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Guidelines for Making the Move Successfully
You’ve done the research and decided that you are ready to live abroad. What do you do now? How do you make the move? Find a place to live?
The answer depends a great deal on where you decided to live and whether you want to rent or buy a place overseas. However, there are some guidelines that remain fairly consistent from place to place which are detailed below:
Carefully Decide Whether You Want to Move Your Goods Abroad:
Once you decide to make the move from the US to your new country, take stock of whether you want to move your belongings or not. Probably around half of all the lifestyle-expats (who move on their own) decide not to move their belongings because:
- It is a lot of trouble and expense. It can easily cost several thousand dollars to move your stuff abroad. Once it is moved there, what can you do with it if you get tired of it or you decide to move back in the US? Many retirees at Lake Chapala told me that they regretted moving their furniture to the Mexico because they could not easily give it to their children.
- You can buy nice furniture in many parts of the world for less or the same as in the US. In some cases, you may find that this native furniture looks better than American style furniture in your new home. (I talked to several expats at Lake Chapala that regretted moving furniture from the US to Mexico for this reason.) In other cases, you will be able to find it in familiar department stores like IKEA and Sears for the same price as in the US, making the cost and trouble of moving the furniture unnecessary.
I have met many expats who find that one of the greatest joys of living in their new home is buying locally-made furnishings. They enjoy talking, and bargaining, with the local craftspeople that made the furniture. Many expats also enjoy visiting the villages where the furniture and crafts are made,
- You may not need furniture abroad. Many expats find it hard to find unfurnished homes overseas. (Many, if not most, rentals and houses abroad in Latin America, for example, include furniture.)
However, another half of expats not only move their stuff to their new home but are glad that they did so. Some of the reasons they give for their decision include the following:
- Setting up a household takes a lot more work and expense than you anticipate. If you don’t move your stuff, you may have to spend a lot of time and money replacing things like sheets, pots and pans, tools, and other household incidentals that you usually don’t think about needing until they become imperative to get something done Many experts note that when you take all these incidentals into account, a household can cost between $15-50,000 to set up.
- Sometimes it is hard to find furniture and electronic goods that are comfortable for you abroad. The handcrafted furnishing of many countries, particularly in the EMERGING, may be very attractive but clunky and poorly cushioned. In addition, many people move electronics, partly because they know how to use their old equipment and don’t want to have to learn how to use new stuff. (It is important to keep in mind also that sometimes it may be hard to buy equipment with English-language manuals and keyboards in another country and that is very rare that you will find equipment abroad that is as cheap as in the US).
- It is not always easy to find furnishings abroad that are easily color coordinated and attractive together as in the US. Sometimes if you buy locally made furniture, you’ll end with a hodge-podge that doesn’t go well together. Other times, you may find that the only furniture suites available overseas are either too formal for most American taste- think Louis XIV- or are very pricey. (On the other hand, many places – particularly in Europe- have such small rooms that American furniture will not fit well into the rooms).
The Decision about Whether You Decide to Move Your Stuff Will Vary a Lot Depending on What Country You Decide to Move to.
In Mexico, most expats I met do not move their furniture (though it is relatively easy to do so, since the goods doesn’t have to be shipped and you can transport your belongings duty-free if you get a FM-3, residency visa, from a Mexican consulate in the US) because 1) it is fairly easy to buy new, locally produced furniture or to get a place that is fully furnished in the first place; 2) you can move some of your belongings in your car whenever you go back to visit the states (you only have to cross one border and, though you may have to pay a bribe to move some stuff, it is rare that you are hassled much).
However, in most other countries in Latin America, the majority of expats ship their belongings all at one time to their new destination using a large container. Why?
- They can’t take their belongings in dribs and drabs from the US during their trips back home by car easily like in Mexico. This is because it is very difficult to cross borders with your belongings in your car without getting things confiscated or paying large bribes. (If you wanted to bring some of your stuff overland to Costa Rica, for example, you’d have to cross two borders each in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua before getting to Costa Rica). Occasionally you may get through without problems, but it is big risk.
- Even if you only want to move a relatively small amount of goods from the US, you will probably decide to move a lot of stuff to Central and South America, simply because it is more cost effective. Since you can’t move goods easily across borders, you will need to ship your belongings. When you ship belongings, you are required to pay for the use of a large container anyway. It doesn’t make sense to pay the same to move a few goods than a whole household. Many people, therefore, ship everything they think they might ever use and give away whatever proves superfluous to local charities.
- A lot of household goods, particularly in smaller Latin American countries, must be imported from the US or Europe. Generally anything that has to be imported will be very expensive (especially in a country like Costa Rica with high import duties) and, therefore, will be easier to bring from the States.
Some Additional Thoughts on Moving Your Goods Abroad
- When making the decision about whether or not you want to ship your goods abroad, you may want to visit your intended new home country and investigate the cost of the things you need to furnish your household in your new country. That way, you can easily compare the costs of moving vs. the cost of setting up a new home abroad.
- If you have a lot of furniture that you want to move abroad, investigating the price of things in your destination can also help you determine what you will ship abroad vs. what you will keep at home or sell. That way, you can ship those things that will be expensive to replace in your new destination and go shopping for those things that are as cheap, or cheaper, at your destination. (Generally, ship containers are very large. I have more stories of people having a hard time filling a container, than the opposite. That said, I have also heard of stories of people who have so many goods that they had to get more than one container to ship it all).
- Be careful about selling all your belongings before you move abroad. If you don’t decide to move your goods, one of the most important decisions you need to make is what you want to do with what you have in your home. I would advise you to think twice before selling everything. Remember that if you come back someday you may want these belongings to help you set up your house in the U.S.A (unless you need a lot of expensive storage at home). If you’ve sold these belongings, you may have to pay more money to buy new goods in the US than it would have cost you to keep and store what you had.
Twice I’ve sold my belongings, usually at pennies on dollars, and ended up spending several times as much to reestablish myself as I received from the sales of goods. (Keep in mind the cost of storage however.) I particularly regretted selling my cars because I always sold them at a loss and ended up buying much worse cars when I returned. (Though admittedly I would have had to store and pay for the cars while I was away.)
- If you do decide to move your belongings realize that it can take a long time for your belongings to arrive. Be prepared to either move out your belongings several weeks before you leave the US so that they’ll be there when you arrive or to live without your belongings for a long time once you arrive. Either way plan on spending several weeks without your belongings and be sure that you don’t pack things you’ll need immediately upon arrival.
- Realize that you may have to pay duty to move your goods. Ask your mover, if there are things that may not be worth moving because of the customs duties. Also, ensure that your goods are described in the proper manner to avoid paying unnecessary customs. Pay particular attention to ensuring that you have your paperwork and documents on you when necessary.
- Even though it does add cost, most fifty-plus nomads recommend that you hire someone who deals with overseas moves to help you plan out the move. If you are moving to a large expat community like Lake Chapala, relocation firms are usually easy to find and reliable. If you are not, call a couple of large multinational companies in your new country and ask them for referrals. You can also get advice from expats who are sent abroad for work. You can find them in the richest neighborhoods in the largest cities abroad.
Here are few things to consider if you decide to move your belongings. (Note: Even if you won’t be moving your belongings, consider some of these ideas when you pack your luggage, anyway.)
- Be especially careful in packing up your children’s belongings since many children will be traumatized by the combination of living in a new country and going without the familiar trappings of home (especially toys).
- Ensure that your electronic appliances work abroad before packing them. Nowadays electronic products are fairly inexpensive almost everywhere, therefore unless you have some particularly expensive or treasured electronic equipment, I’d recommend waiting to buy electronic goods when you arrive in your new home.
This is particularly true since electronic equipment has a tendency to be less useful in other countries than at home. I, for example, got a fairly expensive radio for a Christmas gift before going to Russia that was supposed to be useful abroad. However, once I arrived, I discovered that since my radio broadcasted at odd frequencies (101.3 for example) and broadcasts in Russia are at even frequencies, I couldn’t use the radio to pick up local radio shows.
- Pack a few familiar trappings of home, particularly holiday decorations and foods (peanut butter). These products, which are often hard to find and expensive abroad, will help you during your fits of culture shock.
- Don’t take more personal toiletries, etc., than you would normally take for a two-week vacation, unless they are only available in specialized stores in the U.S.A or you are moving to a really off-the-beaten-path destination. Most toiletries that you can buy in the grocery store are available in other countries, often at a similar price. In addition, these products are bulky, hard for natives to use (if you’ll have a maid), and prone to leakage.
During the first couple of days (or even weeks, if possible) abroad take it easy. Allow yourself time to get acclimated. If one of you will be working abroad, ensure that the whole burden for setting up your life does not fall on the “unemployed” partner. Adjust your expectations downward. Try to relax, get a good night’s rest, and take care of yourself. One of the best benefits to living abroad is the slow pace. Take advantage of it rather than fight it.
- Most bills in EMERGING countries are delivered to your door. If you are not there when the bill delivery person come, the bill will be placed on the doorstep where it may fly away in the wind. (I’ve heard of people finding their bills years later when they uproot a bush). As a result, you should be aware of the date that the bills are delivered and if you don’t see a bill, call or visit the office (in many countries you can pay bills at many larger stores) to get your bill.
- Some people opt to have money taken directly from their bank accounts overseas to pay their bills. However, almost everyone I have met has problems paying bills this way. (The most common problem seems to be: 1) many companies take more than one month of bills simultaneously or 2) some companies turn off services by mistake even though they’ve received proper payment). Resolving problems like this takes patience.
Since bills will always be in the language of your country, you should make sure that you have one of the bills translated into English so that you understand the bills’ content. I’ve heard stories of expats getting their services disconnected simply because they misunderstood when the bills were due. Keep in mind that many companies will cut off your service more quickly than they would in the US for lack of payment.
There are no restrictions against obtaining Social Security or pensions while you are abroad. The only problem could be getting the funds to your account. (The best way is to get them sent by direct deposit to a US bank account).