Feb 08 2009

To Ship or Not to Ship?

To Ship or Not to Ship?

by Arden Rembert Brink
Magallanes (San Ramon), Costa Rica

The whole question of whether or not to bring your belongings or your car is probably one of the most hotly debated among to-be-expats. And there certainly is no single right answer.

For some folks, the idea of starting fresh is attractive. People suggest that you move to Costa Rica with just a couple of suitcases and you think it sounds like a good idea. It?s the chance to buy new all new things, maybe simplify your life and have fewer things. And for the cost of shipping — which will typically be somewhere between $7- and $12,000 – you might think “I could buy all new furniture for that amount of money.”

That’s conceivably true, although you could also easily spend many times that amount.

Some things that are locally made are quite reasonably priced, especially some of the Tico wood or bamboo furniture. But many people also find that some local things — particularly the beds and upholstered furniture — are simply not very comfortable. You can get true North American furnishings, but imported items here are typically very expensive. You can buy local appliances quite inexpensively that could potentially serve you well. But again, if you?re looking for the brands, styles, or quality you?re used to, you?ll generally be paying a lot more.

Another factor many people forget to consider is that a home is NOT just made up of the major pieces of furniture and appliances. It’s also the CDs and books, the pots and pans and casserole dishes, the Christmas china and the plastic flamingo plates you eat lunch on, the towels, bedsheets, down comforters (yes, you can use those here, at least in the central valley), and shower curtains. It’s all those little kitchen tools and gadgets, hairdryers and bathroom scales, televisions and DVD players, lamps and clocks, rugs and throw pillows, family heirlooms and treasures from your past travels. It’s garden rakes and shop vacs, power tools and socket sets, door mats and table saws, ladders and coolers.

Some of those things are simply irreplaceable and if you want to have them here you’ll have to bring them with you. You’re likely to want your artwork and photographs, along with the pottery your children made in school and your mother’s antique crystal vases. (There are wonderful flowers here; you’ll want vases!) While you can buy Christmas tree decorations here, are you really ready to get rid of a lifetime?s collection?

The other things could be replaced here but can really begin to add up to much more than the cost of shipping a container. Leave behind the Hoover Windtunnel vacuum cleaner you recently paid under $230 for and you’ll spend over $380 to buy the same model here at PriceSmart (after paying the $30 membership fee). That stainless Frigidaire side-by-side that you paid around $1700 for not too long ago will cost you over $2800 to replace here. The large fiberglass ladder you’ve had for years might look a little ratty, but when you go to replace it here in Costa Rica you?ll be looking at nearly six hundred dollars. And all those Igloo coolers you have in your basement may seem unimportant, until you realize each one here will cost from $60 to over $100 to replace.

Some clever folks are even finding that it’s worthwhile to spend some time at garage sales and their local Goodwill store in the last months before the move. Many of those harder-to-find items that are so costly in Costa Rica can be picked up for a song in those places and are legitimately imported as used goods with their low values, resulting in minimal import duties.

Lastly, there’s also a subtle issue that some people forget to take into account. Even if you’re completely enthusiastic about moving to Costa Rica, it’s still a big move for most people. The comforting quality of having your new house feel like “home” when everything else around you feels “foreign” shouldn’t be underestimated.

So, you’ve decided to bring your stuff with you. How do you go about it? For most people the simplest way is to ship a 40′ container – or a 20′ (sometimes referred to as a “half-container”) – full of your household goods. A 40′ container is especially cost-effective if you include your car since a 40-footer will typically only cost 15 to 20% more than a 20-footer, but it gives you TWICE the space. So it becomes one of the least expensive ways to ship the car, plus gives you a little extra room for your household stuff.

But what size container do you need? Containers are essentially 8′ x 8′ x 40′ (or 20′) – although the true interior space is slightly smaller than that. Since that?s a “shape” that?s hard for many people to visualize, it might help to know that if you were to fill up a 10′ x 15′ room solidly with your stuff, that?s about the same volume as a 20′ container. A good-sized single garage of around 14′ x 24′ holds the same as a 40′ container.  A modest amount of furniture and boxed goods will fit into a 20′ container, or a 40′ with a car. A 3-bedroom house reasonably full of furniture will actually fill a 40? container. And it?s not all that unusual to ship two 40′ containers, especially if you have a vehicle filling one-third to one-half of one of them. People often have the misimpression that weight is a factor in the cost of shipping, but when dealing with full containers this is just a non-issue. It’s effectively impossible with household goods (including cars) to exceed the weight limit on containers, so don?t waste your time trying to restrict what you bring based on the weight. Those boxes of books, that cast iron lawn furniture, that heavy-as-the-dickens dining table – if you’d like to bring these things don’t be put off because you think they’re too heavy!

People also often have been misled to think that they’ll need to have an inventory of every single thing that’s in every box. They agonize over counting the silverware, the individual books, the skeins of yarn, the number of screwdrivers in the toolbox. Tranquilo. Not to worry. All we need on your inventory is an accurate but general description, something like “kitchenware” or “used books.” When you become a client we give you extensive instructions for preparing your inventory that should simplify the process and eliminate any agonizing!

So, how do you start? Email is one of the best places. Send an email to info@shipcostarica.com and tell us about your plans. Are you bringing a car? (You should be!) If you give us all the details on the car we can tell you how much it will cost to nationalize. We also need to know where you are moving from and where here in Costa Rica you’ll be moving to. When are you planning on moving and how much stuff do you think you have? We don?t need a detailed list but it does help us if you us a good general idea of what you?re planning on bringing.

With that information we can get back to you with some good, detailed cost information. If you?re moving soon we?ll work up a specific quote for you that you can rely on. Even if your move is still off in the future we’ll be able to give you a pretty accurate sense of how much it would cost today so you’ll have a good figure for your planning. While we work hard to charge a rate that you’ll find extremely competitive, we think many of our clients would say that even more important is the way we can take the mystery out of your move and make the process as painless as possible for you. And, as the currently popular ad slogan goes, that’s truly priceless!

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