What’s it like to relocate during a pandemic? One Singaporean mama tells us her journey of moving to the USA as a trailing spouse with a toddler in tow (and the pure joy she felt seeing rambutans at Trader Joe’s!)
Moving in the middle of a pandemic was a very daunting process for our family, especially to a country like the United States which was one of the epicenters of a major Covid-19 outbreak last year. Naturally, it was not an easy decision to make.
My husband is Pakistani, but he has lived in Singapore for the past 13 years (having attended university here) and now works for a financial institution. When an opportunity came up for an internal transfer to one of their growing offices in the US, we knew it could be a good opportunity to explore living overseas. For my husband especially, it provided an opportunity to be closer to his family who lives in the states, none of whom have met our son Zayaan. It didn’t take long for us to decide to take it up. We were set to move to Raleigh, North Carolina.
For me personally, it was a tough decision to make knowing that I would lose my village, namely my parents, family, helper and close friends who have been instrumental in giving us support during the first crucial year of parenthood. Having to resign as Senior Creative at Vice Media Group, a job I really enjoyed, was also difficult as work was something that allowed me to retain some part of myself after having a baby.
At the start, in between the packing and logistical planning I honestly had little time to really process that I would be leaving my home country, family and friends to start in a completely new country halfway around the world. In a way my ‘mom mode’ was switched on and I was compartmentalizing my emotions to tackle the tasks at hand. As our departure date loomed nearer, I suddenly became overwhelmed with sadness.
A positive mindset helped me reframe the move
I slowly began to warm up to the idea of moving after learning to adopt a positive mindset. After experiencing the mad hustle of being a full-time working mom with a baby, I thought that perhaps taking some time off work would allow me to spend more quality time with my kid. The idea of exploring a new country with a little bub and exposing him to a different kind of lifestyle was also something quite attractive and being lucky enough to do so in these times made me so grateful. I had to have faith that things will work out. Embracing change and new challenges are just part of life and can be exciting.
Preparing for the big move
With help from immigration lawyers, the entire visa process was really smooth and the only delay we experienced was waiting for our visa appointment to be secured at the US embassy which was limiting visits due to the ever-changing situation. After our visa was officially approved (which luckily only took a week), we had just over a month to prepare for our move. We had to carefully plan our farewells and say our goodbyes in small gatherings while also making the necessary arrangements.
The hunt for the right family for my wonderful helper
My first task before leaving was to find a trusted family to transfer my awesome helper to as I wanted to do her right since she has been a key member of my family. I did a call out on social media on my personal Instagram account. Since Singapore is facing a shortage of helpers coming into the country, I wanted to check with friends first if they knew anyone looking for a helper. Within 2.5 weeks and multiple video interviews later, we found the perfect family for her and began the necessary paperwork.
The one thing about moving is that you don’t ever realise the amount of stuff you accumulate over a short period of time. And as I was packing, it quickly began to look like I had a bit of a hoarding problem – books from college days, random paper bags, shoe boxes, expired makeup, you name it I probably had it.
My husband’s company provided a moving service but we were only able to ship one container worth of items by air freight. I had no choice but to simply go full-on Marie Kondo and get rid of a bunch of stuff that, well, no longer gave me happiness! Of course, I still brought along a precious small bag of Zayaan’s newborn clothes that I just couldn’t bear to part with.
Since we will be in a corporate serviced apartment temporarily upon reaching Raleigh (more on that later), we made sure to pack a month’s worth of stuff and essential baby items such as clothes, eating utensils, some familiar toys and books. We gave away a lot of furniture and sold some on Carousell and Facebook Marketplace.
As we were renting an apartment, we had to do a proper handover to our landlord while making sure the dates coincided with our flight dates. After clearing out the apartment and moving into my parents’ place for the last few nights, we called in a housekeeping company to do a deep clean of the space.
Flying from Singapore to USA in Covid times
Before taking our flight, we had to provide proof of a negative Covid-19. This was admittedly one of the procedures that I was quite nervous about, because what if we tested positive? Will the PCR test hurt? But it had to be done. We booked and paid for our swab test online and showed up at the nearest Raffles Medical Group clinic two days before flying. Within 24 hours, our results came in (negative, phew!) and we printed the results to show the airline staff at the check-in counter.
When D-day arrived, it felt really surreal. Due to new rules in the airport, we couldn’t get a big send-off so that was really the saddest part of all – not being able to give our friends and all of our family a last hug.
Thankfully, my parents and siblings were still able to drop us off. We chose the direct 18.5 hour flight from SG to JFK via Singapore Airlines as we wanted to limit contact at the airports. We prepped a bunch of N95 masks, surgical masks, anti-bacterial wipes and sanitizers. It was our son Zayaan’s first time ever on a plane so we didn’t know what to expect, but we packed a bag of snacks and some new toys to surprise him with to keep him occupied, as well as two sets of clothes and enough diapers to last two days. Surprisingly, the flight was quite full. I nursed him to sleep throughout the flight and it turned out better than I expected. New York City was our first port to meet family for three days, before taking a 1.5hr flight to Raleigh.
Luckily, travel to the US now does not require you to be quarantined if you are vaccinated.
Documentation we had to prep ahead of the flight:
- Passport with visa
- Relevant documentation stating visa details provided by immigration lawyers
- Notarised Vaccination Certificate
- Covid-19 swab test result ($169 per test)
- Flight info
- US housing address
Looking for a place to live halfway across the world was no easy feat! Ahead of reaching Raleigh, we scoured and shortlisted potential apartments and neighbourhoods online using portals like Apartments.com. I also joined Facebook groups such as ‘Moving to Raleigh’ and ‘Raleigh Mom Groups’. These helped me gain a better understanding of which neighbourhoods are good for families. Even then, we wanted to get a proper feel of each neighbourhood before finalising our decision.
During the first two weeks of being in Raleigh, we had to rent a car and set up appointments to view apartments quickly as we only had corporate housing for a month. Our criteria was clear and simple: modern apartment, good and secure neighborhood, diverse and friendly community and close to amenities, my husband’s office and daycare options.
It was a relief that we didn’t take long to secure an apartment. What I especially love about our area is the greenery, with some restaurants just opposite us and that it’s just a 3-minute drive away from shops like Trader Joe’s and Target!
Setting roots in Raleigh
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect when we moved here. Prior to this, I had only been to the US for a maximum of two weeks. Thankfully, we have close family here in the US – my sister and her family are living in Virginia and my husband’s sister and uncle are in New York. So they gave us a lot of tips on living in the US, from setting up credit history to phone plans to acquiring a driving license.
We are still settling down slowly in Raleigh and in the midst of setting up the house. We had to start all over again, buying everything from new furniture to cutlery to home appliances. Zayaan went through a cycle of sleep regression and has picked up new nervous habits such as biting as well as being extra clingy to us as part of his adjustment to the new environment, so we are giving him some time to adapt. We’ve connected with a few Singaporean families here and talking to them felt like home. Plus I didn’t realise how happy I could feel seeing rambutans being sold here in Trader Joe’s!
In my short time in Raleigh, the city has really grown on me. It’s very diverse, family-centric with lots of outdoor activities to do. The city is endearingly termed ‘City of Oaks’ due to the abundance of tall oak trees which line the roads. Our weekends are filled with going on nature trails and exploring the parks and farmers’ markets.
Since the Covid-19 situation is still serious here, I haven’t felt confident enough to arrange for playdates nor go to crowded areas, but I’ve met a few friendly moms at the playgrounds. While I know it’s going to take a long while before I find my ‘village’ here, what the past year and a half has taught me is that you can be your own village too. The world is going through chaotic times and nothing seems to be in our control but we can find our calm and channel our light to be present for our family in every way possible.
Six months ago, I had no idea that I would be living in America. Who knows what the next six months will bring? But I’ll treat it like an adventure and learn to see life through my toddler’s eyes– exciting and scary, yet beautiful at the same time.