Nov 24 2014

In the Mailbag: Shipping, Civility, & Cost of Living-November 24, 2014


Our article about selling our house in Baltimore and shipping 13 boxes to Costa Rica generated both questions and additional information, both on our website and on facebook.

First, this from Shirley:

Hola Paul and Gloria! We enjoyed your newest newsletter, as always! Our countdown to moving to Costa Rica is now 15 months! Our countdown started about 4 years ago, so this is progress! The info on shipping your 13 boxes was SO helpful, but I have a few more questions.

When shipping boxes, we are thinking of purchasing used shipping boxes from a moving company, and packing our items as a shipping company would – I have seen used shipping boxes for sale online locally. Is this the way to go, or do the companies you profiled in your article require that you use their materials? Many websites on Costa Rica recommend packing belongings in Tupperware/Sterlite type containers, which could probably then be placed in packing boxes.

A second question is, you mentioned that if you had to do it over again, there were a few things you would do differently – would you mind sharing those changes now that you have learned from your experience? I am certain that we are not the only folks with these questions.

We missed meeting you when we visited last year, but look forward to meeting you both in the future! Thank you both for all you do to provide information and a realistic view of life in CR! – Shirley

Thanks for your kind words, Shirley!

shipboxtallLet us try to answer your questions one at a time. First off, I would be hesitant to buy used shipping boxes. I say that based on the condition that our boxes were in when we received them. They really took a beating. Of the companies we considered, only ABC Movers mentioned that they would provide the packing materials and do the packing for you. We bought our boxes new at a self-storage location near our home. Some of them were extra thick and strong “china” boxes which I would definitely recommend for anything fragile.

The one thing to remember when shipping in a container, your price is based primarily on the total volume of your shipment, so if you are using plastic containers and then putting them into boxes, it will slightly increase your total volume and thereby your cost. (But at the same time, it would give your things extra protection.) We used one large plastic container, taped it well, and shipped it as-is. To be honest, it took a beating also and was cracked in a couple of places.

What would we do differently? The two big take-aways are summed up on the “Lessons Learned” notes in the article. We would have given ourselves more time — it was truly crazy trying to do everything in such a short amount of time. And we would have used a shipper that took care of customs clearing.

And this note from Don and Nan:

Good article and thanks. Questions – Boxes, what size and just moving boxes? Pallet – 4×4 or larger? How high do they stack stuff? Shrink wrap the pallet?

We are over close to San Isidro del General and love the area. Don and Nan

shipping-palletHi Don & Nan. Glad you found the shipping article helpful.

The boxes we used were large shipping boxes which we purchased and a couple of large computer boxes that we had kept in our attic. At least two of the boxes were specifically for shipping china. They were odd sizes like 28″x18″x19″ and 17″x19″x19″. We even used one plastic bin, measuring 16″x19″x33″.

I don’t know how high they stacked the pallet because we never actually saw it. The did shrink wrap it, though — at least that’s what we paid for. Hope this helps!

Deborah had a few questions also:

The newsletter reports on yours & Paul’s moving/shipping adventures was/is a great help, but now that I am preparing the actual “boxes”, I have a couple of questions:

Where possible, I am using the large plastic bins. Some have just the snap-on lids, others have the click locks at either end. Is there a need for me to use packing tape around the lids to make sure they stay on?  AND does this matter to “Customs”?

Secondly, I do not remember any mention in your reports about this, but I have been instructed by others living in CR to make an itemized list of items in each box, along with a replacement value on each item, tape that to each box, numbering each box and then, make a Master list of each box to give to customs as well.  Really?  While I understand they need to know what to charge me (import duties, etc) wouldn’t a master list by box (numbering each for reference) work?

Thirdly,  the large wall art, mirrors, lamps,  did you  ship these kinds of goods?  I have sold, given away most everything (truly, Simplify, Simplify, Simplify is my new mantra) but due to size & fragility I’m thinking these things should be packed in specialized moving boxes… other than the additional costs, what are .your thoughts?

Thank you, Gloria, for your time and oh so helpful knowledge!  I trust you & Paul are in good health & spirits.  Looking forward to receiving your experienced wisdom once again.


Hi Deborah.

I think the plastic bins are a great way to go. I would suggest that you tape them as well, especially the one with lids that snap on. As I mentioned in my comments above, they will take a beating so you want to do whatever you can to help protect your things.

plasticbinAs far as Customs is concerned, I don’t think the extra tape matters. They just sliced through the tape to look through any of our boxes they wished to check. And they checked most of them. We were told that, the smaller the shipment, the greater the odds that they would open boxes and inspect the contents. We numbered the boxes and prepared a detailed inventory document that showed what was in each box. We labeled that inventory as well as each of the boxes with the shipping number we were given. We did not need to include a full inventory in each box, however we labeled each box with the general contents — “family photos” or “dishes” for instance.

The only specialized boxes we purchased were for china. Since we didn’t ship any wall art larger than the size of our largest boxes, we wrapped each item in towels and blankets for padding and packed the box tightly to prevent movement. We also wrapped lamps and any other delicate items in towels and packed them with other items. To prevent shifting of items, you don’t want to leave any empty space within the box, so fill in any empty spaces with crumpled newspaper, shipping peanuts, or even…you guessed it…towels and washcloths.

And then a reader requested contact information for shipping companies in Costa Rica:

The article on shipping your belongings was helpful, but I’m not sure yet whether we will be shipping a full container or just some boxes. Can you recommend some shipping companies based in Costa Rica for me to contact? G.M.

Since we only recommend products and services we have personally used, I can’t make a true recommendation. However, I can provide contact info for the “top three” companies who ship to Costa Rica. I would invite our readers to share their experience with these (and any other) shipping companies in a follow-up “In the Mailbag.”

  • Ship Costa Rica (Barry Wilson)

  • Ship to Costa Rica (Charlie Zeller)containershipping

  • Logistics Management Services (Mike Rappaport)

    • CR 506-2573-3933
    • US Direct 727-231-4344
    • Skype michael.rappaport

On facebook



We recently posted our article, “America’s No Place To Get Old In” (about the lack of civility in the U.S. and how it impacts the elderly) on facebook and, as we expected, it was a bit controversial. Here are a couple of the comments:

From Fran:

I hate to disagree with you Paul, I know I am getting much better care for my eyes since we came back 6 weeks ago. CR is a wonderful place, but if you have health issues I vote for the USA.

And from Arden:

I think one of the things that needs to be recognized virtually *any* time one starts making comparisons between a tiny country (like CR) and a HUGE country, like the U.S. is the classic “YMMV” –Your Mileage May Vary. There is very little in the U.S. that’s “the same” throughout the country, so experiences will be very different for different folks in different parts of the country.

Like Fran’s experience, we’ve certainly had — hands down — incredible medical experiences here that are unthinkable in Costa Rica. David’s heart procedure isn’t even done there, the supposedly “great” cardiologist we saw really miscalled the valve issue, our access to a dazzling array of specialists for no cost other than the premium he’s paid all these years to his medicare — all create a much better situation here. And we find that Utah is a hugely “civil’ place, with truly some of the nicest people we’ve ever met, and a cost of living that’s better on almost all counts than Costa Rica, excellent “senior services”, etc. BUT, we also acknowledge that this is *not* necessarily the case everywhere in the U.S. and we’re grateful that our life circumstances brought us here.

And we’re glad, too, that you’ve found CR to be so much to your liking. I think it’s very genuinely a case of “to each their own” and simply can’t be defined as one better than the other. And I think, as we’ve all seen over the years, that MANY folks will find that living in Costa Rica was a great life experience, a great place to spend some years, but will end up finding that — when all is said and done — there’s no place like “home” and for many that will ultimately be back in the “home” country where they’d spent most of their previous life.

But I *do* agree that cultures like Costa Rica do tend — overall — to “value” the elderly and caring for the elderly in a way that’s less common these days in the U.S. It was certainly a wonderful quality that we did experience there for Mom.

Cost of Living

And finally, Carol’s response to last month’s “In the Mailbag” comment from Rob about one of our cost of living articles:

Thanks again for another insightful and complete newsletter — I always read them with gusto and interest…

Responding to Rob E. on the Cost of Living article:

Brilliant! I loved the idea of flipping the question on its head and asking yourself: In my remaining 20 years, would it be more expensive to continue my boring, unhealthy lifestyle in US, or embark on a new battery re-charging life in CR? Rob, let me know if you ever visit the Zona Sur.

And Paul & Gloria, one of these days you guys need to roll south and see how we do it down here in the jungle. Mi selva es su selva

Thanks again,


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