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Shipping container, pallet, suitcase? Bring it all, get rid of it all, majorly downsize – once you have decided that you are moving abroad what to do with all of your worldly goods?
It’s a decision each must make for themselves. Dontcha hate that? No easy answer to be handed to you on a platter I am afraid. Or maybe there is. You decide…
When I decided to relocate to Cuenca Ecuador one of my considerations was cost. Overall cost yes, but the cost not just of living but to actually live there. What was it going to cost to do the household activities I enjoy, my hobbies, etc. Also the cost of housing, insurance, getting there and setting up a home.
There are two sets of costs to think about. One is the cost it will take you to actually live, after you are there and set up. The second is the getting there and getting set up. This is really a cost you need to be able to amortize with yourself to equate to a value of life over time.
For my “stuff”, the physical part of my life, it boiled down to three basic options:
1. Hire a 20 or 40 foot shipping container, fill it and have it shipped
2. Pile what I could on a pallet or fill a Van Lift (approx 4’ wide by 6’ high and long)
3. Bring what I could in a couple of suitcases
So how did I decide?
I asked ALOT of questions to people who had moved here already. I read a lot about other people’s experiences in shipping. And I researched boots on the ground IN ECUADOR, specifically in the city I wanted to move to what things actually were going to cost and what was available etc.
Before we go any further let’s first put something into context: Other people’s opinions and accounts of their experiences. I take all of this with a grain of salt. People who complain often exaggerate. People who praise often leave out the other side of the coin entirely. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. And like in any subject if you ask 10 people you will get 10 very different opinions and you can find any opinion to support your belief whether it is positive or negative.
So…..that being said…..
I visited Cuenca and Ecuador twice before moving here. The first time with a conference in Quito and a 3 day real estate tour in Cuenca. The second time for 2 weeks specifically to check out Cuenca – the town, neighborhoods, stores, costs of goods, costs of actual living, visit medical facilities, talk to veterinarians and meet with people who had already moved here, etc.
On the first trip I learned that housing, medical insurance, utilities are all considerably less expensive than where I was living in the US.
Cost of living low = yay!
Things I would buy and use on a daily basis are both less and more expensive. Overall cost to live 50/50 depending on choices. Cost to set up a household potentially very high or of lower quality than I am used to.
What I learned was that big expenses – housing, insurance etc will be FAR less, but things I will buy will be the same or potentially a lot more than what I spend in the US. Things like appliances, furniture, kitchen ware, household deco, linens would be more.
One side note – Furniture, like at home, is either much more or far less depending on what spectrum of quality, what side of town the shop is in, etc. And things can be made here at a lower price than they may be bought in store in many cases.
So, next I gave some considerable thought to what I do, want to continue to do, the things needed to do that, and what I really don’t do, don’t want to do etc. The activities of life not just what surrounds me.
I made a list of what I owned, what it cost me to buy in the US and what it would cost me in Ecuador to purchase AND if I could even buy the items or in the same quality. For me it was important to really compare apples and apples v a tangerine.
I also spent time comparing housing. Furnished v unfurnished or semi furnished to see what quality of furnishings would be included and what the price difference really would be
In Ecuador furnished means all appliances, and everything down to the sheets, towels, dishes etc. Semi Furnished means an agreed amount of specific (large) appliances and in some cases furniture or some pieces but no living items (dishes, linens etc). Unfurnished means just the house/apartment no appliances, living items etc.
I spent a good deal of time really thinking about what I wanted my life to be like when I got here. What things that I do now do I want to continue to do. What things do I not want to do anymore, and what new things do I want to add?
Notice we aren’t deciding on do I like my couch to sit on, or the color of the walls at my current home, the curtains on the windows, etc. We are talking about the things needed to do the activities of life.
For instance I am an avid cook and baker, I sew, do mosaics, beadwork, crochet, backpack, skate, ride bikes, etc.
This is really important to think about and be clear on.
Sure anyone can survive and function in a furnished home with a couple pots and pans as provided, someone else’s taste in style and quality of furniture, etc. But did I want to? Or am I looking forward to not having to decide and just get there and see what unfolds?
Do I envision a life without doing any of my hobbies and finding all new things to do, or can I get the things/tools needed to do my hobbies there?
Yes, its a romantic idea to put your few favorite clothing items and a few small mementos into a suitcase and just arrive, get a place with everything included and possibly over time replace with more personal choices.
Note: in many cases this would require moving because furnished housing generally means you get that furniture and having what came with the place removed for your own stuff is not happening.
For many this is great and it works well.
For me after some real consideration of what I enjoy and want to do I decided that a shipping container and bringing as much as I could made more sense. This is why….
I love to cook and bake. I make my dog’s food and treats. I sew, make jewelry, do mosaics, and like to build things. These activities require tools and stuff to be able to participate in doing them. These are things that I couldn’t see myself stop doing just because I moved to Ecuador any more than I would stop doing them if I moved across town or to another state.
I also enjoy bike riding, but decided to give my bike away because I was moving to a place where I would be walking most places, and many times when I would be out walking or on day trips I would be taking my two dogs. There are only so many hours in a day. So a bike was not a priority. And I can rent a bike if I want to do an outing, etc.
Other things I do like photography I didn’t factor cost for because whether I did a suitcase or a container I would take my cameras and laptop in my carry on so these were a given and not a cost factor in my decision making process.
All items I would need to continue doing the activities in my life I could acquire in Ecuador. A large majority of which would not be included in a furnished home. And in taking a furnished home I would likely not have room to add the items I would need to purchase.
So I needed to factor an unfurnished house and the cost to furnish it. Or I would likely have to consider either giving up some of these activities or finding a studio space to rent to do them in.
Houses here very, very rarely have a garage = no storage other than the cabinets or furniture inside the house.
Next consideration is actual cost. Per the shipping quote (s) I got from moving abroad shipping companies there was only a 20% difference in a 20 foot and 40 foot shipping container. There was also only about a 20% difference between a 7’ Lift Van and a 20’ container.
So for me this was a no brainer. The container over the Lift Van and the 40’ over the 20’. The added 20 feet of space was only 20% more and afforded me the ability to bring an entire household of furnishings so I would be starting with basically everything and could live fully from day one on.
You can read more about the actual process of shipping here:
Dealing With Moving Abroad Shipping Companies, Getting Your Shipping Container Packed, And Figuring Out How To Get It All There Is A LOT! This Is The Process And Tips To Help You Navigate Through It With Ease
To decide what to actually bring, and to check the reality of ship or purchase there I made a list of things I had, and of which items did I need, want, or didn’t actually care about.
Refrigerator, freezer, pressure cooker, crock pot(s), microwave, blender, food processor, stand mixer, dehydrator, coffee maker, washing machine, dryer, sewing machine, serger, top stitcher, adjustable bed, stereo, computer, printer, gas bbq, smoker, Knack box/tools were all on the need list. Add in clothes, shoes, accessories, and dog items.
These were all items that I decided whether I shipped or acquired I would have to have. I did not consider other furniture in the initial cost list because I knew I could make a wash in price whether I bought in US or Ecuador.
Ice cream maker, additional pressure cooker oven, smaller blender, waffle iron, espresso machine, television(s), DVD player, deco, linens, couch, chairs, dining table, extra bed, lamps, other misc furniture/household items etc on the want list.
The stuff on the don’t care list became Goodwill donations so didn’t matter.
Then I priced all items. The cost to replace the needed items was more than the cost of the container. Add in the want items and I was far ahead of the curve.
And in the process I learned that many of my items I would not be able to get in Ecuador in the quality and or sizes that I use. For instance my pro series Kitchenaide mixer (and all the attachments).
I could get a little one, or I could get a ginormous commercial mixer, but not my Kitchenaide, or any other similar brand in that size. I don’t need the huge commercial one and a little one is too little.
At that the little one would cost me more than my big one to replace and the big commercial was far and away more expensive.
Deciding on a shipping container, bringing my stuff or not for me boiled down to the fact that I already owned, or was able to acquire before coming the items I wanted at far less than the price of shipping so that I could do the activities in my life that I enjoyed and wanted to continue doing.
Because there was very little difference in price between the 20 and 40 foot containers, I made the decision to bring the things on my want list and do the 40 foot shipping container.
There are pros and cons to what I decided. And there is a fine line between bringing what you need and bringing your baggage with you.
Also know this about my decision. I knew where I was going to be living once I got to Ecuador. I rented a house while I was here on my visit. As a result I knew how much space I would have, how many rooms, how big the closets were etc. I was able to make decisions on what to keep and get rid of with some knowledge attached to my thought process.
Even with having been here on visits, and knowing where I would be living I am sure I did not bring things I will need and shipped things I don’t need. I wont know that until I have been here for a year or more and see what I really use. Like the three space heaters, my Traeger smoker which I am not sure I can get pellets for, coats, etc.
In deciding to ship or not to ship ask yourself what and why. What do you want your life to be like when you get where you are going? What activities to you want to participate in, what do you want to do? Why are you going?
For instance if you say you are going because you intend to travel around Ecuador taking photos and becoming a pro photographer, then do you really intend to live in a house with a yard and do you need to take your lawn mower?
Or if you intend to move and walk everywhere, do you need your bicycle? You wont be commuting to work anymore so do you need to take your lunch box or keep the 10 commuter mugs?
Are these things you need, want or wish for? Do you already have them? Do you have the actual thing you really want or just have what you have and get by with? Is it the quality, size, have the features you want or would you really want to replace it anyway? Are the things you live with things you love and cherish or just what currently surrounds you?
Are you moving to live exactly as you do now, but somewhere else. Are you moving to change and start a new way of life? Some combination of the two? Do you have things you need to do the activities in your life? Do you have items you have collected and curated over time? Do you have the same couch your Aunt Ingrid gave you when you got your first place and keep it just because you already have a couch and haven’t ever gotten a new one?
If money is not a factor for you and you can afford to do whatever just because then for you its a decision of emotion and comfort level in change, starting from scratch or keeping the familiar.
If money is a consideration then make a list of needs, wants, and find out what the costs and availability are. Get at least 2 shipping quotes from moving abroad shipping companies.
Whichever you choose to do, bring it all, quite a lot, a few items, or just a backpack and yourself – things can be purchased, traded or acquired here. Some will cost more and some less. It comes down to when you want to spend it, what you are willing to pay for, and when you will need to use it.
There are a few logistical things to consider. In Ecuador it is very rare to have a garage and self storage options are not readily available.
So if you rent a place as temporary thinking you can put your stuff in ‘storage’ while you look you may need to think again. Or you will need to know up front that you may be living in a very crowded space while you look and are living with both the furniture included in your rental and all of your stuff on top of it.
On occasion a person will offer up a spare bedroom to rent out as storage. Or in the time between you arriving and your container arriving you may be able to find an unfurnished home and therefor be ready and have space when your container is delivered. You will just need to factor paying rent on 2 places during your transition. Or leave your stuff in storage where you are, come here and find a place, then go back and process the shipping.
There’s always a way to do it. You will need to check into what the current law and guidelines for import and how many days in and out of country you are allowed during your Visa application process at the time you are thinking about coming.
One thing is consistent here. Laws change frequently. The way it was when I came may be the same or completely different when you get ready to come.
For me, I am glad I chose to do a shipping container. Because I chose the larger container, I did keep several items that I could live without and will replace over time but it gives me something to start with and I wouldn’t have cared if they got left behind if I hadn’t had the room.
I also bought several things new before I left home and included in the container because I wanted something different than what I had or knew I would want to fill the space I had in my new house. I also chose to get rid of a large amount of stuff so I would have room to add in new once I got here.
and really? holy cow did I get rid of a lot! it’s mind boggling the amount of stuff I had and hadn’t looked at in years, or had kept because one day I might need it, get around to fixing it, having it tailored or….
There was just NO reason to bring that purple polka dotted mini skirt I still had from like 1985….you know that had the matching blazer with really, REALLY big shoulder pads?
Oh, you still have one? No judging……
Part of the fun in moving anywhere, and especially a long distance move is having the space and availability to go out and explore and bring in some of that new place into your home.
I can’t wait for the art festival in November which is part of the celebration for the Independence of Cuenca …I have space on a few walls that need to be filled
Have you moved abroad or long distance? Have an experience to share? Please let me know your thoughts below 🙂