By Deb Zulawski
Blogger, artist, photographer, global traveler and soon to be expat currently living in the Pacific Northwest
I have been following several social media groups focused on expats living in different countries and have seen discussions by people who have moved to Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and other countries around the world. On every thread the same topic comes up - How do I ship my furniture to (insert country)? While there is no right or wrong way for someone to approach creating a new life in a new country, I must admit it made me curious as to the reasons people do or do not ship all their belongings.
I have decided that I am not going to take my household furnishing with me. Well, maybe my Blendtec blender, but that's it. And, of course, clothes, camera, and my laptop. The rest I will be able to get there. With a lower cost of living in my new country I will be able to purchase many of the items I get rid of for a fraction of what I would pay to ship a container of furniture, appliances and knick knacks. I have read that someone spent upwards of $5000 to ship a household from the US to Ecuador. Top that off with in-country shipping costs and all the coordination fees involved, and that is a lot of money that could be used to set up a household in the new location.
I have spent considerable time thinking about why someone would pay to ship all their household goods. It is curious to me. No judgement. Just curious.
As I said, I don’t plan on bringing my household furnishings with me and these are some of the reasons that helped me come to that decision.
Expense and flexibility
The expense of shipping compared to the cost of buying new upon arrival in my estimation would be great. I plan on renting a furnished apartment or home until I determine the city or neighborhood where I would like to settle. This allows me the flexibility to move without having to move an entire household as well. Less cost and more flexibility. I can set up a household later, if and when I settle into one location. Save all the money from not shipping a household and ... shopping! You can buy what you need in the new location.
Forever isn’t always forever
Most expats intentions are to create a forever retirement life in a foreign country. The reality is that a good percentage of expats return to their home country after a few of years, because they can't adjust, are unable to learn the language, don't feel at home, have health issues, or because they miss family, kids, grandkids, and even their favorite foods. Oh, that darn red licorice and barbeque sauce...destroyers of dreams!
Even with the best of intentions "to live in the new country forever" things can change, for whatever reason. The cost to ship a container and the stress of learning about the laws and regulations of the destination country can be a stressful endeavor. Then if one ends up being one of that small percent of expats that returns to their country of origin, then the loss is much less having purchased furniture and appliances there, with no need to sell expensive shipped items at pennies on the dollar, returning home only to have to buy new furniture and household goods all over again.
There’s something unique to be experienced when living like a local
Experiencing the culture and integrating with the local people of the country that I have chosen as my new home is much of the reason for moving to a foreign country.
When I lived in the Peruvian Amazon city of Iquitos, I bought a home just outside of town. It wasn't much by standards that I was used to, but it was higher end than many other residences in the joven community where I was going to plant my roots.
I already stood out as an outsider being a middle-aged gringo with, at that time, salt & pepper hair. I had made many local friends by the time I purchased my small cinder block home and was very aware of what it would feel like to invite those friends over for an evening, if I furnished my place by American standards.
I could have done that, but what would have been the result and what would have been the purpose. I chose instead to buy comfortable, traditional furnishings that middle class families in that region would have owned. I kept it simple. The result that I observed was that local friends were comfortable when visiting my home and I was comfortable having them there.
The conclusion was simple...for me
Things are just that...things.
The conclusion, for me, was that it didn't make sense to go through the process and cost of shipping my household goods. Over time, I have come to the realization that things are just things. I think that realization will help make the process of letting go, discarding and donating my stuff a lot easier. And, for me, there is something incredibly freeing not being constrained by stuff.
I wonder if those who return to their home country, for reasons other than health issues, are mostly those who shipped their belongings to their expat country. It is a curious question for me to ponder. Was it a sense of bringing a bit of their home country with them and then over time finding that their belongings weren't what they really missed? Maybe those belongings were instead a symbol of the culture, family, friends...the life they left behind? Or, well, maybe they just really loved their comfortable chair.
Have you moved to another country? Did you ship your furniture and belongings? Would you do it differently next time? On the other side, why did you decide not to ship your belongings?
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