Sanelo Chief Operating Officer Josh Sims recently sat down with host Katy Sewall for “A Bittersweet Moment” on The Bittersweet Life podcast. Josh discussed his personal and professional experiences with international moving from his 20 year career, including his #1 tip for people planning an international relocation.
Josh shared stories from his beginnings, coordinating cross-country moves in his home of Australia. And, he discussed leaving Perth for his first experience abroad as a single man and returning years later with a wife, a child, and dog!
Thanks to Josh’s personal perspective on making international moves, he had some great tips for prospective expats – whether it’s their first time moving or they’re making a second or third move, as he has done.
Sanelo COO’s Top Tip for Planning an International Move
Josh’s top tip for planning an international move is to be actively involved.
Or, in his exact words, “Plan, plan, plan as best as you can.”
There are so many moving parts to an international relocation – starting with your home survey and extending through settling in at your new home. For Josh, the best approach to that process is to fully understand what’s going to happen at every step of the way – and to know the dates and durations of each step.
That’s because from the point you’re packed to the point you unpack, you’re without all of the possessions that make your house a home. And, for much of it, you won’t have a permanent home – relying on hotels, AirBnBs, or staying with family and friends.
Not only can that make it hard to settle in, but it has a practical cost. If you don’t have a professional moving company to help you understand the dates related to your relocation, it could mean paying extra for accommodation and meals, or even buying duplicates of things you already own.
To avoid that extra cost, you need to understand the schedule for every step of the journey of your belongings. With roughly 50% shipping containers arriving late all around the world, planning for a potential delay should be part of every expat’s process. Josh explains, “Once it’s on the water, we can’t speed it up.”
With Sanelo, you don’t do that alone. Our Relocation Experts help you understand the journey of your belongings. And, our tracking technology means you are able to chart your ship’s progress as it leaves from your country of origin and watch it on the map as it travels. That can give you an extra sense of security, and it enables you to stay on top of any delays the moment they happen.
Every Expat’s Question: Should you throw away everything and start from scratch?
Katy and Josh discussed a common recommendation that gets tossed out to people planning an international move – that they should throw everything out and start fresh in a new country.
Josh disagrees with that advice. He said:
I think personally, yes, I would relocate the majority of my goods if it’s for over a year. Unless I’m going into a lucky kind of furnished accommodation at the destination and I know it short term.
For Josh, it all comes down to comparing costs. If you skip moving furniture or belongings to your destination country, that means budgeting for the cost to purchase them all again. Often, the cost of moving a few dozen boxes or some favorite pieces of furniture is far less than the cost of replacing all of those items in a new country.
That cost isn’t just about transactions. According to an experienced expat like Josh, the time you spend re-buying all of your essentials and the time you spend getting familiar with them has a real impact on your settling-in process in your new home. Moving to a new country can be difficult, and you want to give yourself as many advantages as you can by relying on your familiar possessions and the habits and memories they inspire.
However, Josh is willing to concede there is a furniture item you might want to give up before your move: your IKEA cabinets and shelves, or similar flat-packed, self-assembled furniture.
Josh explains that these items aren’t always designed to endure multiple forms of transport, and taking them apart and reassembling them can be a losing battle. He shares some insight from Sanelo’s 100-year history on how moving furniture was a different story in the time when most large pieces of furniture were hand-made rather than mass-produced.
Hear more tips for international relocation on The Bittersweet Life
Listen to Josh’s full interview on A Bittersweet Moment with Katy Sewall, Episode #202 – Moving Internationally (with Josh Sims of Sanelo) at The Bittersweet Life or at any of the places you listen to your favorite podcasts, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Podcast Addict.
Keep reading for a full transcript of Katy and Josh’s conversation.
Transcript of A Bittersweet Moment with Katy Sewall, Episode #202 – Moving Internationally (with Josh Sims of Sanelo)
Hello, I’m Tiffany Parks, and this is A Bittersweet Moment with Katy Sewall.
Hello, this is The Bittersweet Life. I’m Katy Sewall. And this is your midweek Bittersweet Moment.
And today I am joined by Josh Sims. Josh has been working in the moving industry for over 20 years. He’s packed and moved homes up and down the West Coast of Australia. And, he’s been a leader in the moving industry in Singapore and Hong Kong. He’s now the chief operating officer for Sanelo, a global move management company. And he’s joining us today from Sydney, Australia. Thanks so much for joining us.
Hi, thanks for having me. Really excited to be here!
So Josh, from reading your bio, you have a big deep industry experience with global relocation. So, we invited you on to share some tips today.
But, I wanted to start with you personally, because you also lived as an expat. So, you’ve been an expat in multiple countries. How would you say that time abroad shaped your general approach to life? Did it change your perspective on things?
I think for me, like I always had this urge or this desire to live overseas. And, you know, I was just really fortunate that the job that I had allowed that.
I remember having a conversation with the leaders at Santa Fe, when I was still in Perth, Australia. Telling them what I wanted to do, and they actively kind of encouraged it. And, you know, got me on my way to Singapore, when I was about 27-28 years old.
It was a great start to being an expat. Obviously, my journey has been really kind of like… “progressive,” in the fact that I left Australia as a young single guy and then returned home eventually after two other countries with a kid, a dog and a wife! You know?
So, yeah, it’s been fun, you know. So far! But obviously, it’s still going. Hopefully there might be some more chances down the road to do it again.
So did you meet the wife while you were living abroad?
Yeah, I did in Singapore. We were actually flatmates to start with.
Got on really well. I elected to move out, because there was a little bit of tension in the house in the early stages. So I moved out, lived with some friends for a while, and we let the relationship happen kind of organically like that.
And it’s been great ever since. Yeah! She works in the finance industry. When I moved to Hong Kong as well, it was an opportunity for me to move, but she was well supported by her bank, who transferred her employment and stayed in the same role once we moved out there as well.
Oh, wow. All right!
We invited you on to because you’re so knowledgeable about moving abroad. A lot of people who listen to this show are very interested in moving abroad, or even just moving to a different part of wherever it is they live currently.
What things would you say that people should consider when they’re planning for a big move abroad? And maybe we can separate it into two categories: an individual moving abroad, and a family (and a dog!) moving abroad?
I suppose whether it’s either of those things, the planning is somewhat similar. But obviously, there’s a little bit more depth to planning once you put kids and pets into the picture.
It varies for so many people. Some people kind of do it effortlessly. And some people it’s a really, really big life event.
I suppose when people are moving abroad, the reasons they’re doing it do vary as well. So is it work? Is it a new opportunity? Or have you been laid off? Are you moving home from a job that you’d love to be closer to family because of a family event? There’s so many dynamics that that are different, and they kind of affect the stress levels.
I suppose for me… like, I won’t go into that classic tip of how to prepare for your move. Like, “throw out everything”! Because, I think they’re kind of obvious. And you know, people will or will not. Whether someone’s going to go on and throw everything out, they’ll make that choice before they do.
I suppose I’ll try and look at some of the things where I see moves go better, or relocations go better.
For me, my biggest tip is: always be as active and involved in the process as you can.
Although you’ve contracted a move to someone like us at Sanelo to move you from one country to another, that’s a very physical kind of process. Right? We go through the quote. We look at your house, we go through the quote process, you agree, we come and pack your stuff, we load it into a ship, it goes on that ship, it arrives, then it comes into your house.
That’s very physical, but there are so many things attached to that process. And the removal or the moving process is just one cog in hundreds of things that are going to happen when you move. But it’s also very, very important.
And, once you do it, you forget about it! Then you arrive and then it’s kind of on the water and you forget. Then it’s like, “Oh god, it’s arriving soon or I’m going to need this,” or whatever.
For me, be as actively involved in the process as you can. Really understand what’s going to happen. What are the dates?
When you pack up all your stuff you’re homeless. Right? How is that gonna affect your cost when you’re in the country BEFORE you leave? Are you getting hotels? Airbnb? staying with family?
How long are you going to be without your items? What can you do without for six weeks? Then be prepared to be without them for longer, because delays at the moment: roughly 50% of the containers are arriving late.
It was much worse about a year ago when it was… I think global levels were down to somewhere closer to 30%. So containers were always regularly running late. So be prepared, you know, for what the time scale is. Roughly, it’s like somewhere between eight to 12 weeks, on average, but it can go out longer.
Once it’s on the water, we have very, very little control over what’s happened. Or what will happen. It’s basically impossible to “speed it up.” Just be prepared for that.
I’m curious. If a person is working with someone like your company? Do they need to know where they’re going in the country that they’re moving to? Like, for instance, specifically, do they need to have a house, or a place? An apartment already?
No, no, no, I’m saying majority of our customers, unless they’re moving home – back to their their own home, and they’re repatriating – they rarely know the property that they’re going into.
That’s not an issue. We just need at the minimum the country. Obviously, there’s guidelines and requirements and documents that they need to be able to import their goods.
But once it’s in the country, we can transport it to any city within there, if they do change their mind. It’s just obviously if it’s not the original city as quoted, costs change, and things like that. You just need to be prepared. But no, you don’t need to know the the exact address yet. Not at all.
I know you said that you shouldn’t… people should decide for themselves whether they want to liquidate all of their possessions or not before they move somewhere.
But would you recommend that people say if they’re moving abroad, and they know that they’re going to be gone for just a limited time, maybe two years? Maybe it’s a contract, you know, for a certain job, and then you know, you’re coming home. Would you recommend that people relocate ALL of their possessions when they move?
Well, it’s funny. Our customers vary, extremely. Oh, a LOT… in their attachment to their items.
I mean, everyone probably has at least 20 boxes, I would say, of stuff that they would want to take. Maybe a couple of furniture pieces that they’re attached to. That’s as a bare minimum, right? The average person has more than that.
I think personally, yes, I would relocate it. The majority of my goods, if it’s for over a year, Unless I’m going into a lucky kind of furnished accommodation at the destination and I know it short term.
The reason being is that I don’t think people actually seriously add up how much they buy, once they arrive in a new country. And you do it gradually over a one, or two, or three year period of however long you’re there. But I’ve walked out of IKEA in Hong Kong, when I first moved there, and spent $1,000. Didn’t even think about it, right? Because I need that in my house, I need that in my house, I need that in my house!
And I think because we do a lot of that incrementally, we don’t really know what we’re going to do. And then everything you buy… are you going to just send it back again, once you’re finished? Is that going to go back to your old home? What have you done with your items in the country that you left? If you’re attached to them, you want to keep them, you’re going to have to pay to store them. So is that cost of storage over the two or three years going to
I think there’s a nice thing about having familiarity with the items in your house. Especially when you have kids. You know, they are attached to things. Like, my son can all of a sudden want a toy that he hasn’t played with for six months. It’s in the cupboard, and it’ll just pop into his head. And if you don’t have that it’s the end of the world. So, you know, we have to have access to them!
So I think there is an importance to it. Our things are our things. Overall they do help you settle. They do help you relocate and adjust quicker.
Since you’re moving expert, I’m just curious. Maybe you’d have to imagine in your mind two different places, but is there a major difference between moving to one location in the world versus another location?
Not so much in process. Some countries have really strict processes. Like say, moving to Indonesia or the Philippines, some of those Southeast Asian countries. But moving into Hong Kong or Singapore, it’s pretty easy to do the documents and all that kind of stuff.
I’d say there’s a bigger adjustment moving… I can obviously talk to this moving from Hong Kong and Singapore myself. So being there, we as a family had a domestic helper right.
Now, that was a fantastic way to live and bring up a kid because… life back in Australia is very busy. So we have to do all our cooking or cleaning. I’m not complaining because I know that’s a normal part of life. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the cooking part!
But, you can think when you have someone in your home helping you raise your kids, you come home from work and all those kind of like domestic duties are done. So you get a lot more quality time with your kids rather than having to cook and clean while they’re there watching TV or playing or whatever it might be. You get to be able to really switch off from work and from life and spend more quality time.
I didn’t realize how much I valued that until we came back to Australia. You know where It’s just much much more busier because you’re, you’re doing it yourself.
I think, even though people might think there’s a large adjustment of moving to a place like Hong Kong or Singapore… life is very, very work orientated. That’s why these things exist. You know, there are various ways to help you along. Like that [example]. And there’s pretty big adjustment for us coming back to Australia after so long out.
A lot of people think of moving as being that thing that they dread. You know, they want to be in the new country, or they want to be in the new city. But the moving is, that’s just like, “ugh,” you know? The moving process. I’m curious what it was about it. Maybe even just helping people make such a big life change? [What about that] actually made you want to have this as your career?
Just to kind of address the moving conundrum, I’ll be honest. It sucks, right?
Like moving… the actual physical part of it is not great.
I like the first part, the excitement about going to a new country, the preparations. Where am I going to live? Like, I quite actively engage with change and I’m always looking forward to that.
I hate the settling in part. Like, the unpacking. The monotony of choosing where stuff is gonna go and trying to figure out how will that work. Because that takes really long!
The moving out part is easy, right? Like, it’s quite quick. The guys come through, they pack it all up. You know, it’s really exciting. And then you get there, and you got to figure out where everything goes. Actually, settling in is a lot of hard work. You have to figure out not just where the stuff is gonna go, but all the other things – like getting a bank account, your settling kids into school, your daily routines, and all that kind of stuff. And it takes a lot of time.
I think people underestimate the impact of daily routine on their lives and the shake up that can have.
Everyone adjusts. Kids adjust. Pets adjust. It’s relatively straightforward. But yeah, moving for me… that part that is that the hardest is settling in.
What attracted you as far as the profession goes?
Ah, it’s hard to say!
I fell into it because my dad did it. When I first started in the industry, it was the summer. So, I would work in it during school. My first job was working in the warehouse, taking the tape off the boxes.
Then I graduated to working in the warehouse, like taking things in and out and that kind of stuff. And then the next summer I went on to the trucks and just did the moves all around Perth and things like that.
Then the next summer kind of graduated to doing the long hauls. I never drove the big trucks that we have. In Australia, our trucks can go up to 4-3 times 40 foot containers long. So, 120 feet plus [is] the size of the prime mover. So that’s you know, 150-odd feet, maybe a little bit, maybe longer of steel running get running up and down the highway. So that was really cool!
We would go on trips for three weeks, you know, and not come back. And I kind of loved the adventure of that. Like, we would sleep under containers. You get a daily allowance of like, say 50 bucks to get a hotel room. It’s not much, but it’s what you get. If I don’t spend that money and I sleep in the truck, or I sleep on the container somewhere on my on my mattress, that’s 50 bucks in my pocket.
When you’re a student that’s quite a lot of money. So I really loved that adventure!
I am very attracted to the personal relationship and individual nature of the job. I really do enjoy working with a lot of our customers.
Do you find that people, when it comes to the idea of putting all of their things onto a ship and sending it somewhere… do people get nervous about that?
Some do, some don’t. I’d say probably less so.
Obviously we do in our industry offer protection for that. So if you do ever have a worst case scenario where your goods fall off a ship, as long as you purchase the protection, you’ll be covered.
But if you don’t, there’s quite a lot of risks that go along with that. The shipping company, or the salvage company, can actually charge you to pull things out of the water if you don’t have protection. That’s a risk that people don’t often know, but is explained.
It does happen very rarely. You know, we had a customer in Australia once, who moved from the east to the west. On the way to the west, the train derailed, and all of his goods were written off. And that probably happens [only] once a year. When he relocated back to the east, the same thing happened! That’s exactly what protection is out there for. It’s one of those things that can happen. And people do protect themselves against that risk. But, it is rare.
You’ll get the occasional customer that’s really, really nervous. But, the majority is kind of like… once it’s out of their house, they don’t worry about it.
We have some pretty cool functionality now, where we partner with a tech platform to be able to chart the ship’s progress as it leaves from one country. You can watch it on the map as it goes. That’s pretty cool and gives you a little bit of security. It can show you which way it’s going to head you in the next few days. That’s nice.
I do have a slightly impossible question, maybe. I was reading a bit of the history of Sanelo and I noticed that it’s a part of Santa Fe relocation, which comes from a company – Anderson and Company Shipping, which began in Bangkok in 1897!
Just from your expertise, what would you say is the biggest difference between relocating internationally now versus when the company would have started… over 100 years ago?
Probably. You know, just the contents of people’s things is really different.
Oh, that’s interesting!
Obviously, shipping electronics and things like that bring in new complications, because it can be sensitive to heat or to movements. So that’s another risk.
Furniture is not as well made these days. It’s not necessarily. You know, maybe in 1800s, people weren’t shipping [as much] furniture, [but it was] from before mass production started. [Before] companies like IKEA, you know… furniture was much, much more sturdy. It could move around in a container like they [had to].
Now, the classic IKEA stuff, you can ship as it is, but it’s going to be loose when it arrives. And if you dismantle it, putting it back together is really hard.
I always tell all the customers: IKEA is difficult once it’s been dismantled. Generally you don’t have the instructions. Someone else has taken it apart at the origin. And then some guy in you know, wherever you’re going in France, who’s been allocated to make your delivery that day is gonna have to put together a three door IKEA wardrobe with a mirror with no instructions. It’s just impossible!
That kind of furniture has changed how people move. But it’s also one of the reasons we’ve seen volumes decrease over time, on average, because of the throwaway nature of some of these items. People aren’t as attached to and now are prepared to buy again.
Okay, so let’s say you have to leave us with another piece or another couple pieces of advice. What would you advise somebody who’s considering an international move?
It’s hard not to go past what I was talking about before. Be actively involved. Plan, plan, plan as best as you can.
And then also be prepared for delays because it does happen. You need to be ready, if that happens to adjust with you and your family.
You know, work with your moving coordinators. We call them Relocation Experts at Sanelo. They’ll keep you updated as it progresses, but they don’t know the dynamics of everything else. They don’t know everything else that has happened in your life. They don’t know when you’re going to sign your lease.
You know, there’s no point signing a lease until your goods are there. So you have to really be actively involved in what’s happening, because it’s just like I was saying before: it’s just one cog of many for someone’s relocation. And it’s an important one.
Josh Sims is the chief operating officer for Sanelo, a moving relocation company. If you wanted to learn more, you can visit sanelo.com. And of course, we’ll put a link in the show notes. Josh, thanks so much for joining me today.
Great. Thank you for your time!
And until next time, this is the Bittersweet Life. I’m Katy Sewall. Talk to you next week. Bye.
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