Becoming an Expat IV—The Move

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You probably think that once your residency in your new country is assured, daily life will become routine. Well, think again. A series of new challenges present themselves. I’m sure that some of these have already occurred to you, but let me describe what we encountered when moving to Spain from the USA.

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  • What will you do with the cars and furniture you own? These items are probably too large to think about moving to your new home. Should you store these items, sell them, or give them away? Storing large items is an expensive proposition. Price the cost of storage per month and multiply by several years. That quickly adds up to more than the value of the objects themselves, especially since storage costs seem to go up yearly. Consider the costs of storage versus replacement cost, and you will see that even giving them away may be superior to storing them. In the case of cars, there is the additional problem of gradual disintegration unless they are driven regularly and maintained, plus the cost of insurance, which must be maintained.
  • What about all your prized possessions? Again, consider the cost of storage versus the cost of shipping versus the pain of giving them up. Everyone will have different answers to these questions. We stored many items for several years until it became obvious that we were not going back to live in the USA any time soon. We returned on a visit and cleared out our storage unit, placing some items in a consignment shop, giving some to our children, and returned to Spain with what fit in our checked luggage. Precious photographs and other documents were scanned and put on portable hard drives. Financial documents were shredded to avoid any potential problems of identity theft.
  • You are changing your country of residence, but you may still have mail coming to you in your “home” country. Where will you establish this address? For several years we had a USPS post office box and employed an agent to check it for us. This worked with only partial success. On a previous lengthy stay abroad we rented a mailbox at a commercial mailbox office. This worked moderately well but was expensive. They forwarded ALL our mail, much of which was useless to us, and it was often several weeks before we knew about important notifications. We have recently signed up with US Global Mail,  an agency that specializes in dealing with expats' mail. They scan every envelope for us and post an image that we can access immediately online. If we need to see what is inside, they will scan the contents for us. We can have them trash items, forward to any address, or hold them for us. We know when important notices arrive and can deal with them immediately. This is, by far, the best solution we have encountered, and we recommend this service highly. Do me a favor and mention my name if you choose to use this service. They will credit me with a free month of service if you do (CLICK and tell them that Gary White, box #1180, sent you).
  • We take a number of nutritional supplements that are difficult or expensive to obtain in Spain. We order them from an online US-based service called iHerb (CLICK). They are experts in shipping abroad and offer the best prices that we have found. Again, mention me if you choose to use their services. (On the other hand, prescription drugs are much cheaper in Spain than in the USA.)
  • Electronic gear such as computers and related hardware are vastly more expensive in Spain than the USA. We always have a list of items that we intend to purchase the next time we visit the USA. We bring these items home with us in checked luggage and have never had a problem. If you have friends coming to visit you might ask them to bring items for you. Having important items shipped directly or delivered in the USA and re-shipped to us in Spain has its complexities. Items often get stuck somewhere in customs, and we have ended up paying a healthy import tax, which can be as high as 40% of the value of the goods.
  • When you no longer own and pay insurance on a car in the USA, you will need to take out the CDW protection when you rent a car. Some credit card companies provide rental CDW insurance as a free or add-on service when you use their card for the rental. Check your credit cards and read the fine print carefully.
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  • Health insurance is a complex issue that will require another post to discuss. There are many factors involved, including your age, state of health, and tolerance for risk.

There are certainly complexities to our expat life, but the rewards far outweigh the inconveniences.

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