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What to Take When Retiring Abroad to a Third World Country Like Costa Rica

how to move overseas

by Mark Van Patten

You've decided to retire and move overseas to a new country, such as Costa Rica. Well, how do you know what stuff to pack and what stuff to get rid of? And, how do you move it all?

That is a $64,000 question. Probably a lot more if you haven't already downsized your lifestyle and still have a lot of stuff. The value of the stuff you have accumulated over a lifetime ranges from worthless to priceless.

The simple life you looked forward to after retirement, just got way more complicated when you decided to retire and move your stuff. And, because my wife and I moved to Costa Rica, that's my area of expertise, so I'm going to talk about Costa Rica, even though most of this will apply to any move abroad.

Where Do I Start?

You need to buy more stuff!

You need to buy Unraveling The Mysteries of Moving to Costa Rica by Arden Brink.

Arden moved in 2006 from Maine to Costa Rica with her husband, David, her parents (both in their 80s), two dogs, two cats, two containers of household goods, and a 1995 Ford minivan. Luckily for those of us who followed in her footsteps, she wrote an invaluable guide.

Your second purchase should be a notebook devoted to recording information regarding your move to Costa Rica. I think a good old-fashioned notebook is best over putting it on your laptop or tablet. When you are packing up your household stuff, you don't want to be lugging your laptop or tablet around recording information.

Read Arden's book, then read it again. Your spouse or significant other should read and reread it too. Then read it again and make notes in your "Official Guide to Our Stuff" notebook.

Moving Everything You Own Overseas

How can you possibly move all your stuff thousands of miles safely? In an ocean-going tin box?

I'm going to make an assumption here: You will bring your household stuff via sea shipping container. It used to be that moving stuff to Costa Rica via checked bags or air cargo was a viable alternative. You could load up 17 suitcases with stuff and the airline would charge you a rate per pound. No more. Weight restrictions and baggage restrictions have all but killed that option.

So you will be loading an intermodal shipping container.  You will probably choose between a 20-foot-long container and a 40-foot-long container.

how to move your entire household over seas

Lengths of intermodal shipping containers for cargo ships, vary from 8 feet to 56 feet. Heights vary from 8 feet to 9 feet 6 inches. Aggregate container capacity is often expressed in twenty-foot equivalent units, which is a unit of capacity equal to one standard 20 ft × 8 ft (length × width) container.

Find a Good International Shipper

If you plan on taking your personal possessions with you, then you are going to need a shipper. But be very careful, there are many people out there calling themselves "international shippers" but in reality are only "wolves in sheep's clothing." Do your research and get lots of feedback from those who have gone before you.

Frankly, moving is hellish at best. International moving just turns up hell's fires a bit. (Please click here to go to page two.)

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Mark and Nancy Van Patten are in their mid-sixties and retired to Costa Rica in July 2011 to live on their social security income. He blogs at GoingLikeSixty.com about baby boomer stuff and living in Costa Rica and she blogs at KeepingYouInStitches.wordpress.com about knitting and other stitchery as well as her "adventures" in Costa Rica. If you have questions, please put them in the comments and they will respond - eventually. After all, they are retired... In friggin' COSTA RICA!

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1 Comment

  1. Tina


    I can't believe the taxes on automobiles. Are they trying to discourage you from importing cars? Are they trying to discourage you from putting wear and tear on their road system (infrastructure) in Costa Rica? That's just so bizarre.

    Am I reading it correctly?


    Tina Boomerina