How did people emigrate before the web? With difficulty, surely. It’s been useful for almost every step and some of our move would have been impossible I feel without it, at least in the time we had. Of course, underpinning all the technology were two people filling boxes, completing forms, driving miles and pulling the levers and pressing the buttons. But the web has been outstandingly useful for several particular reasons. Here’s a quick fire list in no particular order – I’m certain I’ve left some things out – but like Kane’s gang (as if you’ve forgotten!) it’s what we’ve got:
Interviewed for job online. Without Jennie getting a job for the UN none of this would have happened. In her application she sent all documents online; underwent a test that was performed over the net; was interviewed via web-based video conferencing; and finally sent the medical / admin documents in PDF form to Kuala Lumpar for processing.
Google Docs for a to-do/resources list. This was invaluable and still is. It’s not as complex as something like specific to-do collaborative tools like RemembertheMilk, but it worked beautifully. Simple crossing things out with strikethrough was enough to say they’ve been done. We also collected resources, figures, phone numbers and so on here and worked on independently and together.
Synchronising weblinks using FoxMarks. We independently found various links as we browsed the web, hungry for a fix on our new country. I set up all computers with the favourites tool Foxmarks, regardless of operating system, to synchronise the links we dropped into a ‘Moving on’ folder in our browser. Worked well when Google Docs (eventually) became swamped. Sometimes we used Delicious, but not as often as I thought we would.
Sign-up service for moving. There are a handful of agencies online who make it easier to move by you entering some details and they doing some work for you, like letting the gas company know you need a meter reading and so on. We used these with partial success – sometimes the manual way is best.
Royal Mail’s redirection service. We have mail redirected and using this service meant we didn’t need to trundle down to the post office and take our identity documents, they check details online. We’d need the legs for the thousands of times we climbed the ladder to the loft to pack its contents.
Skype telephony. We bought a UK online number, so our friends and family in the UK would only need to call a local (to them) phone number. Skype has worked really well so far and since we’re not settled for a few months, goes where we go. It also works nicely on my iPhone, which saves us a fortune. We were able to stay in touch with our regi (estate agent) easily and without incurring further mobile phone costs.
Keeping the social network alive. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, this blog – all are things we use to share our experiences here and keep in contact with others. This is important when you’re away from home, and I’ve found it really useful to have some sense of continuity in terms of who I’m speaking with (especially when discussing the cricket, which is only available online here via the BBC’s wonderful TMS – this feels like I’ve never left!).
Transferring money. We now have to work with several currencies – US dollar, Swiss francs, Euro and GB sterling – and so being able to transfer them quickly online (and often without charge) helped us enormously. Of course, this isn’t just something you need when you move. What’s more, currency conversion rates online are always up-to-date.
Checking in online when flying. You’ve used this already, maybe, but printing out a boarding pass for flying seems novel still, and helped get things going when we were a rush: Jennie flew to Geneva and back the same day to secure our place in France.
Google chat. Sometimes email isn’t enough, and you need to make decisions through synchronous discussion. Google’s online chat, via GoogleMail, was vital for the hundreds of discussions we had when not together.
Removal quotes online. You enter your details and you get quotes from multiple removal companies. This helps get the best price of course, and is also a necessary part of claiming for expenses.
Google Maps and Google Earth. Knowing where you’re going to live and its local amenities used to something you needed to find out when you turn up. And although it’s still a thrill to find new restaurants and bars, knowing where the bank or petrol station is not so much fun. What’s more, we used Google Maps to find directions. If only it plugged into…
Satellite navigation. We bought a TomTom One XL, and this has the advantage of connecting to the web and downloading changes that users have made to the maps. In short, it corrects the errors that sat navs are annoyingly prone to, especially in areas under construction. Worked like a dream, although I wouldn’t say that it’s perfect even now.
It has helped me learn a new language. There is an embarrassment of excellent online resources for learning French. Some of the best are About.com‘s guide (with the inaptly named – for a grammarian at least – Laura Lawless); and the BBC comes up trumps again. Although not an online app per se, Genius (for the Mac, free download) helped with remembering verbs.
The web helped us find a place to live. We searched a variety of sites to find somewhere temporary in Geneva, and later, more permanent in France. In the case of the temporary accommodation, the website came with an interactive 3D tour of the apartment. Whilst this is pretty advanced I admit, all the websites we used to find a home had pictures. The difference was that we could save time and money using this process.
Hi-resolution floor plans. Houses in many European countries – alas, but excluding the UK it seems – come with detailed architectural plans, even those you just plan to rent. They locate plug sockets, light switches and so on and give precise details of every measurement both interior and exterior. Not sure if your sofa is going to fit? The plans will help tell you. These took seconds to send over email and illustrate how the communication between people in different countries is made so much easier.
Shopping. Inevitably we had to buy several things, oddments which we’d never got before or those things we needed to replace and pack. Ikea figured heavily in equipping our new place. Their website – intuitive, well-organised and with clear illustrations, it’s a good example of how we saved hours browsing online rather than visiting stores. What’s more, it provides real-time stock levels, is an example of how you can use the web to plan your deliveries or visits.
Freecycle. Even if you’re moving up the road you’ll still have a lot of stuff you’ll want to recycle. We used Freecycle online to invite people to collect some of the stuff we didn’t need or couldn’t find room for. They came in the night and collected, as if whisked away by recycling fairies, without us even knowing.
It would be no surprise to learn that one of the first things we did in Geneva was buy a 3G USB dongle to get us online (expensive but very fast).
Do you only use these things when emigrating? No, we use them now for a variety of reasons. It’s only together that they make sense as vital tools for moving country. Did we still print stuff out? Sure we did. Somewhere we’ve got a file with print outs of architectural plans, photos and the like. But this was as much as habit and security than anything: some lay untouched and unread. Is there anything I’ve missed – I expect so – even as I write I think of all the music and podcasts I’ve downloaded, some of which are about Geneva, or local news programmes and such. And booking tickets and… well, all those things we use the web for all of the time.
Now, if the BBC can get iPlayer available outside of the UK I’d pay the licence fee happily…