Pro tips for residency or fellowship relocation

Each spring, thousands of students and residents will relocate for their next career stages facing the same question: How am I supposed to move my stuff? The answer is varied and can be surprisingly complex.

Relocation is part of any industry, but medical trainees, in particular, relocate during a narrow time frame often without any employer reimbursement.

How does your move fit in with other major life events such as a wedding or honeymoon? How does one balance cost against convenience and use of your precious free time?

Based on my own experience navigating these issues, this article provides some practical advice to help you make an informed decision.
When facing a move, many factors affect whether you should relocate your belongings in the first place. How much stuff do you have, and are you attached to it? You may find that most things central to your life can fit in just a few boxes. Where are you moving to and from? Are you moving back to your home state or a place you eventually hope to settle in? How long is your next career phase? Are you starting a seven-year neurosurgery residency or doing a transitional year? Depending on your situation, it may make sense to move only the belongings you really use. For short-term moves, consider packing light and leaving larger items in a storage unit or at a trusted relative’s house.

Once you’ve decided your stuff will be coming, you need to consider the various aspects of the moving process. I recommend breaking down the move into four components: packing, loading, transporting, and unloading. Consider the demands of each step and whether you want to hire help or DIY.


Unless you are receiving a relocation reimbursement from your new employer, I see very few reasons to hire a company to help you pack. Live like a resident and DIY!


This is another step where DIY solutions can help you save money. Utilize your established friend network to help with this task. Offer to do a few errands or to pitch in on their own move, in exchange for their help.


This step requires the most planning. Different options include DIY moving trucks, shipping containers, and full-service moving companies.
The primary DIY method is to rent a moving truck and drive it to your destination. It is often cheaper than hiring a moving company, but it requires you to invest the most time.

If you do plan to rent a moving truck, remember: this won’t be like your spring break road trips in college. Be sure to budget your time and money appropriately for hidden expenses and inconveniences, such as tolls, inefficient gas mileage, lower speed limits, weigh stations and vehicle height restrictions.

Another option is portable shipping containers. Depending on the company, shipping containers allow for significant flexibility. You can choose door-to-door delivery (packing and unpacking the container yourself as it sits on your driveway), or you can load and unload at regional storage hubs. Some companies charge based on the container size (no matter how much you fill inside), and others charge based on the linear feet you use within the container (better sharpen those Tetris skills!).

Usually, your container is delivered on a specific day, and you are given a generous amount of time to load. Make sure you have the appropriate permits and approvals to store the container on the street or parking lot. Once loaded, your container can be shipped to your new destination right away, or held in storage (sometimes for a low monthly fee, and sometimes at no cost). Companies usually guarantee a pick-up date, but often only provide an estimated window for delivery (which can be as wide as one week). This uncertainty can be a dealbreaker if you are on a tight schedule before starting your new position.

Full-service move options include large van lines and smaller regional moving companies. If using a large van line, you typically fill out an online form in order to arrange to meet a local agent in person and receive a quote. Many of these companies are nationally recognized and have extensive experience with complicated moves. Various companies offer different packages, pricing structures, and insurance options. Do your homework to ensure you are appropriately comparing quotes! As with shipping containers, delivery to the destination will generally occur in a multi-day window.

Regional moving companies can offer significant flexibility in their services. Given their smaller size, they may be willing to negotiate and listen to interesting proposals that allow you to save on your move. Importantly, these companies may be able to guarantee both pick-up and delivery dates. You may have to do additional homework on these companies since they don’t have the same national reputation. Be sure to get references.

Picking a moving company can be a daunting task. Get a written guarantee of the maximum, all-inclusive price. Make sure this includes any insurance options you want, and make sure you are clear about what labor is involved as part of your move. If this is calculated upfront in your contract, there should be no on-site changes or surprises where you are asked to pay additional money. Some medical schools and residencies advertise “special offers” with specific agents or companies. However, don’t use this endorsement blindly! Shop around. You may find that the “special offer” was actually more expensive than the competition!


Many of the same tips from the “loading” section apply here. If you are in a new city, you may not have an established friend network to help you. Think about this ahead of time as you are planning your budget, in case you need to hire help on the back end of your move.

What do you think? Do you have any tips from your own experience when moving for residency or fellowship?

Arun Ganti is an emergency medicine physician and co-founder and CEO, Backlode.

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