When Susan and I decided to move to Spain, we were living in a 2400+ square foot home that we‘d managed to comfortably fill during the 15 years we’d spent in Salem. When the time came to un-fill that house, to decide for every item we owned whether to Sell It, Store It, or Send It to Spain, we faced some pretty tough decisions. We imagined spending the summer of 2017 going through our possessions, testing our emotional attachments, maybe looking into the options available in Spain.
Those plans changed when our home sold the day we put it on the market. We had 32 days between the day we retired and moving day. That’s 32 days to dispossess ourselves of nearly everything we held dear. No hemming or hawing. No leisurely setting aside of a special item for a couple weeks to get used to not having it. During that abbreviated span, Susan and I made hundreds of hasty, ill-informed decisions. Some of them ended being good decisions; others – not so much.
Now, with the benefit of both hindsight and several months’ experience in Spain -- experience that includes changing flats -- I think I finally know enough to write something you might actually find useful.
I’ll share with you the moving and shipping options we investigated, the choices we made, our reasons for making those choices, and our heartfelt assessment of what we did right and what we did wrong.
If you want to skip to the takeaway, -- besides our five pets, we wouldn’t ship anything and would only bring a few items to Valencia from the U.S.
We Decided “Store It” Wasn’t an Option
After a careful cost/benefit analysis, I couldn’t justify the expense of rent and insurance for a storage unit over three or more years. I suggested we entirely eliminate the Store It option. Susan and I aren’t planning to return to the U.S. any time soon, and we’ll probably never go back to Salem. So, storing stuff didn’t make sense. If we can do without whatever we might have stored for those years, we probably didn’t really need it in the first place.
I also thought that eliminating the Store It option would simplify our Sell It versus Send It decisions. Turns out that I wasn’t as sensitive as I should have been. I didn’t consider the emotional attachments we had to all the little things that decorated our life together. Without a Store It safety valve, we defaulted to Send It to Spain far too often.
Our “Send It to Spain” Stack
When you secure a residence visa, Spain allows tax and duty free importation of your used household goods and personal effects, provided your shipment arrives no later than three months after you arrive in Spain.
But let me repeat myself, if we knew then what we know now, we would not have shipped anything. But, of course, we didn’t know. And the idea of selling or giving away everything we’d acquired in a lifetime didn’t sit well.
So we considered three options for our Send it to Spain stack:
- UPack We Ship,
- Send My Bag, and
- Door to door full service shipping.
The self-pack budget division of EuroUSA Shipping, called UPakWeShip, was the most frugal option we considered. They have a variety of shipping crate and container options, a straight-forward pricing plan, and an excellent customer service rating. To be honest with you, I don’t understand why we didn’t choose the UPack We Ship option at the time. I can only think we were so stressed by the 32 day time horizon we were facing that, we weren’t thinking straight.
SendMyBag is an unaccompanied luggage delivery service based out of New York and the UK. They operate thousands of routes where they’ll pick-up your bags at your home or business and deliver it to your new home airfreight fast. Last year they delivered more than a quarter million bags with high customer satisfaction.
If you have more than what fits into a few luggage-sized parcels, SendMyBag probably won’t price out favorably. But I can tell you, the next time Susan and I make a move, we’ll be using this service.
Door to Door Shipping
We might have been able to save hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars if we only had more than 32 days to sort things out. We would have kept selling and giving away until we reach our emotional limit. We’d have worked out a combination of sending some critically useful belongings via SendMyBag along with a much smaller crate sent through UPackWeShip.
Instead, we made the dumbest, most expensive choice available to us. Don’t ask me why. I think we were overwhelmed by too many decisions and at that time our primary focus was on figuring out how to get our five pets to Spain safely.
Anyway, right or wrong, we decided to ship a standardized shipping crate used to move household goods, known in the trade as a lift van. The size is approximately 84 inches x 46 inches x 85 inches, or (7ft x 4ft x 7ft), with an estimated 200 cubic feet of loading space. In addition, we opted for the full-service package offered by Lile Moving and Storage a Pacific Northwest company with an office in Salem.
Lile Moving and Storage disappointed us with misleading information and broken promises about everything from the pick up date, to failing to bring a tip van to our home so we could modify our decisions based on the space we had. We ended up saving too much to Ship to Spain and had to pay a hefty additional charge. What was originally quoted as an under $4000 shipment ended up costing us just over $6000. Unfortunately, we weren’t notified of the situation until after we’d left Oregon and it was too late for us to do anything but pay up.
I think they took advantage of our ignorance. Admittedly, my fault was that I did not take the time I should have to learn enough to be a knowledgeable consumer. In that vein, I’d recommend you spend some time reading this free book, Moving Overseas: The Definitive Guide written by John Nash, before you make your Ship It to Spain decisions. I wish I had known about it.
Twelve weeks to the day from pickup, and just in the nick of time to avoid Spanish customs charges, our household goods were delivered. As we unpacked we cast questioning glances at each other. We couldn’t believe that half of what we unloaded ever made it into the shipment. Many of the items we sent weren’t as meaningful after three months of new and challenging experiences as they were in the context of our life in Oregon. Plus, if we absolutely needed something, it was already purchased before our shipment arrived.
What We Put Into That Lift Van
So, what did make it into the lift van? A little right, but mostly wrong, here’s how we filled our lift van and what we wish we had left behind:
Clothing: We whittled our wardrobes down and sent clothing appropriate to our new casual, retired lifestyle plus a few dressy options and suit jackets. All of the active wear and sporting clothes are useful but needless to say, the heels, dresses, and suits have not been touched. A few items that seemed too old to bring (like Susan's winter coat and my rain gear) will end up having to be replaced here.
We wish we'd packed another pair or two of men’s shoes and a dozen pairs of socks. Because shoes and socks larger than size 12 (46 EU) are difficult to buy in Spain.
Kitchen: We took our dishes, glassware, flatwear, serving bowls, Rubbermaid food storage containers, pyrex food storage, bakeware, cutting boards, pots & pans, knives, kitchen gadgets, linens, even our Kitchen Aid mixer and food processor. Here’s how that turned out.
- Even with an electrical converter (converting the 110v to 220v) our food processor smoked in 5 seconds. We never even plugged in the mixer.
- Our second apartment has an induction cooktop and none of our non-ferrous pots and pans work.
- And most of the linens are unusable because they don’t fit the tables.
We are happy we brought our measuring cups and spoons so we can easily follow American recipes.
Sporting Equipment: We have a lovely 3 pound tent and complete cycle touring set-up, so we brought all of that along with three bicycles. Two bicycles would have been enough. Frankly, I would rather have purchased a folding bike over here. We use the bike pump and yoga mats. We haven't yet used the tent or sleeping bags.
Furniture: People laugh when we tell them we brought tables to Spain -- nine of them. Susan just wasn’t ready to part with them. And that’s how I learned I had a table junkie in my family.
First was a set of five handmade, Shaker-style solid cherry tables. Susan considered them heirloom pieces. Besides, the legs came off, so they didn’t take that much space. But, that’s not all. We had two granite topped tables with metal legs that Susan thought would be perfect for our new outside terrace. Sounds excessive, no? But wait there’s more! We threw in a wrought iron café table from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair that Susan’s been dragging around the country since 1976. And to top it all off, we managed to justify bringing the heavier- than-blue-blazes, 1940’s, solid oak library table we use as a partners desk. That’s nine tables plus a Shaker style bench that went into the lift van.
We stuffed this all into our first Valencia apartment, which was furnished in a hodgepodge Spanish Baroque style. We made an apartment that looked awful look even worse. Fortunately, we can now enjoy these items in our new apartment which we rented unfurnished.
If (when) we make another international move, sending furniture won’t be an option we choose.
Décor: We both agreed that we wouldn’t take any art, giving us a reason to acquire or make new art. I thought we did pretty well whittling down our knickknacks but we still have as much in boxes as we have on display and we have a three bedroom apartment. The problem comes from trying to bring some of every category. Susan wanted bookends, vases, pottery, sculptures, candle holders, and collections we acquired on travels. I wanted to bring my hand-knotted Persian carpets. So we compromised by sending all of it.
When another room-sized watercolor rug didn’t sell in the garage sale, it went into the shipment as well. So, three carpets in all warm our marble floors and while I’m glad they are here, they aren’t essential.
Books: The one area where we were judicious was in culling our books. It was painful to lose our complete library but we got it down to one small box and that included our Spanish language study books. Of course, almost every day we wish we had one book or another back. That’s where our digital library cards come in handy.
Electronics: We shipped our iMac and a laser printer. Our laptop, kindles, and Bose soundlink mini speaker came with us on the plane. Most computers and anything that charges via a USB cord are safe. But, the laser printer smoked as quickly as the food processor, even when plugged in with the converter. I should have done my homework.
Miscellaneous: Things like comforters, pillows, chair cushions, bedding, towels, and bathroom décor took up a lot of boxes and in hindsight would have been best replaced in Spain. Desk supplies like paper, post-it notes, envelopes, pens, index cards, binder clips and paper clips, tape, staples, etc. have proven useful. But they'd be easily replaced in Spain too.
In the 1980’s I lived in Kenya where everything was broken and there were no handymen. That experience convinced me to fill a toolbox with all my hand tools. I’ve used the hammer and a couple of screwdrivers. Apartment living doesn’t require the maintenance chores that home ownership does . Besides, there are many handymen in Valencia.
The toolbox weighs more than 25 pounds and isn’t likely to make it to our next destination.
So far our oil paints, oil pastels, acrylic paints, easel, and art supplies haven’t been used. There’s a lot to do when you first arrive in a new country, but I have faith that we’ll get to making art – just as soon as we learn Spanish. Anyone need an easel?
Sell It or Ship It?
Susan and I disagree a little on whether a family should sell it all. I think we spent way too much money sending things we don’t use or don't absolutely need here in Spain. Economically, we’d have been better off coming with limited baggage and the pets. Emotionally however, I have to admit that I am happy we have some familiar things from our American life. But I still stand by my advice:
Sell until you reach your emotional limit. Wait a week or two then sell some more.
Jamie wants “life on gentle cycle” to be a story of enough rather than a search for more. His focus is on simplicity, quiet presence, low impact travel, and mostly on living gently. He also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net
I’m looking at moving to Spain next year. I’ve moved a few times so I tend to cull quite drastically and often. However, your blog really makes me rethink what to take. Looks like I’ll pack a couple of boxes of books, my few CDs to ship across, and sell, throw, donate everything else. Good old IKEA or second hand items appear to be the most practical. I’m thinking it’s best to rent a short term furnished apartment for 6 months to a year, then review the situation regarding accommodation. I’ve been learning Spanish for 18 months now but that would only suffice for day to day usage. Official things like leases etc I would engage reliable bilingual settlement services. That’s something I need to be very careful about. Does this sound like a plan? I’d be on a retirement visa.
I think what you have in mind is sensible. Depending on where you decide to start, you might have trouble finding a short term rental, but Spanish law is quite favorable to tenants. You can break a one-year lease after six or seven months (I don’t remember exactly). And yes, when in comes to real estate and apartment rentals, I think you would be wise to rely on a service. At least for the first time around. Dealing with government officials can also be challenging the first time. Well, even the second and third times, so it will be useful to find someone to help you out there too. Best of luck with your plans.
Or you do an INSTANT De-Cluttering by having a horrific wildfire named “The Thomas Fire” come roaring through your neighborhood in Ventura California taking your home and all of your possessions so you don’t have to make ANY choices! It happened to us at the ages of almost 65 & 60 so obviously losing everything was hard but then made for an easy move to Spain! We retired a few months after the 12/4/2017 fire.
We got our Residence Visas in Los Angeles last Spring, arrived in Spain August 15, 2018…walked the Camino Frances and beyond for 40 days/1000km…traveled all over and then settled in Valencia in November.
No decisions about Store It/Sell It/Send It. But I wouldn’t recommend this way except it is a very fast process! So those on a tight timeframe, it may work for you (I’m joking of course)!
Thanks for your blog!
Kristine & Michael Hartman
Sorry you lost all your belongings. Although it sounds as though you made the most of your unfortunate circumstances.
Welcome to Valencia.
I know this probably isn’t the “right” page to post this comment, but we’re a bit desperate. My husband and I arrived in Valencia last Thursday (10 Jan) and we have been trying to get our US Verizon Samsung Note 5 phones to work with a Vodafone SIM card and have had no luck. We urgently need WiFi in our condo to keep up with bills in the States. If you can help or know where/to whom we should go for help, please reply asap or call my US line, 617-733-9822 (my husband’s phone can receive calls but has no internet access!).
Thanks VERY much!
If you have an immediate need for WIFI, of course there are many restaurants that offer free WIFI. We used a nearby Panaria to keep up with things while we waited for internet service installation in our apartment. I’m guessing that your Verizon phones are locked and you’ll need to get an unlock code from Verizon. Our niece who is on a semester abroad down in Alicante has the same problem.
I can recommend our friends at Moving to Valencia for help with phones, utilities, registering with the town hall and getting your NIEs. To be honest, unless you have very good Spanish language skills, the process of settling in can be intimidating. Linda, Jānis and Zanda did an incredible job of helping us get things going when we first arrived. Their expert help is well worth paying for.
Also, check your email.
HI. I used to live in Spain as a student and I also lived in UK. I know a lot about international phones. Verizon is CDMA- even if they unlock it, it will not work with international sim cards. An AT&T or T Mobile phone will work internationally because they use a GSM network. You can get a new phone in Spain.
Thanks for helping Marlene out.
We are in the process of selling our home and moving to Valencia in a few months, very helpful information! After getting quotes for shipping and reading about shipping nightmares we are just taking clothes and a few pieces of personal stuff!
I think that’s a good choice Gloria. Good luck with every little thing.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We are hoping to move to Spain in the next year or so and have discussed how we will decide what to take with us. Downsizing a house of 14 years will be challenging. We have 2 Westies and will be renting there for a while for sure learning and exploring. Thank you for sharing the shipping services too!
You’re smart to be thinking about what to bring with you in advance. We loved living in our Oregon home, still after a few months, we realized even those things we held dearest faded from memory. If your Westies are like our Lizzie, they are going to love it in Spain.
We’re moving to Cadiz province in November and you’ve got me re-thinking my whole strategy. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to document this very helpful advice!
I’m happy to help. Good luck with your move.
We live in Portland and are moving to Valencia in October. This is pure gold!!!
That’s nice to hear.
Good luck on your move and let us know when you get to Valencia.
This was a really helpful post as we’re already mentally dividing our possessions into sell or ship categories.
I’m glad to hear it.
Your post is timely as we are just approved for a non-lucrative visa to Spain just yesterday!
We plan to arrive in Granada in September as our rent starts 1st of Sep. Now we have to figure out what to keep, sell or give away or take to Spain. We are definitely bringing our two cats with us so we will be spending our energy into that!
Thank you for taking the time to write your blog so we know what to look out for. Your blogs are very helpful and I am planning to go back to read some of your old posts related to moving to Spain.
I’m pleased to hear that you find our blog posts useful. It’s nice to know we are helping.
Congratulations on your visa approval and good luck with you downsizing and move to Granada.