Moving house during a pandemic is the last thing anyone wants to do. But many of us didn’t have a choice after losing work, clients, projects, and income. Moving is stressful enough as it is, but even more so when your life is at risk. Having moved three times since early 2020, this is our guide to moving during the pandemic, with tips to staying safe and avoiding mistakes we made if you have to move.

We first published this guide to moving house during a pandemic soon after we had to move apartments at the end of March 2020. Having had to move apartments again earlier this month, during a nationwide lockdown here in Cambodia, as Covid cases spiralled out of control, we thought it time to update this guide again.

Shortly after our first move last year, a supportive friend advised us to be kind on ourselves, gently reminded me that moving house was one of life’s most stressful events after the death of a loved-one, divorce and break-ups, getting married, and having kids. Yet not only were we moving house, we were moving house during a pandemic, potentially putting our lives at risk. What were we thinking?

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice. After losing all our income in February 2020 as the novel coronavirus spread, businesses shuttered, flights stopped, borders closed, and Australia closed even to Australians, we had no option but to move to a cheaper, smaller, less central apartment and hunker down.

The only thing we could do was research how to move safely during a pandemic and prepare for the move as best we could. Despite taking as many precautions as we possible to protect ourselves, things didn’t go exactly to plan the first time, and definitely not the second, although the third move was comparatively more successful. We did get better at pandemic moves, although as we learnt with each move, there’s only so much you can control.

While life has returned to normal – or the ‘new normal’ – in many countries, Covid-19 cases are on the increase in others, with many countries experiencing their third, fourth and even fifth waves, so we thought we’d update this guide to moving house during a pandemic for those of you who might find themselves in similar situations.

These are our tips to moving house during a pandemic safely, so you can avoid the mistakes we made.

Moving House During A Pandemic – Tips to Doing So Safely and Avoiding the Mistakes We Made

Moving house during a pandemic was the last thing we wanted to do. But the one-year lease on the dream apartment in lush frangipani-filled gardens with a stunning palm-lined swimming pool, slap-bang in the centre of Siem Reap, was coming to an end – just as the coronavirus began its race around the world and the planet was preparing for a global shutdown.

We had been venturing out as little as possible since China shared the bad news with the world in January 2020, coronavirus cases increased rapidly, and Wuhan went into lockdown on the 23rd. Siem Reap had been a popular destination for Chinese tourists and a Chinese-owned business had operated from the apartment above us, with staff streaming in and out every day. The first sign of trouble: activity upstairs suddenly ceased.

By mid-February, as China recorded 58,000 cases, we were wearing face masks, using hand sanitiser, and vigorously washing our hands after every shopping trip. Chinese travel companies closed. Flights stopped. Hotels, restaurants and shops shuttered. Staff were sent on indefinite leave and returned to their homelands. Siem Reap, which had already had a bad ‘high’ season due to Angkor Wat’s inclusion in a spate of stories on overtouristed destinations (which it was not), became a ghost town.

Clients cancelled agreements and projects, a cookbook contract we were on the verge of signing was postponed, publications froze freelance budgets, and our regular affiliate commission income on this site disappeared as travellers shelved holiday plans, cancelled trips and hotels, flights stopped, and borders closed.

By mid-March 2020, Cambodia only had a dozen coronavirus cases, but every day brought news of more imported cases arriving with foreign tourists, cruise ship passengers, pilgrims returning from a religious event abroad, and migrant workers coming home from neighbouring countries. Our chests started tightening.

Our lease was ending at the end of March, so, like many in the same position, we asked our landlords if they could reduce the rent a little. It was a firm no. Fellow expats began to leave. Every day we’d hear news of friends who’d managed to get on the last flight home. But we had a cat called Pepper and couldn’t go anywhere in a hurry, even if we could afford to ship our lives back to Australia.

We had decisions to make. The last thing we wanted to do was move house during a pandemic. But we had no choice but to move to a smaller, cheaper place out of the city centre. We let the landlord know we wouldn’t be renewing and I started apartment hunting, while Terence began packing. The panic attacks began.

There was hope for a few days after the editor of one of my dream publications offered us a commission that would have paid six months’ rent – until the chef upon which the narrative hung decided she no longer wanted to be featured in a story. The choice had been made for us. We began picking up boxes from our friendly local supermarket, Terence began researching how long the virus stayed on surfaces, and I found myself crying randomly.

Six months later we were moving again. The modern apartment we’d moved into leaked like a sieve when it rained and flooded during heavy downpours. It was like a sauna without the air-conditioning turned on and the electricity bills were 4-5 times what we’d previously paid – every single month.

And the place we moved to from there? It was great until new tenants moved in and the vibe changed. During the peak of the recent Covid wave it felt like a summer resort at Benidorm – despite a mask mandate and ban on social gatherings. When the complex was quarantined after the death of a resident with Covid-19 we knew it was time to leave. These are our tips for moving house safely during a pandemic.

Tips to Safely Moving House During A Pandemic

From encountering dozens of strangers as I inspected apartments – real estate agents, landlords, caretakers, and tenants – to borrowing cardboard boxes from our local supermarket, and hiring a random guy with a truck and a few workers to do our move, there were countless opportunities to expose ourselves to the coronavirus while moving house during a pandemic that swept the world in a matter of weeks. These are our tips to moving house during a pandemic based on the lessons we learned.

Check Restrictions and Find Out If You Need Permission to Move

When we moved in early 2020, just as Cambodia was experiencing its first wave, which would turn out to be a small ripple, the government had not yet introduced restrictions on movement. The PM simply asked everyone to stay home, wear masks and wash our hands and we did. Our recent move was during a nationwide lockdown. Inter-provincial travel was suspended, parts of Siem Reap were locked down, and there were travel restrictions between neighbourhoods. When we first began looking for a new apartment, our building complex was quarantined and after our tuk tuk driver dropped off some shopping he did for us and boxes he’d procured, he apologised for not being able to do more, as he was planning on staying home for a while. After negative tests and the police tape came down, we needed approval from local authorities to move, which involved little more than our landlord making a call. In some places, under similar conditions, you may need to make a more formal application to authorities or obtain an exemption from restrictions to do the move. Check with police and relevant government departments before making plans, so you’re not fined.

Start Sorting and Packing Well Before You Normally Would Before a Move

If you’re moving house during a pandemic you need to understand that everything is going to take a lot longer than it normally would, due to a whole lot of factors – from having to spray the moving boxes you’ve acquired with a disinfectant spray such as Lysol or Clorox Multi-Surface Cleaner and leave them to sit outside for a few days to ensure that if there was a chance of the virus being on the surface of the boxes that it’s inactive by the time you need to pack the boxes to allowing for frequent meltdowns. I made the mistake of starting to sort and pack when I normally would under normal conditions and didn’t appreciate that it might take me longer than usual. The wine may have helped stop the panic attacks but it also slowed me down.

Invest In a Stable Heavy Duty Hard-Sided Cat Carrier

Out cat Pepper had moved house twice with us in Siem Reap, but these were Pepper’s first experiences moving during a pandemic as well. Pepper has never travelled well – she’s never travelled much at all – and gets very anxious in the tuk tuks that we use to get around in Siem Reap, meowing loudly, trembling, and doing anything she can to get out. I use a zip-up soft-sided cat carrier, which, while tricky to get Pepper into, has served us well for quick trips to the vets when I’ve had the carrier on my lap and have been able to hold it tight and comfort Pepper. However, soft cat carriers are not a good idea when you have to leave the cat alone as you tape up that last box you almost forgot or are giving directions to the moving truck driver. Nor are they good on the journey, when you have to put them on the floor of the vehicle or on the seat. The soft cat carriers have a tendency to roll around with an anxious cat inside who is desperate to get out, and, um, fall off seats. I know. Sorry, Pepper. Before the next move, we will definitely invest in a heavy-duty hard-sided cat carrier that is stable, well-ventilated, and, um won’t roll over or fall off seats. Also check the site I linked to for tips for stressed cats and how to deal with them.

Use a Professional Moving Company If You Can

We probably wouldn’t even be providing these tips to moving house during a pandemic had we have been able to use a professional moving company. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to professional movers in Siem Reap, and if we did, we certainly couldn’t have afforded them. Instead, we had our trusty tuk tuk driver who we’ve been using for years hire some local guys with a truck. They do move stuff for a living and they were fantastic when it came to speed and strength and patience, but they did not come prepared for moving during a pandemic. They didn’t even seem to be aware that there was a pandemic. They didn’t wear masks nor gloves, and didn’t carry hand sanitiser. They didn’t wash their hands upon arrival, let alone washing their hands frequently, as I heard professional moving companies are now doing. If you have access to professional movers and you can afford to hire a professional moving company, ask them what their pandemic protocols are and what safety precautions they will be taking during the move. 

Pack Everything Up Yourself Even If You Use Movers for the Actual Move

Even if you’re in a position to hire a professional moving company to undertake the actual move, and that would normally include a packing service, if you’re moving house during a pandemic you definitely do not want half a dozen strangers handling all your worldly possessions. Even if they are following the protocols that professional moving companies are rapidly adopting and wearing gloves and masks and so on, you still won’t know if someone has the virus as they may be asymptomatic. Movers who pack touch all your stuff, and even wearing gloves they may touch their mouth or eyes, or cough or sneeze, and spread the virus unknowingly. Pack everything yourself and that’s one less stress you have to worry about. That was my intention, but because I started packing too late at one point I had several guys huddled around me, watching and waiting for a box to cart out to the truck. As we neared the end, the truck owner who was managing the move sat down beside me to help me wrap and box the last of our dinnerware. He actually did a terrific job, but I didn’t know him before the move, so didn’t know where he’d been or who he’d been in contact with. We were lucky. We didn’t get sick. But we were certainly worried for a couple of weeks following the move.

Provide Disposable Masks, Gloves, Soap, and Hand Sanitiser for the Movers

If you’re moving house during a pandemic and able to hire a professional moving company, then they will probably have their own masks, gloves, hand sanitiser etc. If you live in a place where you don’t have access to professional movers, then do as we did and provide the movers with disposable face masks and surgical gloves at the start of the move and ask them to wear them, install alcohol-based hand sanitiser spray at your property entrance and Dettol anti-bacterial soaps in the bathroom, and encourage them to wash their hands frequently if they choose not to wear gloves. Now for my confession: despite having provided all of those things for the moving guys for our second move, some of them wore masks, some didn’t, they didn’t use the gloves, didn’t wash their hands, and didn’t appear to have the same level of concern that we did for safety, but because we were so focused on the move itself and I was still packing and stressed, we weren’t tough enough with the movers when it came to taking basic safety precautions, such as wearing masks and washing their hands regularly. 

Wear a Face Mask and Wash Your Hands Frequently Throughout the Move

You may not be in a position to control what your movers do if you’re moving house during a pandemic, but you can protect yourself. Always wear a face mask and wash your hands frequently. Ideally you should also try to maintain some social distancing of a couple of metres in case someone has the virus and coughs or sneezes and droplets fall on you. However, as we discovered, social distancing during a house move is close to impossible. The best we could do was protect ourselves by always wearing face masks and washing our hands as often as we could.

Minimise Contact with High-Touch Surfaces and Disinfect Them As Often As Possible

Try to minimise contact with high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, door handles and door frames, stairways and staircase railings, light switches, chairs and tables, and anything in the bathroom, including the toilet seat, flush button and bathroom taps. It’s incredibly challenging so make sure to continually wipe down high-touch surfaces with a disinfectant spray whenever you can. I also always carry packs of disinfectant anti-bacterial hand wipes for this purpose. Brands such as Lysol and GermAway are recommended by professionals.

Have the Movers Leave the Boxes Outside Your New Home

As we were moving into a fully furnished apartment, as most expats do here in Cambodia, we had planned to have the movers leave all our boxes on the landing outside the apartment so we could sanitise them with a disinfectant spray before taking them into the apartment ourselves. That was fantastic in theory, and is highly recommended by professionals, however, we were so exhausted from the sorting, packing, moving, and general stress of the situation – not to mention that our first move was into a second-floor apartment with six flights of stairs and we were moving during the hottest month of the year, which locals call the ‘Cambodian summer’. While we tried to take as much as we could from the movers in the doorway, there were heavy boxes and large objects, such as bookshelves that we let them carry in just because we were so exhausted. Try to avoid this mistake if you’re moving house during a pandemic and are serious about reducing risks.

After the Movers Leave Disinfect All Surfaces They May Have Touched

This virus is incredibly contagious, and the Delta strain is even more contagious, so it’s important to disinfect all high-touch surfaces after the movers leave and before you begin touching anything yourself. Once again, use an alcohol based disinfectant spray or fill a spray bottle with a soapy solution, soap up a cleaning cloth, slip on your disposable medical gloves, and spray all surfaces that your movers may have touched, such as door handles, door frames, walls, cupboard exteriors, etc. Afterwards, throw the cleaning cloth and gloves away and give your hands another good wash with soap. This was actually one thing we did very well!

Leave Your Boxes for a Few Days or Spray Them with Disinfectant

The coronavirus can remain on surfaces of cardboard so while professionals recommended leaving the boxes outside for a few days, who is going to do that? Instead, spray all the boxes, along with your furniture, suitcases, and so on, with that disinfectant spray and let that settle for a little while. Then once again, wash your hands thoroughly with soap before and after ripping the tape off your boxes, before you handle your personal possessions.

Self-Isolate for Two Weeks After Moving House

This is for your own safety as much as that of your new neighbours and friends: be prepared to go into quarantine at home for two weeks after moving house. That means shopping for groceries before your move or organising home delivery, and ensuring that your landlord has everything in your new home connected and working, such as the electricity, gas, television, air conditioning, internet, and so on before you move in. 

Pour yourself a stiff drink or open a bottle of wine and promise yourself that you’ll never move during a global pandemic again. If you have any tips for moving house during a pandemic we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave advice in the comments below.

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