Ah, the UK. It’s such a specific place to move from. Particularly, it seems, when you are moving to Slovakia. Yet despite the UK being an island and all, on paper it seems so easy. After all, the UK is in the EU and Slovakia is in the EU. The UK has many international removal firms who specialise in moving to continental Europe. A walk in the park, right?
Wrong. The first problem was that none of the removal firms I tried had heard of Slovakia. “I’ll just go and ask my manager where that is” or, best of all, from the firm that described itself, somewhat cockily, as the biggest and best international removal company in Essex: “Slovakia? (in aghast tones) – no, no, we don’t go there.” This, incidentally, was a firm that was fine with deliveries to Italy, which is significantly longer by road. I spent half a morning ringing round like this, getting similar responses – some of which seemed to border on the xenophobic, which is not a good look for an international delivery company.
Tip one when you are looking for an international removal to an obscure place: don’t assume “international” means anywhere. Often it just means popular European ex-pat destinations like the Costa del Sol or Southern France. Often it means only countries in which it has offices (sometimes very few). And rarely does it include any Eastern European destination, it seems, even if the place has acceded to the EU.
About midway through that first day, I started to think outside the box. I’d hire my own van and drive. My load wasn’t huge (15 boxes of books, a couple of pieces of furniture, a bike and a record player). I got quotes as low as £450 for a four-day van hire. Four days is about the minimum you can get away with. Driving from my old house, in Southend (Essex) down to Calais means you can only realistically be over to Northern France by late morning. It’s then a 12-13 hour run to Bratislava if you go straight with no stops and don’t get lost. Another thirty minutes to navigate through to Raca, where I live, and you’re looking at an arrival of one in the morning at best. The next day the unloading and the rest, the following day driving back. Doable in 3.5 to four days, for the £450 hire, plus a sweet £250-300 for petrol both ways and the ferry costs (I got quotes as low as £80). So if you take your own food and sleep in the van (I guess you’re unlikely to subject yourself to that on a cross-Europe journey because a cross-Europe journey is a good excuse for TREATS) we’re talking £850.
Then one of the not-so-xenophobic removal companies called me back to say that they could do the move all-in for about £850 too, which put the ball back in their court.
But then I thought outside the box a bit more. Southend has a sizeable Slovak community. No joke. Maybe it’s the nearest sea (Slovakia has none of it) to convenient flight connections back to Bratislava. Anyway. There’s a Slovak delicatessen just down the road from my Southend pad. I used to go in there a bit to practice Slovak with them and buy invariably expired bryndza. The reason it was expired is that they drove all the way from Southend to Michalovce to stock up on supplies. But the point was, they drove. From right outside my old front door to eastern Slovakia. And if they got their supplies out there, surely their van was going out empty. I spoke to a pretty assistant in the deli who confirmed this was almost certainly the case, for a small fee of course, I said I would be happy to pay them anything significantly under £850 (to make the deal worthwhile for me). She told me to come back later to confirm with the owner. But of course the owner denied me. It seemed it was £850 or nothing.
Then Greens got in touch with me. This blog is not a sycophantic promotion-oriented series of pieces. I’m not advertising Greens, per se. But quite simply, they were just brilliant. Considerate at every stage of the way. Reassuring. Friendly. And cheap. And very, very far from xenophobic. They were even able to get round the problem of me wanting to be there for the collection in Essex and for the drop-off in Bratislava two weeks later, by holding my things in their own storage for no extra charge. Total cost: about £500 door to door.
The bigger question is, perhaps, why so many other companies I tried fell so far short of what I would describe as effective international removal service.
Update March 2014:
I have to say for anyone getting too excited that even Greens do have their downfall. They turned up a couple of hours late (having specifically said that they would be there by a certain time) and upon receipt of my goods in Slovakia the other week, a couple of boxes, despite having “fragile this way up” marked upon had been bundled the wrong way, meaning that my record player arrived damaged, for example.
Overall verdict: Good and cheap (I finally paid £607 including insurance to the value of £1500) but room for improvement. I’d use them again based purely on their reasonable price. I have yet to be convinced whether paying more money to a removal company actually means your boxes are treated any better.
Final Thoughts: What to Watch Out For When Moving Internationally
1: Getting a kerbside delivery (where they don’t take it up to your flat or into your house) is way cheaper.
2: Double-check the cost and enquire how much more it will be if you have more than the anticipated amount. Removal companies often work in “weight brackets” – ie there will be designated parameters for loads between x and x cubic feet/metres and if you go up a category you’ll pay more.
3: Make sure you get adequate insurance. You’ll typically pay 3-5% of the total load value, which will be added to your bill from the removal company. Give a healthy estimate of what your load is worth.
On the Day
4: Leave aside the whole day – as they’ll quite likely be late arriving – in part, perhaps, due to the removal company’s previous clients under-estimating how much they wanted moved.
5: It’s probably unnecessary to label your boxes as the removal company will have their own labelling system – because they’ll take it to their depot first.
Receiving Goods the Other End
6: Just because the removal company spoke your language to you when you booked them doesn’t mean the agent at the other end will. Unless the removal company has offices in your move destination (unlikely unless it’s a popular destination like the Costa del Sol or the company is really big) they’ll be sub-contracting the delivery to a local agent who is quite possibly not going to speak in any other language than, well, that of the country you’re moving to.
7: Putting “fragile” or “this way up” doesn’t necessarily help: don’t be surprised if something that shouldn’t be placed upside-down (and has the fact scrawled on the box) arrives placed upside-down.
8: Expect “holdalls” or fabric bags to have been repacked in boxes.