French program.

Next week’s plan: House Hunting Trip!

The Move Within a Move

April 20, 2016
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View Along Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada

Earlier this month I went back to Canada for a week. The main purpose of my visit was to assist with a move – and not my own!

My parents are downsizing later this year. They had quite a bit of furniture to get rid of. Fortunately, our son was moving from university residence to an apartment and was in need of furniture. I flew into Kingston, packed up a moving van and drove to Ottawa where my son lives.

I spent a few days with my son cleaning and setting up his new apartment. It was nice to visit his university and meet a few of his friends. I’m also glad I got to see where he will be living for the next few years while attending university.

Some people have asked if our son is returning to England to move to Texas with us. In truth, he needs job experience. If he returned to England, he would be here less than 8 weeks. That’s hardly enough time to find a job and then who would hire him for 8 weeks? Then, there’s the move to the United States in the middle of the summer. He would have to live there about 3 weeks before he could get a social security number and be eligible to work and by that time he would have to go back to school. If he did manage to get a job in both the UK and the U.S., he would end up paying income tax in three countries!

No. Job experience and, as he likes to put it, “adulting” is better for him at this time even though we’ll miss him very much.

While I was in Canada, I took advantage of the time to do some banking and manage some investments.

There are several types of investments that the United States Internal Revenue Service will have their eye on if a Canadian takes up residence and starts working in the U.S. I am not an expert on what those investments are, but I do trust my investment advisor. So, while I was in Canada, I visited my financial institutions and adjusted my investments so they would be compatible with our residency in the United States. The process involved reading a lot of paperwork and signing my name frequently.

Now that I’m back in the UK, I’ve got to refocus on our move to the U.S.

Buy, Rent, Opt-In, Opt-Out

April 6, 2016

question markHere are answers to more questions about our move from England to Texas.

Are you allowed to buy a home when you are posted outside of Canada?

Yes we could buy a home. However, when posted outside Canada there is no entitlement to reimbursement of costs related to the purchase or sale of a home. Real estate and legal services are expensive. Legalities and taxes are complicated and for a posting of 3 years we feel it just isn’t worth our while to deal with the hassle of buying and selling.

Rental fees are very expensive in some cities! How will you be able to afford something decent?

The intent of the Foreign Service Instructions is to ensure that a member can acquire suitable accommodation at the post for the family that is generally comparable to (but does not necessarily equal to the size and nature of) the accommodation the member would have obtained in Canada.

On arrival at the new location, members automatically set to Opt-In* to the Rent and Utility Share. This means a pre-determined amount of money is withdrawn from the member’s pay on a monthly basis to pay for rent. The Rent and Utility Share is calculated based on pay level and family size and equivalent housing costs the family would pay in Ottawa. The amounts are recalculated annually.

Each area to which a member could be posted has a designated Rent Ceiling. The Rent Ceiling is based on the member’s pay level, family size and local area. It is recalculated every year. The member cannot rent a home with a monthly rent greater than the rent ceiling. Certain exceptions can be made but it needs approval from several different departments.

In exchange for the withdrawal of the Rent and Utility Share, a Rent Allowance to cover the rent (up to the Rent Ceiling amount) will be automatically deposited into the member’s bank account and the member is then responsible to pay the rent directly to the landlord. Utilities are paid directly by the member to the utility companies but many are repaid to the member as a Utility Allowance.

For example:

  • A member is renting a house in England for £2000/month.
  • Rent and Utility Share is $1500 is withheld from monthly pay (approximately £805)
  • Rent Allowance of £2000 is deposited to member’s bank account for the member to pay to the landlord directly.
  • In effect, the member only pays £805 for rent, the military pays the balance of £1195.

Items that would be covered if you “opted in” include rent, water and gas charges, cost of fuel for heating, including cost of fire wood/coal if is the primary source of heat, charge of fuel for cooking, electricity, furniture and appliance purchase or rental (conditions apply).

What if you found a rental house and it cost less than your rent share?

If this is the case (as it is with us here in England) the member can “Opt-Out” of the program. In doing so, he/she is responsible for paying his/her own rent and utilities for the duration of the posting. Members cannot opt-in and opt-out whenever they want. It is important to factor in the exchange rate when determining if the rent and utilities are less expensive than the rent share. The Canadian dollar lost 25% of its value compared to the British Pound during the time that we lived here. Fortunately, we are still paying less than the rent share.

There are also other benefits to remaining “opted-in” including:

  • Furniture and appliance rental fees
  • Costs of buying specific furniture and appliances
  • Expenses to settle disputes between member and local landlord
  • Local moving expenses if member is required change permanent leased accommodation for reasons that are beyond the member’s control

What if you need to pay for rent in advance?

If we are required to pay rent in advance of move in order to hold accommodation we can be reimbursed up to one month’s rent and on approval from the Gaining Support Unit (prior to signing the lease) an additional two months.

It sounds really complicated!

There are a LOT of restrictions on what we are entitled to rent. We are only entitled to rent a home with a certain number of bedrooms and square footage both of which depend on our family size. The rent ceiling is in fixed for our entire posting. That means if our rent is increased beyond the rent ceiling, we are responsible for paying the extra amount. If we rent a house that has a pool, we would not receive reimbursements for the portion of the utilities used by the pool.

It is very important to consult with the clerks and staff at the Gaining Support Unit and clearly understand what the entitlements are before you sign a lease because you might not be able to break a lease and you’d be stuck with expenses you could not afford!

*Note: This is a simplified summary of the opt-in/opt-out program. Please see the Foreign Service Instructions for in-depth, accurate details.

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