25 February 2008

Admin when moving abroad

Since 2002 I have lived and worked in Canada, UK and now the US.  Before that, 30 years in Denmark.  Whenever you move to a new country you need to go through a lot of administrative stuff in the beginning, in order to get entered into 'the system' to the same degree as everybody else living there.  But you have to do it in 1-3 weeks whereas the natives will have had a lifetime to get it all sorted out.  Once you've stepped off the plane you need to get, in quick succession:
  1. a place to live
  2. gas/electricity
  3. furniture (or clear customs if you're shipping stuff from abroad)
  4. phone/broad-band/cable
  5. cell phone (US and Canada) or mobile phone (UK)
  6. social security (US), social insurance (Canada) or national insurance (UK) number
  7. bank account/credit cards
  8. driver license
  9. health insurances (US only)
  10. various personal insurances (accident, tenant etc.)
  11. transportation (and registration and insurance for it if it's got an engine)
  12. find a new doctor/dentist
Probably lots more, but the above is generally what I've had to deal with over a 1-3 week period every time I've moved.  A lot of it obviously also applies to people moving internally in one of these countries but they at least have the advantage that they generally know what to expect and where to go to get it done.  

For example, when I moved to the UK in 2005 nobody, not even my employer (2000+ employees), could tell me where to go to get a national insurance number (hint: it's at the job centre).  This was despite the fact that my employer's HR department repeatedly bullied me via e-mail in order to get my NI-number for the payroll so I could get paid...  

The procedure for getting the NI number was particularly painful.  First I had to show up at the job centre (now Jobcentre Plus) in person and inform them about the dates approximately 3 weeks from now where I would be UN-available to come back for a personal interview.  Then I had to fill out a form with address, date of arrival in the UK, previous addresses, and phone number.  I then thought that they'd at least call in advance and check with me, 3 weeks down the road, if I was available on a particular date. But no, the just sent out a letter stating that I had to show up at a particular date and time and that I should call them immediately if I was no longer available on that date.  Due to the nature of my job as a sea-going scientist it turned out that my first appointment coincided with me going to sea.  
I then had to show up in person again and fill out the same form, and wait another 3-4 weeks for the letter to show up.  Not surprisingly, in the meantime my job had me scheduled in for another 'away-day', coinciding with the date the Jobcentre requested my appearance in their elegant facilities.  So, once again I had to call them and inform them that I was unavailable to meet with them on the date requested. 

Later on in the week I then had to walk down to their office for a 3rd time in order to fill out the form yet again. But when the 3rd letter came around, a month or so later my calendar was blank so I managed to get down there and get my NI-number eventually!

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