Relocation companies – the pros and cons!

Exciting!  Challenging!  Total nightmare!  Stressful!  Expensive!
Once in a lifetime!  Fantastic!  Never again!

These are just some of the spontaneous responses we got when we recently asked a few local expatriates what their experiences of relocation had been. But the one thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that the support of a relocation company could make or break the move!

When we were asked by the team at Positively Swiss to come up with some tips and hints to help people choose a relocation company we thought it would be a relatively easy task – but once you start to think about it, there is in fact no right answer. What is important is that you do your research before signing anything and choose the company or person that works best for you.

Here are just a few pointers to get you started:

1. Don’t be afraid to tell your HR department you are not happy

Many international companies may have worked with the same relocation company for years despite changes in personnel. We often hear that families are told by the HR department who the allocated company is and are given no choice.

We would urge you to contact the allocated relocation company as soon as you possibly can and if you are not happy in any way, let your HR department know. In every area of Switzerland there is choice in this field and a historical relationship is no longer sufficient to guarantee repeat business.

Don’t forget that you are putting you, your family and your new life into the hands of a stranger – so you really need to feel comfortable with them from the start.

2. Meet the person who will be handing your case – before you sign up!

Insist on meeting the person who is going to be handling your case before anything is signed. Chemistry is important – this is a person who is going to be helping you find a new home,  set up a new life and ask you for some fairly personal information especially when you get round to sorting out your health insurance so you need to know you are all on the same wave length and that you feel comfortable.

3. Look for relocators who have relocated themselves!

This may sound obvious but a person who has relocated themselves usually has a far better understanding of the cultural and practical difficulties you are facing than someone who has never lived outside their native country.  Whether the company is run by a foreigner who has moved to Switzerland and lived here a while or a Swiss person who has had to move around the world herself, it doesn’t matter but experience of moving is vital to be able to understand just what the difficulties are that you are facing – be it language, culture, customs or just something as seemingly simple as driving on the “wrong” side of the road!

Also ask about language capabilities. In an ideal world your relocator will speak your language – plus the language of the land fluently. You are going to be faced with any amount of red tape, contracts and paperwork and most likely all will be in the local language.  Having someone who is conversant with the language and can translate for you on the spot as needed is an invaluable help.

4. Ask for references

A relocation company worth its salt will be more than happy to provide you with client references.  Make sure that you are given full contact details of the ex-clients and are able to contact them yourself. Once you’ve got the contacts – follow them up! There are, sad to say, a fair few charlatans in the relocation field, and only through doing your homework will you be able to sort the wheat from the chaff.

5. Compare prices and services

Remember that competition is keen in the market and therefore prices should be similar. If you come across a relocation company whose prices are much much lower than the norm – ask yourself why? Corners are being cut somewhere and that could be to the detriment of yourself and your family.

Similarly a company who provides a quote which is much higher than the norm is not necessarily trying to rip you off – make sure you carefully compare the content of the offers you receive and not only the bottom line!

6. Ask as many questions as you want

Never hesitate to ask any questions that come to mind – regardless of how small they may seem to you.  A relocator is there not only to find you a new home but also to introduce you to local life, help you make new contacts, give you useful information about local customs, traditions and ways of doing things. Make sure that your spouse can have direct access to your allocated relocator as well as he or she will most certainly have different concerns than yourself and will need different information.

7. Small is flexible!

Be wary of relocation companies that ask you to sign up for specific “packages” of services. Some companies have a range of “packages” with fixed prices and fixed contents. If you do not need certain elements of the package there is rarely a discount offered. If you need additional services, you will be invited to sign up for another package.

Smaller companies offer more flexibility in this and are not usually tied to such rigid outlines.

Companies offering an hourly rate (or blocks of hours which can be “spent” in any way needed”) offer much more flexibility as there are no restrictions on services and you can be sure of getting the services that you need rather than those contained in some package.

8. Ask around and find out what you can expect

Ask around in your company or at the school and find out what you can expect from your allocated relocation company before, during and after the move. What did your colleagues find useful? Where did they find a stumbling block? What would they have done differently?

9. Finally we’ve put together a few questions which you might want to put to the relocation company before deciding to sign up with them (or not!)

Will they help you get your phone lines and internet connection set up?
Will they talk you through the ins and outs of the compulsory insurance requirements and help you select the best provider for your family’s needs?
Do they have free choice when selecting suppliers to help you or do they work on a commission basis?
Will they help you get your car tuned so that it can be driven in Switzerland?
Or will they help you to buy a car here?
Will they help you find a handyman, a gardener, a cleaner or catering service for your house-warming party?
What do they provide in the way of after-arrival support?
Do they have a information sheet with local contacts and other useful information – or do they have a website with such information?
Will they provide you with specialised information which might be of interest only to your own family and not of general interest to transferees?
Will they help with translations once you’ve arrived?
Will they search out vets, dentists, doctors and hairdressers who speak your language?
Do they offer a follow-up service and can you call them even after the invoice has been settled?
Do they offer any kind of integration workshops or casual get-togethers to help you meet new people in the area?
Will they help you out later on when your spouse wants to find a job?
Can they point you in the right direction when it comes to childcare?

A serious and professional company will give you a positive answer to all of these questions without any hesitation and will cover all of the above and more in the course of your move.

A relocator should become your first port of call when things go wrong in your new country – and should be there for you when the initial euphoria of moving has passed and you are faced with the daily grind of building a new life. They should help you get started – and be interested in how you are getting on but should know when to stand back and let you find your own way. They should be resourceful, innovative, well-informed, involved and creative and should be able to adapt their services to suit the needs of your family. They should be ready to share their knowledge and learn new things themselves along the way.

But above all they should be ready to listen to your needs and act on that knowledge to set you up in the best possible way for your new life.

This article was written by Nicki Auf der Maur of Le Concierge Expatriate Services GmbH ( and escapee from Bristish weather and British Rail specially for Positively Swiss.