Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning the lay of the land...

I realize it is already midnight as I start this post, but I can actually declare that the family has finally managed to get on this timezone!  Both kids are in bed, and Joe and I are headed there ourselves shortly.  It took a few very dedicated nights to accomplish this feat, but we are on our way!

We have also managed to cross a few more to-dos off of our ever growing list.  We found a permanent house near the International School of Lux, and have begun the leasing contract process.  Most expats do not buy homes here, so most everyone rents.  There are a couple of reasons for this - one, most expats are here for 2-3 year stints, and two, the houses are rather expensive (think New England home prices).  If you have a family, you are generally looking at single family homes or row houses; if you are single, flats and apartments closer in the city seem to be the favored choice.  In our case, proximity to the ISL was imperative.  Once the students reach a certain age, parents are not allowed to drive them to school.  The public bus system is basically their school bus system, or the kids walk or bike.  Since we have never lived in proximity to the boys' school, this was a quality of our prospective house that the boys were quite adamant about.  When Joe and I came out for our sell week, the realtors took us through a variety of neighborhoods so that we could get a general feel for what we liked and where we thought we wanted to be.  Although we initially thought we would prefer living in or near Strassen (one of the western suburbs), we quickly determined that Belair or Merl would work better for the boys in terms of the school.  Lux has a similar website to ( that allows one to check out rental properties.  We quickly learned that anything in the Belair area does not stay on the market for very long.  In fact, the house that we finally secured had originally come on the website (with no pictures), only to rent hours later.  Fortunately, the prospective renter changed his mind and our realtor gave us the heads up. She was able to secure the house until we were able to see it last Friday.  We toured the house and fell in love with it immediately!  The owner accompanied us for the tour and his pride in the home was quite contagious as he walked us through the rooms and pointed out the renovations that were in progress.  The house was built in the 1930's and used to belong to his mother.  For European standards, the house is pretty large (about 4000 SQFT), but the space is very well proportioned and the bathrooms and kitchens are fully renovated.  Many of the houses we had toured previously had either not been renovated, or were really small for us.  Most importantly, he and his wife were fine with Shelby, our Golden Retriever.  We learned that although dogs are very well received in Europe, owners are not always keen on leasing property to pet owners.  We actually had two dogs prior to our move .  Unfortunately, our Welsh Springer Spaniel (Sophie) is a bit high strung and has had some questionable heart health issues in the past.  We just weren't sure if she could handle the move and really didn't want to risk transporting her.  Thankfully, my father-in-law fell in love with her and she now is a happy resident of Southern California!

We also managed to purchase a car this week.  After careful consideration and observation of what driving and parking in Lux requires, Joe and I both veered away from the thought of an SUV, as well as purchasing a new car.  Roads and parking spaces are deceptively narrow and small.  After a few trips to the local grocery store, we noticed most cars looked like they had been parked in a WalMart parking lot for the last few months since many were sporting rather large scratches and dings on their doors.  We settled on a black 2010 C-class Mercedes with pretty low mileage. The process was also a bit easier than we anticipated.  We had scouted the dealership a day earlier and had noticed that there were quite a few C-class models available.  We decided to pop by the next day to see if we could test drive one.  It did take some work finding a salesperson (very much UNLIKE the US), but once we found one he was very accommodating.  Again, the protocol on the purchase is a learning experience.  Here, once you have selected a car, you must secure auto insurance and proof of your residency.  There are only a few insurance companies here, and the salesperson conveniently had a "friend in the business" that he would set us up with.  If all goes well, we should be able to pick the car up sometime next week.

Finally, we did complete the residency process this morning.  And, much like the DMV, it did take a couple of attempts.  Our first mistake was trying to go in the afternoon, only to find out the office is only open from 8:30-11:00 a.m.  We tried again this morning, got there right when the doors opened, took our number and waited for about 30 minutes before our turn at the window.  Once there, the Immigration employee sifted through our now rather large stack of paperwork, gave us a sympathetic smile and asked us if we had the receipt of payment for the processing.  Joe told her he had brought the required cash, but she slowly shook her head, apologized, and pointed to the small print on the back of one of the papers showing that the required fees had to be wired to the agency. *sigh*  Fortunately, we had just opened local bank accounts and were able to walk down the street, wire the required funds, go back to the Immigration Office, take another number, wait in line for another 20 minutes, and "Voila" - our papers were stamped and we were free to go... to the local tax office so that Joe could set up his payroll taxation.  Another line, another hour, but another check off the to-do list. So, though the process may be slow and frustrating, we are seeing some daily progress!

The mountain of paperwork and the endless number of tasks and protocol can be quite numbing; but, as we have heard from several of Joe's peers at his new company, it is always easier for those who have the benefit of trailblazers paving the way.  We have heard the horror stories of what can happen when you don't have all of the required papers, when you don't know the language, and when you aren't aware of the ins and outs of what customs and immigration officials are looking for. So, as frustrating as this may all be at times, imagine the frustration for those whose experience was that much longer, that much more frantic, or that much more expensive.

We have very dear friends who are actually moving here to Lux next week.  We have known each other for over a decade now, our children are the same ages, and we have been through the highs and lows of careers and kids.  Needless to say, going through this experience together will be comforting, knowing we are not going through it alone.  We have actually been the trailblazers for them for the last few weeks now since they are just about 2-3 weeks behind us in the process.  So, we will go through the abbreviated version of the "guinea pig" syndrome of having had to go through it all first and be able to give them a bit of guidance as they venture through the same ordeals.  Hopefully their experience will be easier and those who follow them will reap the benefits.  As I have determined, the first concept every expat learns quickly is that you are never alone in what you are experiencing.  In a country where 50% of the residents are not citizens, you can gain comfort in the knowledge that there are many more folks going through the exact same thing!

Well, we are off to Paris in the morning for a last "hurrah" before Joe starts work. The kids are excited, the bags are packed, but the parents need to get some sleep!

Bon soir!


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