How to Move To a Different City


All that hyperbolic 19th-century rhetoric about Americans being pioneers with frontier spirit is just high-gloss spin on the fact that Yankees are a population of refugees. Pretty much everyone who lives in the United States now either moved a long way to get here or descended from someone who did. Since we've all got it in our blood, let's translate that "spirit" into an efficient mastery of the otherwise unbearable process of moving.

Moving is a stress-filled pain in the neck, make no mistake. Not only do you have to handle countless details, but you have to do it while enjoying the murky fear of moving to a place that you probably don't know too much about--oh, and add in all the depressing kicks of saying goodbye to hordes of old friends. Cheery. We offer this eHow on moving to a new city as a semi-soviet solution to the problem--emotionless but effective.

Oh, and we've found that if you don't follow this guide, the moving trauma is liable to explode in an overloaded station wagon at some godforsaken rest stop.

Create a Timeline

There are tons of online resources engineered to help with relocation. In fact, there may be too many; if left to hunt amongst them yourself, you may just get annoyed and overwhelmed like we did (until we remembered that it's our job to feel that way, so that others need not). The primary theme running through almost all moving guides, though, is a smart one: Create a timeline. You want to assemble a list of the legion of items you need to take care of, so you can stop forgetting to do things--or worse, stop worrying about forgetting to do things. With this list in hand, you can move ruthlessly down it, handling tasks, checking off items, squelching free speech--sorry, that may be a little too soviet again.

The obvious question, though is, "What should that list contain, and in what order?" No worries: We've designed a prototypical checklist for you. Now, if you have particular needs, like "Where do I kennel my ferret?" and "How do I find an apartment in Azerbaijan?", you will obviously need to customize your moving protocol.

Most of the tasks that confront you in a move will break down into two classes: a) setting up life in a new place; and b) breaking down life in the old one. There are a few issues that straddle the two, and some that fall outside of them, but we'll try to cover them all.

Settle Your Old Life

Long-Range Items

  1. Give notice to your landlord [moving day minus 6 weeks].

    Even if your lease is up on a specific date, your landlord will want to be sure you are planning on vacating on that day. If you are on a month-to-month lease, this is particularly important, and you should give more than just 1 month's notice. Common decency--and an outside chance of legal hassles--dictate making the phone call and letting the landlord know. At the very least, just put a note in with your rent check saying adios in advance.

  2. Contact moving companies [MD minus 5 weeks].

    If you do decide to go with a professional mover, we'll go over how to deal with them below. But this is the time you should contact them: If you leave it too late, no amount of money will be enough to get them to move your stuff.

  3. Chuck out all your crap [MD minus 3 weeks].

    This is a major hassle, but trust us, doing it will make your final packing infinitely easier.

  4. Collect your important documents [MD minus 3 weeks].

    You don't need to do this too early, but as long as you're digging through all of your garbage, you may as well put aside your important documents at the same time. In a safe place, gather all of your legal, medical and insurance documents.

Medium-Range Items

  1. Change-of-address notification [MD minus 2 weeks]

    Even if you've already gone ahead and changed your addresses for subscriptions and other people, it's always a good idea to pass along your forwarding address to the post office. Get a form online (see Resources).

  2. Garage sale or charities [MD minus 10 days]

    Remember all of that crap you found around the house ? Let's get rid of it. If anything is valuable, you should be scheduling a garage sale to get rid of it; or you can always donate it to Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

  3. Schedule pickup [MD minus 10 days]

    If you're going with professional movers, you'll want to check back in with them at this stage to schedule a specific time for the pickup and/or packing of your stuff. If you're driving your own moving van, check out Budget Truck or U-Haul for the info.

  4. Gather records [MD minus 7 days]

    You've already put aside all of the important documents you have, but that's probably not all the relevant ones you'll need. Swing by your dentist's office and clinic to pick up dental and medical records. Other documents you may need include ones kept by your lawyer, your school, your religious institution or your accountant.

  5. Recruit moving-day help [MD minus 7 days]

    Unless you're using a full-service moving company, you'll probably need some friends to help you shift your stuff around.

  6. Moving supplies [MD minus 5 days]

    You're going to need boxes, tape and packing material for your move; you can order them online from Staples.

Close Combat

  1. Arrange a place to stay on your last night in town [MD minus 5 days]

    Chances are, your old place will be barren on the last night you're in town, so unless you want to crash in a sleeping bag on the bare floor with no food, you should make alternate arrangements.

  2. Close bank account [MD minus 2 days]

    Shutting down a bank account can be a real drag to do from a long distance, so arrange to withdraw all of your funds before you leave town. This can be as easy as writing yourself a check for the balance of your account, but could be much more involved. It differs from bank to bank, so schedule an in-person visit to your personal leech.

  3. Service your car [MD minus 2 days]

    If you're using your own car to transport either yourself or your stuff to the new city, you really should have it tuned up and serviced professionally before you leave.

  4. Gather your travel necessities [MD minus 2 days]

    You've put together all of the big documents by now, but you want to make sure you have your driver's license, registration, passport, wallet and credit cards all within handy reach.

  5. Pick up rental truck [MOVING DAY]

    No surprises here: If you're planning on using a rental truck, you'll have to pick it up and load it on the big day.

  6. Pack and go [MOVING DAY]

    By now, your packing should be all done, but you'll need to plan on saving a couple of hours to load up your truck. Then get the hell out of there.

  7. Disconnect utilities [MD plus 1 day]

    Yes, we've said to cut off the utilities the day after your move. Yes, it may cost you an extra 23 cents to keep everything running one more day, but on moving day, you're going to need power. And a phone. And water. Just call these places after you leave and cut off the utilities once you've gone.

  8. Moving-expenses form [MD plus 7 days]

    Moving can be a very expensive enterprise, but don't get too depressed: One of the few charitable decisions made by the IRS is to exempt these costs from taxable income. We suggest you wait a few days to decompress from your move, then fill out the IRS's Form 3903 while all the expenses are still fresh in your mind. Oh, and be sure to save your receipts.

Establish Your New Life

Long-Range Items

  1. Find a place to live [at least 6 weeks before moving day]

    Depending on where you plan to move to, this can be the single most exasperating task of all. If your destination is New York City, for example, you could spend weeks and even months on just this one task alone. Check out for places to live.

  2. Reroute your subscriptions [MD minus 4 weeks]

    Magazines are painfully slow about changing your address and sending your stuff to the right place. Mercifully, many now have websites that allow you to change your subscription information online, which theoretically should be more efficient than calling up or mailing back postcards. Whichever way you choose to do it, get your priorities in order and make sure the entertainment is there waiting--it's not like you're going to know anyone when you get there. Do this with the rest of your mail, too--like credit-card bills, car payments and insurance plans. Don't fool yourself: You don't get out of owing all of that money just because the bills don't reach you.

  3. Consult your employer's moving policy [MD minus 4 weeks]

    Obviously, if you don't have an employer or don't have one that is underwriting any part of your move, this is irrelevant. If you do, though, take a good look at their policies to make sure you adhere to their guidelines. They may agree to let you use a professional mover, but limit the list of approved vendors, for example.

  4. Book your travel arrangements [MD minus 4 weeks]

    Unless you're strolling across campus, you're going to need transportation for your move. If you and your stuff are traveling together, you'll probably locomote personally via plane, train or automobile. OK, you'd probably take a bus before you'd ride a train, but we just liked the sound of that. For plane tickets particularly, you should be booking at least a month in advance to avoid getting reamed on the last-minute prices. Check out or for airline tickets and rental-car information.

Medium-Range Items

  1. Set up new insurance policies [MD minus 2 weeks]

    If you have a car, you'll need to adjust your insurance policies to take your move into account. Believe us, if you total your car in the new city and you haven't told your insurer, they're not going to find it anywhere near as funny as you do. Which means not at all.

  2. New utilities [MD minus 10 days]

    There's nothing more depressing than sitting in an unfurnished new apartment and not even being able to call anyone to stop you from hurling yourself out the window. Be sure the phone is working by the time you get there. We'd feel really guilty if you didn't. So call the phone company and have your phone connection start a day or two before you get there. You may also need to set up gas, electricity, water, cable and trash collection at the new place. You can get the number for all of these utilities from the Yellow Pages; for new cable, try calling (888) 668-3759.

  3. Maps

    Do you have any idea how to get there? You can always get maps online at Yahoo Maps or Mapquest, but having good old hard copies would also be a good idea.

Close Combat

  1. Sign lease [MD minus 1 day]

    If you want to make sure you have a place in which to live, we suggest you take care of this little item.

  2. List of things to buy [MD minus 1 day]

    There is going to be an arsenal of things you'll need to set up your new home. Before you leave your old place, make a list of the things you think are key. Here's one tip: Food. Here's another: Cleaning products.

  3. Reserve the elevator [MD minus 1 day]

    Many apartment buildings will allow you to reserve the elevator for your own personal use, which greatly reduces the hassle and time it takes to move in. Call your new landlord and set up a reservation.

  4. New bank account [MD plus 1 day]

    You may not be able to take care of this task until you arrive and can visit the bank yourself, but you can probably make phone calls before you get there to inquire about what kinds of accounts the competing banks are offering.

  5. Driver's licenses, plates [MD plus 1 day]

    Again, you'll probably have to hike over to the DMV and waste a day there once you arrive--and you often have a grace period to get your car set up--but just remember to take care of this item.

Get Your Stuff to Your New Life

Wow, that sucked. But we're afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better. Now that you have the outline of what to do and when, you still need to decide which way you are going to pick up your stuff and get it somewhere else. There are a few major options, and we've listed them here, starting with the easiest and working up to the most involved.

Just do it yourself

In a car: Look, you don't need us to tell you that, if you want to, you can just chuck all your stuff into a car and drive to wherever you need to go. The list of things to remember is still helpful, but beyond that, we'll trust you.

With a rental truck: OK, this is a slightly more complicated option, but you know the gist. Here are the factors you'll want to consider:

a. How far are you moving?

b. How much stuff you have?

c. What does it cost?

Get someone else to do it

OK, this is the big one. Agreeing to have someone come and take all of your stuff calls for a healthy dose of cash and a great leap of faith. Social Darwinism tells us that the guys grabbing all your worldly possessions probably never made it all the way through DeVry or ITT, so take a deep breath and keep these tips in mind.

First, you need to know whom to call, since you've already discarded the other options we've laid out for you. So where do you begin? Start by visiting and, which contain directories to movers nationwide. From there, you can choose a mover who operates in your area and can deliver to your destination.

  1. Choose a mover.

    Obviously, you'll want a mover who can meet your budget and your needs. You can get that information by using the movers' directories. But another strong element to look for is whether you mover is accredited by the AMSA, the American Moving & Storage Association. AMSA is a trade organization that holds its member companies to a higher standard of ethics than just the general law. Anything you can use to filter your choice of mover is clearly worth keeping in mind, and you can easily weed out the sketchy groups by asking for their accreditation. Follow the last link in Resources to a site that has the goods on AMSA-accredited movers.

  2. Get an estimate.

    Before you agree to do this, you're obviously going to want a pretty precise estimate of how much it is all going to cost you. Other than checking a mover's general rates--which are typically a function of how heavy your stuff is and how far you plan to move it--you'll want them to come by to see your stuff and give you a more exact number.

    There are two types of estimates: binding and nonbinding. Binding just means that they can't change their mind on you later. It's not a bad idea, but it doesn't really matter too much. To get an accurate number for either, you have to show them everything you plan to move. So clear out under the beds, empty the closets, bear it all.

  3. Plan your move.

    If you're going full-service, the mover will pack your stuff for you. But you may want to keep an eye on the process, since this is when they'll be compiling your inventory. So when that Faberge egg your granny left you suddenly shows up missing, you'd better have a record of it.

    You can dodge this nightmare if you really want to, but if your valuables are being groped, it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on things. Just stay out of their way. You will need to show up at some point to sign the Bill of Lading--the document listing all of the items being moved. Check this list very closely. When you get to your new house, if you can't find it and it isn't on the Bill of Lading you signed, you could be s.o.l.

There you go. You're all set. Now get a move on already ...

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